Bonhoeffer – A Reliable Guide?
by William Macleod
September 23, 2016
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is increasingly being quoted by evangelical writers and theologians. Eric Metaxas’ recent highly-acclaimed biography presents him as an evangelical martyr of the twentieth century. Stephen Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College, with a PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary, in his book, Bonhoeffer on the Christian life, states: ‘We can even lay claim to Bonhoeffer as an evangelical’. Bonhoeffer’s book on the Sermon on the Mount, The Cost of Discipleship, is being read by many Christians and is widely described as a modern Christian classic. There is no doubting the brilliance of Bonhoeffer’s mind, nor his passion for the oppressed, nor the original way that he had of stating his beliefs. However, his theology is very different from orthodox evangelical theology and he is certainly far from being a reliable guide in presenting the Christian faith and in interpreting the Scriptures. This editorial is a warning. Don’t take Bonhoeffer as your teacher!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up in liberal, theological circles in Germany in a relatively-wealthy, intellectual family. His father was a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology. His oldest brother became a famous scientist and another brother a top lawyer. His mother, a grand-daughter of liberal theologian Karl von Hasse, was a teacher and insisted on family religion though they were not regular in their attendance in church. It was a surprise to all when, at the age of fourteen, Dietrich announced his decision to devote his life to theology. He studied in Berlin under the famous liberal, Professor Adolf von Harnack, but rejected liberalism. The great influence in his thinking was the Swiss theologian Karl Barth who developed what became known as neo-orthodox theology. Far from being an evangelical, Bonhoeffer was more liberal than Barth. He considered himself a ‘modern theologian who still carries the heritage of liberal theology within himself’.
Having completed his studies in Berlin, including his Doctor of Theology, and still too young to be ordained, he went to Union Seminary in New York and did post-graduate studies under Reinhold Niebuhr. Returning to Germany in 1931, he became a lecturer in Systematic Theology in the University of Berlin. The rise of Hitler brought a dramatic change in his life. He rejected Nazism with its antisemitism. One of his sisters was married to a Jew. He helped form the Confessing Church as a protest against the germanisation (nazification) of the national Church. An underground seminary was set up in Finkenwalde and Bonhoeffer taught students for the Confessing Church there. Eventually it was closed by the Nazis. He was involved in helping Jews to escape from Germany and later in a plot to assassinate Hitler. After spending some time in prison he was hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp in 1945 just before the end of the war.
WAS HE A MARTYR?
When we think of Christian martyrs we think of the early Christians thrown to the lions for refusing to worship Caesar. We think of Reformers like Patrick Hamilton and William Tyndale burnt at the stake for preaching the gospel and for translating the Scriptures into the language of the people. In no sense were these men involved in conspiracies against the state. Bonhoeffer died for being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Now, one might rightly argue that he was justified in resisting the evils of Nazism, but his death was not because of his beliefs, but rather for his ‘crime’ of conspiracy to murder. So, if we regard him as a martyr it is in a very different sense from the usual Christian martyrs. We admire his love for the Jews and for all who were oppressed and down-trodden, and his willingness to lay down his life for others.
VIEW OF THE BIBLE
Critical to evangelicalism is our view of the Bible. The word of God was certainly very important to Bonhoeffer but in a very different sense from evangelicalism. He rejected the liberalism of Harnack with its idea of Scripture as merely man’s thoughts about God. Bonhoeffer believed in revelation and that God speaks through the word. However he did not believe in the Bible as scientific (empirical) truth and he certainly did not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. His view, like that of Barth, was that the word can become the word of God to you when you are reading it. It is not in itself the word of God but God can speak through it. So, for example, he taught his students to spend a half hour each day meditating on a verse of Scripture, not looking at it in the original, not consulting commentaries, not concerned about what it literally meant in the Bible, but simply concentrating on what God had to say to them at that point that day. It can become the word of God to the meditating individual.
Bonhoeffer stated, ‘The Holy Scriptures alone witness to the divine revelation, which occurred as a one-time, unrepeatable and self-contained history of salvation’. There is a huge difference between the Scriptures being a witness to divine revelation and being divine revelation. He happily accepts the so called ‘findings’ of higher (destructive) criticism. He rejects for example the biblical account of creation in favour of evolution. Bonhoeffer on one occasion told his congregation unequivocally that the Bible is filled with material that is historically unreliable. Even the life of Jesus, he said, is ‘overgrown with legends’ (myths) so that we have scant knowledge about the historical Jesus. Bonhoeffer concluded that the life of Jesus cannot be written. He followed Rudolf Bultmann in finding the New Testament full of myths which have to be ‘demythologised’. Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘My opinion of it today would be that he (Bultmann) went not “too far” as most people thought, but rather not far enough. It’s not only “mythological” concepts like miracles, ascension, and so on … that are problematic, but “religious” concepts as such’.
For evangelicals the cross is at the centre of their faith. Bonhoeffer did not believe in substitutionary atonement – Christ suffering as a substitute for our sins, dying in our place to earn eternal life for us. The cross of Christ certainly is important to him, but in a very different way – it is as an example and an inspiration. He is concerned that we live cross-centred lives and by that he means that we take up our cross and follow Christ, living lives of self-denial. Yes, as with Barth, there is a great emphasis on grace, but the idea of Christ as the Lamb of God taking away our sins by his suffering hell for us is missing. To evangelicalism that is a critical omission. Indeed Bonhoeffer would argue that we are saved by the incarnation – Christ taking our nature – rather than by His atoning death. He taught that in the body of Jesus Christ, God is united with humanity, all of humanity is accepted by God, and the world is reconciled with God. In the body of Jesus Christ, God took upon Himself the sin of the whole world and bore it.
As a Lutheran he embraced the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – you are automatically born again when you are baptised. Around 1931 Bonhoeffer experienced a ‘conversion’, when he, as he puts it, discovered the Bible. From then on he began to read it daily and meditate upon it. Yet it was not what evangelicals normally call conversion, or what the Scriptures describe as the new birth. He rarely referred to it. He criticises conversion testimonies and sees the New Testament as not being about individual salvation. He wrote, ‘We must finally break away from the idea that the gospel deals with the salvation of an individual’s soul’.
Bonhoeffer was a universalist, believing in the eventual salvation of all. He wrote that there is no part of the world, no matter how godless, which is not accepted by God and reconciled with God in Jesus Christ. Whoever looks on the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as if it were lost, as if it were separated from Christ. Every individual will eventually be saved in Christ.
Bonhoeffer moved happily in ecumenical circles. When in Rome he greatly enjoyed the masses held in the Roman Catholic churches there. He worked happily with the liberal leaders of the World Council of Churches, forming close friendships with many of them and regarding them as true Christians. He greatly admired Mahatma Gandhi and had planned a visit to India to study under him and learn from him.
‘Cheap grace’ is one of the distinctive phrases of Bonhoeffer. He uses it as a challenge to the antinomian position of those who think that because they believe in Jesus they can live the way they like and yet all their sins will be forgiven. His emphasis is good in one sense, but it is not a helpful term. The implication is that what changes grace from being cheap to being costly is our obedience and sacrifice. However the expensive nature of grace is not increased by anything we do. Grace is not cheap because it cost God the death of His Son. Thus, although it is free to us, it is very expensive to Christ. God requires good works of us but it is His irresistible grace in our lives which transforms us so that we cannot but produce good works.
The Sermon on the Mount receives great attention. In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer called fellow Christians to radical discipleship, to follow Jesus with abandonment. However, most evangelicals miss one of his key points: Discipleship does not, according to Bonhoeffer, involve learning the content of Jesus’ teaching and following it. Rather, what is said about the content of discipleship is, ‘Follow after Me, run along behind Me!’ That is all. To follow Him is something completely empty of content. He picks up Luther’s strange phrase ‘sin boldly’ and draws a distinction between trying to keep the law, which he regards as ‘legalism’, and obeying God. For example he argues that trying not to tell lies is legalism. He held to a form of situation ethics. What is right and wrong depends on the circumstances and not on the absolute law of God. However God’s law is an expression of God’s character and He is unchangeable. The only way to know the will of God is by studying the Scriptures which contain the law of God. There can never be a contradiction between God’s law and God’s will.
The Sabbath was given to man at creation. The command to keep the one day in seven holy was reiterated on Mount Sinai and written with the finger of God on tables of stone. Jesus kept the Sabbath and said that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath. Bonhoeffer, however, is quite happy to play table tennis on Sunday or to attend the theatre.
Bonhoeffer stated that all sermons should have a shot of heresy in them. This is certainly effective in stirring interest and shocking the audience. However in the long run it is counterproductive because it shakes confidence in the truth. It desensitises congregations to error. It numbs the horror that God’s people should have to false doctrine and even blasphemy.
Bonhoeffer rejected apologetics. Like Barth, he divided knowledge into two separate realms — religious and empirical (scientific), and the Bible is religious truth, not empirical truth. Bonhoeffer never embraced biblical inerrancy and readily admitted that higher biblical criticism was a legitimate study. He thought that the historical accuracy of Scripture was irrelevant. The Bible was true religiously though not scientifically or historically. Thus Bonhoeffer like Barth considered apologetics misguided, because it transgressed the boundaries separating the empirical and religious realms.
While Bonhoeffer is often quoted today many of his statements meant to him something quite different from what evangelicals think. His books are often read without discernment, which is dangerous. His Letters and Papers from Prison reveal his views more clearly than some of his other works. It is not for us to judge any man; the Lord does that. However let us beware of being led into heretical neo-orthodoxy by statements which appear sound.
Taken with permission from the Free Church Witness, September 2016
CALVIN’S COMPANY OF PASTORS
by Adam Parker; REFORMATION 21; May, 2016
Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, Oxford University Press, 2013. 428 pp. HB: $75 PB: $30
Of all the books that I have read in preparation for ministry none have been able to claim the title of personal favorite, until I read Calvin’s Company of Pastors. This book has been out for several years now, but, until recently, has been hidden behind an intimidating $75 price tag. That has changed with the release of a recent paperback publication. The reader should bear in mind that I am evaluating this book neither as a historian nor as an expert on Genevan history. Rather, I am offering this as a student on the verge of a life of pastoral ministry. As such, this book has meant a great deal to me. This review is an attempt to make the case for why I believe that this work should be required reading for seminarians, elders, and pastors everywhere.
During the period of the Reformation the city of Geneva became one of the most important centers of theological and pastoral development in the world. At that time, under John Calvin’s leadership, the pastors (over 130 from the city and countryside surrounding Geneva) were gathered together into what was called the “Company of Pastors.” Manetsch explains that the purpose of the Company was “to examine the pastoral theology and practical ministry activities of this cadre of men” (pg. 2). Over the course of about 300 pages (and about 120 pages of footnotes) Manetsch gives us cameos of many of these pastors. He discusses every imaginable aspect of the life of Geneva’s ministers.
While touching on various subjects of interest to historians, the aspects of the book that I found to be of most helpful were (1) the observations Manetsch makes about the daily life of ministers in Geneva and (2) the helpful lessons that Manetsch draws from those events. Manetsch’s observations are drawn from his careful readings of primary documents from the Genevan councils and consistory from the period of 1500-1609. If you don’t read French, you will, no doubt, have a sense of indebtedness to Manetsch for making these documents accessible for modern readers. Whether explaining how many people were excommunicated for incest, or the complex relationship between the consistory and the small council, none of the details that Manetsch offers ever come across as extraneous or like mere filler. Not a word is wasted; rather, each detail gives the reader an intimate glimpse into the complex times in which Calvin and the Company ministered.
The members of the Company of Pastors are fascinating in their own right. Those who have read multiple biographies of Calvin himself will be grateful to know that Manetsch manages to keep Calvin’s presence in the book appropriately restrained. While Calvin loomed large in Geneva, Manetsch is more concerned to introduce the reader to those who ministered in the wake of the greatest of the Reformers. The book successfully introduces and maintains an ensemble cast–Calvin being merely one among many. Almost all of the characters in Manetsch’s 16th century Geneva are sincerely fascinating. Among the most interesting are Charles Perrot (who shared his misgivings about the reformation in a private journal), Jean Le Gaigneux (whose ministry only lasted nine years because of his violent temper), Pierre Des Préaux, (who shamefully fled his village because of the plague, and who was also reprimanded by the Company for inviting himself over for too many free meals at his parishioners’ homes), and the most hated minister in Geneva, Raymond Chauvet (who despite his violent temper and bitter manner in the pulpit still managed to serve in Geneva for 25 years). Manetsch has no shortage of compelling pastors to discuss. Rather, one gets the sense that many stories had to be left on the cutting room floor.
The reader is also introduced to the humanity and limitations of Calvin himself. Manetsch speaks of the importance of a sense of calling to the pastoral ministry and relates how even Calvin’s own sense of call was challenged by a close friend named Louis Du Tillet. Tillet sent Calvin the following letter: “I know very well that our Lord has given you a lot of gifts that are useful for a person working in church ministry, but in my judgment this does not mean that you have been established in this ministry or called to it by God.” Even Calvin was not immune to the painful barbs of doubt; as Manetsch adds, “Calvin was wounded deeply by Du Tillet’s insinuation that his vocation was the product of presumption and personal ambition rather than divine will” (pg. 78).
The heartbreaking examples of the sorrow and pain that the Genevans often experienced–as well as the Company’s genuine, yet often inadequate. attempts to deal with such immense suffering–are among the most valuable inclusions in this work. The failures of the pastors are just as helpful to the readers as are their successes. For instance, Manetsch’s discussion of the Company’s pathetic and cowardly initial response to the arrival of the plague in 1542-1544 guarantees the reader that this book is far from hagiography. The much more noble correction of this episode later under Beza’s leadership forms a comeback story that leaves the reader joyful and surprised.
In his final chapter, Manetsch looks at how men like Simon Goulart and Theodore Beza ministered to dying men struggling with practical questions of assurance. He includes the anecdote of a man being hanged who repented in Beza’s presence and asked Christ’s forgiveness mere seconds before being hanged. The episode is conveyed with respect and beauty by Manetsch’s gripping narratival hand. The reader constantly benefits from author’s liberal use of anecdotes, personal letters, prayers, and journals.
Many of us, like the pastors of Geneva, may find ourselves in the presence of pain, disease, loss, poverty, and despair, making the experiences related in this book eminently practical. For Genevan pastors, sin wasn’t only something that was “out there,” but was something even in their own homes. Manetsch effectively shows that these men often served God’s people while lacking materially and experiencing familial brokenness of their own. The need for the Gospel permeated all of pastoral ministry, within the pastors’ own lives as well as in the lives of the people who God entrusted to their care.
By the end of this book, the reader is left with the sense that the problems that churches face today are really not all that unusual or unique. People are hurting, sin is real, death comes to us all, man’s duty is to live each day in repentance and faith before the face of God, and no one gets an exemption from the agonies and brambles of life this side of the return of Christ. These realities transcend cultures and centuries.
I wish I could talk more about this book. It is a bottomless well of fascinating anecdotes and insights into the ups and downs of pastoral ministry. Scott Manetsch has truly done the Church a great service by investing his diligent labors into writing this important book. You can now purchase an affordable paperback version of Manetsch’s work. Pastors everywhere should add this extremely useful work to their libraries.
Adam Parker is a M.Div student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS. Adam is the Assistant Editor of Reformation 21.
BOOK REVIEW– John H. Walton. The Lost World of Adam and Eve. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015. 253pp. $17.00
In 2009, John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, challenged the evangelical world with the publication of his The Lost World of Genesis One. He argued that contrary to a traditional, literal reading of Genesis, essential clues to understanding the first chapter of Genesis were found in ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural contexts: “the key… is to be found in the literature from the rest of the ancient world” (p.10). Claiming that Genesis 1 was written in a way shaped by ancient Near Eastern temple inauguration, Walton argued that the text spoke of God ordaining functions for creation as his temple, rather than describing creation’s material origins. According to Walton, Genesis simply does not address material origins, aside from the first verse. This “long lost understanding” of the Genesis text, Walton argued, helpfully removed obstacles to a rapprochement between contemporary mainstream scientific interpretations of the past and the Christian faith.
In a 2012 Zygon article, Walton reflected that his interpretation of Genesis allowed an easy harmony with “evolutionary creationism” or theistic evolution, describing the “dust” and “rib” as “archetypal affirmations about the nature of humanity… the focus is on all womankind and mankind.” Around the same time, Walton embarked on a seven month global tour to promote his new hermeneutic, speaking at evangelical seminaries and colleges from New Zealand to the United States. Biologos paid the bill.
It is no surprise then, that in The Lost World of Adam and Eve (2015), Walton moves forward in the Genesis text, seeking a comprehensive application of this hermeneutic to the Genesis text narrating humanity’s creation. Like his previous volume, Walton arranges his chapters as “propositions,” most of which build on those prior. He also includes an excursus on Paul’s use of Adam by N.T. Wright.
Walton is well aware that a key part of the battle of persuasion on Genesis and human origins in the evangelical world lies in creating theological and exegetical space for his hermeneutic. In his introduction he reassures the reader that he retains, “the broad spectrum of core theology” of Genesis:
[T]he authority of Scripture, God’s intimate and active role as Creator regardless of the mechanisms he used or the time he took, that material creation was ex nihilo, that we have all been created by God, and that there was a point in time when sin entered the world therefore necessitating salvation (pp.13-14)
It is worth pausing here to consider what Walton is offering us. Discerning readers will realize that this “core theology” of the early Genesis narrative is a substantial diminishment from that of traditional evangelical orthodoxy. In his broad spectrum of core theology, he actually offers us less from Genesis, not more. Walton tells us that his is a “Bible-first approach (in contrast to a science-first or even extra-biblical-first approach)” (p.14). At the same time, he notes that his impetus in writing lies in being “prompted by new information from the ancient world and new insights by modern science.”(p.14) This motivated his return to the biblical text, “to see whether there have been options that have been missed or truths that have become submerged under the frozen surface of traditional readings” (p.14)
Walton goes on to explain a key element for his “ice-breaking” approach to early Genesis: a view of divine accommodation in inspiration requiring extra-biblical contextualization for readers living in subsequent eras. “God has accommodated the communicator and immediate audience,” meaning that “when we read the Bible, we enter the context of that communication as low-context outsiders… we have to use research to fill in all the information that would not have been said by the prophet in his high-context communication to his audience. This is how we, as modern readers must interact with an ancient text” (p.16-17)
The variance of Walton’s doctrine of accommodation from that of historic, Reformed orthodoxy becomes clearer as we examine his exegetical warrant for this claim, and the subsequent application he provides:
…it is no surprise that Israel believed in a solid sky and that God accommodated his communication to that model in his communication to Israel. But since the text’s message is not an assertion of the true shape of cosmic geography, we can safely reject those details without jeopardizing authority or inerrancy. Such cosmic geography is the belief set of the communicators… the framework of their communication, not the content of their message (p.20)
Walton’s reference here to the solid sky rests on a particular, and narrow, delineation of the meaning of “expanse” (raqiya’) as a hard “firmament” in a way which does not cohere well with the overlapping use in the Old Testament of the term “heaven” (shamayim, cf. Genesis 1:8, 20; Psalm 8:8, 79:2).  Walton’s argument is not new. Keil and Delitzsch engaged with and rebutted this in 1861. In the 1930’s, Valentine Hepp also responded:
If they confine themselves to the historical books [of Scripture], to which the literal method must be applied, they cannot even find enough fragments for a construction of a[n ancient Near Eastern] biblical world-image. Their dome of heaven crashes down, for the firmament in Genesis 1 only brings separation. We cannot think here of permanent partition, for God also made separation between light and darkness, between sea and land 
While critiquing Walton’s mis-definition of raqiya’ may seem mere wrangling over semantics, the more pressing concern is the application that Walton draws from this and two ensuing mis-definitions (the “heart”, and the “waters above”). Having reshaped the doctrine of accommodation, he now redefines inerrancy so that Scripture is not to be understood as making scientific affirmations, particularly in the realms of cosmology, anatomy, and physiology (p.20). While on the one hand Walton claims a firm hold on Scripture’s authority and inerrancy, on the other he surmises that God communicated using an errant description of his creation, allowing us “to safely reject those details” of the text of Genesis (p.20). Why? Because what really mattered to God was that the primitive people of that day understood God’s core message in a familiar mode of communication. Walton’s propositions on this point appear remarkably similar to the “kernel theory” of inspiration proffered by modern theological liberalism from the 19th century onwards–engaged and rebutted by confessional and conservative evangelical Protestants all along the way, but now repackaged, and subsumed under the term “inerrancy”. The result is even more problematic than a flat out rejection of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy; Walton takes the language of inerrancy and redefines it contrary to the explicit wording:
We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science 
If Walton’s proposal on accommodation and inerrancy is accepted, one would be hard pressed to explain why it ought not be applied to other Old Testament and New Testament descriptions of historical events involving the natural order, including plagues, healings, and Christ’s bodily resurrection.
Having adjusted the doctrines of accommodation and inerrancy, Walton moves to establish ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature as foundational for and essential to the interpretation of Genesis. This is a significant step beyond stating that it may have a subservient, helpful role. Walton states that an accurate reading of the Genesis text requires the assistance of ancient Near Eastern literature: “this is what provides the basis for our interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis as an ancient document” (p. 23). But what will be the sure guide for the interpretation of ANE literature? Does the Holy Spirit guide us into all of the “truth” of ANE writings as he does with Scripture? Or do we take this role? What if ANE origins and temple literature is actually a derivative pagan distortion of biblical truth? Who will discern, “the clues to [the] cognitive environment [that] can be pieced together from a wide variety of ancient literature”? (p. 22) Who will decide what the balance of interpretative authority between text and extra-biblical ANE context is?
According to Walton, not everyone is capable of such interpretation, but only “those who have the gifts, calling and passion for the study of the ancient world”–ostensibly like himself. Walton argues that this “is not a violation of the clarity of Scripture propagated by the Reformers,” and in a sense he is right, as his arguments here first of all conflict with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Though he has stated that his is a “Bible-first” approach, Walton’s approach at least means that prayerful, Spirit-reliant, exegetical study of the text within the context of the whole Bible is insufficient to accurately understand its meaning.
So how do these theological and hermeneutical moves play out in Walton’s exposition of Genesis on human origins in The Lost World of Adam and Eve? First, we see that he reiterates his earlier assessment that ancient Near Eastern origins and cosmological literature is concerned with functional, rather than material origins. As several critics have noted, while Walton speaks with a high degree of certitude, this reconstruction of ancient Near Eastern “worldview” is less than compelling.
The basis for Walton’s case rests on a weak assessment of extra-biblical ancient Near Eastern literature. Walton claims that concern with the establishment of functions is the common theme of ancient Near Eastern worldview, as expressed in its origins literature. There are two major issues with the claim. The first is documentary: even if Walton had amassed primary sources, extant ANE writings remain fragmentary and limited, representing scattered bits of evidence from a large historical period and geographical region. To compare it to the last two thousand years of European history, Walton’s citations are akin to taking selections of writing from pagan writers of the late Roman Empire, medieval Irish monasticism, 19th century Polish intellectuals, and Foucault, and then weaving them together to hypothesize a unified “European” belief on origins.
But the problem is more significant than this. Walton’s reconstructive theory of the primacy of “function” not only rests on a paucity of source citation, but also does not cohere with a comprehensive reading of existing extra-biblical ANE source materials. Richard Averbeck describes Walton’s approach this way: “Driving a wedge between material creation as over against giving order to the cosmos by assigning functions or roles is a false dichotomy that does not stand up under scrutiny in ANE creation accounts… material creation was of great concern in the ANE.” Reading the Enuma Elish alone makes this abundantly clear.
Even more pressingly, the mainstream Christian history of the interpretation of Genesis has always held that in his Genesis description of his work of creation, God is telling us his bringing into being both the material order and the functionality of that order (as well as non-material aspects of the created order, such as souls). Walton realizes that he faces challenges here, and carves out as much semantic range wiggle room as possible, both in Hebrew and in translation, in order to exegetically justify his claims–moves which necessarily rest on his ANE interpretive hypothesis. What becomes clear over and over is that by emphasizing the functional, partly by laying claim to typological understandings which are part of the history of the literal interpretation, Walton’s effective exclusion of the “material” offers us less from Genesis, not more. This of course is a key selling point: a Genesis which does not speak of material origins solves the thorny issues of conflict with evolutionary biological models of origins.
Walton not only argues that the text of Genesis indicates less than we have believed, but he also concludes that it teaches other than we have believed. In his 11th proposition, Walton states that Adam and Eve were real historical persons. A naïve evangelical reader might breathe a sigh of relief here, feeling all must be well, especially with Walton’s claims of his commitment to Scripture’s “authority” and “inerrancy.” But Walton’s description of Adam and Eve is markedly different from that of historic Christian orthodoxy. According to Walton, not only does the text not tell us that Adam and Eve were without ancestors and the biological ancestors of all humanity, but it also indicates that Adam, in his sin, failed to achieve immortality for an already existing humanity, and as the archetypal man, brought them under accountability for their sin, through the influence of the serpent or “chaos creature.” Adam was a failed priestly savior for a pre-existing, contemporaneous, “disordered” humanity. N.T. Wright joins in in his excursus seeking to affirm the same, proffering a reinterpretation of Romans with a substantial shift of emphasis–away from historic, Protestant orthodoxy on the doctrines of sin, grace, and Christ’s person and work. Walton and Wright’s proposals are wide-ranging and troubling, closely echoing the shifts Carl Trueman explored in his essay, “Original Sin and Modern Theology.”
In seeking to reconstruct The Lost World of Adam and Eve, Walton has not only lost the rich reality of the traditional reading of Genesis, but the authority, perspicuity, sufficiency, and inerrancy of the Word, along with much else. Where Walton’s earlier work was helpful, his direction in the Lost World series is troubling. Some reviewers, like Lee Irons and Richard Averbeck at the Gospel Coalition and Themelios, have mingled praise with criticism of The Lost World of Adam and Eve, but the errors are too critical and extensive to commend the book, even in part. Only when we lose the Word do we lose the world of Adam and Eve, and find ourselves trying to reconstruct it from other sources.
William VanDoodewaard (PhD, Aberdeen) is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and an ordained minister serving at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan
 Walton, “Human Origins and the Bible,” Zygon 47, no. 4 (December 2012): p. 889.
 Walton, “Reflections on Reading Genesis 1-3: John Walton’s World Tour, Part 2,” Biologos Foundation (September 18, 2013), http://biologos.org/blog/john-waltons-world-tour-part-2.
 Walton’s perspective on the Hebrew echoes that of Paul Seely’s articles in the Westminster Theological Journal in 1991, which Seely wrote as a critic of the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy.
 Valentine Hepp, Calvinism and the Philosophy of Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930), p. 162.
 The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article XII. http://www.alliancenet.org/the-chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy.
 WCF 1.9, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” WCF 1.10, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, and opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”
 Richard Averbeck, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: A Review Essay” in Themelios 40 (2015) 2:235.
 See William VanDoodewaard, “What Difference Does it Make?” in The Quest for the Historical Adam (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), pp. 281-312, for a fuller engagement with the issues created by adopting a historical Adam and Eve of evolutionary origins.
 cf. Walton, pp.98-115, 128-139, 140-148.
 Carl Trueman, “Original Sin and Modern Theology” in Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves, eds., Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 167-188. A number of the other essays in this volume provide helpful material in engaging current departures from the doctrine of original sin.
– See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/the-lost-word-and-the-lost-world.php#sthash.vNYA9LCb.dpuf
PAUL HELM AT HELM’S DEEP; WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2015
Gary Brady is a present-day John Flavel. Like Flavel the Puritan, a minister in Dartmouth, Gary has been the pastor of an urban church for many years, and as Flavel became used to the ups and downs of such a life so no doubt has Gary. He has been pastor of Childs Hill Baptist Church in north west London since 1983. And like Flavel he is a considerable author, with five books already, and now a sixth, Candle in the Wind – Understanding Conscience in the Light of God’s Word. (EP Books, 2014, 242 pages). This post is by way of a modest celebration of it, and of Gary’s gifts as an author on this great but neglected topic.
Conscience is a permanent resident in every person, a personal moral and spiritual reflex of that very person that it is the conscience of. You have your conscience and I have mine, and mine does not throw a light on you, nor yours a light on me. Properly understood, it is the voice of God, which can be fine-tuned – sometimes too finely – or almost drowned out. It can excuse or accuse. It can thunder or whisper. Whisperings can become full-throated. But it can be almost subverted by the culture, by upbringing, by friends or by the boss, by what we read and by the media.
A strong conscience, how about that? This is a conscience informed by the word of God. God is Lord of the conscience. Gary thinks that Christians with such a weapon, who know what they believe and what and what not to do, should be careful of not bullying the weaker brethren. That is, those sincere believers whose conscience is ill-informed in some way. But a sound conscience is nevertheless a great good. There is a greater thing that parading your conscience, however, and making a thing of it, and that is love or concern for the weaker brethren. ‘…If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing’. This is the best section of the book, thoughtful and wise.
Here are some questions which I don’t think Gary touched on, though he touched on most things, I reckon, The question of whether the operation of conscience leads or follows what we do. Conscience seems to behave in either of these two ways. When you consider doing something, the conscience kicks in, telling you that this is the right thing to do it, and so you do it, or at least try to do i.. At other times it is like a rear-view mirror, telling you that what you did was or wasn’t OK. Is this before – or after – behaviour significant? Or does it simply show dull or quick wittedness, as the case may be? The Christian’s conscience, like other things, is imperfectly regenerated, subject to ignorance, bias and weakness. The Christian is a ‘wretched man’ who has a conscience, he or she does not yet possess a perfectly judging and operating moral sense.
Most of Gary’s concerns are with the conscience as it operates within the sphere of the church. Here very definitely God is ‘Lord of the Conscience’, as Perkins and Ames and the Westminster Confession had it. But what about Gary’s hearers when they are at work or at leisure? If things are operating as they should then one cannot expect the same standards at meetings at work to the meetings at church. Ought conscience to operate differently in different circumstances? Is this dangerous, like having double standards? In one place Paul writes ‘I wrote to you in my letter [which unfortunately we do not possess] not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually Immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, nor idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.’ As Augustine might have put it, church and world are two ‘cities’. Ought a Christian to have two sets of standards, two consciences, one for each city? Don’t we in practice have two standards? When in Rome, do as the Romans do? Is this the place for some casuistry?
As a Baptist, Gary has an interest in liberty of conscience. He notes its development in England in the seventeenth-century. Particular Baptists have a confessional position advocating such liberty from the beginning, though in a restricted form. (Of course as he notes, any freedom of expression must have restrictions.) In this Independents and Baptists were distinct from the Presbyterians and Anglicans, who edged their way to social liberty as it became clear to the powers that be that good Christian people could differ from each other on various matters which did not imperil the integrity of the state. (Socinians and Roman Catholics were another question!) Gary is quite keen on Roger Williams. Gary is uncertain about whether liberty of conscience is the teaching of the New Testament. But surely it can be considered as an application of the principle of ‘Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets’. Indeed it might be argued that freedom of conscience is like sanitation and public hygiene, an obvious good. But, alas, a good that it is hard for societies who enjoy it to retain, as we are currently seeing.
What Gary mainly does in his book – tho’ he does not say that he is doing it – is to treat the Christian life from the vantage point of the conscience. In conviction of sin, the voice of conscience is the voice of God. In penitence and faith, the troubled conscience, troubled by sins, can through exercising the faith which justifies, come to enjoy a good conscience, not a witness to failure but to Christ’s victory. But even then it can lapse through carelessness into an ill-formed conscience, a seared conscience, unfeeling. Watchfulness is needed. A Flavelian theme.
Gary takes us through all this in a clear, unassuming style. He has a light touch, chatty and unpretentious. Bags of quotations, and much good sense. His favourite writers on the theme seem to be Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), and John Bunyan in his Holy War. Thanks, Gary, for a wholesome, entertaining and insightful read. May you continue preaching and pen-wielding for many years to come!
Gary’s other books are – Heavenly Wisdom, The 1662 Great Ejection, What Jesus is Doing Now, The Song of Songs and Being Born Again
Book Review: Held in Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past
Robert L. Plummer and Matthew D. Haste, Held in Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2015), 132 pp., $14.99.
Held in Honor represents the combined efforts of AFC (Andrew Fuller Center) Fellow, Matthew Haste, and Southern Seminary professor, Robert Plummer, to provide an accessible treasure trove of biblical wisdom on marriage, as cultivated within the great history of the Christian church.
The book contains 50 devotionals inspired by sources from the Patristic, Medieval, Reformation and Puritan, Early Evangelical, and Modern era. Within each devotional one will find a brief introduction to a historical figure, an excerpt from that figure on marriage, and a devotional tying the passage to biblical truth. While these devotionals are brief, they are packed with biblical truth and historical insight.
Andrew Fuller makes an appearance with an excerpt from his discourse on the creation of woman in Genesis 2:18. Fuller is quoted at length,
Christianity is the only religion that conforms to the original design that confines men to one wife and that teaches them to treat her with propriety. Go among the enemies of the gospel, and you shall see the woman either reduced to abject slavery, or basely flattered for the vilest of purposes; but in Christian families you may see her treated with honour and respect; treated as a friend, as naturally an equal, a soother of man’s cares, a softener of his griefs, and a partner of his joys.
Haste and Plummer, commenting on the passage, note,
Atheists explain marriage as an accommodation of biological impulses to societal constraints. God tells us that marriage is (among other things) His good gift of companionship to humanity. As Andrew Fuller notes, when a society properly values women as created in the image of God and of equal worth with men, the human race flourishes.
The truths and examples found in this book will prove an encouragement to any couple. Get a copy for your nightstand, read it with your spouse, and ask the Lord to bless your efforts. This book is a powerful resource, distilling Christian reflection on marriage throughout the centuries that is sure to strengthen your twenty-first century union.
Andrew Fuller, Discourses in Genesis in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society; 1845 repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle, 1988), 3:9–10.
Robert L. Plummer and Matthew D. Haste, Held in Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past, (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2015), 99.
This review appeared on the website of the ANDREW FULLER CENTER at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.
A Biblical Theology of Mystery: A Review Article
reviewed by Sherif Gendy
Hidden but Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery, by G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014, 393 pages, $27.00, paper.
G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd worked on the topic of mystery, to some degree, for their doctoral work. Beale, an OPC minister and J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania, worked on, among other things, how the book of Daniel’s conception of “mystery” connects to areas of Judaism and the book of Revelation. Gladd, an assistant professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, was a doctoral student of Beale at Wheaton College and wrote a dissertation on how mystery in the book of Daniel influences early Judaism and 1 Corinthians.
In Hidden but Now Revealed, Beale and Gladd combine their research and trace the biblical theme of mystery in the New Testament with its foundational background in the book of Daniel. Throughout the book, the authors explore all the occurrences of the term mystery and unpack the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, highlighting issues of continuity and discontinuity. Their hermeneutical approach takes into consideration the function of the biblical concept of mystery in its original Old Testament context and in Jewish background and writings. In doing so, Beale and Gladd define mystery as the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the “latter days.”
The authors’ two primary goals in this book are: 1) to define the Old and New Testament conception of mystery and to grasp its significance, and 2) to articulate those topics that are found in conjunction with the term “mystery” in its various uses throughout the New Testament. From the outset, the hermeneutical presuppositions that control the study are laid out: the divine inspiration of the entire Bible, the unity of the Bible, and the accessibility of divine authorial intentions communicated through human authors to contemporary readers (intentions that can be sufficiently understood for the purposes of salvation). Inner-biblical allusion receives much attention in this book, and the authors attempt to give an explanation for literary connections and their significance in the immediate context, making use of Richard Hays’s six criteria for discerning and discussing the nature and validity of allusions.
Nine occurrences of the term “mystery” are identified in the canonical Old Testament (in the book of Daniel), and twenty-eight occurrences are identified in the New Testament. Early Judaism is indebted to Daniel’s conception of mystery, employing the term a few hundred times. The authors discuss each occurrence in the New Testament and pay close attention to the surrounding Old Testament allusions and quotations that occur in association with the uses of mystery to unlock the content of the revealed mystery. They first examine the immediate New Testament context of each occurrence, then explore the Old Testament and Jewish background to show how it stands in both continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament and Judaism. This method shows how the New Testament incorporates Old Testament quotations and themes but expresses them in new ways, though still retaining some continuity with the Old Testament.
Chapter 1 deals with the use of mystery in the book of Daniel and forms the backbone of the entire volume. In Daniel, the term “mystery” encapsulates both the symbolic form of revelation that comes in dreams, writing, and visions mediated by either an individual or angel, and the interpretation of this revelation. This twofold structure of mystery is associated with an end-time element that accompanies the content of the revelation. The authors argue that the revelation of mystery is not a totally new revelation but the full disclosure of something that was to a significant extent hidden. Proper understanding of mystery in Daniel requires analyzing its connection with Daniel’s concept of wisdom. Therefore, in Daniel the revelation of a mystery is God’s full disclosure of wisdom about end-time events that were mostly hitherto unknown (cf. Dan. 2:20–23).
Beale and Gladd limit their analysis of mystery in the Old Testament to the book of Daniel. They make no effort to consider other Old Testament places where mystery plays a role in redemptive history. While the exact terminology may not be used, the concept of mystery is found in places like the fall narrative in Genesis 3 where the promise of the seed of the woman is an eschatological mystery that is revealed in the coming of the Messiah (v. 15).
Having covered the concept of mystery in the book of Daniel, the authors consider in chapter 2 how mystery is featured prominently in early Judaism. What is surveyed here are primarily the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums. Through representative sampling, Beale and Gladd show how mystery retains its eschatological and twofold characteristics of a revelation that is partially hidden and, subsequently, more fully revealed.
Chapters 3–10 focus on New Testament mystery texts at different levels. Chapter 3 discusses Matthew 13, which presents mystery as it relates to the end-time invisible kingdom of God that is already installed through the work of Christ but without consummation.
Chapter 4 covers mystery in Romans 11 and 16, where Paul details the order in which people groups participate in the end-time kingdom. In chapter 5 the authors discuss the mystery of the cross in 1 Corinthians 2, which discloses the exalted, kingly, divine Messiah who is affixed to the cross, reigning at the same time defeated and accursed. Closely related to mystery in 1 Corinthians 2, the revealed mystery in 1 Corinthians 15 is the transformation of believers both alive and dead into an escalated, eschatological Adamic condition.
In chapter 6 the authors turn to Ephesians and examine four main passages. In Ephesians 1 the scope of the unveiled mystery is Christ’s rule over the cosmos, his death is the instrumentation of achieving this rule, and the cosmic unity of all things in Christ is the result of this rule. The mystery in Ephesians 3 pertains to the manner in which Jews and Gentiles are united as true Israel, namely, through Christ. The marital mystery in Ephesians 5, which is organically tied to Genesis 2:24, deals with the theme of unity.The “mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians 6:19 describes how the inaugurated rule of the Messiah is established through the centrality of suffering, the resurrection of only one righteous Israelite, and the already-and-not-yet nature of the kingdom.
Chapter 7 looks at mystery in three passages in Colossians. In Colossians 1:26–27, the mystery entails two organically related topics, namely, the theocratic kingdom as reconstituted in Christ and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Mystery in Colossians 2:2–3 is Christ himself who is the true “wisdom and knowledge” of God, and believers share in such understanding by virtue of their identification and union with him. In Colossians 4:3 Paul’s prayer request is for an opportunity to proclaim the mystery that pertains to Christ. This mystery is the welcoming of the Gentiles into end-time Israel through faith alone.
While it is certainly true that Gentiles are invited to Christ through the preaching of the gospel as they come by faith alone, the authors state that Paul’s conviction in Colossians is to preach a “Torah-free gospel” to the Gentiles (213). But is this articulation of the content of the gospel Paul preached biblically justified? The gospel is indeed rooted in the Torah. The content of the gospel, the person and work of Christ, is foretold in types, figures, and shadows in the Torah. In fact, Christ tells us that Moses wrote of him (John 5:46), and Paul indicates that Abraham was preached the gospel (Gal. 3:8). Elsewhere Paul declares that the sacred writings, the Torah, are able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15; cf. John 5:39).
Chapter 8 covers 2 Thessalonians where the latter-day antagonist, the man of lawlessness, presently exists invisibly and corporately in the false teachers and persecutors of the church. Yet this latter-day tyrant has not come in bodily form since his coming will precede Christ’s return. The two-staged arrival of the antichrist fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 11 mysteriously since “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.”
Mystery in 1 Timothy is discussed in chapter 9 where the hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 constitutes the content of the mystery. This content includes Christ being made known as the object of faith and trust, and the revelation of his new-creational state of existence through his physical resurrection body.
Chapter 10 covers the book of Revelation and how it contributes to the study of mystery. Rooted in the apocalyptic book of Daniel, the use of mystery in Revelation is either an unexpected timing of fulfillment (Rev. 10:7) or an unexpected manner of fulfillment (Rev. 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7) for that which was apparently prophesied in Daniel.
After covering mystery exegetically through biblical texts, the authors in chapter 11 explore mystery theologically as it relates to New Testament topics including resurrection, Christological understanding of the Old Testament, Jesus’s relationship to the temple and new creation, inaugurated eschatology, and the gospel.
Chapter 12 compares and contrasts the Christian mystery to pagan mystery religions to show how conceptually they do not have a lot in common. The mystery religions are marked by extreme secrecy, since mythical rituals and rites remain sealed from outsiders. Biblical mystery, however, has a strong public and evangelistic component.
The last chapter (13) is a conclusion summarizing the authors’ survey of the biblical theology of mystery. Some hermeneutical implications of the New Testament use of the Old Testament are highlighted including the hiddenness of meaning and the Old Testament authors’ intended meaning. Significant practical implications are also provided, for mystery involves living a cruciform lifestyle that entails mirroring Christ’s life.
Finally, Beale includes as an appendix his essay on the cognitive peripheral vision of the biblical authors for a further hermeneutical reflection on how mystery functions in the New Testament use of the Old Testament.
Rich in its footnotes, this book covers many biblical topics related to the concept of mystery and provides hermeneutical principles for biblical theology that take into consideration the full witness of the Scripture’s two testaments especially in the area of the New Testament use of the Old Testament. The authors do an adequate job in showing how the New Testament writers, without exception, use the Old Testament contextually by respecting the Old Testament writers’ meaning in the original context. The excursuses provided at the end of chapter discussion present further insights into the chapter’s subject by connecting it to other related contextual texts, Old Testament background, or early Judaism.
Beale and Gladd make a distinction between the two levels of hiddenness that mystery appears to possess: “temporary hiddenness” and “permanent hiddenness.” By “temporary hiddenness”they mean the partially hidden nature of revelation that is undisclosed over a period of time and that eventually gives way to a final, more complete form of revelation. “Permanent hiddenness,” on the other hand, is more concerned with the ongoing hidden nature of mystery. While this distinction is helpful, the authors argue that “permanent hiddenness” entails that which will never be removed for intractable nonbelievers. Believers, since they are indwelt with the revelatory Spirit, are able to perceive and understand the content of the revealed mystery. The Scriptures, however, seem to teach that there are revealed mysteries or secrets the significance of which is known only by the Lord, and they remain hidden even to believers (Deut. 29:29). Paul’s knowledge was in part as he declares that believers see in a mirror dimly, as in a αἰνίγματι “riddle” (ainigmati 1 Cor. 13:12). When the disciples asked Jesus about the time he will restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:6–7). Certainly no one knows the hour of Christ’s return, not even believers, nor the angels, nor the Son (Mark 13:32; cf. Job 36:26).
Other than a footnote on page 94, what is lacking in this study is a more comprehensive discussion on relevant terms like “secret” and that which is “concealed” and their uses in the Bible in places like Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 10:26; Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17; 12:2; John 7:4; Romans 2:16; Ephesians 5:12–13.
Although mystery is a key component of apocalyptic genre, it is also closely related to wisdom literature. Therefore, another missing discussion in this book is the concept of mystery in relation to biblical wisdom literature. Even though the technical term may not be used, the concept and its significant implications are found in books like Job and Proverbs.
Comprehensive and accessible, this book is a model of intertextual exegesis and hermeneutics for the sake of biblical theology. Much of the argument is conducted by demonstrating verbal and conceptual similarities to show that a particular allusion is intended by an author and therefore is theologically significant. Inevitably, some are more convincing than others, and so minimalists may find a cumulative argument based on the sheer number of allusions sometimes does not ring true. In sum, serious Bible students will find in Hidden but Now Revealed helpful detailed intertextual analysis of the way in which mystery in the book of Daniel is interpreted, adapted, and revealed in the New Testament.
Sherif Gendy is a member of the Mission Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a licentiate in the Presbytery of the Midwest (OPC), and a PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, May 2015.
Expository Preaching by David Helm
T. David Gordon
Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today, by David Helm. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014, 125 pages including appendix and indices.
Full disclosure: David Helm was a student of mine at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and my high regard for him may prevent my being entirely objective.
I often tell my students that I evaluate a book by the criterion of “insights per page.” This little volume (125 pages) satisfies that criterion very well, because it contains a remarkable amount of insight for its size. In its four chapters it contains roughly equal coverage of: contextualization, exegesis, theological reflection, today (with introductory and conclusive thoughts). Books could be written, and indeed have been written, about each of these, and Helm does a remarkable job of saying the most important and pertinent things about each of these areas with great concision.
As its title suggests, the chapter on exegesis is pivotal, and it contains wonderful emphasis (and good examples) of contextual exegesis, on noticing the structure and emphases of the biblical author, and on the importance of recognizing and accounting for genre. There is almost no fat on the bones here, as Helm says what needs to be said (convincingly and clearly), without cluttering the chapter by chasing every smaller rabbit. It would not hurt the busy pastor to re-read this chapter several times annually. The chapter on the danger of context overwhelming/overpowering exegesis is also critical to Helm’s point, and his warnings are well founded and his points there are well taken. The chapter on theological reflection is a virtual survey of both biblical theology and systematic theology (and their respective roles in expository preaching), and yet it is done very concisely and wisely, with an unmistakable concern for their effect on expository preaching.
Stylistically, I ordinarily find illustrations/diagrams to be distracting, if not cheesy, but I found these very helpful. As the “them/then … us/now” was introduced on page 40, then filled out later, I found this very helpful. Some readers will find the mid-chapter summaries (“In this chapter we have looked at …”, 35) to be distracting; others will be helped by them. Helm probably did not wish to clutter the manuscript with bibliographic footnotes (though the ones that are there are helpful). But I thought I saw the unmistakable influence of Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart in the section about recognizing the importance of genre to exegesis (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible), Meredith Kline when discussing the move from “creation to consummation” (Kingdom Prologue), and Edmund Clowney in the instructions about biblical theology (Preaching and Biblical Theology); and, since I learned about Charles Simeon’s counsel regarding the three goals of a sermon from professor Nigel Kerr, who was still alive and teaching when Helm was a student at Gordon-Conwell, I would be surprised if Helm did not learn about Simeon from Kerr. Perhaps Helm included attribution in the manuscript and the editors removed them to avoid/evade becoming too academic.
In the section on historical context, I believe Helm may have confused the historical-critical method with the grammatico-historical method. He says “historical-critical,” but probably means “grammatico-historical” (65ff., 86). Most evangelicals and inerrantists object to the anti-supernaturalism ordinarily associated with the historical-critical method. Everything Helm says here is true, helpful, and well within a commitment to inerrancy; but the designation employed would arouse the suspicion of those readers who were otherwise unaware of Helm’s strong commitment to the authority and inspiration of Holy Scripture.
There are many good books on expositional preaching; but there are none—to my knowledge—which contain so much important insight per page as this one. Even the busiest preacher could find time to re-read it annually, and his congregation would be the benefactors of his doing so.
 Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).
 Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Overland Park, KS: Two Age, 2000).
 Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973).
 Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical Critical Method, transl. by Edwin W. Leverenz and Rudolph F. Norden (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977); Archie L. Nations, “Historical Criticism and the Current Methodological Crisis,” Scottish Journal of Theology 36, no. 1 (1983): 59–72.
T. David Gordon is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America serving as Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, May 2015.
From the Mouth of God by Sinclair Ferguson
Reviewed by Stephen J. Tracey
From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014, xi + 209 pages, $13.50 paper. (Also available in Kindle and EPub format.)
One old Scottish preacher on visiting members of his congregation would habitually ask, “What portion of God’s Word did you read today?” It was a wise question for two reasons. First, it was an open question, it would lead to conversation either on the struggle to read the Bible, or on the fruit enjoyed in reading. There was no place for simply saying, “Yes!” or “No!” And secondly, the anticipation of the pastoral question encouraged Bible reading. That pastor knew the place of Scripture in the Christian life.
One would not like to call the venerable Sinclair Ferguson an old Scottish preacher, but he is clearly cut from the same cloth. In the introduction to this wonderful book he states, “The conviction that lay behind writing about the Bible in the first place was that God’s word is itself the worker in the life of the individual Christian and in the fellowship and outreach of the church” (xi).
This book is a revised and enlarged edition of Handle with Care!, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1982. Ferguson sets out to answer three questions. First, “Why is it that Christians throughout the ages have believed, with Jesus, that the Bible is God’s mouth, from which his word is heard?” (x). The little qualification, “with Jesus,” makes all the difference. In fact it is the essential strength of Ferguson’s approach; he always turns our attention to Jesus. This section is no mere academic study of inspiration, accommodation, or concurrence. It is a study of these things, but always more. It stirs the affections for our Lord. This section clearly states a sound and orthodox doctrine of Scripture— but in it Ferguson exalts the Father and the Son and the Spirit. It is rich devotional theology.
The second question is “How should we approach reading the Bible in order to gain a better understanding and appreciation of its message?” (x). This is the largest part of the book. It is a master class on how to interpret Scripture. Ferguson provides five keys, 1. Context, 2. Jesus, 3. The Unfolding Drama, 4. Biblical Logic, and 5. Literary Character. This fifth section, on literary character, is then expanded to explain all the major genres of Scripture: prose, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, gospels, epistles, and visions. It is like a refresher course on exegetical theology. And it is very refreshing. More than that, at times it provides a glimpse into Ferguson’s approach to exegesis. The book is packed with preacher-style examples. While the book is not a homiletics book, incidentally, it provides profound homiletical help. There are nuggets of insight into parables and narratives and gospels, as well as extended examples of approaching the book of Ruth. Not that we think everyone should want to preach the way Sinclair Ferguson preaches. In the best preacher tradition, however, he is teaching the Bible-reader how to preach to self. You’ll never have the accent, but you can apply the Bible just as pointedly.
Ferguson sees the dominant plot line of the whole Bible to be “what God accomplishes through his Son, and in the power of the Spirit,” and consequently, “from start to finish these sixty-six books tell a single, multifaceted story whose central character is Jesus Christ and what he does” (76). Of course, there are sub-plots within the plot. Ferguson calls these “The Grand Narrative,” “The Big Picture,” and “The Plot Line” (76). He looks at the various types of literature in Scripture and teaches us how to approach them. We are steered gently away from misguided and wrong interpretation, while all the while he picks up portions of Scripture and sweetly presses home his point. It is a kind of “Look, do it this way, not that way.” And he always leads us to Jesus.
The third question is “How can we do this (that is, read the Bible) in a way that is well-grounded in Scripture and that actually helps us get to know the message of the Bible better?” (x). Using Scripture, Ferguson shows how to put all this to use. From 2 Timothy 3:16–17 he explains how Scripture is “profitable.” From the Parable of the Sower he reminds us that the heart of the matter is the disposition of our heart. There must be plowing, rooting, and weeding.
This is a timely reprint of a wonderful book. The doctrine of the Word of God written (and in particular of the inerrancy of Scripture) seems to be always passing through heavy squalls. From the charge that Princetonian men invented inerrancy, to the recent controversy over the views of Peter Enns, we seem to be buried under four feet of heavy snow. The publication of this book is like the arrival of a friendly plow guy. With a few sensible passes he clears your yard. Ferguson’s pastoral sense makes this an eminently readable book. His theological skill makes this a profoundly helpful book.
This is a great book. It is systematic theology, New Testament theology, Old Testament theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, all wrapped up in faithful, godly, pastoral expression. This is pastoral practice at its very best.
Stephen J. Tracey serves as the pastor of Lakeview Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Rockport, Maine. Ordained Servant Online, May 2015.
Amy Carmichael – ‘Beauty for Ashes’ by Iain H. Murray
This captivating new (2015) biography by Iain Murray is one of those books I couldn’t put down. Patricia MacArthur aptly states in her Forward:
“The truly moving biographies of Christians are surely encouraging, while also being convicting. They tear at the fabric of our complacency and selfishness. The lifelong sacrificial usefulness of Amy Carmichael fits that pattern.”
Amy Carmichael was born at Millisle, Northern Ireland in 1867 and spent over fifty years, mostly in Southern India, serving as a missionary, mother, teacher, and nurse, to 1,850 girls and 670 boys of the lower caste system. She never returned home.
With the help of a missionary couple, Amy established a home for children at Dohnavur when a young girl showed up on her doorstep after fleeing the horrors of temple prostitution, so common among poor Hindu children. As God continued to bring babies and children to Amy, she realized this was to be her life’s calling and she affectionately became known as “Ammai” meaning “true mother”.
But Amy’s work was no mere watered down social gospel designed to meet only temporal needs. Rather, her chief desire was to see these dear children transformed by the power of the Gospel so that they might serve the Savior and others with a whole heart.
Before going to India, Amy had spent 15 months in Japan (1893-94) and learned some valuable lessons there about evangelism.
“Some of her experiences here would mark the rest of her life. She learned to reject some of the methods of winning the attention of unbelievers which some evangelicals were adopting. She was advised ‘that more girls would be drawn to meetings if she offered lessons in sewing or embroidery and administered only a mild dose of the gospel’. By that means, it was said, more would listen to her speak about Jesus. But she did not believe in such indirect dealing with people.
“I would rather have two who came in earnest than a hundred who came to play. We have no time to play with souls like this. It is not by ceremonial tea making and flower arranging, not by wood chrysanthemum and foreign sewing learning, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” “ 1
Years later in India, Amy was faced with perhaps the most painful decision in her life. A much needed young doctor from Cambridge who belonged to her mission society, which owned Dohnavur, had come to work but he had adopted the “new evangelicalism”2 and rejected the full inspiration of Scripture. Because the mission board had no restrictions about this, Amy dismissed the doctor and broke ties with the mission board. By God’s grace she kept the property and became independent, freeing her to retain the things which mattered most, including the verbal inspiration of Scripture. Thus the “The Dohnavur Nurseries” now became The Dohnavur Fellowship adopting the following goal:
“To save children in moral danger; to train them to serve others; to succour the desolate and suffering; to do anything that may be shown to be the will of our Heavenly Father, in order to make his love known, especially to the people of India.” 3
Christians throughout the world were blessed and encouraged by Amy’s many books written in her lifetime. The latter years of her life in Dohnavur were spent as an invalid, yet it was during that time that she produced some of her most cherished literature.
“Shadow and shine art Thou,
Dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire,
I follow Thee.
What though the way be long,
In Thee my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy and song-
Praise, praise to Thee.
Amy Carmichael’s life provides a shining example for Christian women and men today of what a life of faith and selfless service can accomplish for the Kingdom of God.
1. Amy Carmichael – Beauty for Ashes by Ian H. Murray . Banner of Truth Trust 2015; page 11-12 – with quotes from Elizabeth Elliot’s A Chance to Die, The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael.
2. Ibid; pg. 85
3. Ibid; pg 88
4. Ibid. pg. 116
February 16, 2015
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts; reviewed by Michael Kruger; President and Professor of New Testament of Reformed Theological Seminary; Charlotte.
1934 was a big year for Germany. It was the year that Adolf Hitler became the Führer and complete head of the German nation and the Nazi party. And, as we all know, it wasn’t long after that time, that Germany invaded Poland and began World War II.
But 1934 was a significant year for another reason. Very quietly, behind the scenes, a book was published that would change the landscape of early Christian studies for years to come. Walter Bauer published his now famous monograph, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Compared to Hitler’s rise, this was not very newsworthy. And Bauer’s book did not have much of an impact at first. But, in 1971 it was translated into English and since that time things have radically changed in the academy of the English speaking world.
As is well known now, Bauer’s main thesis was that early Christianity was a bit of a mess. It was a theological quagmire. No one could get along; no one could agree. There was in-fighting and competition between various competing factions, all warring it out about what really constituted “Christianity.” Thus, for Bauer, there was no such thing as Christianity (singular) during this time, but only Christianities (plural). And each of these Christianities, argues Bauer, had its own set of books. Each had its own writings that it valued and thought were Scripture. After the dust settled, one particular group, and their books, won the theological war. But, why should we think these are the right books? These are just the books of the theological winners.
Bauer’s thesis has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, particularly in the writings of scholars like Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, and Helmut Koester. And it is the basis for a very common misconception about the NT Canon, namely that there was very little agreement over the books that made it into the canon until the fourth or fifth century. Before that, we are told, early Christianity was somewhat of a literary free for all. No one could agree on much of anything.
Although Bauer’s thesis still dominates the academic landscape, scholars have begun to respond. Andreas Köstenberger and I co-authored The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway, 2010) to address the cogency of the Bauer thesis. And I am also pleased to see a new book that has just come out that is doing the same. Paul Hartog has just published Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis (Pickwick, 2015). Hartog, as the editor, has gathered together a number of scholars to interact with different aspects of Bauer’s thesis. This is a great collection of essays and I recommend it to anyone interested in doing more reading on this subject.
Here is the description on the back cover:
Eighty years ago, Walter Bauer promulgated a bold and provocative thesis about early Christianity. He argued that many forms of Christianity started the race, but one competitor pushed aside the others, until this powerful ”orthodox” version won the day. The victors re-wrote history, marginalizing all other perspectives and silencing their voices, even though the alternatives possessed equal right to the title of normative Christianity. Bauer’s influence still casts a long shadow on early Christian scholarship. Were heretical movements the original forms of Christianity? Did the heretics outnumber the orthodox? Did orthodox heresiologists accurately portray their opponents? And more fundamentally, how can one make any objective distinction between ”heresy” and ”orthodoxy”? Is such labeling merely the product of socially situated power? Did numerous, valid forms of Christianity exist without any validating norms of Christianity? This collection of essays, each written by a relevant authority, tackles such questions with scholarly acumen and careful attention to historical, cultural-geographical, and socio-rhetorical detail. Although recognizing the importance of Bauer’s critical insights, innovative methodologies, and fruitful suggestions, the contributors expose numerous claims of the Bauer thesis (in both original and recent manifestations) that fall short of the historical evidence.
Here are the endorsements (including my own):
”Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts brings up to date a long-existing debate about those other gospels and early Christianity. Covering issues tied to the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus, Gnosticism, and the rule of faith, here is a solid compendium of essays that issues a significant challenge to the thesis of Walter Bauer–that orthodoxy emerged late from a largely sociological battle over the origin of the Jesus movement. It shows how orthodoxy’s roots are far older than claims of other options from the second century and beyond. This is simply profitable reading.”
–Darrell L. Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX
”With worthy contributions from both New Testament and patristic scholars, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts offers a timely reappraisal and rebuttal of the ‘Bauer thesis.’ The authors of this handy volume simultaneously sum up Bauer’s evidence and arguments, size up subsequent post-Bauer mutations of the thesis, and serve up a needed corrective from a variety of perspectives–a must-have for students of New Testament and early Christian studies.”
–Michael J. Svigel, Associate Professor of Theological Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX
”Modern scholars continue to be entranced by Walter Bauer’s thesis that earliest Christianity was wildly diverse with no clear orthodoxy or heresy. Indeed, it is Bauer’s thesis that has provided the foundation for many of the modern attacks on the integrity of the Bible. Thus, I am thankful for this outstanding collection of essays aimed at refuting Bauer’s thesis and setting the record straight about what earliest Christianity was really like. With clarity and thoroughness, these essays sweep away the cloud of doubt raised by Bauer and shine fresh light on how Christianity developed in the earliest centuries.”
–Michael J. Kruger, President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC –Wipf and Stock Publishers
BOOK REVIEW: Bioethical Issues: Understanding and Responding to the Culture of Death by John Ling [Leominster: Day One, 2014], 312pp, $20.00/£10.00, ISBN 978 1 84625 427 7. is reviewed by Geoff Thomas; Pastor, Alfred Place Baptist Church; Aberystwyth; Wales; U.K.
Dr. John Ling, the author of Bioethical Issues: Understanding and Responding to the Culture of Death, has sat at my feet on Sundays for over 38 years. A member and former deacon in our congregation he was, until his retirement, a lecturer in biochemistry and bioethics at Aberystwyth University. His course on medical ethics was one of the most popular at the university, always crowded with students. He is a trustee of LIFE, the leading pro-life charity in the UK. He has three children and eight grandchildren. His personal website is http://www.johnling.co.uk.
Dr. Ling begins by considering human life – that it is unique and special, begins at conception, requires stewardship, ends in natural death; life is not to be taken and needs special care. Then abortion is considered – what it is in practice, its scale and reality, abortion and the morning-after pill, abortion unregulated, unlawful and undercover, abortion and mental health. Then in vitro fertilization is examined, the question of infertility, abortion in practice, with its bioethical dilemmas, health risks, its alternatives and if IVF is to be rejected what is left. Then surrogacy is questioned and assessed, and human embryo experimentation, human cloning, stem-cell technologies, human genetic engineering, genetic disabilities and screening, gene therapy, infanticide, euthanasia and assisted suicide. Then Dr. Ling asks what are some of the secondary issues, and when does human life begin, and how did we get the abortion act of 1967, and then what of the future?
So what are his conclusions? What must we do? Responding is a head, heart, and hand affair. We must pray, we must engage, we must care, we must support. Finally the Christian’s resources are outlined in books, journals, magazines, worldwide websites, and a film library.
This is the most comprehensive and accessible book on medical ethics that is available anywhere today. Dr. Ling puts into practice what he preaches. He travels far and wide giving lectures on this subject. He recently gave a series of lectures in Poland, not for the first time. He has built up a relationship with our Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament putting the Christian ethical position to him on issues of abortion, euthanasia, and marriage. They are friends, if not in agreement on many issues. Dr. Ling encourages the members of our congregation to contact both the Members of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff and Members of Parliament in London to express their concerns.
John begins the book with his own pilgrimage and ends with this exhortation:
May God grant us the wisdom and energy to accomplish all this. In our striving to be head-heart-hand, bioethically principled, compassionately responding Christians, may we be ‘as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ (Matt. 10:16). ‘This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him’ (Deut. 30:19-20).
This book should be on the shelf of every church officer and the issues understood and implemented.
GOD’S DESIGN FOR MAN AND WOMAN:A Biblical-Theological Survey
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Margaret E. Köstenberger
379 pp., paperback
Reviewed by Grant Castleberry
There have been a lot of books that have treated the subject of biblical manhood and womanhood from a loci method that handles exegetical and theological issues topically and in a very didactic and polemical way. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper and Köstenberger’s own, God, Marriage, and Family are two that come quickly to mind.
What has not been produced, until now, is a theological treatment of biblical manhood and womanhood that builds and establishes the biblical teaching of manhood and womanhood through biblical progression. This is exactly what Drs. Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger have done in this volume. And who better to do it than theological heavyweights (Dr. Andreas Köstenberger is a world-renowned New Testament scholar and Dr. Margaret Köstenberger is one of the foremost experts on feminism and feminist theology). They have started with God’s design for men and women in Genesis and have shown how the design progresses and is further established through the covenants and the biblical storyline, all the way through the Bible. Of course, as they argue, this method should not be seen as contrary to the topical approach, but rather the biblical-theological approach to manhood and womanhood should be the basis for our systematic conclusions about what it means to be a man and a woman.
The opening chapter, “God’s Original Design and Its Corruption,” is alone worth the price of the book. It begins with a helpful overview of the creation narrative and then launches into the connection between the Creation Mandate and image bearing in Genesis 1:26-28. The Köstenbergers conclude that to properly understand the meaning of the imago dei, we must understand it in terms of man’s and woman’s functionally-given “role to rule the earth” (29). To “subdue” and “rule” the earth requires sexual complementarity and not homosexuality, thus “God delegated to humanity as male and female the power to rule and to procreate. He put humans on the earth to take care of it for him, requiring them to reproduce as male and female” (31). There is then a very comprehensive treatment of what God’s design is for both the man and the woman in carrying out this mandate, with the man charged with the responsibility of leading in the family and the woman assisting or helping. A large amount of exegetical data and explanation is given to show that the role of ezer or helper in no way makes the woman inferior to man, rather “shows how significant and special the woman’s role toward the man really is” (39). The Köstenbergers also persuasively show that God’s design for the roles of man and woman were not instituted at the curse, but before the curse. Certainly the curse has brought pain and confusion to the meaning of manhood and womanhood as polygamy, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality are all seen as results of the fall (53-56).
The next chapter deals with the development of manhood and womanhood across the “patriarchs, kings, priests, and prophets.” This chapter was very intriguing as the Köstenbergers flesh out the role and meaning of masculine headship in the Old Testament as one of responsibility, “rather than the exercise of power” (75). They also address the treatment of women in the Old Testament, showing that the Old Testament’s treatment of women is much more favorable than some would argue, and that God’s design for both women and men, though tainted by sin, is good and awaiting the redemption of Christ.
Chapter three focuses on the manhood of Jesus and how Jesus embodied the imago dei for both men and women. The Köstenbergers further flesh out manhood and womanhood according to the teachings and examples of Jesus (there is a lengthy discussion of how manhood and womanhood are exhibited in Jesus’s parables), his twelve disciples, and his other female disciples. They argue that it is especially important to note that Jesus establishes male leadership for the church, by choosing twelve men as his apostles, and he also places a huge priority and value of the role of women in discipleship and the life of the kingdom.
The Köstenbergers then move on to the early church focusing on many of the men and women that advanced the New Testament church that are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters. Particularly helpful is the focus on the women that Paul interacted with: Chloe, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Eudia, and Syntyche among others.
Chapter five tackles Paul’s teaching on manhood and womanhood to the churches. One of the unique aspects of this study is how Paul is shown to be using Genesis 1 and 2 for his framework in Galatians 3:28, Galatians 6:15, 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and Ephesians 5:31. For Paul manhood and womanhood is seen as being developed redemptively in Christ, “God’s image…which was imprinted on humanity as male and female in the beginning, and which was distorted at the fall, is now, in Christ, being restored to its original beauty, wisdom, goodness, and glory” (161). The rest of chapter five is filled with important discussions on head coverings and prophecy in 1 Corinthians and the egalitarian construct of mutual submission in Ephesians 5.
Chapter six moves along to the pastoral epistles. The Köstenbergers spend a lengthy time in chapter six discussing Paul’s general framework for establishing men as the authoritative teachers of the church. They argue that in Paul’s prohibition that women not teach or have authority over a man in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul is speaking broadly for general practice in the church and no longer addressing the false teaching that he was warning against in 1 Timothy 1 (202-204). This is not a geographic construct for Paul or even a cultural one, but again is rooted in Paul’s theology of creation and fall, as Paul grounds his reasoning for prohibiting women from teaching in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 in that Adam and Eve “subverted the creation order” as Adam acted passively and Eve usurped Adam’s leadership by acting independently (211-212). They then move on to the difficult verse of 1 Timothy 2:15 arguing that “childbearing” is a synecdoche representing the woman’s domestic role in the life of the family and that sózó is referring to sanctification and final salvation, not justification (214-127). Further discussion in this chapter is given to the role of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, with an argument given for women holding the office of deacon (227-230).
In chapter seven, the general epistles and Revelation are examined, and then in chapter eight the Köstenbergers begin to synthesize the meaning of manhood and womanhood in light of the biblical-theological unfolding of redemption. This chapter puts the reader on a biblical trajectory for implementing the principles of manhood and womanhood by giving some application points and summarizing thoughts.
This book is one of the most important books written on manhood and womanhood in a long time. In fact, when recommending books on manhood and womanhood, this one is at the top of my list now along with Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It is a fascinating read, in large part, because it follows the Bible’s storyline. Once I started reading it, I literally could not put it down and finished it in two days. I was constantly kept in anticipation—what are they going to say in the next chapter about the Old Testament patriarchs and then in the next one about Jesus’s teaching on manhood and womanhood? Since their method is to move with the Bible’s storyline, when they do tackle issues, the reader is presented with the canonical context of the passage, which sheds a lot of light on the exegesis of individual passages.
The strengths of this book are the treatment of Genesis 1-3, Jesus’ view of manhood and womanhood, and then Paul’s treatment of manhood and womanhood in the church epistles and general epistles. Also, there are three appendices that alone are worth the price of the book (I know I said that earlier about their chapter on Genesis 1-2, but I mean it, they really are — they are that good!). The first, I presume put together by Dr. Margaret Köstenberger, summarizes the “three waves” of feminism and addresses both the positives and negatives of each feminist movement. Since the average reader probably is unaware of the evolution of feminism and feminist theology, this appendix is solid gold. Then in Appendix 2, there is an insightful discussion of hermeneutics and how to do biblical theology, which is really well done, and could serve as an entryway into biblical theology for many readers. Finally, Appendix 3 is very helpful because it paves the way forward for theological discussion regarding manhood and womanhood by fleshing out methodology, presuppositions, and epistemology.
I loved the summary statements that the Köstenbergers make regarding the patriarchs, and how they balance the tension of the fallenness of the practice of polygamy with the love and care that these same patriarchs exhibited towards their wives and vice versa. However, the chapter on the patriarchs, kings, priests, and the prophets is the shortest in the book, and I think the weakest because of it. The chapter makes accurate assessments and synthesizes the rest of the Old Testament well, but I was left wanting to read more about different characters in the Old Testament and how they did or did not exercise biblical manhood and womanhood. That would probably be an exhaustive study that could drag on, but yet, when the chapter ended I was left wanting more. I was also surprised to see that the wisdom literature was not handled, because I think there is a lot there (in the Psalms, Proverbs, and in the Song of Solomon and Esther particularly) that adds significantly to the biblical story of what it means to be a man or a woman.
That being said, I greatly appreciate the Köstenbergers’ tone, which is winsome and caring, which the church absolutely must be when dealing with any issue, but especially this one. You can tell that they really want their readers to grasp the content by how the content is explained simply, footnoted carefully with many helpful ideas for future study, and formatted logically. One of the features that I was really impressed with, was all the charts of biblical data within the book that gave the reader a visual way to connect different verses and people together that the Köstenbergers compare. I counted in the Table of Contents, and there are literally 55 charts — all scattered throughout the book. I think much could be said about the great job Crossway did here, laying out the material in a helpful, presentable way!
Right now gender and sexuality is the hot-button issue in the church and culture. Therefore, there really could not have been a better book for this time or a better time for this book. This is not just another book on manhood and womanhood, this is THE book to manhood and womanhood that needs a wide reading, because it speaks to manhood and womanhood on the Bible’s own terms and along the Bible’s storyline. When the Köstenbergers do give some application points and theological synthesis in chapter eight, it comes as a breath of fresh air, because it flows out of the unfolding story of the Bible. The book is thorough enough to demand a careful reading from theologians and pastors and simple and straight-forward enough to gain a wide audience across the church. Indeed, I hope it does, because the church desperately needs men and women, who know and practice biblical manhood and womanhood. I give the book my highest endorsement and urge you not to walk, but run to your bookstore and purchase it!
Grant Castleberry is Executive Director for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is also a M.Div. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Captain in the Marine Corps. He and his family live in Louisville, KY. You can follow him on Twitter @grcastleberry.
Bryan M. Litfin (PhD, University of Virginia) is professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the author of the new book, EARLY CHRISTIAN MARTYR STORIES: AN EVANGELICAL INTRODUCTION WITH NEW TRANSLATIONS; (Baker, 2014).
He recently answered some questions I had about his new book.
What kind of stories do you cover in this book and what is the time frame that is treated?
Well, the title says the book is made up of ‘stories’ but it’s really more than that. There are a variety of ancient church texts that speak about persecution, a number of different genres, not just the actual stories of martyrs themselves. But that’s the core of it: the martyrs before their accusers.
I begin with one like that, the account of the seven Maccabean brothers and the scribe Eleazar. They aren’t Christians, they’re Jews. But they’re dying for their faithfulness to the one true God in the BC period. This text was very influential on the early church, it shaped later narratives in a profound way.
Then we have the stories of several famous Christian martyrs. Peter and Paul are included here, and I like this a lot, I think it’s a great feature of this book. Usually the narrative of martyrdom in the ancient church doesn’t start with them, but it should, these texts are early second century in origin. I think Christians today want to know where the legends of the apostles came from, that Peter was crucified upside down, or that Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Way, etc.
There’s probably a kernel of truth here, but these stories are legendary for the most part.
Next we come to more reliable texts, such as Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom in Rome, and the classic martyr stories of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, Perpetua and Felicity. These are the earliest and most reliable texts, at least many scholars still think they are, though that has been called into question by some. But I think they’re basically reliable historical documents.
And then I include some of the church’s theological reflection on martyrdom:
Why is it happening?
How should Christians respond?
What should be respected about martyrdom?
What’s the wrong way to do martyrdom?
Why is it so important to see the thing all the way to the end?
I include Tertullian and Origen reflecting deeply on the phenomenon of giving your life to maintain your confession of Christ.
I also thought it would be important to have some historical texts about the Great Persecution, kicked off by Diocletian in 303 AD. What happened and why? In this context, I translate the conversion story of Constantine, where he sees the cross in the sky and his army fights in the power of the cross. And after this is the so-called Edict of Milan, which is really a symbol of a tipping point that occurred in the fourth century.
Finally, I conclude with Augustine of Hippo preaching a sermon on Perpetua and Felicity, talking so fondly about these godly women who found the path to “eternal happiness.” He’s making a pun off of their names. He clearly cherishes these heroines, it’s neat to see.
So really, this book spans the whole spectrum of the ancient church’s experience of martyrdom. It covers different genres and narratives. It’s designed to give the whole picture of what was really happening. Everybody knows that “the Romans threw the Christians to the lions”—but what’s the real story here? What happened and why? Now you can read it for yourself firsthand.
Why do we need a book like this? Aren’t all of these stories already readily accessible?
Very good question. I asked myself that question before I started writing this book. All of these texts already exist in English translation somewhere. But the key word is “somewhere.” Does the average Christian know where to find them? Probably not. They’re not all under one cover like they are here, gathered into one place to tell a consistent story from beginning to end. And when you do find them, they often have old fashioned translations, or they have Greek and Latin on the page, which is intimidating. Those kinds of books are expensive. Well this one isn’t. It’s a good way to own a book that gives the whole martyrdom story in one inexpensive volume. That’s what I was going for.
These translations are brand new, and as I worked through each one, I asked myself, “How would this writer express this thought if he or she were writing today?” I think of these martyr stories as being somewhat like the ESV Bible, which is a great balance between actually translating the text but doing it in a smooth and modern-sounding English style. I tried to find that happy medium. I truly believe there is a need for a volume on martyrdom that puts the best texts under one cover, in an accessible way, and with helpful notes and an introduction to explain what’s going on. I definitely hope to serve the church with a book like this.
A leading scholar of early Christianity, Candida Moss, recently wrote a book on The Myth of Persecution, arguing that a number of these early martyr stories were exaggerated, invented, or forged. Is there any truth to her argument?
The funny thing about that book is, much of the stuff she says is nothing new at all. So not only is there much truth to it (as you said), it’s actually a truth that scholars have known for a long time. She is rebutting a Sunday school picture of martyrdom that all historians know is false, and then it’s like a big revelation has been made. I’m talking about the idea that there was an age of constant persecution, that the Christians were in danger at every turn, relentlessly being pursued by Roman soldiers day and night. We know that isn’t correct. No one in academia thinks that, but Professor Moss still rebuts it. So I guess that’s helpful for what it is.
Candida Moss is an impressive scholar with a real mastery of these texts. I don’t question her erudition, I respect it a lot, and I’ve learned from it. What I take issue with is her method of radical skepticism. Usually with history, there is a kind of bell curve of probability, and when enough facts are brought in, you find the middle of the curve is the right place to be. But Moss interprets everything with such a skeptical eye that she skews everything toward the later end of the timeline. Over and over, she puts the facts out there and then interprets them with the most extreme position that it’s forgery, forgery, forgery. So she pushes all the texts like Polycarp or Lyons and Vienne toward a much later time. But it’s not probable that the extreme interpretation is the right one again and again, for every martyrdom text, like there was a colossal conspiracy to make up stories all across the Empire. Classical historians don’t handle texts like this, the way some early Christian scholars do, with this skeptical agenda of turning everything into later forgeries instead of what they claim to be.
And there’s lots of counter-evidence that Moss doesn’t include. Like, “The Christians want to collect Polycarp’s remains. Look! That’s third century relic veneration! This text must be from that later time period!” Wait a minute, why does it have to be third century? It doesn’t. Christians and Jews always wanted to bury their people in every century. We see it right at the beginning with the effort to bury the body of Jesus in a rich man’s tomb. Actually, honorable burial was a big deal to everybody in Roman times. There is first century legislation that says you should give a condemned criminal’s body to his relatives after he’s been killed in the coliseum. This was the normal practice, the Romans made laws about it. What the Martyrdom of Polycarp says about collecting the martyr’s body is perfectly consistent with the date that the text claims to be written, in the mid-second century. In fact, there’s definitive archaeological proof that Peter had a monument over his presumed grave at that exact time. So it’s no big deal if Polycarp would have a respectable tomb as well. That isn’t proof of later burial practices, it’s par for the course in the second century. Moss should put that evidence out there too. But that’s what I’m pointing out here, the way she spins the evidence to the extreme and doesn’t acknowledge and rebut counter-evidence. It’s not neutral history. There’s a political agenda in that book she wants to advance. I’m not making that up, she’s pretty clear about it, and that’s why the book takes the positions it does.
How do you envision the church today—which is witnessing continued persecution of its brothers and sisters around the world—using a book like what you have written?
Well this is where my book is not a completely neutral book of history either. I too have an agenda that I want to advance. I want to encourage the body of Christ with these stories.
What I was trying to write here was basically a textbook that could be used in Christian colleges and seminaries and online courses all over the English speaking world. I want everything in it to be true and unbiased. I want to do good history. I want to take a respectable scholarly look at a historical phenomenon, Christian martyrdom, which is a type of “noble death” in the ancient world. This is something that should be studied in academia.
But I don’t want this book to be just that, just a dry and dusty textbook from the days of yore. I want it to be spiritually encouraging, to give insight from the past, to provide wisdom from the ancients. This is the same thing I tried to do in my earlier book Getting to Know the Church Fathers, and I have had many people tell me they appreciated it. So I praise the Lord that it could be used that way, and I hope Early Christian Martyr Stories can do the same thing. There is a spiritually uplifting aspect to this book that isn’t always found in textbooks. That is why I think everyday Christian readers will enjoy this book as well, not just students in a course.
I definitely want to be very careful about drawing exact comparisons to persecution today, especially in America. This is one place where I think Moss has a good reminder for us. Let’s not develop a martyr complex when our Christian school group is denied access to a classroom, for example. By all means, fight for your rights. Freedom of religion is vital to this country. The mayor should not be able to censor your sermons. Censorship is the first step in oppression. But persecution is a spectrum. I think the ancient church is much more parallel to the ISIS situation, where you have one powerful religious group killing and torturing and shedding blood and stealing properties from a weaker religious minority. Those things happened to the ancient Christians too. It was a clash of two religions, just like what is happening today in many Islamic areas.
Just to be clear, my book isn’t a handbook on how to endure persecution, how to be a martyr. It certainly doesn’t presume to give advice to the persecuted church today. What it is, at its heart, is a book about being committed – I mean totally, completely sold out – to Jesus Christ. That is how we are like the martyrs: when we press on for Christ no matter the cost. Maybe bloodshed isn’t going to be demanded of us, but we can still have that 100% commitment to the Risen Lord. We can be inspired by the martyrs of the ancient church just as we can by the witness of faithful Christians in Iran or Syria or Nigeria or North Korea. Martyrs die for Jesus, meaning they physically die. If they can do that, often under terrible tortures, then maybe we can die to this world and all its attractions. It’s like Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” If we start thinking like that, we’ve taken the first step down the martyr’s path.
This interview first appeared on the blog post of Justin Taylor, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, on October 20, 2014
The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, by Dale Ralph Davis; Christian Focus
Many people seem to be intimidated and unsettled by the Old Testament. Even among Christians most plainly avoid reading it all the way through. They may glance at little snippets here and there; refer back to it when reading some text from the New Testament that mentions an Old Testament passage; or paste a heartwarming verse from Joshua, the Psalms or one of the prophets on their wall plaques. But truth be told, most Christians find the Old Testament, and especially the narratives, perplexing. And so do many preachers.
Ask yourself two questions: (1) when was the last time you heard a sermon series or Sunday School series that walked the congregation through an Old Testament book? And (2) on balance, which portion of the Bible gets more press coverage in your congregation? And yet, if the Apostle Paul could boldly claim, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15.4), and even if our Lord Jesus, after his resurrection, could unashamedly begin “with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27; see also 24.44-47), then surely the Old Testament is the friend of Christ’s people and Christ’s preachers.
That is where Dale Ralph Davis, Minister in Residence at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and former Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., comes to our rescue with his 154 page paperback, The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts.
The Word Became Fresh has one central aim: helping the preacher to practice and preach properly the Old Testament, “These pages therefore focus on the proper interpretation of Old Testament narratives in preparation for preaching” (i). The author carefully, humorously, and engagingly walks the reader through various aspects necessary in rightly reading the Old Testament. Each chapter is chock full of samplings and demonstrations that can be easily grasped and quickly become highly devotional.
In the nine chapters of the book, Davis covers solid material. At the outset he looks into how we should approach our study of the Old Testament (or any of Scriptures-texts) as “beggars for the Spirit’s help” (2). He then guides us along showing the reader how and why to be alert to the literary quirks of a narrative passage. Next he slides us into seeing the theology of passages, the stuff that it says and means “about God, his ways and his works” (31). The way a story is packaged, how its organization “and packaging reveal care and thoughtfulness about the whole ordeal” (45) is addressed in the fourth chapter.
Davis then boldly goes where most preachers hate to go, diving into the “nasties” of the Old Testament; those passages that make readers, preachers and teachers cringe. The author, next, shows the value of looking at the “macroscope” of a narrative, where it fits within the flow of the Old Testament book in which it resides. Following this, Davis shows how passages are and aren’t to be applied in preaching (something he has actually been exhibiting all along in the book).
Then the author explains and expounds that the central focus of every Old Testament narrative is theocentric, which means that in “all our reading we should keep our eye on God – what he is revealing about himself and how he is working” (121). Finally, Davis wraps the book together by giving the reader an opportunity to walk with him through Exodus 1 and 2, applying all that they have learned.
In the book Davis does take sides on a few of the debates simmering among the “Reformed,” but he does so charitably and without getting tangled up in the fishing net. And I must say that every piece of the hermeneutical pie Davis has baked is delectable and digestible.
Now please don’t let the subtitle of the book fool you. Though Davis is trying to encourage and help preachers to take the bold plunge into the Old Testament and preach it, nevertheless the material between the covers of The Word Became Fresh is beneficial to Bible class teachers, moms, dads, camp counselors, prisoners, school teachers, headmasters, professors, and street maintenance workers.
As a matter of fact, I found the whole book devotional. If a reader didn’t have time to indulge in a specific chapter at one sitting, it would be easy to imbibe in one chapter section at a time. For example, Chapter Three, “Theology,” covers Genesis 12, Genesis 23, Genesis 26, and Genesis 29:31-30:24. The reader could easily take each of these passages and segments one day at a time: read the Bible passage being covered, then Davis’s comments on it in the book, and finally take a moment to praise God for what you have just learned, or pray that God might make what you have just studied alive in your heart and awash in your day. Then on the following morning pick up the next passage and book section, doing this all the way to the end of the book. It will be time well invested.
The Word Became Fresh is a clear, concise and accommodating manual for anyone wanting to come to the Old Testament and benefit from it. This would be a nice gift for your preacher and it would be a valuable addition to your own library. I even think it could be used in an adult Bible class, and covered in one quarter. I first read this work in 2007, and was delighted to be refreshed by a second read, now some seven years later. I eagerly recommend this book.
Dr. Michael Philliber is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Associate Pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Okla. This article appeared on his blog.
The book Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry is written by James M. Garretson, and published by the Banner of Truth Trust (280 pages, hardcover).
Seminarians do not often reflect upon the question of what has been the theological discipline standing behind their required courses in practical or pastoral theology. That the lecturer has a basic theological education plus accumulated ministry experience is assumed; any additional postgraduate education might well be in rhetoric, in psychology or counseling, in hermeneutics and biblical interpretation, or in a branch of ethics.
The value of James Garretson’s Princeton and Preaching is that it introduces us to an era in North American theological education-extending across many decades into the first half of the twentieth century-when pastoral theology and homiletics were regularly taught by systematic theologians who had acquired the credentials for teaching in this second discipline by their own extended pastoral and pulpit ministry. While the particular focus of Garretson’s study is the career of Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) of Princeton, the same role of theologian doubling as pastoral theologian would go on being exemplified in the careers of others like him such as the Virginian, Robert L. Dabney (1820-98) and W. G. T. Shedd (1820-1894) of Union Seminary, New York.
Yet, the ironic twist, highlighted by Garretson’s volume (which began as a Westminster Seminary, Escondido, D .Min. research project) is that whereas Dabney and Shedd’s role as pastor-theologians has been indicated by the twentieth-century republication of their nineteenth-century volumes of pastoral theology and homiletics (Dabney 1870, reprinted 1979; Shedd 1867, reprinted 1965), Archibald Alexander’s has not. This is remarkable in that Alexander was the venerable founding professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1812 onward. It is still more remarkable when one considers that this very old Princeton, which Alexander so exemplified, has been regularly extolled by conservative Presbyterians of various stripes as exemplifying all the theological qualities that they meant to perpetuate in new denominations and theological seminaries founded since the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the early twentieth century. To be fair; the fault lies extensively with Alexander; while there were twentieth-century reprints of his pastoral volume, Thoughts on Religious Experience (1844, reprinted 1967) and his volume of eighteenth-century biographical sketches, The Log College (1851, reprint 1968), his important “Lectures on Pastoral Theology” were never published and remain in manuscript at Princeton.
Garretson, having ferreted out this fascinating material with the help of Princeton archivists, has done evangelical and Reformed pastors a real service by providing a distillation of Alexander’s lectures (enriched by use of a vast trove of unpublished sermons) in what can be called an anthology format. We are given topical treatments of the man’s considered wisdom on such subjects as call to the ministry, the minister as shepherd, and the difficulties and challenges of the Christian ministry. Woven through them all is an unmistakable emphasis on the cultivation of the personal godliness and character of the pastor as the wellspring of all labor and usefulness. The pastor’s love for Jesus Christ is the sine qua non of all. Alexander the son of godly parents, who was brought to conscious faith in Jesus Christ in the early stages of what came to be called America’s Second Great Awakening, was ever after both pietist and Calvinist. This emphasis, carried into an earnest Philadelphia pastorate and augmented by a growing theological prowess, provided the stature on the basis of which this young pastor-theologian was chosen at age 40 to commence the Presbyterian seminary at Princeton.
I am personally grateful to Garretson for carrying out what, plainly has been for him a labor of love. A seminary graduate and pastor cannot read this material without personal edification or without being stimulated to helpful reflection on what kind and type of ideals have driven one’s ministry to date. It is my hope that Garretson, who by this project has shown himself to have a firm grasp on the history of pastoral training in America, would soon find opportunity to share more of what he has uncovered-both in some seminary classroom and in the editing for publication of the very Alexander lectures on pastoral theology on which he has here drawn.
Yet, the burning question, which this research inadvertently raises, is that of the extent to which our ideas about pastoral training and pastoral theology can he, or ought to be rooted in the thought of Alexander’s (or any past) era. The impressionable seminarian of today-simply fitted out on the plan that an Alexander, a Dabney, or a Shedd would instill from two centuries ago-would be a walking anachronism. Yet, to return to our point of departure, the strength of these old pastoral theologies is that they were theologies produced by theologian-pastors who, because steeped in Scripture and sound theological learning, dealt with perennial fundamental pastoral questions in very substantive ways. Today’s seminarians could well be leavened with the perspectives of these writers to their and the churches’ great profit.
Kenneth J. Stewart, Professor of Theological Studies, Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia. USA
Reprinted from the Calvin Theological Journal, November 2006
GOOD NEWS FOR ANXIOUS CHRISTIANS: Ten Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do; by Phillip Cary
Brazos Press, 2010
xxii + 197 pp. Paperback.
Reviewed by Stephen Yuille
The term mysticism is used in multiple ways. In this review, I use it to describe those who affirm that they can attain an immediate knowledge of God in this life through personal experience. To be more specific, I use it to describe those who believe that some of their inner impulses and intuitions are actually the direct work of the Holy Spirit whereby He speaks to them apart from the Bible. Here are two hypothetical examples.
I’m considering a job offer, working nights at a factory. I’ve been out of work for six months. This has caused a great deal of strain because I have a wife, three children, and a huge mortgage. The job pays well, and it seems to make sense for me to take it; besides, I have no other prospects on the horizon. But I’m struggling to discern God’s will, because He hasn’t given me peace about working nights – something that has never really appealed to me. I’ve prayed about it, and I just don’t feel right about accepting the job offer. By the way, this is how I usually make decisions: I commit the matter to God, and wait for Him to guide me by imparting an overwhelming sense of peace. I’m just not feeling it in this case.
I’m sitting under a willow tree, beside a beautiful pond. The temperature is perfect. There’s a gentle breeze. Birds are chirping, bees are buzzing, and ducks are quacking. A turtle is sunning itself on a log. I’m going to pray. But rather than speak, I’m going to wait for God to speak to me. I close my eyes, allowing nature to overwhelm me. I wait. I peek at my watch – five minutes have passed. I wait some more. Then, it happens: I have a feeling. No, it has nothing to do with the three burritos I ate for breakfast. (I can tell the difference.) I have a feeling. God is letting me know how much He cares for me. This is wonderful. I feel such peace, because God has just shown me He’s real.
Sadly, this kind of mysticism is deeply entrenched within modern-day evangelicalism. Many evangelicals would be absolutely shocked to hear me question the legitimacy of the personal experiences I’ve just described. They would be completely stunned to hear me say that God never speaks to me apart from the Bible. As a matter of fact, they would likely label me unspiritual.
That being the case, I was pleased to read Phillip Cary’s Good News for Anxious Christians.
Cary describes his book as an “attack” on “distortions” within what he calls “the new evangelical theology” (pp. ix, xvi). He unleashes his attack in three major waves.
In the first, Cary identifies four “distinctives” of the new evangelical theology. The first is the practice of listening for God’s voice in our hearts (chapter 1). The second is the notion that our impulses and intuitions are the direct work of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts (chapter 2). The third is the belief that obedience means allowing God to work in us, so that we don’t work (chapter 3). The fourth is the idea that we need to discover God’s will – for every decision we face – by searching for direction within our hearts (chapter 4).
Many evangelicals embrace these distinctives as the essence of what it means to have a “personal relationship” with God. But Cary sets the record straight by stressing the fact that God speaks to us the way any person speaks to us – from outside (not inside) our hearts (Rom. 10:17). In other words, God speaks to us through the external word of Scripture in which we find His precepts and promises – otherwise known as His revealed will.
In the second wave of attack, Cary identifies four “practical” ideas that shape the new evangelical theology, namely: we must seek right motivations (chapter 5); we must ensure that we do not separate head from heart (chapter 6); we must get transformed all the time (chapter 7); and we must always experience joy (chapter 8).
As Cary explains, these ideas are the product of a consumer-driven church. Consumerism needs people who do not remain attached to what they possess; that is to say, it needs people who are driven to desire the new, not cherish the old. The new evangelical theology has adopted this mindset, marketing its spirituality as a string of “life-changing experiences,” without which people are made to feel ordinary (i.e., unspiritual). Cary demonstrates the fallacy of this consumer-driven spirituality by affirming that everything we need is found in Christ. We don’t need to pursue a series of new experiences, but live out what we already possess by virtue of our union with Christ (p. 121).
In the third wave of attack (chapters 9 and 10), Cary maintains that the way to make a real change in people is by telling them about how Christ has changed everything – including their lives, identities, and future. This is done through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word: “Since faith in Christ is what really changes our hearts and makes us new, it is hearing the gospel of Christ that really helps us live the Christian life” (p. 159).
In attacking these “distortions,” Cary’s primary concern is pastoral. He believes the new evangelical theology – while promising great experiences – produces a spirituality plagued by anxiety (p. 191). “Underneath a lot of talk about being personal with God,” says Cary, “it’s a spirituality that actually leaves you alone with yourself” (p. xi). Our relationship with God becomes contingent upon our impulses and intuitions – nebulous feelings. As we search ever deeper within for God, we plunge ourselves into a deeper state of spiritual perplexity. Experience breeds experience, meaning the pursuit of experience becomes a treadmill from which we can’t escape. The results are damaging.
First, it’s bad for “psychological health” (p. 191). “This way of making your feelings into God imposes on you an unhealthy narcissism, a false grandiosity of the self.”
Second, it’s bad for “moral character” (p. 192). “It blocks the pursuit of wisdom and therefore undermines moral responsibility.”
Third, it’s bad for “spiritual life” (p. 193). “It gets you to base your spiritual life on an unreal idea of God, a God you’re supposed to ‘make real’ in your life by having the right experience… Instead of learning what God says about himself in his word, you have to dance with shadows in your own heart and figure out which of them to call God.”
The church has struggled with this kind of mysticism throughout its history. If we think in terms of post-Reformation history, for example, we find the Quakers (beginning in the 1640s) urging people to turn to the inner light for guidance. While esteeming the Bible as God’s Word, they affirmed that the indwelling Holy Spirit is the supreme authority when it comes to direction for Christian living and thinking. That is to say, they believed their perceived Spirit-led thoughts, impulses, emotions, and intuitions were more important than the Bible.
This is now the default position of the vast majority of evangelicals. They are convinced that revelation is something that happens internally, and that they can discern God’s voice in their hearts. In so doing, they have made an unwarranted cleavage between the Spirit and the Word.
While several of Cary’s comments could use further clarification, his overall message is a welcome one. Against the tide of serious “distortions” within evangelicalism, he upholds the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in the revelation of Scripture as unique, and affirms that the Holy Spirit now illuminates what He has revealed in Scripture – that is to say, the Spirit of God only speaks to us through the Word of God.
Dr. Stephen Yuille is Pastor of Grace Community Church, Glen Rose, TX, and he is Book Review Editor for Spirituality and Christian Living here at Books At a Glance.
HOW JESUS BECAME GOD: A REVIEW
ARTICLE BY MICHAEL KRUGER MAY 2014
Bart D. Ehrman, HOW JESUS BECAME GOD–THE EXALTATION OF A JEWISH PREACHER FROM GALILEE. New York: HarperOne, 2014. 404 pp., $27.99/£17.99
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to review a number of Bart Ehrman’s books, including, most recently, his volume Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperOne, 2011). At the end of that review, I concluded with these words:
[Ehrman] regularly goes beyond what the evidence can sustain. For this reason the book, like many of his others, comes across as more autobiographical than academic; more polemical than historical. Ehrman still seems to be chasing the ghosts of his evangelical past. One wonders how many more books he will need to write before they go away.
As to how many more books Ehrman feels the need to write, apparently the answer is (at least) one more. This new book, How Jesus Became God, has very much the same feel as all of Ehrman’s other books. It is a heavy dose of his de-conversion story coupled with arguments about how mainstream scholarship has disproven some major tenet of the Christian faith–in this instance, the belief that Jesus is God. And, just like in his book Forged, Ehrman regularly goes beyond what the evidence can sustain, giving the reader the impression that there is more in play here than just neutral, objective, historical investigation.
Overview of Ehrman’s Argument
Ehrman’s core argument is that Jesus was a mere man who gradually, over time, came to be regarded as more and more divine, until he was ultimately (in the fourth century) regarded as the God of the universe. He states,
It will become clear in the following chapters that Jesus was not originally considered to be God in any sense at all, and that he eventually became divine for his followers in some sense before he came to be thought of as equal with God Almighty in an absolute sense. But the point I stress is that this was, in fact, a development (p.44).
Thus, Ehrman’s Christological model is really an evolutionary one (what he calls a “development”), moving from low Christology (in fact very low) to the highest Christology imaginable, with many gradations in between. Of course, Ehrman is quick to qualify his evolutionary model by acknowledging that “views of Jesus did not develop in a straight line in every part of early Christianity and at the same rate” (p.237). However, when it comes to the testimony of the Gospels–which Ehrman leans on heavily for his view–he argues that the evolution of Jesus’ divinity is chronological. Our earliest Gospel, Mark, is adoptionistic as Jesus is “divine” at his baptism; later Gospels, Matthew and Luke, present Jesus as “divine” at his birth; and John goes even further, portraying Jesus as pre-existent and “divine” prior to coming to earth.
While the volume is divided into nine chapters, Ehrman’s case for an evolutionary Christology can be divided into the following tenets: (1) First-century Judaism had many intermediate/semi-divine figures that provided the necessary categories for a gradual move towards full divinity; (2) The historical Jesus never claimed to be God; (3) The earliest Christians came to believe Jesus was, in some sense, God because they experienced visions of him after he died (though he never really rose from the dead); (4) the Gospels and other NT writings have divergent and contradictory views of Jesus’ divinity; and (5) early Christians in the second and third centuries had conflicting views of Jesus’ divinity.
A brief book review could not possibly address each of these tenets, so we will spend the remaining time on numbers (1), (2), and (4).
Semi-Divine Figures in First-Century Judaism
It is no surprise that Ehrman begins his volume with a discussion of “gods” and semi-divine beings in the Greco-Roman world because this was a world which clearly did view divinity as something that could have degrees. The problem with such a starting place, however, is that the earliest Christology was not born in a Greco-Roman context, but in a decidedly Jewish one. Indeed, it was born into a Jewish world which was concretely monotheistic. And in a monotheistic Jewish world, there are no “half-way” gods.
How, then, does Ehrman avoid this obvious problem for his thesis? Richard Bauckham in his book Jesus and the God of Israel (Eerdmans, 2008), though not responding directly to Ehrman, describes Ehrman’s kind of approach precisely:
Much of the clear evidence for the ways in which Second Temple Judaism understood the uniqueness of God has been neglected in favour of a small amount of highly debatable evidence. Intermediary figures who may or may not participate in divinity are by no means characteristic of the literature of Second Temple Judaism (p.5)… Methodologically, it is imperative to proceed from the clear consensus of Second Temple monotheism to the more ambiguous evidence about so-called intermediary figures. (p.13).
Ehrman commits the very fallacy that Bauckham describes–he highlights the limited number of ambiguous or debatable passages about supposed semi-divine figures and uses those instances to override the larger and more established monotheistic trends in first-century Judaism. The problem, of course, is that even if his interpretation of these passages is correct (and that is questionable), these passages at best represent only the minority report. And why should we think the earliest Christians held this fringe/minority view of divinity when they formulated their ideas about the identity of Jesus? Or for that matter, why should we think Jesus himself held these minority views when he expressed his own identity?
Each of Ehrman’s examples of supposed semi-divine figures cannot be addressed here, but he bases his argument primarily on angels, particularly the mysterious “angel of the Lord” phenomenon in the OT. However, the idea that early Christians saw Jesus in the category of an angel runs contrary to numerous other lines of evidence. For one, Jesus is clearly distinguished from the angels (Mark 1:13; Matt 4:11), given Lordship over the angels (Matt 4:6, 26:53; Luke 4:10; Mark 13:27), and exalted in a place above the angels (Heb 1:5, 13). In addition, Jesus is accorded both worship (Matt 28:17; Luke 24:52) and the role of Creator (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Phil 2:10-11)–two key marks of God’s unique divine identity within Judaism–whereas angels are never portrayed as creating the world, nor as worthy of worship (Col 2:18; Rev 19:10, 22:9).
Ehrman attempts to overcome these clear restrictions on angel worship by flipping them around to his advantage: “We know that some Jews thought that it was right to worship angels in no small part because a number of our surviving texts insist that it not be done. You don’t get laws prohibiting activities that are never performed” (pp.54-55, emphasis his). Yes, you don’t get laws prohibiting activities that are never performed; but at the same time you can’t use laws prohibiting activities as evidence that those activities actually represent a religion’s views! It would be like using the Ten Commandments (which are filled with prohibitions) to argue that ancient Judaism was a religion that embraced idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, adultery, murder, coveting, and so on. Again, Ehrman is using what is, at best, a condemned and fringe activity (angel worship) as characteristic of first-century Judaism. That simply doesn’t work as a model for how early (Jewish) Christians would have viewed Jesus.
The Self-Understanding of Jesus
In order to argue that Jesus never thought of himself as God, Ehrman summarizes his arguments from his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford, 2001), and says that Jesus just viewed himself as an apocalyptic prophet who was ushering in the Kingdom of God (basically Albert Schweitzer redivivus). Here Ehrman adopts what he regards as the standard methodologies of modern critical scholarship, including the criteria of authenticity (and even the controversial and oft-debated criteria of dissimilarity). Of course, the upshot of Ehrman’s reconstruction of the historical Jesus is that any statements that might sound like a claim to divinity are conveniently dismissed as unhistorical. So, not surprisingly, the claims of Jesus in the Gospel of John are considered “not part of the historical record of what Jesus actually said” (p.125). In addition, Ehrman refuses to allow any statement where Jesus identifies himself as the “Son of Man.”
Needless to say, this all works out a little too neatly. Ehrman portrays his critical methods not only as something that all scholars agree upon, but as something that leads to clear cut, unambiguous results. Left unsaid is the fact that the criteria of authenticity themselves have come under tremendous fire from scholars of all stripes (e.g., see Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity [T&T Clark, 2012]). Even more, the specific criterion of dissimilarity (which fuels much of Ehrman’s reconstruction) has been vigorously debated and, in the minds of many, is fundamentally flawed. On top of all of this, even scholars who agree on the criteria reach radically different conclusions about how those criteria should be applied. Given that Ehrman has spent much of his academic career lamenting reconstructions of early Christianity which portray it as neat and tidy, and given that he is quick to point out that early Christianity was, in reality, full of debate and disagreement, it is ironic that he seems so unwilling to point out those same challenges within his own discipline. The truth of the matter is that reconstructions of the historical Jesus do not give us some clear and simple division of sayings where the human Jesus is on one side and the divine Jesus is on the other. It is much more complex than this, and Ehrman owes it to the reader to make that plain.
Take as an example Ehrman’s dismissal of the sayings where Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. This move is not at all consistent with much of modern scholarship, as can be seen by the collection of essays in the recent volume, Who Is This Son of Man? (eds. Larry Hurtado and Paul Owen; T&T Clark, 2011). If Jesus did see himself as the Son of Man, and the evidence suggests that he did, then there are numerous places in the Synoptics where Jesus sees himself in a divine role. For instance, in Matt 26:63-65 (cf. Mark 14:62/Luke 22:67-71) Jesus not only identifies himself as the Son of God, but then also identifies himself as the Son of Man coming to judge the world on the clouds of heaven–an identity that the chief priests regard as worthy of the charge of blasphemy. So, even if one were to discount the Gospel of John, there is ample evidence elsewhere for Jesus’ divine self-understanding.
But, there is another problematic aspect to Ehrman’s methodology. Slipped into the discussion (rather subtly) is the expectation that if Jesus really thought he was God he would go around talking about it all the time. Indeed, this is the very point of Ehrman’s argument when comparing John and the Synoptics: “If Jesus really went around calling himself God [in John], wouldn’t the other Gospels at least mention the fact?” (p.87, emphasis mine). There are several problems with the way Ehrman frames the question. For one, Jesus doesn’t always go around calling himself God even in John’s Gospel. There are only a handful of times where Jesus explicitly claims to be God in John–not nearly as out of sync with the Synoptics as Ehrman would claim. Beyond this, Ehrman’s statement presents an expectation that if Jesus were God he would always say it directly, something like, “Good to meet you, I am God.” But could Jesus not present himself as the God of Israel in other ways? For instance, is it not relevant that Jesus presents himself as the judge of the world, who will sit on God’s glorious throne, who reigns over the angels, and is the key to people’s eternal destinies in heaven or hell (Matt 25:31-46)? Is it not relevant that Jesus forgives sins, a prerogative that the scribes regard as solely belonging to God and thus worthy of the charge of blasphemy (Mark 2:5-6)? Is it not relevant that Jesus claims to have such a special relationship with the Father that “all things have been handed over to me” and that a person cannot know the Father unless “the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matt 11:27)? And more examples could be given.
We can agree that John’s Gospel makes such claims to divinity even more direct–as the last Gospel it is not surprising that it offers a more sustained theological reflection on the person of Jesus. But, we should not confuse the directness of a claim with the existence of a claim. The historical evidence suggests the Synoptic Jesus and the Johannine Jesus both claimed to be the God of Israel.
The Christology of the New Testament Authors
The final tenet of Ehrman’s case that we will consider here is the notion that the New Testament authors present a disparate cacophony of Christological viewpoints. In general, Ehrman argues there were two main categories of Christology, what he calls “exaltation” Christology where Jesus was an ordinary man who was later raised to a divine status, and an “incarnation” Christology where Jesus is a pre-existent divine being who later becomes a man. And within each of these broader categories, there are various sub-categories. For instance, under the “exaltation” heading, some Christians thought Jesus was made God at his resurrection (Rom 1:3-4; Acts 2:36), others thought it was at his baptism (Mark 1:11), and still others thought it was at his birth (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35). Regardless, Ehrman claims to be able to spot the subtleties of all these distinct views within the pages of the New Testament.
Needless to say, there is not space here to go through these passages one by one and address Ehrman’s interpretation of them. Instead, we shall spend our time addressing a substantial methodological problem that crops up time and time again in his reasoning. Here is the key issue: When Ehrman examines the Christological view of any given author, how does he know it actually contradicts another Christological view rather than just being a limited perspective on the whole? For instance, Ehrman claims that Mark has a different Christology than Luke–the former only thinks Jesus was God at his baptism and the latter believes Jesus was God at his birth. How does Ehrman know this? It is simple: because Mark doesn’t mention the virgin birth. Ehrman states,
[Jesus] was already adopted to be God’s Son at the very outset of his ministry, when John the Baptist baptized him. This appears to be the view of the Gospel of Mark, in which there is no word of Jesus’s pre-existence or of his birth to a virgin. Surely if this author believed in either view, he would have mentioned it (p.238).
Here is where we see a fundamental fallacy in Ehrman’s line of reasoning, namely the repeated use of the argument from silence. He assumes that if a New Testament author doesn’t mention something then they must not believe it. But, there is a reason why arguments from silence are regarded as fallacious. We simply do not know why an author included some things and not others; and it is very dangerous to suppose that we do. Think, for example, of Paul’s discussion of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 11:23-26–a topic he never discusses anywhere else. Now imagine for a moment that (for some reason) we didn’t have 1 Corinthians. We might conclude that Paul didn’t know about Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper; indeed we might even conclude that Paul didn’t believe in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And we would be flat out wrong.
Likewise, to suppose that Mark’s omission of the virgin birth means he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth (and thus must not share Matthew and Luke’s Christology) is an unsustainable line of reasoning. After all, Mark doesn’t even include a birth account! Should we conclude from that fact that he didn’t believe Jesus was born at all? Indeed, Mark omits many other stories that the other Gospels include; shall we conclude that he did not know of any of them? Historical records are inevitably limited in scope; an author cannot say everything. Thus, we cannot draw hard and fast conclusions about things an author did not include.
Unfortunately, Ehrman does not use the argument from silence only once. He uses it many times. Let me give some examples:
1. Ehrman says, “You will notice that in the preliterary traditions I have discussed there is no talk about Jesus being born of a virgin. He is a human figure, possibly a messiah” (p.230). Again, he makes the same mistake here as when discussing Mark. He assumes the absence of the virgin birth means these traditions must have rejected it and regarded Jesus as only human.
2. Ehrman says, “I should stress that these virginal conception narratives of Matthew and Luke are by no stretch of the imagination embracing the view that later became the orthodox teaching of Christianity. According to this later view, Christ was a pre-existent divine being who ‘became incarnate through the Virgin Mary.’ But not according to Matthew and Luke. If you read their accounts closely, you will see that they have nothing to do with the idea that Christ existed before he was conceived. In these two Gospels, Jesus comes into existence at the moment of his conception. He did not exist before” (p.243). Notice that Ehrman again relies on the argument from silence. He concludes Matthew and Luke do not believe in the pre-existence of Jesus (“He did not exist before”) merely because they do not mention it. But, this is not a viable argument. There is nothing in Matthew and Luke that remotely suggests they reject Jesus’ pre-existence. Indeed, a virgin birth is quite consistent with it.
3. Ehrman says, “And in this Gospel [John] Jesus talks about existing in a glorious state with God the Father before he became human (17:5). That’s what many of my students believe. But as they study the New Testament more, they come to see that such self-claims are not made by Jesus in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. So who is right?” (p.248). Incredibly, Ehrman makes the same type of argument again. He uses the silence of the Synoptics as grounds for declaring we must choose which one is right, John or the Synoptics (implying they both cannot be right). But, just because the Synoptics don’t mention Jesus’ pre-existent glorious state doesn’t mean they reject it.
4. Ehrman says, “If Jesus really were equal with God from ‘the beginning,’ before he came to earth, and he knew it, then surely the Synoptic Gospels would have mentioned this at some point… But, no, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke he does not talk about himself in this way” (p.270). Here, Ehrman presumes to know something that no one else seems to know, namely, that if the Synoptic authors believed in pre-existence, then they “would have mentioned it at some point.” Thus, their lack of mentioning it constitutes evidence that they did not believe it. But, how does Ehrman know what ancient authors “surely” would or would not do? How does he know why they include some things and not others?
All these examples demonstrate that there is concerted effort by Ehrman to find (and sometimes even create) contradictions in the Christology of the New Testament, even if the evidence does not necessitate a contradiction. This is particularly evident in Ehrman’s analysis of the ancient “hymn” in Philippians 2. There he notices that Paul (or those who originally formed this hymn) “combined an incarnation view with an exaltation view” (p.266). At first glance, one might think this is tremendous evidence that the exaltation and incarnation categories are not mutually exclusive after all, but that each of them simply offer a perspective on the whole–some Christians prefer to emphasize the former, and others the latter. This seems particularly plausible given that both views appear in the same passage by the same author (whether Paul or the author of the earlier tradition). But, incredibly, Ehrman will have none of this. Instead, he understands the combination of both views as evidence of a “transitional Christology” (p.266). In other words, he views it as just an “in between” stage in his developmental Christology where two (supposedly mutually exclusive) Christological views just happened to be found in the same passage.
Also missing from Ehrman’s analysis of the Christology of the Synoptic gospels is any discussion of the fact that Jesus is worshipped by the disciples in both Matt 28:17 and Luke 24:52. Indeed, neither of these passages is even mentioned by Ehrman (at least according to the index). Of course, he might suggest that this worship only shows that Matthew and Luke believed Jesus was exalted to (semi-) divinity, not that he was pre-existent. But, what evidence is there that monotheistic, first-century Jews would worship any being that was not the one God of Israel? In other words, does not their worship of Jesus, as Jews, reasonably imply that they believed he was the one true God who, of course, had always existed? Ehrman might reply that these disciples were willing to embrace other figures as semi-divine, like angels. But, this takes us back to the issue we discussed above, namely whether it is reasonable to think Jews would so quickly offer worship to angelic beings, especially when (a) such practices are widely condemned; (b) the Synoptic Gospels themselves clearly distinguish Jesus from the angels (indeed the angels announce his birth!); and (c) the Synoptic Gospels declare Jesus’ authority over the angels.
In the end, it is difficult to know what to think of Ehrman’s new volume. While it certainly provides a helpful introduction to some of the key issues in early Christology, it is hampered by a problematic methodology, a lopsided treatment of some of the historical evidences, and a disposition bent on finding contradictions and problems (that may not actually be there).
It would have been much more refreshing if Ehrman could have simply argued that, yes, the earliest Christians believed, from a very early time, Jesus was the God of Israel (who, by definition, is pre-existent), and they believed this because Jesus presented himself as the God of Israel, but the earliest Christians (and Jesus) were simply wrong. But, instead, Ehrman has taken a different path. Rather than arguing they were simply wrong, he has tried to argue that neither Jesus nor the early Christians really believed this in the first place (at least at the beginning). Of course, historically speaking, the latter argument is much more difficult to sustain than the former. But, at the same time it is also more attractive. It is easier to reject the claims of institutional Christianity than it is to reject the claims of Jesus himself.
Michael J. Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.
Evangelical church historian John Fea interviews historian and author Todd Brenneman about his new book, HOMESPUN GOSPEL: THE TRIUMPH OF SENTIMENTALITY IN CONTEMPORARY EVANGELICALISM; Oxford University Press; December 2013.
The Author’s Corner with Todd Brenneman
Todd Brenneman is an Assistant Professor of Christian History at Faulkner University. This interview is based on his new book Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, December 2013).
JF: What led you to write Homespun Gospel?
TB: It started out as the result of a last minute change. I was taking a grad seminar on 20th century American religious thought. I had originally intended on doing a paper on one subject but was having problems getting the sources I wanted. That’s when I thought of Max Lucado, a very popular Christian author. Having grown up in the Churches of Christ, I knew about Lucado because that was his background as well. I also knew he was very prolific and knew I could get access to his writings easily and quickly. As I was doing my paper, I realized two things: no one had written about Lucado and his approach to Christianity wasn’t what I was seeing in other studies of evangelicalism. So much written on contemporary evangelicalism—and some really excellent scholarship—was on evangelical politics and evangelical beliefs, and this wasn’t what I was seeing in Lucado. I mean it’s there, but that’s not his focus. When I presented my work during the seminar, I knew I was on to something based on the reaction of my colleagues. This was something that they had never heard of. It surprised me. Here is one of the most successful and prolific authors of contemporary evangelicalism, and he is largely ignored. So, I knew I now had my dissertation topic. When I submitted my proposal to a variety of publishers, the almost unanimous response was that it was too focused. So, I knew I needed to broaden my approach. The key for understanding Lucado I argued was seeing him as the pinnacle of a variety of trends in evangelicalism, the prime one being sentimentality. Sentimentality was an important theme in antebellum evangelicalism and liberal nineteenth century evangelicalism (and the scholarship on them), but the traditional narrative took conservative evangelicalism through fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism, and sentimentality wasn’t a major part of that trajectory. But when you look at Dwight Moody, you see this revivalist, sentimental strand that is founded on proto-fundamentalism but is trying to avoid the controversies that are developing. That was my epiphany. Sentimentality had survived through conservative evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and neo-evangelicalism. But I was more interested in the contemporary period, so I basically just sketch out some of these connections. In trying to broaden the project, I knew that I needed some other examples that were as perfect as Lucado. What made Lucado so ideal for this project is that he is so prolific, so formulaic, and so obvious about his approach. I chose to include Rick Warren and Joel Osteen because they were very similar. In approaching it this way, people have asked why them and not others? Sentimentality is so obvious in these writings (and Contemporary Christian Music and children’s media and other examples I use in the book) that it brings out in relief some things we can conclude about the function of evangelical emotionality. These were expressions getting lost in a majority of works that were focused on evangelical beliefs and evangelical politics. I wanted to contribute to the excellent work being done to challenge that narrative and also bring Lucado to scholarly attention.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Homespun Gospel?
TB: The key to making sense of contemporary popular white evangelicalism is found in evangelical emotionology and emotionality–especially sentimentality. Because evangelicals have come to rely so heavily on sentimentality, there have been unintended consequences that may actually contribute to the failure of evangelicals to transform society into their version of the kingdom of God.
JF: Why do we need to read Homespun Gospel?
TB: If someone is a scholar of American religion or American evangelicalism, I hope the book opens up new vistas to explore. I sketch a lot of contours that need to be filled in—like how sentimentality survived fundamentalism. It is there, but it needs to be excavated. The key will be fundamentalist practice, though, not theology. Also, I hope that it encourages scholars to take sentimentality seriously in evangelicalism. Jane Tompkins, Julia Stern, Tracy Fessenden, and others have encouraged us to seriously consider eighteenth and nineteenth century sentimentality as an important cultural product. Lynn Neal, and hopefully me, have tried to do that for contemporary evangelical sentimentality as well. I also think Lucado is such a fascinating individual that needs more attention. If someone is a Christian, particularly an evangelical, I want the book to cause that person to pause and reflect. We Christians in the contemporary United States often accept a variety of views and practices and media just because it has a “Christian” label on it, but we never inquire about what the consequences are to our personal Christian faith or the universal Christian faith. I tried not to impugn the motives or question the sincerity of anyone I discuss in the book, but I do think that Christians have blindly accepted some ideas by default instead of reflecting on what impact these trends will have. Especially concerning for me is how much of the mainstream, heavily marketed, mass produced Christian message is so therapeutic, individualistic, and basically narcissistic in nature. But it often seems like no one pauses and says, “Wait, is this what it is supposed to be all about?”
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
TB: In grad school I took my first course on the history of Christianity and fell in love with the people I met in my textbooks—Christians in various situations and places who had tried to make sense of the Christian message in their cultural contexts. I was particularly interested in Christianity in antiquity, but with how competitive that field was, I didn’t get into any Ph.D. programs. I took a couple of years off and did a variety of things including working in full-time ministry for awhile. I continued to read about Christian history off and on, especially histories of my Churches of Christ background. What particularly intrigued me was how much influence I saw between American culture and how we practiced Christianity. That’s when I decided to focus more on American religious history. I was accepted at Florida State University in the Religion Department to work on a second master’s and Ph.D. in American religious history. I’m glad I made the switch.
JF: What is your next project?
TB: I am working on revising an article for publication on Max Lucado and expressions of what I am calling the “cutesy” in American religion. I am trying to argue that statements like “if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it” are more complex religious symbols than scholars usually consider them and that to label them as “kitsch” misses the cultural work this kind of language does. After that I am starting a project on what I am calling “the cult of childhood” in American evangelicalism. This will be an exploration of how evangelicals have thought about children and childhood and how these conceptions have affected evangelical theology.
JF: Sounds great, thanks Todd!
Review of Stephen Westerholm, JUSTIFICATION RECONSIDERED: RETHINKING A PAULINE THEME (Eerdmans, 2013).
By John Piper
If a thoughtful layman asked me what he should read to understand the doctrine of justification in relationship to the New Perspective on Paul, I would send him to Stephen Westerholm’s new book, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (Eerdmans, 2013).
I enjoyed this book so much I found it difficult to put down. It is constructive. That is, it builds a clear and positive view of what justification is, rather than simply criticizing other views. For that reason, it provides a good introduction to the doctrine of justification itself for those who may not be clear on what Paul taught.
According to the New Perspective
But it is obviously written with a view to explaining and criticizing the so-called New Perspective (including Krister Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright). The gist of that perspective is that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a religion of legalism but of grace, and so, contrary to the historic view of Paul, legalism can hardly be what Paul found wrong with Judaism. His doctrine of justification must have had a different target.
Therefore, the New Perspective says, justification “was not about how sinners could find a gracious God (by grace, not by works), but about the terms by which Gentles could be admitted to the people of God (without circumcision, Jewish food laws, and the like). A new Perspective was born” (26).
The problem, Westerholm points out, is that the views of grace in contemporary Judaism did not exclude the merit of works alongside it. E.P. Sanders himself shows that the Rabbis “did not have a doctrine of original sin or of the essential sinfulness of each man in the Christian sense” (33). It follows, Westerholm argues, that “humanity’s predicament must be more desperate than Jews otherwise imagined” (33).
Desperate for Grace
This means that Paul’s “depiction of humanity’s condition required a much more rigorous dependence on divine grace than did Judaism’s” (34). Therefore, to show that Judaism had a doctrine of grace “is no reason to deny that Paul could have understood justification in terms of an exclusive reliance on grace in a way that was foreign to the thinking of contemporary Jews” (34).
Therefore, Paul’s doctrine of justification did target not only a Jewish view, but any human view, that presumes to make good works any part of the ground of our being found righteous before God. “For Paul, God’s gift of salvation [i.e., justification] necessarily excludes any part to be played by God-pleasing ‘works’ since human beings are incapable of doing them” (32). “Paul sees the only righteousness available to sinful human beings to be that given as a gift of God’s grace, ‘apart from works’ (Romans 3:24; 4:2, 6; 5:17) — distinguishing grace from works in a way other Jews felt no need to do” (98).
What the Doctrine Means
In a statement that summarizes the whole book, Westerholm writes that this historic view of justification, shared by the Reformers and most Protestants, cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in the face of pending divine judgment?); or that it wrongly casts first-century Jews as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of course they did, but without Paul’s need to distinguish grace from works); or that ‘righteousness’ means ‘membership in the covenant’ (never did, never will) and the expression ‘works of the law’ refers to the boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the ‘righteous’ deeds required by the law as its path to righteousness). (98)
And, Westerholm observes, it is, of course, right to “emphasize the social implications of Paul’s doctrine of justification . . . in his own day and . . . draw out its social implications for our own” (98). But we should not identify the meaningof justification with its social implications (for example, table fellowship between Gentiles and Jews in Galatians 2; and multi-ethnic implications today).
No. “The doctrine of justification means that God declares sinners righteous, apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in Jesus Christ” (99). Confusing the root with the fruit will, in the long run, kill the tree.
John Piper. © 2014 Desiring God ==========================================================
A Response to Rod Dreher’s “Sex After Christianity: Gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one.”
by Dr. Peter Jones
We live in a time of open opposition to the Christian faith in once “Christian America.” Millennial Christians, raised in the church, are leaving us in droves and if the church does not begin to think clearly and cosmologically, a whole generation could be lost. Rod Dreher, a Roman Catholic journalist associated with the John Templeton Foundation, has written a must-read article entitled “Sex after Christianity: Gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one.” (1) Dreher identifies the essence of the collapse of the “Christian” West; considers its dubious future, and suggests a way forward.
Dreher’s thesis is that many Christians fail to see that we have lost the culture not so much because the Church has failed to preach the Gospel but because the culture itself has rejected many of the fundamental elements of a Christian civilization. Dreher cites the brilliant sociologist/philosopher of the Sixties, Philip Rieff, himself not a Christian believer, who saw the old world collapsing around him and stated: “The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling.” (2)
The biblical worldview is no longer “inwardly compelling.” The best Evangelicals can do is to rush into the breach with a sentimental discourse about how God loves everyone, without showing to a godless culture the true cosmology on which the preaching of the Gospel depends. The elephant in the room, trampling orthodoxy to pieces, is homosexuality. Its destructive implications for the Christian faith are breathtaking.
As Dreher notes:
[M]any…think that same-sex marriage is merely a question of sexual ethics. They fail to see that gay marriage, and the concomitant collapse of marriage among poor and working-class heterosexuals, makes perfect sense given the autonomous individualism sacralized by modernity and embraced by contemporary culture–indeed, by many who call themselves Christians. They don’t grasp that Christianity, properly understood, is not a moralistic therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism–but is radically opposed to the cultural order (or disorder) that reigns today.” (3)
The scale and velocity of today’s moral and cosmological revolution in the area of sexuality is without precedent. We are not looking at a span of centuries or even of one century. This revolution has taken place within a single human generation–at warp speed. Giving civil rights to homosexuals did not seem a radical move, but even non-Christian thinkers understand the enormous repercussions. Writing in the heart of the Sixties Cultural Revolution, Philip Rieff, mentioned above, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), spoke of the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity.(4) He identified the sexual revolution as a determinative force for Christianity’s cultural demise. For Rieff, that “the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.” (5) But few saw just how “liberated” sexuality would become–though the Gay Liberation Front Manifesto did, forty-five years ago [see below].
The homosexual agenda is silencing every memory of behavior, speech, religious conviction, and public policy that reminds people that heterosexuality is the God-created norm for human sexuality. Anyone who adheres to such a heterosexual norm dares say so only at the risk of being arrested for discriminatory bullying.
In his article, Rod Dreher recalls a cover story in a 1993 copy of The Nation, which noted that if the gay-rights cause (then “a small and despised sexual minority”) was to succeed, it would need to invent “a complete cosmology.” As Dreher puts it: “…the gay-rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.”(6) Dreher adds, summarizing the “new” cosmology: “To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.” Dreher is right that the conflict cannot be engaged in moralistic terms but must make an appeal to fundamental cosmology, which I have been calling the conflict between a pagan Oneist homocosmology opposed to a biblical Twoist heterocosmology.
After the Sixties Cultural Revolution, homosexuality was presented to the general public as a mundane civil rights issue. Surprise! The true intent was to challenge the presumption of “heteronormativity.” In 1997, gay activist Paula Ettelbrick outlined the aims of the gay movement with a clearly-defined “queer” cosmology:
Being queer is more than sleeping with a person of the same gender…it means transforming the very fabric of our society…the goal [is the] radically reordering society’s view of family.’ (7)
With such a vast vision, the contemporary push for homosexual rights is not a democratic sop thrown to a marginal group of people for fair play. Pushed with ethical fervor through notions of “anti-discrimination” “equal rights,” and “equalities” legislation, it heralds the birth of a whole new civilization, which will deconstruct foundational social concepts such as the family and the use of terms like “father” and “mother.” There’s no “live and let live” with this agenda. It affects the entire population. With its demand that homosexuality be treated as a normal lifestyle choice, the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if passed, will federalize civil litigation against Christians and threaten every person living in a God-honoring way with expensive civil rights lawsuits. This will, in turn, hasten the indoctrination of the entire country into the pro-homosexual view. (8) Activists will push until the government imposes coercive sanctions on anyone who fails to affirm the moral goodness of gay unions. As Rieff said: “The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling.” (9) Now other ideals will compel cultural normatively.
A leading British theologian wrote to me on April 2, 2014, as Parliament formalized same sex marriage, with the following plaint:
The Rainbow Flag flew over Whitehall this past weekend, and our Deputy Prime Minister urged us to raise a glass in celebration. The Times carried an article about the upcoming marriage of two women who will be known as “Mrs. and Mrs.”…. Romans 1:32 is now, it seems, official government policy. When the waters of Oneism that have been beating the shoreline for many years come fully in, the house on the cliff top collapses with apparent, but not real, suddenness.
This old Western “Christian” world is indeed “coming apart” and in its place rises a “new world” of multi-sexual liberation, systematically promoted by both an ideological pagan Oneism and a determined elimination of the binary structure of theistic Twoism, which Scripture teaches is the way the world was made. Many in evangelicalism fail to see or refuse to see what is going on. Their superficial solutions only compound the problems.
A case in point. (10) George Barna considers David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons (founder of the Q Project) among “a handful of young adults…who understand the church, our nation’s culture and how to bless people with truth and wisdom.” (11) Their sociological study, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity (2007) declares that a generation of young Americans, aged eighteen to twenty-nine, hold overwhelmingly negative views regarding Christianity, and that these views are justified. Specifically, the Millennial generation claims that they do not see Jesus in modern Christians, whom they find… “unChristian.” Their Q Project (a series of high-powered conferences where cultural leaders of many different religious persuasions are invited to lecture) appears to be their answer to the main problem, namely that Christianity is not popular. It is an attempt to be liked, proposing a “cool,” evangelical (small “e”), intelligent, sophisticated, open-minded pluralism, made to win the approval of the progressive cultural elite. Alas, Q lacks a serious biblical cosmology. For instance, in terms of sexuality, Rachel Held Evans, at the Q Focus “Women and Calling” conference (November 2013), exhorted two hundred leading evangelical women to abandon any notions of biblical womanhood and to adopt a sort of a genderless, unisex self-understanding. This throws “red meat” to the cultural progressives who will eagerly adopt a view that eliminates the distinctive image of God as male and female as part of essential biblical cosmology. (12)
Kinnamon and Lyons, though they make this rising generation the authoritative judge of modern Christianity, do grant that “[t]his generation’s world, like none other, is coming unglued.” (13) They note that theirs is a more violent culture, bereft of fathers (14) and stable family structures, unfazed by profanity or sex before marriage, and often enslaved by debt and by drug or pornography addiction. One in four is divorced. Suicide is the third leading cause of death. In addition, “81% believe Christianity is the same as other religions.” (15) Vying for “understatement of the year,” the authors conclude: Millennials “perceive the world in very different terms than people ever have before.” (16)
Here are my problems with the UnChristian approach:
1. Why should we believe that this generation should understand true Christianity? Why base our understanding of the failures of the modern Church on a troubled and uninformed generation, whose likes and dislikes of Christianity come not from informed study but from a deep emotional rejection of the fundamental elements of the Christian faith (including its uniqueness and its teaching on moral purity) and from Hollywood caricatures of Jesus? Is this the generation on the campus of Regina University in Saskatchewan, Canada, April 14, 2014, that cheered the arrest of my friend, Peter LaBarbera, Head of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, for “hate speech,” that is, for distributing literature proposing the biblical view of sexuality and marriage? One student tweeted: “…try that hate speech here and you and I can see who wins in a knife fight. I would enjoy cutting your heart out.” (17)
The conclusion that Christianity is failing is shared not only by Kinnamon and Lyons, but by many in the Emergent Movement. A sense of embarrassment among Christians has produced various attempts to be liked by the culture, which is an exercise in sociology, not theology. Rather than seek a coherent exposé of the Christian worldview, they try to figure out which aspects of Christianity the world might like–environmentalism, social justice and forms of mysticism, for example–and then serve that up as the “true,” loving Gospel. Eventually this desire to be liked flirts with deadly heresy. So I ask: “What kind of report card should we expect from those who hate the truth (as Jesus said in John 15:18-19) and whose minds are warped and crooked (as Paul said in Philippians 2:14:)?
2. Even worse, UnChristian fails to offer any explanation of the massive changes that it recognizes in passing. They do not ask why this generation thinks the way it does. According to Lyons, Christianity in 1996 had a “strong positive image”–eighty-five percent favored Christianity’s role in society, and the Christian faith was not generating the intense hostility it does today. (18) Mysteriously, “Christians have taken several giant steps backward…,” causing many Millennials to lose respect for the Christian faith.
These are massive affirmations, but, to my mind, the important question is not asked: “have Christians gotten worse in the last generation, or has the culture dramatically changed in an anti-Christian direction?” It is odd that this question is not raised by our bright young authors since Kinnamon makes a huge admission. He notes that “the unconventional [emphasis mine] values of young adults will play an increasingly important role in shaping our society in the years to come…”, in particular, unconventional values concerning sexuality. As noted above, this is the group that “perceive[s] the world in very different terms than people ever have before.”(19) As Kinnamon and Lyons recognize, at one level, it is Millennials who have changed, not Christians. They have abandoned conventional values. But since, for this generation, “hope and change” is always good, we perhaps we need not be concerned.
This essential question I pose–“has the culture dramatically changed in an anti-Christian direction?” is not difficult to answer. The dates correspond perfectly and the polls all agree. Something big did happen to change things, namely a civilizational sea-change, which unfortunately, Kinnamon and Lyons did not consider significant enough to integrate into their analysis. We come back to the heart of Dreher’s extremely useful article, because he describes the problem with such clarity. It is not that Christians have gone backwards. It is that popular culture has abandoned its roots, to move into a world of once and future pagan worship and practice.
Since the 90’s a massive cultural change has occurred. In his best-selling book, The Marketing of Evil, (20) David Kupelian describes a 1988 event where 175 leading gay activists held a “war conference.” Present were Marshall Kirk and Hunter Johnson, who wrote a book entitled, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s.( 21) They saw the AIDS epidemic as the occasion to “establish ourselves as a victimized minority.” Their intention was to “convert the average American’s emotion, mind and will through a planned psychological attack in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media…using the mechanism of prejudice to our own ends–using the very processes that made America hate us to turn their hatred into warm regard.” (22) Clearly the inverse was a deliberate attempt to develop a fear and hatred of certain Christians, as the endless characterization of Christians as homophobes now shows.
Kinnamon and Lyons (23) admit that “gay activists have been aggressive in their attempts to change American perceptions, and media has played a significant role.” They also agree that “a new generation of adults has significantly shifted in its view and now accepts homosexuality as a legitimate way of life.” (24) But this recognized fact is not allowed to play any significant part of the UnChristian analysis or much, if any, place in its response to the problem.
It is the change in public opinion, and especially in Millennial thinking, about homosexuality that is the enormous pink elephant in the room. No one dares speak of it, but the issue is turning our culture upside down, largely thanks to the role of a media controlled by progressives. In her seminal work on “agenda groups and the media,” Kathryn C. Montgomery, former Professor of Communications at the University of California, writes that, “although a number of lobby groups have campaigned for exposure on the airwaves, the gay lobby has been by far the most organized and best coordinated, soon gaining a reputation as ‘the most sophisticated and successful advocacy group operating in network television.” (25) In a 1996 article, gay writer David Ehrenstein asserts that “[t]here are openly gay writers on almost every major prime-time situation comedy you can think of.” He goes on to list them: Friends, Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, Roseanne, Mad about You, The Nanny, Wings, The Single Guy, Caroline in the City, Coach, Dave’s World, Home Court, High Society, The Crew, and Boston Common. There are doubtless others. Ehrenstein concludes: “In short, when it comes to sitcoms, gays rule” (26) –with devastating results.
In 1996, when Christianity was still socially popular, only 28 percent supported same sex marriage. In 2013, the figure was 52 percent–nearly twice as high. Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute notes that “in 1988, only 12 percent agreed that gay couples should be allowed to marry and 73 percent disagreed.”(27) This change is especially notable among the Millennials of whom 74 percent now approve of the homosexual life style and homosexual marriage. (28)
Why were Hollywood and the media so eager to produce this change and to manipulate the rising generation? What are these elite opinion-makers really normalizing? Nothing less, in my opinion, than a powerful neo-Marxist cosmology–, that is, a re-interpretation of Marxism for the 21st century. (29) The “Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto” lifted the flap years ago, and is currently employed to great effect. (30) Peter Tatchel, a gay leader in the UK, sums up the vision of the Manifesto as “critiquing…homophobia, sexism, marriage, the nuclear family, monogamy, the cults of youth and beauty, patriarchy, the gay ghetto and rigid male and female gender roles.” (31) With incredible prescience and consistency of vision, the Manifesto says:
equality is never going to be enough; what is needed is a total social revolution, a complete reordering of civilization. Reform,…cannot change the deep-down attitude of straight people that homosexuality is at best inferior to their own way of life, at worst a sickening perversion. It will take more than reforms to change this attitude, because it is rooted in our society’s most basic institution–the Patriarchal Family. (32)
Though they may remain unnoticed for the moment, contemporary hard-Left progressive American “socialists” have the political and cultural winds in their sails. Their programmatic book, Imagine Living in a Socialist USA (33) is hailed by Paul Buhle, author of Marxism in the United States (34), as “the best, most insightful, and most lively work on socialism to appear in a long time.” (35) Among the authors is Frances Fox Piven, a prominent theorist of both socialism and “community organizing.” Piven was a former mentor to the young Barak Obama, who, together with him, was a member of Chicago’s “socialist” New Party, which followed closely the playbook of neo-Marxist, Saul Alinsky. Imagine Living states clearly that socialism is not just an economic program for income redistribution but a social agenda of radical egalitarianism. This version of Marxism is “neo” because it goes beyond the liberation of the worker (which it still includes), to a liberation of the psyche and of sexual fantasies. It is a “cosmology,” and in its views on sexuality, it is stated quite openly that this is a wholesale program of “identity politics” (36):
…our conception of socialism is not limited to restructuring work and economic activity. It embraces altering the full range of social, cultural, political and familial structures and power relations… all the institutional forces that affect our lives. (37)
In its views on sexuality, the Manifesto states that:
•the current norms of male and female will be things of the past;
•LGBTQ people will have the same access to “all cultural, social, political and economic structures”;
•marriage will be for all with no special privileges attached to it;
•sexual relations between 16 year old boys and 40 year old men will be seen as positive and healthy–[so the official honoring of a known sexual predator, Harvey Milk, (38) with a state holiday, his own commemorative stamp and the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was not a mistake];
•normalization of the activities of “sex workers.” (39)
This new “sexual” agenda is an essential element of a “post-capitalist” transformation of all of human society, and a remaking of human “identity.” Whether it will succeed is another question, but we are dealing with a neo-Marxism so committed to a classless egalitarian society that it must eradicate by any means possible embodied gender distinctions, which are the final bulwark of creational difference, written into our DNA. The goal is no longer a classless society but a classless mind and a genderless body–no longer just a fair deal for the worker but a transformation of the human psyche! At this point, such a powerful cosmology takes on an unmistakably religious character.
I will leave the final comment to Dreher, who puts his finger on the problem: Our Western culture has adopted the “complete cosmology” of that “small and despised sexual minority” in the 1960’s, which “just possibly will change America forever.” Dreher recognizes that “Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology.”
He recalls for us the importance of biblical cosmology, without which our witness will be in vain. Holding to that cosmology is our only hope for the future:
In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen. (40)
Dr. Peter R. Jones is the executive director of truthXchange, former Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary in California, and a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is the author of numerous books and articles; his latest book is One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Main Entry, 2010).
1. Rod Dreher, “Sex After Christianity,” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/sex-after-christianity
2. Cited by Dreher.
3. Dreher, art.cit.
4. Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud (Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1st ed., 2006), 121, cited by Dreher.
5. The useful analysis of Rieff by Rod Dreher, “Sex after Christianity,” The American Conservative (March/April 2013).
7. Ettelbrick Paula. Since When is Marriage a Pathway to Liberation? Quoted in Robert M Baird and Stuart Rosenbaum, Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate (New York: Prometheus Books, 1997), 168.
8.See Tony Perkins, FRC Action (5 Mar 2014).
9. Cited above.
10.I do not intend to impugn the motives of the two sincere young men I single out, David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons, and I hope that my criticism will be usefully constructive.
11. David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2007), 8.
12. http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/11/21/the-war-on-the-feminine/. A certain pluralism was maintained in that in her talk Kathy Keller, wife of Rev. Tim Keller, did bring the attendees back to Genesis 1:27.
13. Kinnamon and Lyons, UnChristian, 126.
14. Ibid., 139.
15. Ibid., 69.
16. Ibid., 100.
17. “Updated: U.S. Christian Peter LaBarbera Arrested In Canada,” BarbWire (14 Apr 2014):
18. Kinnamon and Lyons, UnChristian, 24, 38.
20. David Kupelian, The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom (WND Books, 2005), 23.
21. Marshall Kirk and Hunter Johnson, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s (NY: Plume, 1989).
22. Ibid., 155.
23. Kinnamon and Lyons, UnChristian 93.
24. Ibid., 99.
25. Kathryn C. Montgomery, Target: Prime Time: Advocacy Groups and the Struggle over Entertainment Television (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 78-9, cited in Gregory Rodgers, “Homosexuality: An Issue For our Time,” (unpublished scholarly manuscript), 160.
26.David Ehrenstein, “More than Friends,” Los Angeles Magazine (May 1996).
27. Cited in Peter Montgomery, “Historic Pro-Gay Equality Shift Led by Millennials–Evangelicals Included,” Religion Dispatches/USC (30 Aug 2011).
28. Anjana Sreedhar, “74% of Millennials Support Gay Marriage,” PolicyMic (25 Mar 2013).
29. Paul Buhle, “Marxism, the United States, and the Twentieth-Century,” Monthly Review, 61 (May 2009), optimistically states: “The realities of a collapsing ecosystem are as fearful as the threats of nuclear war in the first decade of Monthly Review’s existence. Still, there are lots of prospects in front of us and around the corner. Marxism, always unfinished, is going to be a big help in figuring out what they are and what to do about them.”
30. Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto (London: Russell Press Ltd., 1971, rev. 1978), reprinted by Gay Liberation Information Service, London.
31. Hilary White, “The revolution of the family: the Marxist roots of ‘homosexualism’,” Lifesitenews (23 Aug 2013).
32. Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto.
33. Frances Goldin, Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith, Imagine Living in a Socialist USA (New York: Harper Perennial, 2014).
34. Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left (Verso; 1991).
35. Ibid., front cover.
36. Ibid., 100.
38. Randy Barber, “Sexual Predator Honored with a U.S. Postage Stamp,” WND (25 Oct, 2013) http://www.wnd.com/2013/10/sexual-predator-honored-with-u-s-postage-stamp/#jj6D3yZ2iLgpHZvd.99
39. These phrases are taken directly from Goldin, et al., Imagine, 100-4.
40. Dreher, art.cit.
HOLDING COMMUNION TOGETHER by Tom Chantry and David Dykstra; Solid Ground Christian Books
Reviewed by Steve Martin
Christian groups produce histories of their groups. It is right that they should do so. God works in unique ways in the various Christian sub-groups and weaves a mosaic of His choosing to accomplish His purposes. Reading the various denominational histories helps one to see more of what God is doing, when all taken together, not less.
In the 1995, D. G. Hart and John Muether produced a very readable and helpful history of the confessional Orthodox Presbyterian Church, FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT. At that time I wrote a review of the book and gave it at our national Reformed Baptist Missions Service (RBMS) annual assembly. Because it is unusual for a Baptist to review a book about Presbyterians AND at a Baptist general assembly, I should tell you why I wrote it and delivered it.
American Christians have lost sight of the need for creeds and confessions. They don’t see the benefit of them and have spiritual amnesia as to the role that creeds and confessions have played in their histories.
This is especially true of Baptists and other “free churches”–i.e. churches that do not believe in a “state church”. Those interested should slowly read Carl Trueman’s THE CREEDAL IMPERATIVE to see what I mean. Creeds and confessions are very important to spiritual health and the propagation of the faith. They are second to Scripture, but they are very important. Hence confessional Baptists hold to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689 as their subsidiary, secondary document, after the inerrant Scriptures.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT was a good book for confessional Baptists to read because it chronicles the various struggles and battles that confessional Presbyterians have had to face in America. (To my knowledge, no history of the Presbyterian Church in America, PCA, has yet been written.) I said in my book report and public lecture that in my estimation, confessional Baptists have had to fight very similar battles as the OPC a half century after them. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church began in the mid-1930’s; the confessional Reformed Baptists began in the mid 1980’s. The parallels are very acute and those with eyes to see can learn much.
I am thankful that now two confessional Reformed Baptists have written a history of Reformed Baptists since World War II, HOLDING COMMUNION TOGETHER. Pastor Tom Chantry from suburban Milwaukee and Pastor David Dykstra from suburban Houston have pulled their unique resources together to produce a very insightful and judicious history of confessional Reformed Baptists over the past 50+ years.
Let me give you the chapter titles and some idea where each chapter is taking the reader.
Chapter 1–A Pink Wave–the impact of A. W. Pink
and Calvinism on the early Reformed Baptist
movement in America.
Chapter 2–Almost Presbyterian?–the theological
journeys of Ernest Reisinger and Walt Chantry,
the early leaders of the movement in Carlisle, PA.
Chapter 3–A Very Intense Manner–the theological
journey of Al Martin, leader of the Baptists in
Chapter 4–A Cord of 3 Strands, Slowly Unraveling
If Walt Chantry was influenced by Presbyterian
doctrine and practice, and Al Martin by fundamen-
talist doctrine of the pastorate and practice, Wayne
Mack was influenced by evangelical doctrine and
Chapter 5–Plagued With Weakness–the strains of the
early years of the RB movement shows the strains
and fractures that would later take place.
Chapter 6–Local Churchism–how and why the
doctrine of the local church was recovered but
not at the expense of holding communion
together. For some, the independency of the local
church is held at least as firmly as the Trinity and
the Deity of Christ. They miss or negate the need
for likeminded churches to associate.
Chapter 7–A Revolt Against Righteousness–the rise
of antinomianism among Calvinistic Baptists.
Chapter 8–Fault Lines Appear–the cracks among
the early Reformed Baptist begin to fissure.
Chapter 9–The Anatomy of a Schism–the great
falling out among the early founders of the RB
Chapter 10–Going Public
The 1689 Baptist Confession prescribes what
should happen when abusive churches are
Chapter 11–The Practice of Oversight
What is faithful shepherding and what is abusive
Chapter 12–Turning Out the Lights
Will the last pastor out of hyper-shepherding please
turn out the lights
Chapter 13–Baptist Episcopacy
When some Baptists left Baptist fundamentalism
and embraced Calvinistic soteriology, they did not
reject the fundamentalist Baptist view of the
Pastor as Pope.
Chapter 14–Hybrid Vigor
How the RB movement grew beyond the East
Coast churches to mushroom throughout the
Midwest and South.
Chapter 15–Holding the Ropes
Chapter 16–An Association is Born
The birth of the Association of Reformed Baptist
Churches of America (ARBCA) in 1996-97.
Chapter 17–Real-World Challenges
Brethren must be agreed to walk together. That
produces challenges not foreseen.
Chapter 18–The Rise of the New Calvinists
Baptist pastors in transition and their relationship
with confessional Baptists.
Chapter 19–At the Crossroads–challenges to the 1689
confession and full subscription.
Chapter 20–A Confessional Assessment
The authors wrap up their assessment.
Their are 8 appendices which further give credence to the claims of the authors that this book is history driven, not friendship driven.
Appendix 1–Letter of Invitation to the 1966 Pastors
Appendix 2–Grace Baptist Presentation on Missions,
Appendix 3–Trinity Baptist Response to Missions
Appendix 4–The Associationalism of the Philadelphia
Baptists, David Dykstra, 1993
Appendix 5–Invitation to the ARBCA Organizational
Appendix 6–Jim Renihan’s Report on the ARBCA
Organizational Meetings, 1996
Appendix 7–Confessional Subscription, Jim Renihan,
Appendix 8–Reformed Baptist Associations, Renihan, 1998
This reviewer has been a part of these proceedings since the late 1980’s. I have witnessed the triumphs and tragedies of the movement to this point. I have grieved over the harm done to Christ’s reputation and God’s people by abusive shepherding. (I have compiled and edited a book about abusive shepherding, BIBLICAL SHEPHERDING OF GOD’S SHEEP; Day One Publications.) I have participated in many formal meetings, organizational meetings, peace meetings, cooperative meetings, antagonistic meetings and one-on-one appointments. I find the book uncomfortable to read at places but highly accurate.
The webpages that grew into this book have come under attack from those who do not like to see their heroes exposed as less than demi-gods. I have observed for 30 years that disputes about doctrine and documents quickly degenerate into disputes about personalities and power politics. Theologian Andrew Naselli recently condensed a chapter by Wayne Grudem from BEYOND THE BOUNDS (Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity). Naselli
condenses Grudem’s remarks regarding the temptations we all have to overlook the errors and excesses of our friends and companions and resist any attempt to correct these men and hold them to account:
Wayne Grudem, “Why, When, and for What Should We Draw New Boundaries?” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity [free PDF] (ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth; Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 369 (numbering added):
“Some wrong questions to ask:
(It is important to add that there are some questions that should not be part of our consideration in deciding which doctrinal matters to exclude with new boundaries.)
These are questions such as the following:
Are the advocates my friends?
Are they nice people?
Will we lose money or members if we exclude them?
Will the academic community criticize us as being
Will someone take us to court over this?
Such questions are all grounded in a wrongful fear of man, not in a fear of God and trust in God.”
God’s own Word shows the truth of the lives of God’s servants, warts and all. I believe He will honor this honest “warts and all” telling of the first half-century of the confessional Reformed Baptist. There is much promise to our movement even as we learn from our many painful memories. But there is more of Christ’s glory to see and savor too!
May our next 50 years show forth more of Christ’s glory with more holy ministers and more healthy congregations. We shall have to be honest with ourselves and repent of our many mistakes. Thank you Pastor Chantry and Dykstra for helping our movement to face the past and in doing so, doing the hard thing well!
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin
Jacob Arminius, Theologian of Grace
ARTICLE BY W. ROBERT GODFREY MARCH 2014
Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, JACOB ARMINIUS: THEOLOGIAN OF GRACE, Oxford (Oxford University Press),
2012, 240pp. $24.99/£18.99
Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall are well-trained scholars in historical theology, both receiving Ph.D. degrees from Calvin Theological Seminary after studying there with Richard Muller. They also acknowledge themselves to be drawn to Arminian theology. They have set out to write a clear, balanced, and sympathetic introduction to the theology of the Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius (1559-1609). In many ways they have succeeded very well.
This book presents the teaching of Arminius on God and Christ, creation and fall, sin and salvation, grace and predestination. Ultimately it shows that Arminius taught what we might call a very Augustinian Arminianism. His driving concern was not to defend human free will or natural ability, but rather to protect the goodness of God and to avoid even a hint that he might be the author of sin. Arminius is very clear that man is completely lost in sin and that grace is absolutely necessary as the efficient cause of regeneration. But that grace can be resisted and lost by the regenerate. The great predestinating decree of God is that all who believe will be saved and so predestination is conditional. They note that Richard Muller suggested that Arminius’ really had a “theology of creation” (p. 93) while they want to call him a “theologian of grace.” I might suggest that we call him a theologian of the goodness of God.
In a significant advance on the analysis of Carl Bangs, Stanglin and McCall show that Arminius clearly makes use of Luis Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge in his discussion of predestination to show how God can certainly know future, contingent events. They cite Richard Muller to show the usefulness of middle knowledge: “like Molina, Arminius uses the doctrine to argue that ‘God has eternally determined to distribute to all mankind the grace necessary for salvation. Grace is, thus, unequally distributed but is sufficient for each individual. According to his scientia media, God knows how individuals will accept or resist the assistance of his grace and can destine them either to glory or reprobation on the grounds of their free choice'” (p. 68). Stanglin and McCall suggest that this position on predestination makes Arminius a “modified Thomist” (p. 43).
While the consideration of the theology of Arminius in this study is good as far as it goes, at a number of points we might have expected more analysis and evaluation. First, this study of the theology of Arminius is not comprehensive. For example, no doctrine of the church is examined even though Arminius prepared disputations on the church, and issues such as the authority of the confessions of the church and the relationship of the church to the civil magistrates were very important in the experience of Arminius.
Second, although Calvinist theologians have often been accused of developing their theology as a logical extension of certain basic principles, it would appear that this charge might be applied more appropriately to Arminius. Stanglin and McCall write: “Arminius’s positions on the controversial issues of his day can be understood only within the context of his doctrine of God, from which flowed the rest of his theology” (p. 48). Yet they do not raise the question as to whether he is operating with a central doctrine that then is developed by logic rather than by Scripture.
Third, our authors note that Arminius was often more the critic than the constructive theologian: “Arminius’s major treatises that deal with predestination give much more attention to what he opposes than to what he proposes” (p. 134). Little analysis is given to the fairness of Arminius’s often repeated and biting criticism that unconditional predestination logically makes God the author of sin (see for example p. 130). Yet they rather easily dismiss Calvinist criticisms of the implications of Arminius’ thought, whether on subordinationism (p. 90), justification (p. 168), assurance (p. 179), or responsibility for the “Enlightenment rationalism and doctrinal latitudinarianism” of the Remonstrant church in the latter part of the seventeenth century (p. 192). Arminius seems always to give the “fair implications” (p. 181) of Reformed theology, but Calvinists always seem always unfair to him. In particular the book presents at great length Arminius’s criticism and rejection of supralapsarianism, but never asks if Arminius’s emphasis was appropriate since supralapsarianism was a minority point of view among the Calvinists.
Still, even our authors seem a little embarrassed by the rhetoric of Arminius when he states that supralapsarianism is “‘a perversion of the gospel of Christ'” (p. 125), “the subversion of the ‘foundation of religion in general, and of the Christian religion in particular'” (p. 126), and “is inspired by Satan and is a doctrine quite compatible with the kingdom of darkness” (p. 129). They seek to exculpate him by recording “his belief that God in his goodness pardons those who teach false doctrine out of ignorance” (p. 129). Since Arminius’s complaints seem directed principally at Gomarus, a learned professor of theology, can we hope that he was pardoned for his ignorance?
Fourth, the reader would have been helped with more attention to Arminius’s relation to the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism to which he, like all the ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church, subscribed. They note his insistence that he agreed with the confessional standards (pp. 34f, 137, 202, 205), but also record his desire to see them revised (p. 14). Stanglin and McCall do not offer, where it would have been helpful, a comparison of Arminius’s teaching on providence (p. 105), supralapsarianism (p. 111), original sin (pp. 147-9), sanctification and perfection (pp. 171f), and faith (p. 178) with the teaching of the confession and catechism.
Fifth, while the book presents the basic aspects of the theology of Arminius clearly and helpfully, it does not ultimately address the question of the significance of Arminius as a theologian. It may seem obvious that Arminius is a very important theologian in that he gave his name to a large, influential branch of Protestant soteriological thought. The book certainly shows that Arminius was a bright and erudite theologian. But by almost any other criteria the book itself seems to acknowledge that he was not very important. He published almost nothing during his lifetime and did not present anything that was creative, novel, or innovative in his theology. He did not originate a school of theology or inspire followers who continued or refined his thought. The seventeenth-century Remonstrants, who looked back to him as a hero, departed from him radically in the direction of Socinian or Enlightenment thought. The book itself states that he did not directly influence any later theologians. Arminius is simply one expression of what we might call the Erasmian or semi-Pelagian tendency in Christian theology throughout the history of the church.
Stanglin and McCall have a prolonged discussion as to whether Arminius’s teaching of conditional predestination is semi-Pelagian (pp. 158-64). The discussion is rather confusing. On the one hand they object strenuously to anyone calling Arminius semi-Pelagian because they want to stress his theology is so much a theology of grace. On the other hand they acknowledge that Arminius clearly teaches that after the initial sovereign work of grace, those regenerated by grace can resist and reject it. They also acknowledge that a number of historians have called such a notion of the resistibility of grace semi-Pelagian. They acknowledge that ultimately the question can only be answered on the basis of how one defines semi-Pelagianism. Certainly in the history of doctrine, the term has been used to describe positions from those near to Pelagius to those near to Augustine. Arminius is semi-Pelagian, but towards the Augustinian end of that spectrum.
Sixth, if the theology of Arminius is not so significant, why is he an important historical figure? The book is clear that it is not a study of the history of Arminius, stating that it relies on the valuable biography of Carl Bangs. Yet it is Arminius’s resistance to the dominant Calvinism of his day that makes him a hero for many. More importantly the historical setting in which he worked influenced the way in which Arminius wrote more than this book acknowledges. Certainly he focused so much on supralapsarianism in his “Declaration of Sentiments” at least in part as an effort to set Calvinist against Calvinist in the Dutch Reformed Church.
Despite the long list of additions that I would have desired in this book, I want to reiterate that it is very clear and readable. It succeeds in what it set out to do: present an introduction to the theology of Arminius. The book helped me see Arminius as a theologian of the goodness of God. It did not convince me that he teaches the biblical doctrine of grace.
This review first appeared on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, REFORMATION 21, March, 2014.
W. Robert Godfrey is President and Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California.
William Bridge’s Ministry of Encouragement in A LIFTING UP FOR THE DOWNCAST
BY BARRY WAUGH MARCH 2014
William Bridge was born about the year 1600 in Cambridgeshire, England. He entered Emmanuel College of Cambridge University, where he received his B.A. in 1623 and his M.A. in 1626. He became the rector of St. Peter’s, Hungate, Norwich, where he was eventually suspended from preaching by Bishop Matthew Wren of the Church of England. Bridge left England to take refuge in Holland where he renounced his Church of England ordination, abandoned episcopal church polity, and was ordained as an independent minister. From there, he returned to England in 1642. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly, advocating independent church government in the debates over church polity. Bridge died at Clapham on March 12, 1670.
It was in the year 1648 that William Bridge preached at Stepney, London, the thirteen sermons published the following year in A Lifting up for the Downcast. The text he used for encouraging the depressed was Psalm 42:11: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God. For I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God.” (KJV)
A Lifting Up offers several perspectives on his subject, but for this article four of Bridge’s insights will be considered–peace and discouragement, Trinitarian peace, covenantal consolation, and the defeat of discouragement by faith in Christ. The page references given in parentheses are found in the Banner of Truth edition of A Lifting Up for the Downcast, 2009.
Peace and Discouragement
Bridge’s presentation of peace and discouragement is given through three truths he observed in the first part of Psalm 42:11, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God.” His first truth is, “there is an inward peace and quietude of soul, which the saints and people of God ordinarily are endued with” (7). A Christian’s foundational peace is knowing that sins are forgiven through justification by faith which brings peace with God. However, Bridge’s second truth about Christian peace is that it “is possible … this peace may be interrupted, and God’s people may be much discouraged, cast down and disquieted” (7). So, the Christian enjoys “inward peace” based on having been forgiven for sin, which was Bridge’s first truth, but that peace may be disturbed by circumstances and trying times, which is the second truth. The resolution to the burdened believer’s difficult times is found in Bridge’s third fundamental truth, which is that, “the saints and people of God have no reason for their discouragements whatever their condition may be” (7). When Bridge says that the downcast “have no reason for their discouragements,” he is encouraging the suffering to turn their attention from their difficult circumstances to look to the resources found in the sovereign Lord.
The peace which the Christian enjoys is Trinitarian peace because of its source in the ministry of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian nature of God’s ministry of peace is effected in the Christian’s life through each member of the Trinity ministering in a manner unique to His person. What Bridge does throughout A Lifting Up is argue from the lesser to the greater; when problems that are causing distress are considered in the light of the greater power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then those personal difficulties seem small before the greatness of God.
The saints and people of God are, as I may so speak, of God’s special acquaintance, and so they have peace, for they walk with God, and have communion with Him. They have communion with the Father, and He is the God of all consolation; they have communion and fellowship with the Son, and He is the Prince of Peace; they have communion and fellowship with the Spirit, and He is the Comforter. They have communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, in and by the gospel; and that is the word of peace, the gospel of peace. The saints and people of God, therefore, ordinarily have peace within (9).
The Father gives peace to the Saints by His prerogative in that it is the will of God to give inward peace to His people (9). God the Father will also give consolation through His promise of peace as described in Psalm 29:11 and Isaiah 26:3 (10). It is an element of the Father’s ministry to the redeemed that He gives not only the eternal peace of justification but also the temporal peace necessary to face the contingencies of life.
The Son is engaged to give peace because He is qualified and endowed to do so by the Father as described in Isaiah 41:4 (11,12). John 14:27, 20:19 shows the Son’s disposition is as a meek but powerful shepherd who has a tender and loving concern for His sheep (13). The Son’s office, as the great High Priest ministering between God and man, fulfills the Old Testament office of priest. What is more, the Son has suffered the temptations of this world and compassionately brings peace.
The Holy Spirit is engaged to give peace to the saints as their executor and advocate. The Holy Spirit executes Christ’s will to bring peace to the Saints as the great Comforter who was promised (13f). Though Jesus is the Christian’s advocate, Bridge notes that, in effect, there are two advocates, “but I say, we have, as it were two Advocates, one in heaven above [Jesus], and one in our bosom [the Holy Spirit]” according to 1 John 1:2; John 14:16 (14). Bridge’s vivid language shows the application of the Comforter’s work within the follower of Christ.
God’s Covenant provides assurance that the redeemed will never again lie under God’s wrath because Jesus bore that wrath for the elect. The Lord’s blessings come to the people of God through the mercy of salvation that yields both temporal and eternal security. Bridge comments on the Covenant particularly with reference to the Noahic administration.
Therefore if God be in covenant with a man, he shall never lie under wrath again; for though the world sin, the world shall never be drowned again; and so, though he commit sin, he shall never lie under wrath again. Now as for the people of God, they are all in covenant with God; they are under this gracious covenant, and therefore, though the mountains may be removed, God’s mercy shall never be removed from them; and though the great hills may be thrown into the sea, the people of God, once in covenant with God, shall never be thrown into hell. Tell me then, have you, that are the people of God, any just cause or reason to be cast down, or to be discouraged? (71)
He here ends his comments regarding the greatness of the covenant with his oft-repeated question, “have you any … just cause or reason to be cast down,” which he uses to turn the depressed to look beyond their troubles to God. The covenant assures God’s people that they will not be abandoned in their trials. Bridge observes further that “thus it is with every child of God. He is in this covenant of grace, and so the privileges and immunities of all this great charter belong unto him” (107-108, 136-37). The covenant of grace brings reassurance to the downcast. The covenant is the believer’s greatest and surest encouragement because it is rooted in the strength, might, sacrificial blood, and power of God. William Bridge turns the disconsolate to what God has done in His covenantal condescension to bring the grace of redemption and its resulting peace, hope, and comfort.
Discouragement Defeated by Faith in Christ
The last sermon in A Lifting Up is titled, “The Cure of Discouragements by Faith in Jesus Christ,” which is both an evangelistic appeal to the downcast to believe the Gospel and encouragement to the Christian to live in faith. The theme is, in good pastoral fashion, short but sweet–Faith is the help against all discouragements (262). Faith rests upon Christ for redemption, but faith also is applied in daily living and growth in sanctification. Though the Christians of the seventeenth century were discouraged by wars and disasters, fearsome diseases and plagues, and the daily struggles to live faithfully in service to Christ–Faith is the help against all discouragements. The restless soul does not find repose until it rests through faith in the arms of the Sovereign of the universe and lives by faith.
Fear and discouragement, observed Bridge, arise in Christians because they sometimes do not see their situations fully with the eyes of faith (268). Examples presented by him to make his point include things such as problems being blown out of proportion, or conversely, not seen to be as bad as they really are; temptations appear to be unendurable despite the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13; and afflictions may often appear to be pointless from the perspective of the downcast person (268). Bridge expanded on his thought.
Now it is only faith that shews a man the end and the issue of all his troubles. It stands upon the high tower of the threatening and promise, seeing over all mountains and difficulties; it sees into the other world; it sees through death and beyond death; it sees through affliction and beyond affliction; it sees through temptation and beyond temptation; it sees through desertion and beyond desertion; it sees through God’s anger and beyond His anger: I say, it sees things past, present and to come. If a man had such power as to be able to recollect all his former experiences, to see things present as they are, and to see all the events and issues of things to come, would he not be quiet notwithstanding all that might arise for the present? Thus faith is able to shew a man things past, present, and to come; and to shew him greater matter of comfort than the matter of his troubles is; and in so doing it must needs quiet the soul (269-70).
True faith sees that the answers to all fears, anxieties, miseries, and wants are found only in Christ (270). One of the illustrations presented by Bridge is the oft-used example of the English Reformer, Hugh Latimer, who said as he and Ridley went to the stake, “Come, my beloved brother though we pass through the fire today, yet we shall light such a candle in England as shall never be put out again.” Bridge says of this event that Latimer exhibited faith to see beyond the troubles and confusion of this life and into God’s greater purpose (274). Though the example of Latimer and Ridley has been often used by ministers, it never fails to show the spectacles of redeemed vision and the ability to look beyond the situation.
Many would say that nothing could be learned from a book first published by a minister over three-hundred-fifty years ago. It might be said that because Bridge lived so long ago his teaching cannot help a person today suffering discouragement and depression because his world was nothing like that of the twenty-first century. Things are too different. Bridge read books printed on paper and covered with leather, but today book pages might be electrons formed into words behind a sheet of glass. He likely lived in a house with a few rooms, roofed with thatch, and heated by a primitive fireplace, but today there is electricity, central heating, and fire retardant construction materials. His idea of rapid transit was riding a horse instead of walking, but today automobiles, trains, and aircraft speed travelers to their destinations. The list of differences could go on and on. However, no matter how much one might protest the political, social, technological, and other changes, there is one thing that is the same–those dead in trespasses and sin need to be raised to newness of life through the grace of redemption. As Bridge noted, justification is applied through faith, but faith also becomes a way of life for the Christian as God works all things together for good including the situations in which the believer becomes downcast, depressed, and discouraged.
In the 1640s in England, the Christian might have been downcast about the war between Parliament and the Crown, the dismal forecast for harvesting a good field of crops, the rising price of waddle-and-daub timber frame homes, or the rumors of a strange new epidemic on the Continent killing thousands. In the twenty-first century, there is concern about terrorism, pesticides, contaminated food, the mortgage rate, political systems, wars, and different epidemics and diseases, but fundamentally and in their nature people are the same, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Bridge calls downcast Christians to take their eyes off of themselves and their conditions, and look unto God who is the author and finisher of their salvation. Today, as in the seventeenth century, consolation is found in the fundamental peace of redemption, the unique compassionate ministries of the persons of the Trinity, and the covenant of grace. True, biblical, redemptive faith views the Christian’s circumstances as the working out of God’s caring and compassionate will, so Bridge turns the beleaguered believer to Psalm 42:1, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?,” which he answers with the work of the Great Comforter speaking through Scripture about the everlasting arms of God wrapped around those redeemed through the work of Christ.
Dr. Barry Waugh is a church historian and scholar.
“THE TRUE BOUNDS OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM”
by Samuel Bolton
Banner of Truth
A. SAMUEL BOLTON–brief biographical background
Samuel Bolton (1606-1654) was a Puritan pastor, member of the Westminster Assembly, Master of Christ College, Cambridge and later vice-chancellor of Cambridge University.
He is described by James Packer as a “learned, exact, orthodox Puritan minister, not original or striking in print, but clear and warmly evangelical”. The Puritan biographer, Benjamin Brook notes that Bolton was so burdened for the souls of the lost that he preached every day for free during his Vice-Chancellorship of Cambridge, having no church of his own at that time to give the gospel to. By his peers he was considered a man of much prayer, reading, meditation and temptation (trial), the four things which Luther said made a preacher.
During his final sickness, when being moved in his bed, he said: “Let me alone; let me lie quietly. I have as much comfort as my heart can hold.” Later, as death approached, he cried: “Oh this vile body of mine! When will it give way that my soul may rise and go to God.? When will it be consumed that I may mount to heaven?” His will stated that he wished to “be interred as a private Christian and not with the outward pomp of a doctor” because he hoped to rise in the day of judgment and appear before God “not as a doctor but as a humble Christian.” His funeral eulogy described him as “simple, other-worldy man whose preaching ‘snatched our souls by vigorous sympathy'”. Dr. Edmund Calamy preached his funeral sermon. [He is not to be confused with the older Puritan minister and author of the same last name, Robert Bolton.]
His great legacy to the churches is his classic THE TRUE BOUNDS OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM. It is in regards to this book that I have been asked to give a review and commendation to you today.
B. A WORD ABOUT THE BOOK AND IT’S PURITAN FORMAT
The Puritans have been described as wordy, verbose, fulsome to the point of weariness. I am sure that some of that criticism reflects the impatient, instantaneous fulfillment mindset of the age we live in. But it is true of some Puritans that they lacked a good editor! Thankfully, Samuel Bolton’s THE TRUE BOUNDS OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM had S. M. Houghton of the Banner of Truth to edit this work into a workable format.
It is helpful to photocopy the elaborate Table of Contents and use it as a bookmark to keep one’s focus clear on what point and sub-point and sub-sub point the author is making. That is my only caveat.
Please do not be put off by this. Do not begrudge the time and mental energy needed to work through this text. It is a goldmine of exposition and application of the right evangelical use of the Law of God. During the Puritan Revival, faithful pastors had to deal with both legalists on the one hand and antinomians on the other. Bolton has both in mind as he expounds the right use of God’s Law in the Bible’s scheme of salvation and Christian living.
Patrick Fairburn’s THE REVELATION OF LAW IN SCRIPTURE and Earnest Kevan’s THE GRACE OF LAW may be more scholarly and more clearly laid out, but they do not top Bolton’s warm pastoral explanation of the right uses of God’s Law. Bolton’s book can be given to laymen who read good books and who need to be better grounded in the relationship of Law and the Gospel.
II. AN OVERVIEW OF “THE TRUE BOUNDS OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM ”
(John 8:36–“If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”)
I. TRUE CHRISTIAN FREEDOM
–the nature of Christian freedom
–the quality of Christian freedom
–the branches of Christian freedom
A. FREEDOM IN ITS NEGATIVE ASPECTS (6 points)
1. freedom from Satan
2. freedom from sin
3. freedom from the Law
a. freedom from the law as a covenant
b. freedom from the curses of the law
–5 reasons the law cannot condemn the
–true and false appeals to the court of
c. freedom from the accusations of the law
d. freedom from the vigor of the law
4. freedom from obedience to men
5. freedom from death
6. freedom from the grave
B. FREEDOM IN ITS POSITIVE ASPECTS (7 points)
1. freedom from a state of wrath to a state of
mercy and favor
2. freedom from a state of condemnation to a
state of justification
3. freedom from a state of enmity to a state of
4. freedom from a state of death to a state of
5. freedom from a state of sin to a state of
6. freedom from a state of bondage to a state
7. freedom from a state of death and to a state
of life and mercy
II. THE MORAL LAW AS A RULE OF OBEDIENCE
A. ARE CHRISTIANS FREED FROM THE MORAL LAW AS A RULE
OF OBEDIENCE? (It was a controversy in Puritan
days as it is today and Bolton admits of varying
B.THE SCRIPTURAL USES OF THE WORD “LAW”
1. the O.T. Scriptures
2. the whole word of God
3. the 5 books of Moses
4. the pedagogy of Moses
5. the moral law alone
6. the ceremonial law
7. all the laws
C. THE LAW REMAINS AS A RULE OF WALKING FOR THE
PEOPLE OF GOD
1. the testimony of the Reformed Confessions
2. the testimony of the New Testament
3. Five proofs for the binding nature of the Law
4. Five additional reasons for the obedience to
SAMPLE QUOTE, from page 71–“Just as the Papists
set up the law for justification, so the
antinomians decry the law for sanctification.
We claims to be free from the curses of the
law; they would have us free from the guidance,
from the commands of the law. We say we are free
from the penalties of the law, but they would
abolish the precepts of the law. They tell us
that we make a false mixture together of Christ
and Moses, and that we mingle law and gospel
together. We cry down the law in respect to
justification but we set it up as a rule of
sanctification. The Law sends us to the gospel
that we may be justified; and the gospel sends
us to the Law again to inquire what is our duty
as those who are justified.”
III. LAW AND GRACE
A. THE LAW IS NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH GRACE
1. Seven reasons for which the Law was given
a. to restain sin
b. to uncover and reveal sin
c. to humble men for their sin
d. a direction for walking/living
e. a measure to show our weaknesses
f. a reproof and correction of sin
g. to spur us to our duties
2. Five reasons why the Law is not incompatible
3. Three objections answered
IV. CHASTISEMENTS FOR SIN
A. ARE CHRISTIAN FREED FROM ALL PUNISHMENTS &
CHASTISEMENTS FOR SIN ?
B. DOES CHASTISEMENT PERTAIN TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. New Testament teaching on chastisement
2. Various objections answered
3. Main arguments against chastisement stated
4. Five reasons why God chastens His people
a. God may do it for the terror of wicked
men that they may read their destiny in
the saints miseries.
b. God may do it for the manifestation of
His justice, that He may show to the
world that He is just.
c. God may do it to remove scandal
d. God may do it for caution to others
e. God also chastens His people for their
own good here and for the furtherance of
their salvation hereafter.
5. Concluding considerations about God
chastening His people
V. PERFORMANCE OF DUTY
A. IF A BELIEVER IS UNDER THE MORAL LAW AS A
RULE OF DUTY, IS HIS LIBERTY IN CHRIST NOT
INFRINGED OR LIMITED ?
1. Christ has not redeemed us from the matter of
service but the manner of service
2. Christ has redeemed us from a slavish spirit
in service & brought us into a son-like
3. Christ has redeemed us from a spirit of
bondage to a spirit of liberty
4. He has broken the bonds of subjection to
other lords, that we might take upon
ourselves the yoke of service to Him whose
yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
B. 3 MISTAKES WITH REGARD TO THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY
1. the mistake of those who wait for the Spirit
to move them (E.g. Dr. Tom Ascol deal with
two argumentative antinomains by photocopying
pages from Joseph Fletcher’s SITUATION ETHICS
and giving it to them to read (with the title
2. four ways in which the devil cleverly seeks
to move Christians to do their duty
3. the mistake of those who think that they are
to do nothing else but pray
4. the mistake of those who think they are to
perform their duty because their own hearts
incline them to do it (in other words,
obedience must arise from within, not from
without from the compulsion or duty of an
C. FOUR WAYS IN WHICH THE BELIEVER IS FREE FROM DUTY
1. we are free from duty as our paid job
2. we are free from duty as our trade
3. we are free from duty done in the slavery of
spirit but are rather done in a son-like
4. we are free from duty upon the tenders and
terms commanded in the law
D. 9 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LEGAL OBEDIENCE &
1. the spirit to duty in legal obedience is
slavish; in evangelical obedience it is
2. the evangelical man obeys as his delight;
the legalist as his burden
3. the legal man performs duty from the
convictions of his conscience; the
evangelical man from the necessity of his
4. the legal one looks for satisfaction in the
performance of the duty; the other looks for
satisfaction in the duty as he finds Christ
5. the legal man contents himself with the
shell; the evangelical man is not content
without the substance
6. the legal man performs duty in order to live
by it; the evangelical mn looks beyond the
duty and lives by Christ alone
7. the legal man does things formally and
coldly; the evangelical man does it fervently
8. the formal, legal man does duty with a view
to serving other ends but the evangelical
man does his duty as part of his happiness,
a piece of his glory
9. the legal man does his duty without stomach
or desire for it; the evangelical man does
his duty because he delights, desires and
pleasures in it.
E. DELIGHTING IN DUTY
SAMPLE QUOTE, p. 147–“The freeness of the
Christian consists in this, that he obeys
the commands of God, not only because God has
commanded them; but out of principles of love
and delight, and because he has within his heart
a nature agreeable to the things commanded. He
prays because God commands prayer, but not only
so. He prays because there is a suitableness
between his heart and the work of prayer,
between his soul and the duty. He has desires
after God, and his soul delights in his
approaches to and his conversing with God.”
VI. PARTIAL BONDAGE
A. CAN CHRIST’S FREE MEN SIN THEMSELVES INTO BONDAGE
B. TWO KINDS OF BONDAGE
1. universal bondage
a. bondage to sin
b. bondage to Satan
c. bondage to the Law
2. partial bondage
a. a bondage in respect of comfort
b. the five-fold peace of the Christian man
c. a bondage in respect of the manner of
VII. OBEDEINCE FOR THE SAKE OF A REWARD
A. MAY CHRIST’S FREE MEN PERFORM DUTIES FOR
THE SAKE OF A REWARD ?
1. Three opinions respecting this stated and
a. some believe we perform duties quid pro
quo–to merit heaven and glory (e.g. the
Council of Trent)
b. some believe that we should never
perform duty with any eye toward a
c. some believe that we may perform out
duties with an eye on the recompense of
2. What is meant by “rewards”?
3. Is the eyeing of rewards an infringement
upon Christian liberty?
a. with reference to temporal blessing
b. with reference to spiritual benefits
c. with reference to eternal rewards
–the lawfulness of it
–the necessity of it
VIII. OBEDIENCE TO MEN
A. ARE CHRISTIAN FREED FROM OBEDIENCE TO MEN ?
B. TWO KINDS OF SUBJECTION
1st–subjection which may be yielded with the
preservation of Christian liberty
2nd–subjection which may not be yielded
without the loss of Christian liberty
C. OBEDIENCE TO THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE
IX. THE APPLICATION TO BELIEVERS AND UNBELIEVERS
A. THE MISERABLE BONDAGE OF THE UNBELIEVER
1. to sin
2. to Satan
3. to the Law of God
B. THE DUTY OF THE BELIEVER
1. to maintain Christian liberty
2. not to abuse Christian liberty
Psalm 119:32–“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” (NIV)
I John 5:3–“This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.”
SPECIAL NOTE:This BOOK REVIEW was first given at the Banner of Truth Pastors Conference at Messiah College in Grantham, PA in 2004.
Theodore Dwight Bozeman, THE PRECISIONIST STRAIN: DISCIPLINARY RELIGION & ANTINOMIAN BACKLASH IN PURITANISM TO 1638 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2004).
Theodore Dwight Bozeman is a scholar of primary importance in the field of Puritan studies. His 1988 work “To Live Ancient Lives”: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism is the standard text on primitivism, and his most recent book The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion & Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 is destined to function similarly as an examination of the tensions present in Pietist and antinomian English Reformed theology. Skillfully written and carefully executed, it makes an important contribution to our understanding of the difficulties present in developing Puritanism in England and America through the fourth decade of the Seventeenth century.
It deserves careful attention, as it fills out our knowledge of the varieties of belief and practice within the burgeoning movement. The perception of a monolithic consensus within Puritanism, often present among those who appreciate the theological and pastoral writings of the era, cannot stand up to the evidence so skillfully presented in this book.
The title of the book is a neat double entendre. It identifies the Puritan species (strain) known for its precise manner of living, while demonstrating that this precision put tremendous pressure (strain) on the saints who sought to live according to its precepts. Some responded by advocating practice that highlighted more centrally the work of divine initiative in the ordo salutis. Others more radical, unable to bear the level of exertion necessary for the demand, developed a contra-piety, what Bozeman denominates an “antipode,” in response.
To a large degree, the Precisianists may be traced to the ministry of Richard Greenham, vicar in the Cambridgeshire village of Dry Drayton, whose reputation for red-hot preaching, searching casuistry and fervent counsel to fellow-pastors led to something of a household seminary at his manse and senior status among puritan ministers. His ideas, disseminated both personally and through publication, provided the impetus for a careful examination of conscience and behavior among adherents of the church. Following Greenham were men such as Richard Rogers, William Perkins, and the majority of the New England puritans. These carried forward the detailed application of the principles of what Bozeman calls “a zest for control and purity so strict as to evoke the epithet ‘precise’” (page 333).
Bozeman locates this zeal in a complex of theological issues, but at root in the type of covenant theology advocated by Greenham and his successors. He identifies several contributing factors: the problem of assurance and the practical syllogism, the necessity of self-examination, and even the importance of personal participation in achieving salvation. When the covenant is viewed as conditional, focus tends to shift to human actions, producing a legalistic religion.
The response to this turn in the direction of legalism was the complex development of “antinomianism” in several “waves.” The first came from English ministers like John Eaton and Tobias Crisp; the latter appeared in New England, in both mild and radical forms. John Cotton is identified as the theologian of the more minor form; Ann Hutchinson is the focal point of the more virulent mode. Bozeman expertly sorts through these variations, assesses their causes, and demonstrates the points of differences between the establishment and the protestors. The tensions were real, especially in New England. The Antinomian Controversy of 1636-38 was the first great test for the errand into the wilderness.
Perhaps there is more that may be said about the tensions present. While Bozeman frequently presents covenant theology via commercial metaphors (e.g. contract), this approach oversimplifies and at times misrepresents covenant theology and fails to reckon with the diversities present among those committed to this system. Certainly among federalists there were those who emphasized this kind of commercialism, and thus degenerated into legalism; there were, however, other formulations that avoided it. It is probably best to think of the various articulations as differing points on a spectrum defined by the mono-pleuristic/di-pleuristic distinction present in more than a few expressions of the structure. Mono-pleurism tends to emphasize the unconditional divine aspects of the covenant: heavenly initiative, sovereign imposition, pneumatic priority. Di-pleurism notes the conditional human aspects: the acts of faith and repentance, the necessity of pressing after heavenly things, the responsibility of perseverance.
But these two are not antithetical-in most formulations, theologians argue that the same covenant of grace must be viewed from both perspectives. When considered from the divine viewpoint, the covenant is fully gracious, initiated by God, imposed from above, and actuated by the work of the Spirit. From a human standpoint, the same covenant implies obligation. As different theologians presented their systems, some emphasized the divine, some the human. Bozeman identifies a strain of theologians who, though firm Calvinists, tended to focus more on human responsibility than divine initiative, and thus developed a pastoral theology that tended to be legalistic, oppressive and even authoritarian. This reality cannot be avoided or neglected-there was, within Puritanism, this Precisianist strain.
One wonders if there is not another factor, directly related to covenant theology, which also ought to be considered: paedobaptism, at least in its highest form. A close reading of the primary sources presents not covenant theology, but covenant theologies, each framed to fit the practice of the larger ecclesiological system (or often framing the larger system). One may speak of a Presbyterian Covenant theology, an Independent/Congregational Covenant theology, and a Particular Baptist Covenant theology. It is a mistake to equate them.
The (older) Presbyterian version justifies the coalescence of church and society. Infant baptism enrolls the child in church and state, blurring the distinction between the two. Faith is not requisite for church membership. For ministers of this persuasion, the church is a mixed society, making it necessary to expose the hypocrites sitting alongside the saints in the Christian congregation. Anything less is a dereliction of duty. When reading the Presbyterian puritans, this must be kept in mind. They were preaching to congregations which by definition incorporated hypocrites. In this context, it is no surprise that they tended to emphasize the human dimensions of the covenant.
Independent/Congregational Covenant theology itself took two forms-that of New England resembling more closely the Presbyterian view, while its later English counterpart moved away from the blurring of society. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, church membership was requisite for enfranchisement. Like their Presbyterian counterparts, these men tended to highlight di-pleurism, and degenerated into preparationism and legalism. Contract is often a suitable term to designate their view.
But there is a third variety. Granted it begins to appear just after the terminus of Bozeman’s study, but it nonetheless deserves consideration. Arising out of a separatist though primarily Independent/Congregational framework, the Particular Baptist formulation moved closer to mono-pleurism, as it by definition emphasized divine initiative. Before admission to the church, individuals were required to profess their faith via baptism, a faith initiated from above. For these men, a regenerate church alone fit the pattern of divine sovereignty in salvation. Church and state were separate; regeneration was the requisite for membership. The emphasis was on the priority of divine action; the theoretical result was the absence of hypocrites in the assembly. The 24th through 26th articles of the First London Baptist Confession of 1644 make this point well:
XXIV. That faith is ordinarily begot by the preaching of the Gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or capacity in the creature, but it is wholly passive, being dead in sins and trespasses, does believe, and is converted by no less power, then that which raised Christ from the dead.
XXV. That the tenders of the Gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free, no way requiring, as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, terrors of the Law, or preceding ministry of the Law, but only and alone the naked soul, as a sinner and ungodly to receive Christ, as Christ, as crucified, dead, and buried, and risen again, being made a Prince and a Savior for such sinners.
XXVI. That the same power that converts to faith in Christ, the same power carries on the soul still through all duties, temptations, conflicts, sufferings, and continually what ever a Christian is, he is by grace, and by a constant renewed operation from God, without which he cannot perform any duty to God, or undergo any temptations from Satan, the world, or men.
It is no surprise that Hanserd Knollys, attracted to John Wheelwright’s theology (see page 290-91), ultimately became a leader among these Calvinistic Baptists. One finds a different approach to pastoral theology when reading the remains of these men.
THE PRECISIONIST STRAIN is a very important book. It identifies problems present in many puritan theological formulations while also identifying the dangers inherent at the opposite end of the spectrum. A careful reading will provide those who delight in treatises from this era with a fuller portrait of the difficulties and tensions present, and provide much matter for careful analysis and contemplation.
REVIEW OF “THE PRECISIONIST STRAIN” by Professor James Renihan; Dean and Professor of Historical Theology; Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster Seminary; Escondido, California
David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, eds. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 768 pp. $50.00.
Around the world, people roughly 55 and older recently reminisced about where they were when JFK was shot in 1963. If you were much older than age 5 or so, you likely remember the moment the news reached you. I know because I was 10 at the time.
I remember another shocking moment some years later in my mid-20s. I had finally found some Christian direction in my life and was attending a Baptist college (after dropping out of the University of Montana—twice!). My church history professor in the large required “Baptist Denomination” class asked for a show of hands: How many of you believe Jesus died for everyone? Dumb question, I thought; who doesn’t know John 3:16? All hands went up.
Except for one older student. He waited for the follow-up question: How many believe Christ died only for the elect? He extended his hand. The classroom murmured. The professor made a nervous and, as I recall, somewhat tasteless joke at the student’s expense. I was stunned. Not at the joke, nor even at the lone hand. It was the question. The possibility had never occurred to me.
I had been taken to a Southern Baptist church in Missouri through childhood and was active in that church through adolescence. I had been ordained as a deacon in a Montana Southern Baptist church and licensed to preach, serving eventually as a bi-vocational mission planter. But I had never heard of the doctrine of definite (or “limited” or “particular”) atonement.
The fact that my professor admitted Charles Spurgeon held this view gave me pause. But I had a hard time locating reading material on the subject. If only the book under review here had been available to me! From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is a one-stop crash course in what the doctrine teaches, who despises it and why, who affirms it and for what reasons, and what are its implications.
Irenic Not Polemic
Don’t expect fireworks. The editors’ preface devotes half its space to affirming irenics rather than polemics. It warns not the opponents of this doctrine but its friends against self-righteousness. Even readers who may not detect much grace in the doctrine will be hard-pressed not to recognize it in the preface and tone throughout the book. No doubt J. I. Packer’s foreword (not included in my pre-publication review copy) will likewise exude his customary peaceable tone.
But is the book convincing? Each reader will have to decide. One should note that the editors (who are brothers) didn’t grow up believing the doctrine, but instead came to it as young adults and by different routes. But what matters, of course, isn’t how the editors came to this conviction but the biblical basis for it, if there is one. Here I think most readers will be inclined to concede that From Heaven He Came and Sought Her at least presents numerous telling analyses and arguments.
The opening chapter by the editors, David Gibson (minister of Trinity Church in Aberdeen, Scotland) and Jonathan Gibson (PhD candidate in Hebrew studies at Cambridge University), maps out the volume’s approach [read an interview with the Gibsons here]. It includes this helpful definition:
The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. The death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone. (31)
The same section contains careful acknowledgement of objections to the doctrine, not from straw-man critics but from luminaries like John Wesley, D. Broughton Knox, R. T. Kendall, Karl Barth, John McLeod Campbell, J. B. and T. F. Torrance, and Bruce McCormack. The editors do not make their task easier by suppressing the most formidable critics of definite atonement.
Nor do they simplify the nature and range of historically significant objections. They respond carefully to the varying positions of semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Amyraldianism, hypothetical universalism, and the theology of Karl Barth.
A four-pronged presentation ensues, covering definite atonement in church history (with chapters by Michael Haykin, David Hogg, Paul Helm, Raymond Blacketer, Lee Gatiss, Amar Djaballah, and Carl Trueman), in the Bible (Paul Williamson, J. Alec Motyer, Matthew Harmon, Jonathan Gibson, and Thomas Schreiner), in theological perspective (Donald McLeod, Robert Letham, Garry Williams, Stephen Wellum, and Henri Blocher), and in pastoral practice (Daniel Strange, Sinclair Ferguson, and John Piper).
An important topic, and great contributors. As I write, it is December. Is this book perhaps one you should give to others or put on your own Christmas list?
The answer is no if you believe strongly in “unlimited” or “universal” atonement and do not wish to have your holiday cheer disturbed. While the book lacks fireworks (as already noted), it does engage many detractors of definite atonement like McCormack (and his inspiration Barth), M. Eugene Boring, Mark Driscoll, Bruce Ware, David Allen, Clark Pinnock, and several others. In my opinion, it does so effectively.
Nor should you buy or request this book if you are uninterested in scholarship. The “extent of the atonement” is a subject that invites facile pseudo-solutions that cite favorite texts. More than one writer in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her reflects on the multiplex approach required to do justice to the wealth of relevant biblical material and the several domains of theology that must be brought to bear in treating this subject. Many contributors engage in fresh interaction with little-known primary sources. I especially appreciated Amar Djaballah’s thorough summary of Amyraut’s Brief Traitté de la Predestination et de ses principales dependances, an important though untranslated work. Many other chapters display similar erudition.
Do not buy or request this book if you’re seeking bedtime reading that will lull toward sleep. The contributors make their case not in the abstract but in lively engagement with a wide range of discussion partners. You are more likely to produce adrenaline than melatonin as writers like Henri Blocher make common cause with some (like Don Carson, John Frame, and Packer) and then square off against others (like David Allen, whom Blocher terms “thought provoking”; Barth and McCormack; and Gary L. Shultz Jr.).
Finally, this is not a book for anyone who wants to languish in indifference toward evangelism and missions. To truly know the doctrine of definite atonement, “by the working of God’s Spirit, enflames the cause of world missions” (631). Many charge that this doctrine vitiates the will to tell everyone about Christ—what’s the use, if Christ didn’t die for everyone?. But this book often touts the confidence and ardor for God and his saving good news that should fill those who hold this doctrine. They know, as Packer puts it (see pp. 558-59), that while “God loves all in some ways” (and so we should reach out to all), “God loves some in all ways,” thus assuring ministers of God’s gospel that their missional labor will emphatically not be in vain.
John Piper phrases it well. After listing five powerful pastoral and personal benefits of “knowing and experiencing the reality of definite atonement” (659-61), he rightly states: “Preaching, which aims at world evangelization . . . should speak of the achievement of the cross in its fullness” (661). For the contributors to this volume, this fullness is rooted in the specificity of the Son’s intent in laying down his life for God and for his people.
And so, as the editors state at the outset, “Christ’s death for his people does not contradict his mandate to proclaim the gospel to the world” (16). Or as they put it positively, “God is glorified when he is seen and savored and enjoyed for what he actually bestows: saving grace. In this glorification, we his creatures are made whole and healthy, worshiping and happy, and commissioned as his ambassadors in his world—soli Deo gloria” (51).
Robert W. Yarbrough is a New Testament professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He is also active in gospel dissemination on other continents.
REVIEW OF JOHN MacARTHUR’S STRANGE FIRE (The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship); Thomas Nelson; 300+ pages
by Steve Martin
It was a grim day in my life as a pastor. Before me sat two women who through tears poured out a sordid story of false teaching, lies, heart-break and false guilt. It has been repeated to varying degrees over the years. But few say anything about it because in the cultural climate of America in general and evangelical Christianity in particular, “speaking the truth in love” or “truthing in love” as the Greek has it, is out of favor. God help the person, young or old, who tells the emperor that he has no clothes on.
Both of the women who sat before me were widows. The woman to my left had lost her husband the previous year. The woman to my right had her husband come to Atlanta from California to help with the funeral. Her husband was an Elder in a highly visible Foursquare Gospel Church in Van Nuys, California that boasted celebrity Christians in its membership and eldership. Since the funeral here in Atlanta, the Elder had returned to California to resume his life and church ministry. But cancer had intervened. The elders of that church confidently prophesied that the man would get well. He got worse. They came back a second time and again prophesied that the man would get well. He continued to get worse. He came near death and they were called to lay hands on him again. They arrived too late, but no matter! They said he would be raised from the dead!! He was not raised from the dead. They left after telling the wife that the man was not raised because she did not have enough faith. (Bottom line–his death and failure to be raised was her fault!).
Back again to my office here in the Atlanta suburbs. The widow said that she found herself screaming at the top of her lungs, “What in God’s name is going on here?” She was angry, hurt, confused, grieving, betrayed, and felt a host of related emotions. It was sadly understandable. When she was through speaking, I gently tried to tell her that doctrine has consequences and false doctrine has terrible consequences. I told her that she had been a victim of false teaching for some time and “the chickens had come home to roost”. She was experiencing what many more had already experienced and been shattered by. Her husband had probably taught and defended this false teaching himself until he fell victim to its ugly side effects.
The Pentecostal and charismatic movements have existed for over one hundred years. Since their genesis in Topeka, Kansas and Azuza Street in Los Angeles early in the 20th century, their false teaching has gone around the world. Speaking in tongues as the sign of the filling of the Holy Spirit, prophesying in God’s name, healing in the atonement, the restoration of Apostles, frenzied and chaotic worship, “laughing, barking and other animal noises” as signs of the Spirit’s presence, preference for the “fresh bread of the spoken word of prophesy over the stale bread of the
written Word of God in the Bible”, etc, etc, etc.
I can remember a time as a young Christian when the Pentecostal paradigm of Christianity was regarded as the heterodox fringe of the faith, if not outright heresy. Now through the ministries of such men as Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Sam Storms, C. J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll and others, the view that the supernatural gifts of the New Testament era were meant to continue on into today has been legitimized and entered much of the mainstream of evangelicalism. By naming these men’s names, I am not saying they are not Christians or likeable men or evil workers. I am saying that they are wrong and despite all their good in other areas, they have brought the nose and head of the Pentecostal camel into the evangelical tent.
To be more clear, Wayne Grudem has a systematic theology book which is in many regards good. But he spends 100+ pages on the Holy Spirit–not in regards to preaching or revival but charismatic gifts and “signs and wonders”. He dedicates his book to three men, including the Johnny Appleseed of the SIGNS AND WONDERS movement, John Wimber who taught Grudem how to have experiences with the Holy Spirit. Grudem’s Ph.D. dissertation at Cambridge University has become the scholarly rationale for much of the current legitimacy of the charismatic movement. Grudem proposed the novel thesis that New Testament prophecy, unlike Old Testament prophecy, need not be perfect or orthodox. The prophet who was wrong in the New Testament just had to try harder next time! Sadly, fellow Cambridge Ph.D., Don Carson agreed with Grudem’s exegesis and conclusions and lent the legitimizing power of his Cambridge Ph.D. to Grudem’s.
John Piper introduced the Pentecostal 2nd blessing theology into his Baptist General Conference
church in Minnesota. He took his entire staff to Toronto, Canada to the Airport Vineyard Fellowship, the site of the laughing blessing and other charismatic phenomena. They were each slain in the Spirit except Piper who they worked on for half an hour personally to no avail. He remains a convinced to this day a convinced CONTINUATIONIST.
Sam Storms left CESSATIONIST evangelicalism and
entered the world of charismania. He sent out a long explanatory booklet to brethren he ministered among explaining his movement away from the historical understanding that the signs and wonders of the early church and the Apostles. He had come to believe in the continuation of the apostolic gifts and he aligned himself with the Kansas City Prophets (Mike Bickel and Paul Cain). Not until they were proven to be false prophets and sexual deviants did he leave his role as theologian in residence and have his own church again, but still somehow believing in the continuation of the apostolic gifts.
C. J. Mahaney was for a long time the leader of the ministry that started out being called PEOPLE OF DESTINY INTERNATIONAL, then P.D.I., then SOVEREIGN GRACE MINISTRIES. Coming to the doctrines of grace, Mahaney and Sovereign Grace tried to wed charismatic theology and worship with Calvinistic doctrines of salvation in a unique hybrid. I was disappointed but not surprised when I first visited the website for the ministry and saw that Mahaney was listed as the Apostle of the movement. My experience in watching other so-called “Apostles” was that the rarefied air of apostleship lead to ruin and a great fall. Mahaney no longer leads Sovereign Grace Ministries and no longer calls himself an Apostle. But his appearance in many evangelical and Reformed conferences has given a certain legitimacy to his charismatic theology.
Finally, Mark Driscoll, who once headed up ACTS 29 Ministries worldwide is a pastor in Seattle who believes he has successfully married charismatic theology and worship and views of the pastor as SUPER LEADER and near pope to the Calvinistic understanding of salvation.
He likes to shock and thrill his audience with gross language and lurid treatments of sex. He has spoken of his visions from God full of lurid and sexually explicit episodes. So prurient was his treatment of the SONG OF SOLOMON that John MacArthur publicly rebuked him for THE RAPE OF THE SONG OF SOLOMON. Speaking in his role as pastor to his congregation, Driscoll told the married women of his church to go home and have oral sex with their husbands! Enough said. His theology is so vague and unsettled that he has stood behind and defended as “brothers” heretical Oneness Pentecostal pastor T. D. Jakes and heterodox pastor James MacDonald.
All of this is brought out to say that John MacArthur is saying in public what faithful evangelical and Reformed pastors and theologians have been saying in private and on blogs for years. MacArthur finally was man enough to call out these men publicly and the false prophets and teachers who were even worse who I have not yet mentioned. There is a connection between the evangelical and Reformed “Continuationists” (Grudem, Piper, Storms, Mahaney, and Driscoll to name the best known) and the heretics who have gone further down the Continuationist road– Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Robert Tilton, Peter Popov, Joel Osteen, Juanita Bynum, Kansas City Prophets, R. T. Kendall, Aimee Semple McPherson, Joyce Meyer, Reinhard Bonnke, etc, etc, etc.
Not only have these false teachers and false prophets mislead the multitudes, they have forsaken the gospel. Serious studies of the televised programs and books by these charlatans shows that they have lost the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and substituted for it the so-called “health and wealth gospel” of material prosperity and full health. It is the number one export of the American church. Evangelical and Reformed leaders of the churches in Africa and South America have told for some time how the prosperity teachers have taken over the churches in Africa and Latin America and are defrauding multitudes while becoming filthy rich themselves. Standing before God on Judgment Day and pointing to one’s supposed health and wealth without the full atonement of Christ and the imputation of His righteousness will not avail. Our Lord will say, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity”.
All of this to introduce an important new book by John MacArthur that I exhort all pastors and laymen to read and digest. And then to pray for your friends who have bought into this aberrant theology. And then prayerfully give them a copy of the book to hopefully free them from the false teaching and charlatans who plague the movement.
Here is the overview of the book.
John MacArthus, STRANGE FIRE (The Danger of
Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship);
Thomas Nelson; 300 pages
INTRODUCTION: For the Sake of His Name
PART 1–CONFRONTING A COUNTERFEIT REVIVAL
1. Mocking the Spirit
2. A New Work of the Spirit?
3. Testing the Spirits (Part 1)
4. Testing the Spirits (Part 2)
PART 2–EXPOSING THE COUNTERFEIT GIFTS
5. Apostles Among Us?
6. The Folly of Fallible Prophets
7. Twisting Tongues
8. False Healings and False Hopes
PART 3–REDISCOVERING THE SPIRIT’S TRUE WORK
9. The Holy Spirit and Salvation
10. The Holy Spirit and Sanctification
11. The Spirit and the Scriptures
12. An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends
APPENDIX–VOICES FROM CHURCH HISTORY
May the Spirit of God give us the grace of illumination to see truth of Scripture and not be misled by hocus pocus exegesis and the contemporary need to be “nice” at all times. Let us be men and women of character and tell our Pentecostal and charismatic freinds, the “Emperor” has no clothes.
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin
REVIEW & APPLICATION OF “AUTHORITY”
By DR. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES; Banner of Truth
I. THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR THE WRITING OF THIS BOOK
A. THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT–International Fellowship of Evangelical
Students Meeting At Glen Orchard, Ontario, Canada in 1955
B. THE BROADER CONTEXT–the breakdown of authority after WW II and
the question as to “Where do we look for truth and the answers to life?”
C. THE ECCLESIASTICAL CONTEXT–evangelical Protestants have become confused and lost their way on the question of where spiritual authority is to be found.
1. the Roman Catholic Church–claimed to be “the authority” because of its history
2. the Liberal mainline churches–claimed authority because of their numbers and
3. the Pentecostal churches–claimed authority because of their unique gifts and
4. Who is right? Who has the authority of God that we should listen to them?
5. Who has the authority of God such that we should re-arrange our lives to build on what they say?
D. DEFINITION OF “AUTHORITY”
1. We need to define our terms–“What is “authority”? (We shouldn’t use a term unless we understand its true meaning.)
2. “Authority” is the right to exercise power to compel obedience.
II. CHAPTER ONE–THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST
A. MAN ON HIS OWN IS NOT GOING TO FIND THE ANSWERS TO HIS PROBLEMS
B. THERE IS NO HOPE OF KNOWING GOD UNLESS HE REVEALS HIMSELF
1. God has revealed Himself in nature (which man suppresses) and in history (Israel and the 1st century Roman Empire)
2. God has supremely revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and since His Resurrection, thru the Bible.
3. Paul made it His aim to preach Christ–1st Corinthians 2:1-2
4. Lloyd-Jones shows the various biblical witnesses to Christ
a. the witness of the four gospels
b. our Lord’s own claims
c. our Lord’s actions and direct assertions
d. our Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension
e. the witness of the other N.T. authors
f. “Christianity is Christ!”
C. CHRIST HAS DIVINE AUTHORITY & DELGATES IT TO GIFTED, CALLED MEN
1. Two instances of Christ’s authority:
a. Christ’s authority to dispatch men to fulfill the Great Commission-
–Matthew 28:19-20–All authority in heaven and on earth is given to
b. Christ’s authority to save those the Father gave Him–John 17:2–Jesus has
authority over all men that He might give eternal life to all whom the Father
had given Him
2. Christ is the Lord of the Christian and Lord of the churches
a. A. W. Tozer, THE WANING AUTHORITY OF CHRIST IN THE CHURCHES TODAY
b. Who really runs churches today? Who runs your church? Who has the
c. After a perfunctory prayer, is Christ ever really looked to for wisdom what
to do and for His approval on what you understand His Word to say?
d. E.g. chilling remark from a Baptist pastor I once knew–“Christ is the
Head of this church and I am the neck!”
III. CHAPTER TWO–THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES
A. THE LAST 200 YEARS HAVE SEEN AN UNPRECEDENTED ATTACK ON THE BIBLE
1. Human reasoning powers, human scholarship and human understanding control what can be believed.
2. This all boils down to human pride, sitting in judgment on God and putting human reasoning power and human scholarship above the Word of God.
3. Mainline denominations have lost 45 million people in the past 50 years in the U.S. ! (There is no divine authority in their pulpits so people move on or stay home.)
B. THE BIBLE & JESUS HIMSELF SPEAK TO THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES
1. Genesis 3–The Serpent said to Eve: “Has God said…?”
2. Jesus told His hearers in Luke 16 the story of the rich man in hell and the poor
beggar in heaven
a. v. 29–“They have Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament), let them
listen to them”.
b. v. 30–“No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they
c. v. 31–“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be
convinced if someone should rise from the dead”. [They don’t believe God or
His Word; they trust their own ability at empirical observation–E.g. seeing a
3. Paul told the Romans that he was not ashamed of the Bible’s gospel message in Romans 1:16-17– “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe”
a. Many evangelical and Reformed pastors and churches are now ashamed of
b. John MacArthur, ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL–unbelieving pastors and
preachers believe that they must trick up this weak, pitiful message of the
4. If we lose our trust in the authority of the Bible, we have lost our message and our authority
a. E.g. Martin Luther–“The Word did it all.”
b. E.g. Thomas Chalmers–“All too little, John, all too little”
c. E.g. Mike Cosby–Q–“Can you stand up and preach with authority, ‘Thus
sayeth the Lord’ ?”
d. E.g. Don Smith at Baccalaureate–“You preached liked you really believed
5. Ministers lose their confidence in the Bible and its authority when they study it “professionally”
a. John Piper, BROTHERS, WE ARE NOT PROFESSIONALS (We are called
men, called to know and give the message from the King of Glory to this
b. But in a wrong frame of mind, we can study it to get up sermons, Bible
studies and devotionals
c. But if it is not the book of our souls, that we look to daily and that we love
as the most unique and heavenly book in the whole world, than we are
“professionals” and have lost our authority.
d. E.g. TEDS Librarians Brewster Porcella/Timothy Erdel–Their
dissertations showed that the total reading time for ministers is 2 hours,
24 min./week !
6. Brethren, we have lost our way when God’s Word no longer controls what we preach/how we govern!
a. Do you search the Scripture diligently to see what it has to say about the
problems you face?
b. Do you and your elders search the Scriptures to know what Christ says
about handling people and their problems?
IV. CHAPTER THREE–THE AUTHORITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
A. DR. LLOYD-JONES SAYS THIS IS THE MOST PRACTIAL ISSUE
1. If the authority of the Holy Spirit is not rightly understood and looked to, than the Authority of Jesus Christ and the Authority of the Scriptures will matter very little.
a. God the Holy Spirit takes the work of Christ and applies it to God’s elect
b. God the Holy Spirit makes the Word believed and the preaching powerful
c. God the Holy Spirit gives new birth to the dead, new sight to the blind,
new ears to the deaf
d. God the Holy Spirit puts the fear of God into the hearers of the Word of
God which He inspired!
2. Let’s read again Paul’s perspective on this issue: 1st Corinthians 2:1-5
3. The issue of the Authority of the Holy Spirit is greatly misunderstood and neglected today! Why?
a. Some churches value decorum and “a dignified service” over the unsettling
ministry of the Spirit
b. Some pastors value their control of everything, including the Spirit’s work
such that they grieve the Sovereign Spirit
c. Some pastors and churches elevate scholarly learning and academic
respectability above the Spirit
d. Some pastors and churches fear what the British call “enthusiasm” &
which Americans call “fanaticism”
4. If the Holy Spirit is grieved or quenched, then our services and our preaching will be dead or dying
a. The presence of the Spirit is life, vitality, true conversions, hunger for
holiness, hatred of sin
b. The absence of the Spirit is death, lethargy, rare conversions, indifference
to holiness and little
hatred of sin
5. What have evangelical & Reformed folk done when things were bad and signs of life almost extinct?
a. 18th century–the dawn of the “Enlightenment”–open scoffing of religion;
it is not “reasonable”
(1) Men and churches began to emphasis apologetics–Bishop Butler
wrote his ANALOGY OF RELIGION (pre-suppositionalist apologetics)
and William Paley wrote his EVIDENCES FOR CHRISTIANITY
(evidentialist apologietics). The man in the street could have cared
less! The masses of people were unmoved and still lost.
(2) The Boyle Lectureship was started at Oxford to speak about
Christianity and science! (How many pagans do you know who read
fat books of apologetics & attend learned lectures?
(3) The masses were unconverted; the intellectuals continued their
scoffing; the churches were largely dead
(4) God raised up fiery preachers, filled with the Holy Spirit, that changed
the course of England & America (George Whitefield, John & Charles
Wesley, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowlands, Jonathan Edwards, etc.)
b. early 19th century–another back-slidden time for the churches
(1) John Henry Newman and others started the Oxford Movement and a
return to Roman Catholic authority. “We need to show the people
who stay home that we have authority. We need to wear colored
vestments, put an altar rail between the people and priest, we need to
have more liturgy in our services, “smells & bells”
(2) God instead raised up evangelical men like Charles Spurgeon, J. C.
Ryle, John Angell James, Thomas Chalmers, Robert Murray
McCheyne, William Chalmers Burns, men on fire for God!
c. Later in the 19th century, the church became moribund again. What are
we to do?
(1) It was the era of big business and industrial tycoons. Christian men
began to argue that the churches needed to get organized like
successful companies with its marketing, etc.
(2) Insecure denominational leaders wanted pastors with accredited
degrees and academic credit
(3) The question of the authority of the Holy Spirit was hardly even
6. Dr. Lloyd-Jones concludes his book/this chapter by “How we get the Authority of the Holy Spirit”
a. He examines the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of our Lord–John
3:24–our Lord had the Holy Spirit without measure
b. He examines the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles–E.g. 1st
Corinthians 2:4-5 and 4:19-
20 and 2nd Timothy 1:7
c. He challengers us with whether we wholly rely upon the Holy Spirit in our
preaching (p. 88)
d. He concludes by reminding us that the most used men in Church History
were not academics or professors but godly pastors who truly knew God,
who were filled with the Holy Spirit and who intimately knew the Word
of God. The men whom God has most used were not academics with
only the “authority” of the Ph.D. but men of God with the authority of the
Holy Spirit–Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, the Puritans, the preachers
of the “Great Awakening, etc.
BIOGRAPHIES EVERY PASTOR NEEDS TO HAVE READ & DIGESTED
Biographies can be most important tools in God’s arsenal to make His people more like Christ. How so? Well, biographies take us out of our own day by day situation and place us in another time and place and help us to see how a man or woman of God lived their life.
C. S. Lewis wrote a famous introduction to a book not well known any more, St. Athanasius’ ON THE INCARNATION. (An early church “father” and hero of the truth, he successfully led the reclaiming of the full Deity and humanity of Christ against the heretical but persuasive Arius.) C. S. Lewis wrote an introduction to encourage modern readers to read “old” books. Why? Well, a certain amount of modesty (Who am I to think I can read the “great man”?) and perhaps a bit of laziness (“Man, no way I want to wade through all that hard reading of the “great man”.) leaves readers in a place where they only read the stuff of their own generation and culture. Lewis’ argument was that “old books” were culture specific and generation specific too BUT they were not our culture or generation. So our blind spots and unexamined biases could better be seen against the backdrop of older writers who had their issues BUT not our issues.
Even so, reading biographies of men and women of the faith in times past can help us to see ourselves in a more unbiased mirror. Our own times have a bias of blindness to our weaknesses of our time and place. Reading biographies of people in other times and places give us in truth a firmer grasp on ourselves and our times and places.
All this to say, read biographies and prepare to be challenged. I can think of biographies of men and women I have read that have challenged me to be more consecrated unto Christ, to put my sins to death, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. Biographies have challenged me to rethink what I am doing and how I am doing it. Biographies have challenged me to re-examine my understanding of what it means to be a Christian and follow Jesus Christ in obedient discipleship.
If you have not read one or more of the following biographies, pick it up and prayerfully read through it, asking the Lord to open your eyes to new possibilities.
Aurelius Augustine, CONFESSIONS; Whitaker House–The first great Christian theologian whose insights have lasted for 1500 years! Here Augustine relates his spiritual pilgrimage and coming to faith in Christ in a most insightful way. Whitaker House has put it into an easy to read format.
Roland Bainton, HERE I STAND (A Life of Martin Luther); Hendrickson–Why was there a Protestant Reformation? What sort of a person was Martin
Luther? How did God work in his life? What did God show him? What did God do through him? Still the best of Luther biographies and a fascinating and edifying read. (Everything that was a problem in the Roman Catholic religion in the early 1500’s is still there today. Buying indulgences has been replaced by working for indulgences. Other than that, all the problems and pitfalls, superstitions
and bad theology are still in place today.
John Bunyan, GRACE ABOUNDING TO THE CHIEF OF SINNERS; Whitaker House–Bunyan’s own account of God’s grace working in His life to save him and keep him. There were giants in 16th century England and Bunyan was one of the tallest.
Iain H. Murray, JONATHAN EDWARDS: A NEW BIOGRAPHY; Banner of Truth–perhaps the best biography of Edwards by the man who most shares
his theology and view of the ministry. See why he being dead, still speaks today!
Arnold Dallimore, GEORGE WHITEFIELD (2 volumes); Crossway–the life and times of the greatest evangelist in world history to date. Reading it for
the first time some thirty five years ago, I was shocked by the power of God resting on this man’s life and ministry. Rereading it a few years later, I was struck and humbled by Whitefield’s humility and love!
Iain H. Murray, WESLEY AND THOSE WHO FOLLOWED; Banner of Truth–an insightful biography of Wesley by a friendly admirer and critic of Wesley. The short biographies of “those who followed” made me deeply convicted and to plead with God to be more Christ-like and useful to the Master. I am not a Wesleyan but these men were giants whom I would be privileged to know.
Faith Cook, SELINA, COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON; (Her pivotal role in the 18th century Evangelical Awakening); Banner of Truth–a great biography by a great biographer of a great woman much used of God in another century. She personally witnessed to many in the upper classes of England while she bankrolled George Whitefield and other faithful gospel preachers.
Timothy George, FAITHFUL WITNESS (The Life and Mission of William Carey); New Hope Press–the life of a simple man of God, who, warts and all, was given grace to persevere (His motto was: “I plod well”.) The “father” of the modern missions movement is given his due.
Courtney Anderson, TO THE GOLDEN SHORE (The Life of Adoniram Judson); Judson Press–an amazing biography of a man of God (and his three godly wives) who endured so much for the sake of the gospel of Christ in Burma. Reminds me of the old adage: “I felt sorry for myself that I had no shoes until I met this man who had no feet”. It is hard to complain after reading this moving bio. The story of his conversion alone is worth the price of the book.
Andrew Bonar, MEMOIR AND REMAINS OF ROBERT MURRAY M’CHEYNE; Banner of Truth--a biography that has been used in the lives of many believers to reconsecrate their lives to Christ and holy living. Try it and see!
Douglas Kelly, PREACHERS WITH POWER (Four Stalwarts of the Old South); Banner of Truth–four brief biographies that recapture the unique lives
and ministries of four 19th century Southern Presbyterian preachers whom God greatly used–Daniel Baker (the “Apostle of Texas”), James Henley Thornwell (the golden tongued theologian), Benjamin Morgan Palmer “THE preacher of New
Orleans”)and John Girardeau (“the Spurgeon of the South”). Four unforgettable biographies in one package by a theologian who believes the same doctrines and who himself preaches almost every weekend in his rural South Carolina church.
Iain H. Murray, THE FORGOTTEN SPURGEON; Banner of Truth–a great biography with great spiritual insight and the power of truth to move your soul. Spurgeon was almost “forgotten” by 20th century believers until this 1961 biography appeared to give Spurgeon back his rightful place as the “prince of preachers”.
John G. Paton, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JOHN G. PATON; Banner of Truth–vies with Courtney Anderson’s biography of Judson as the greatest
missionary biography ever written. Read how truth can be stranger than fiction as God works in amazing grace among the south Pacific Islanders of what is now called Vanuatu. Stirring, challenging and faith stretching.
Corrie Ten Boom, THE HIDING PLACE; Revell–the story of a 51 years old single woman in Holland whose country is taken over by the Nazi’s during
World War II. She and her family hide Jews from the concentration camps only to be discovered and thrown into concentration camps. All the family dies in concentration camps except Corrie who is released on a “typist’s error” and spend the remainder of her life telling people that there is no hell hole one can find oneself in but “Christ is deeper still”. Read it and weep with her.
Iain H. Murray, THE LIFE OF MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981); Banner of Truth–hot off the press, this is a condensation of the two volume work of some 1200 pages! Here Murray skims of the cream off the larger volumes and gives us a faster moving view of the life of arguably the greatest preacher
(in English) of the 20th century and one of the greatest Christians in the history of the English language. Murray also answers his critics of the earlier volumes.
Iain H. Murray, HEROES; Banner of Truth–read about a list of famous and unheard of men and women of God whose lives are worthy of emulation.
I could multiply examples (and may do that soon) but this will get you started.
MAJOR TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH !
ANNOUNCING THE “BUILT-IN ORDERLY ORGANIZED KNOWLEDGE DEVICE”
This device is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology. No wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, no micro-chips, nothing to be connected or switched on. It’s so easy to use even a small child can operate it. Just lift its cover and you are ready to go! Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere–even sitting in an armchair by the fire–yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc. It’s been nicknamed the B-O-O-K….BOOK !
HERE’S THE REVOLUTIONARY WAY IT WORKS !
Each BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. These pages are locked together with a custom-fitted device called a “binder” which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. The advancement of Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet to store information, doubling the information density and cutting costs in half. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density. For now, BOOKS with more information simply use more pages. This makes them thicker and harder to carry, and has drawn some criticism from the mobile computing crowd. (Support personnel in networking industries have created Superior Transportability, Reliability And Portability Segments (BOOK S-T-R-A-P-S) and Biceptual Anti-Gravity Sacks (BOOK B-A-G-S) to empower multiple BOOK owners.)
Each sheet of paper is scanned optically, registering information into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. The BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. The BOOK never crashes and never needs rebooting, though like other display devices it can become unusable if dropped overboard. The “Browse” feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an “Index” feature,
which pinpoints the exact location of any selected bit of information.
An optional “BOOKMARK” accessory allows you to open the BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session–even if the BOOK has been closed! BOOKMARKS fit universal
design standards, thus a single BOOKMARK can be used in BOOKS by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOKMARKS can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.
You can also make personal notes right in your own BOOK. Any conceivable marking can be made anywhere in the BOOK text entries with an another innovation, the optional digital programming tool, called the PORTABLE ECLECTIC NIB CRYPTIC INTER-COMMUNICATOR LANGUAGE STYLUS (nicknamed “pencils”). They come in all sizes, colors and price ranges.
Lightweight, portable, durable and affordable, the BOOK is being hailed as the entertainment wave of the future. The BOOK’s appeal seems so certain that thousands of content-creators have committed to the platform and are hard at work even now.
LOOK FOR A FLOOD OF NEW TITLES SOON !!
REPORTER:Richard Dooley, Center for the Study of Great Ideas
HELPING PASTORS GROW
Being a pastor is a lifelong pursuit of an impossible goal–to be an under-shepherd like the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the sanctification of the believer is a lifelong growth in grace toward a goal not fully attainable in this life, so the maturation of a pastor is a lifelong growth in the graces of pastoring.
Think of the areas that a pastor must grow in during his lifetime (in no particular order): (1) personal sanctification; (2) knowledge of the Word of God; (3) systematic theology; (4) biblical theology; (5) apologetics; (6) church history from the apostles to today; (7) American church history (and the unique cultural milieu American Christians grow up in); (8) expository preaching; (9) evangelistic preaching; (10) pastoral counseling; (11) keeping up one’s knowledge (or gaining it in the first place) of Greek and Hebrew; (12) intimacy with God through prayer; (13) leading in public worship; (14) biblical exegesis; (15) Christian marriage and family……to name but a few! Being a pastor is like drinking from a fire hose–for a lifetime! (That may explain why I look the way that I do–but that’s another story!)
Here are some titles I can heartily recommend that helped me, encouraged me, opened my eyes, challenged me, stretched me, and kept me in the gospel ministry.
Iain H. Murray, DAVID MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (The First Forty Years) [1899-1939]; Banner of Truth
This book is my all-time favorite study of what it means to be a pastor and gospel preacher. When I was younger, I read it twelve years in a row! Why? Because just as he was a green rookie starting out in the pastorate in Wales in the late 1920’s, so I was a rookie minister pastoring in Atlanta in the early 1980’s. What was a call to preach the gospel and shepherd the flock of God? What did it mean to preach? What is the source of a preacher’s authority? How can I lead my men to grow? How should I view the people? How come I am taking my church in this direction when all the other churches around me are going in a different direction? What might a local revival look like should God be gracious and bring one? Why is my preaching so different from the other pastors who are instead popular? Why do so many people in today’s churches seem to be tares and not genuine wheat? How should I preach to them? How can I make truth come alive? How can I emphasize both evangelism and doctrine? How can I use church history to help my people grow? Prepare to be humbled, thrilled and moved to pray!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, AUTHORITY; Banner of Truth
I read this volume after reading about MLJ’s life by Iain Murray. MLJ gave these lectures at a Christian leaders conference in the 1950’s and they are directly on target still today. I was coming out of broad evangelicalism and into the Reformed understanding of the Scriptures and the Christian life and ministry and wondered what Calvinist was there who knew God and was used of God in a big way. (Note my need to see something “big”. Evangelicalism does not encourage us to find God in the small, mundane things.) I was astounded and humbled by what I read. MLJ shows the authority of the risen and ascended Christ, God the Son and the authority of His Word, the Scriptures.
It was a good retelling of truth I had already assimilated. BUT I was unprepared for the 3rd chapter–the authority of the Holy Spirit. MLJ chronicles how the Holy Spirit gives life and joy and power and authority to Christian preachers and churches. What should we do if the preacher lacks these and the church lacks these things? MLJ then shows the tragic-comic (a carefully chosen phrase) things evangelicals have done to recapture what is missing from the pulpits and the churches. God arrested me and my pursuit of the “authority” of the Ph.D. or D. Min. (David Wells has called the past thirty years the “D-Min-ization” of the pastorate as preachers have become “D-Min. possessed”,) I was moved to repentance over my desire to have the authority of a Ph.D. or a D.Min. or some accolade of man that would confer credibility to me. It was my own unbelief and fear of man/man pleasing that led me to so grieve the Holy Spirit. (While one needs a Ph.D. as a union card to teach in a seminary, it is not required by Scripture or sanctified common sense for pastors of local churches. We are life long learners at the knee of Jesus.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, THE PLIGHT OF MAN AND THE POWER OF GOD; Eerdmans (with a new forward by Mark Dever); Eerdmans.
In some of the darkest days for Britain in World War II, MLJ was speaking in Scotland to a group of seminary students and ministers at New College, Edinburgh. And he was at his best in assessing the war time situation, opening up the Scriptures in Romans 1 (and other places) to show the coming wrath of God and the importance of God sending preachers to preach the gospel as the only remedy for the wrath to come. Even if you have been in the pastorate for some time, this book can function like “blowing the bugle charge at the Old Soldiers Home”. It re-awakens a man to our holy calling.
Thomas Ascol, ed.; DEAR TIMOTHY (Letters On Pastoral Ministry); Founders Ministry
It’s hard to believe this most useful tool is now almost a decade old. Many have not heard of it nor used it but it has many helps for teachable pastors. The chapter titles and authors will alert the reader to the good things to follow:
1. Tom Ascol, Establish Priorities
2. Conrad Mbewe, Watch Your Life
3. Tedd Tripp, Love Your Family
4. Ted Christmas, Love Your Flock
5. Andy David, Memorize Scripture
6. Martin Holdt, Pray Always
7. C. J. Mahaney, Cultivate Humility
8. Bill Ascol, Be Courageous
9. Mark Dever, Do the Word of an Evangelist
10. Fred Malone, Do Personal Work
11. Raymond Perron, Watch Your Doctrine
12. J. Ligon Duncan, Keep Studying
13. Joel Beeke, Learn From The Puritans, Part 1
14. Joel Beeke, Learn From the Puritans, Part 2
15. Roger Ellsworth, Preach the Word
16. Terry Johnson, Worship in Spirit and Truth
17. Steve Martin, Train Other Men (every chapter can’t be great !)
18. Phil Newton, Care for the Nations
19. Ray Ortlund, Jr., Don’t Neglect Revival
20. Geoff Thomas, Find a Place to Settle
Some of these names you recognize right off and want to read their contribution. Others (whose biographies are included) you will want to get to know too. There is a lifetime of pastoral wisdom included between these covers.
SOME FURTHER BOOKS TO READ AND DIGEST OVER TIME…
1. Derek Tidball, MINISTRY BY THE BOOK (New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership); IVP Academic
Dr. Tidball takes us by the hand and proposes plausible life-settings behind each of the New Testament books. It is in this kind of world that we must minister, preach, counsel, and live out our lives as faithful ministers of the New Covenant. A thought-provoking read.
2. John MacArthur, Jr. and the Masters Seminary Faculty; PASTORAL MINISTRY (How to Shepherd Biblically); Thomas Nelson
Dr. MacArthur pastors a large church and leads a seminary. Here he and the faculty of the seminary share their lifetime of learning with the discerning pastoral student.
CLASSIC STUDIES WHOSE STATUS GROWS OVER TIME:
1. Martin Bucer, CONCERNING THE TRUE CARE OF SOULS; Banner of Truth–16th century classic
2. Charles Spurgeon, LECTURES TO MY STUDENTS; Banner of Truth–19th century classic from “the Prince of Preachers”.
3. Charles Spurgeon, AN ALL-AROUND MINISTRY; Banner of Truth–ditto
4. Charles Bridges, THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY; Banner of Truth–a 19th century classic that deserves a greater popularity. Perhaps the sub-title, “And The Causes of Its Inefficiency” have intimated some. But it is full of truly great things in a convicting and enlarging sort of way!
5. James Garretson, ed.; PRINCETON AND THE WORK OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY; Banner of Truth
A minister of the gospel could not spend $100-125 in a better way. There is a lifetime of good things here for the man of God.
The Devil Does Not Take A Summer Vacation
The fallen angel, Satan, called “the devil”, “the accuser”, “the serpent of old”, “the evil one” and other names in God’s holy Word does not take the summer off. I say this not to be cute or clever but to be deadly honest. The view we Christians have of reality looks too much like the worldview of our American culture..with church added. Ease and comfort, ready attainment of our goals, steady progress and eventual accomplishment are the expectations we all live with and live for. And a couple of weeks of being irresponsible!
As finite creatures, we become tired and need food, water, and rest to proceed in life. Students need a summer break from their tedious studies. Workers in the factory or the mill need a break from their tedious labors. Soldiers need “R & R” (rest and recovery) from their labors. It just “seems American” to think that when we go away on vacation or head into the summer, the devil, the nemesis of every believer, is taking the summer off too. After all, it would be un-American for him to bear down on us all the time with his nefarious schemes, evil intent and despoiling ways.
Such is the false thinking and dangerously naive mental state too many of us have when it comes to our approach to spiritual warfare each summer. In World War II, the Allied armies (American, British, Canadian, Free French, et al) invaded Normandy in June of 1944 and began to sweep successfully towards Paris. Things went so well, despite the carnage in the hedgerows in Normandy, that the motto soon became, “Berlin by Christmas”. It was not to be. The soldiers and their leaders became complacent. They relaxed a bit. When suddenly the worst battle in the whole European theater of war was launched by the Nazis–“the Battle of the Bulge”. The Nazi army took advantage of the relaxed attitudes, and the expectation of relaxation in the Christmas season and counter-attacked. Before the Nazis were finally pushed back, more than 65,000 Allied troops had died.
The lesson we can learn from this is that perpetual vigilance is the price of spiritual health and survival. We can thank our God that He stands supreme over the affairs of men and the devil. We are never allowed to feel the Evil Ones full wrath. Our God sees to it that no one and nothing can separate us from the love of God is Christ Jesus. But like other areas of Christian growth in Christ-likeness (sanctification), God expects His people to cooperate with Him in this great work.
The books we will be highlighting today are meant to be digested and put into action. The Word of God says: “Why Word had I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Today we often fall into something very different. “Thy Word have I put on my hard drive that I might have ready notes.”
The historical Reformed and Puritan view of spiritual warfare looks nothing like the crazy patchwork of contemporary evangelicalism’s view of how to deal with the enemy of our souls. For four decades, charismatics and Pentecostals have been saying, “When in doubt, cast it out”. But the “pie demon” did not make me eat that extra piece of pie. The “lying demon” did not make me cheat on my taxes. The “lust demon” did not make me double click on the pop up porn that came on my computer. Just as their is the Holy Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So there is a lesser, unholy trinity of the world, the flesh and the devil.
The Reformed and Puritan view of spiritual warfare taught believers to use discernment as to which enemy they were fighting and to use the biblically prescribed methods for dealing with them.
Let me suggest that you digest the material in these excellent books then put them into practice.
Thomas Brooks, PRECIOUS REMEDIES AGAINST SATAN’S DEVICES (Puritan Paperback); Banner of Truth–the classic study that you should visit and master and then revisit periodically over your life.
Robert Spinney, PEEKING INTO THE DEVIL’S PLAYBOOK; Tulip Books–a shortened and modernized version of Brooks’, PRECIOUS REMEDIES.
William Gurnall, THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLETE ARMOUR; Banner of Truth hardback–another classic.
This tonic for your soul closely examines Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:10-20, the longest passage in the epistles dealing with how to combat the devil and win.
William Gurnall, THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLETE ARMOR (modernized and simplified); 3 volumes;
Banner of Truth; paperback
William Gurnall, THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLETE ARMOR (Daily Readings in Spiritual Warfare); Moody Press–excerpts from Gurnall are made into a daily devotional reader.
William Spurstowe, THE WILES OF SATAN; Soli Deo Gloria– a very helpful examination of how the evil one seeks to deceive the believer. Paul could say about the devil, “We are not unaware of his schemes” but we too often must say instead–“Well, I am not aware of hardly any of his schemes”!
Fredercik Leahy, SATAN CAST OUT; Banner of Truth
a sane and biblical treatment of fallen angels (demons) and their work in the world today. Not to be confused with the sensationalistic teaching of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements.
Stanley Gale, WHAT IS SPIRITUAL WARFARE?;
P & R–this booklet is a good place to start your study.
May the Lord give you your best summer yet with the least “down time” in the spiritual hospital recovering from spiritual attack that you proved not to be ready for.
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin
Visit me also for more book reviews at
BIBLIOGRAPHIC HELPS IN STUDYING THE PSALMS
The most read portion of the Old Testament is the book of Psalms. Your own experience probably vindicates that evaluation. Your have read the psalms, gone to them for comfort, pleasure, encouragement, help, assurance of God being “for” you, hoping to sense the presence of God, etc. Probably every emotion experienced by the believing sinner is in this book of the Bible.
The Psalms were also ancient Israel’s songbook or hymnal. They are still sung in some denominations and called “The Psalter”.It has been the way so many of God’s people down through the centuries have praised and thanked God in song.
If a person really wanted to study the psalms, how might they go about that? Whether you want to lead family devotions on the Psalms or lead a campus or neighborhood Bible study or preach through the psalms in your church, what tools are available to really help you grasp this portion of God’s Word?
Let me give you truly helpful studies of the psalms at different levels, from introductory to advanced, for faithful laymen and faithful preachers.
GENERAL OVERVIEW STUDIES OF THE PSALMS:
Geoffrey Grogan, PRAYER, PRAISE & PROPHECY
(A Theology of the Psalms); Christian
Focus/Mentor–I have used it for seminary
classes and the great Old Testament expositor,
Dale Ralph Davis highly recommends it.
C. Hassell Bullock, ENCOUNTERING THE PSALMS;
Baker Books–an overall feast of good things
about the Psalms.
Mark Futato, INTERPRETING THE PSALMS; Kregel
Academic and Professional–a leading scholar on
the psalms helps us learn how to enter the world
of the psalms and study them.
Tremper Lomgman, HOW TO READ THE PSALMS;
IVP–a tool to help you understand the kind of
literature that makes up the psalms and how
to interpret them.
Gordon Wenham, THE PSALTER RECLAIMED
(Praying and Praising with the Psalms);
Crossway–one of the greatest living O. T.
scholars who is also evangelical and Reformed.
Bruce Waltke and James Houston, PSALMS AS
CHRISTIAN WORSHIP (An Historical
Commentary); Eerdmans–Professor Houston
was one of the founders of Regent College in
Vancouver, British Columbia and a leading writer
on evangelical spirituality. Bruce Waltke is a
leading Reformed Old Testament scholar with
world class commentaries to his credit. Here they
combine their talents and look at how the psalms
have been used in history to aid God’s people in
John Ker, PSALMS IN HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY;
Solid Ground Christian Books–God has used
various psalms and various portions of individual
psalms to impact His people. This 19th century
classic shows us how God has used the psalms in
men’s lives. It provides great illustrations for
preachers and teachers.
ENTRY LEVEL STUDIES OF THE PSALMS:
Roger Elsworth, OPENING UP PSALMS; Day One
Publication–a good starter study of psalms.
Henry Law, DAILY PRAYER & PRAISE; 2 volumes;
Banner of Truth–a 19th century gem with
daily studies of the psalms and their application.
James M. Boice, THE PSALMS (3 vols.); Baker Books
one of the great Reformed preachers of the late
20th century, Boice has left a legacy of biblically
faithful, pastorally rich studies on several books
of the Bible. This is one of his best.
John Calvin, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS
(abridged); Banner of Truth–a great place to
study the Psalms and learn about John Calvin.
The original is five volumes long.
Steve Lawson, THE PSALMS (2 volumes); Holman
A great short commentary on all the psalms.
INTERMEDIATE LEVEL STUDIES OF THE PSALMS:
Charles Spurgeon, THE TREASURY OF DAVID ( 3
volumes set); Hendrickson–Spurgeon’s gift to
the church of Christ. He culled the best of
previous studies on the Psalms over the centuries
and added his own unique insights. A treasure
trove repaying a life of study.
William S. Plumer, PSALMS; Banner of Truth–a
massive, oversized volume. Plumer was a
Southern Presbyterian pastor/theologian of the
19th century and a contemporary of Charles
Spurgeon, listed above. Like Spurgeon, he
gleaned the best from the past and added his
own considerable scholarship and spirituality.
Derek Kidner, PSALMS (2 volumes); IVP–one of the
greatest studies on Psalms; by a Hebrew scholar
and commentator who was also a musician.
Eric Lane, THE PSALMS (2 volumes); Christian
Focus–up to date and focused on application.
Allen Ross, A COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS (3
volumes–2 yet to be published); Kregel
Academic & Professional–a great commentary
by a great O. T. scholar who has put preachers
and students with his earlier commentaries/
expositions on Genesis and Leviticus.
Michael Wilcock, THE PSALMS (The Bible Speaks
Today Series); IVP–2 volumes–a great study
showing how the Word of God still speaks today.
Allan Harmon, PSALMS; Christian Focus/Mentor–
Well-known evangelical and Reformed Australian
O. T. professor lends his scholarship to an up to
date study of the Psalms.
Gerald Wilson, NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY:
PSALMS (2 Volumes); Zondervan–uses the
helpful format of studying the ancient text and
then bridging to the modern world for application.
MORE ADVANCED STUDIES FOR PASTOR-TEACHERS:
Willem Van Gemeren, PSALMS (Expositors Bible
Commentary: Revised); Zondervan–one of the
best commentaries in this series and one of the
best on the psalms.
Because the book of Psalms is such a large compilation of material, much has been written and preached about smaller, discrete units of the psalms. There are psalms of praise, songs of lament, war psalms and a host of other sub-topics addressed in the psalms.
James Sire, LEARNING TO PRAY THROUGH THE
PSALMS; IVP–the man who helped evangelicals to
learn to think about “world-views” and HOW TO
READ SLOWLY, and who as an editor at
InterVarsity Books brought Francis Schaeffer to
our attention shows us how to pray through the
psalms. A most helpful book on prayer!
Michael Ross, THE LIGHT OF THE PSALMS; Christian
Focus/Mentor–sheds the light of the Trinity upon
the Psalms and helps them thus to glow even
Dick Belcher, MESSIAH AND THE PSALMS; Christian
Focus–a leading Old Testament scholar helps us
to see Christ in the book of Psalms.
Dale Ralph Davis, THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS IN
THE MUCK OF LIFE (Psalms 1-12); Christian
Focus–one of our best scholar/preachers gives us
these psalms to help us persevere on the road to
the Celestial City.
Walter Chantry, PRAISES FOR THE KING OF KINGS;
(various psalms) Banner of Truth–his favorite
book to write and my favorite of his to read.
Edward J. Young, THE WAY EVERLASTING (Psalm
139); Banner of Truth–one of the favorite psalms
of believers opened up by one of the giants of
20th century evangelical and Reformed scholarship
THE PSALMS OF ASCENT
(So named because Jerusalem is on top of a mountain and no matter where you started from in your pilgrimage to the Holy City, you had to always “go up” or “ascend” at the end. Psalms written to be sung by pilgrims on the journey are called “psalms of ascent”, Psalms 120-134.
Rhett Dodson, THIS BRIEF JOURNEY (Loving and
Living the Psalms of Ascent); Day One
Rhett Dodson, TO BE A PILGRIM (Further
Reflections on the Psalms of Ascent); Day One
Josh Moody, JOURNEY TO JOY (The Psalms of
Charles Bridges, COMMENTARY ON PSALM 119;
Banner of Truth–Bridges was one of the leading
lights of the 19th century English church, giving
us great works on THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY,
PROVERBS and ECCLESIASTES. Here he devotes
his great talent to following the line of thought
of the psalmist in Psalm 119.
Charles Spurgeon, THE GOLDEN ALPHABET (PSALM
119); Christian Focus–Psalm 119 is composed
of stanzas where each line in that stanza begins
with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and
on down through the alphabet. Here we see
Spurgeon at his best.
Thomas Manton, PSALM 119 (3 volumes); Banner
of Truth–one of the greatest of the Puritans
opens up the riches of one of the greatest
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES ON VARIOUS PSALMS:
FAITH ON TRIAL (Psalm 73); Christian Heritage/
Christian Focus–with a new introduction by
pastor/author Kevin DeYoung–Asaph, the
psalmist, is tempted to bitterness and envy
because the ungodly do not seem to suffer
and struggle like the godly. MLJ at his best!
ENJOYING THE PRESENCE OF GOD (Selected
Psalms); Crossway–a heart-warming, mind-
informing set of studies to raise your spiritual
TRUE HAPPINESS (An Exposition of Psalm One);
Christian Heritage/Christian Focus–a great
work which is evangelistic and edifying at the
OUT OF THE DEPTHS (Psalm 51); Christian
Heritage/Christian Focus–David’s record of his
heart repentance and turning back to the Lord
after his adultery with Bathsheba. Both
evangelistic and edifying.
THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS
These psalms find the author asking God to kill and destroy the enemies of God and the enemies of the psalmist.
James Adams, THE WAR PSALMS OF THE PRINCE OF PEACE; P & R–a uniquely helpful book in opening up these difficult and at times terrifying psalms.
Chalmers Martin, “The Imprecatory Psalms” in CLASSICAL EVANGELICAL ESSAYS ON OLD TESTAMENT INTERPRETATION; Walter Kaiser, editor. Baker Books (Reprinted from THE PRINCETON REVIEW)
May the Lord bless you as you study, teach and preach THE PSALMS.
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin
Also posted as Book BLog at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service as http://www.cvbbs.com
“DUCK AND COVER”
These words have come down to us in the early 21st century as the counsel we shout to those in the path of tornadoes, atomic bombs (yes, as a child in the Chicago suburbs, I practiced that in the early 50’s) and incoming mortar fire/RPG’s in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sometimes it works and one is delivered from harm’s way.
Today I want to warn you that if you spiritually read and digest the following books, you had better “duck and cover” because these books are devastating to the American way of life and the Christian sub-culture within it. Even the so-called evangelical and Reformed folks will find themselves thrown down. Why? Well we are always people of our times even when we work very hard not to be people of our times. The surrounding culture seeps into our pores, our minds and our hearts. So after this startling introduction, what books are so powerful and truly explosive?
J. I. Packer, “WEAKNESS IS THE WAY” (Life with Christ Our
Strength); Crossway Books. Young Jim Packer was hit by delivery van at age 8. He was left with a permanent dent in his forehead and a steel plate in his head. Later he was to suffer a heart attack during a heart check up. He has moved on to hip replacement and the slow ravages of aging (he’s 87). Senior citizen and loved Reformed theologian James Packer shows us the reality of 2nd Corinthians 4 and 5 and what Paul meant in 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10 when he said that when he was weak, he was strong.
How could any statement be more “un-American”? As Americans, we value strength of mind (brighter, smarter, more learned, more degrees, etc), strength of body (Arnold Swartzenager is not rich and famous for his Shakespearean acting abilities), strength of personality (the forceful and powerful who can control every situation rise to the top) and power of money (as noted psychologist and culture warrior James Dobson observed “if one can’t be beautiful or brainy, if one has bucks, one can go far in American culture”). Packer brilliantly follows God’s logic in Paul’s epistle to the proud Corinthian church to show that God always works in the way that brings Him the most glory–and that usually involves our glory taking a back seat if not being invisible! Read it once for the shock value and once to take notes and to pray over.
Matt Redmund, THE GOD OF THE MUNDANE; Kalos Press
Don’t let the relatively obscure publisher fool you. Matt Redmund has served as a pastor in three churches. Selections from his sermons are peppered through the book. But this book is dynamite on the playground of the young, restless and Reformed evangelicals because of its message. The powerfully made point is that everyday life carried out faithfully by God’s people is radical, kingdom building and pushing back the darkness.
A great writer and a biblical theologian, Raymond has rescued us all from the pathological need to be dynamic, radical, missional, restless and risk taking. Rather he shows us that the Bible’s message is to be faithful where you are planted, to bloom without most of us every leaving home or family. Women and men, mothers of small children and men who feel they are doing “secular”, meaningless work need to read and savor this book!
Dave Harvey, RESCUING AMBITION; Crossway
Most men and women in the American work force have a good bit of ambition. If and when they become Christians, do they throw “ambition” away and become drones in the workplace hives? Dave Harvey shows that Christians are to be very ambitious–for God’s glory. Carnal ambition is for my own glory–for having my name in lights, for my being well thought of, for my being looked up to and my reaching the highest pinnacles of power and success. Let the chapter titles show you what’s in store.
1. AMBITION CONCEIVED
2. AMBITION CORRUPTED
3. AMBITION CONVERTED
4. AMBITION’S AGENDA
5. AMBITION’S CONFIDENCE
6. AMBITION’S PATH
7. AMBITION’S CONTENTMENT
8. AMBITIOUS FAILURE
9. AMBITIOUS FFOR THE CHURCH
10. AMBITIOUS RISK
11. AMBITIOUS PAID FORWARD
Thirty-five years ago I heard evangelist Luis Palau speak at a large evangelical church in downtown Atlanta. He challenged the men by saying that they worked hard to fulfill a vision to put their company (Coca Cola, UPS, Georgia Pacific–and other Atlanta based corporations) on the world map but they had very small ambitions to put Jesus Christ on the map all over the world. Harvey shows that godly ambition is zeal for the glory of Christ. Coupled with the above two books, once could have the better part of a year of Men’s Group studies or Sunday School studies. If I had it within my power, I would make these books mandatory reading for all men’s groups and all college groups.
Prepare to have your life turned upside down if you take these books to heart. And thank the Lord that people are still writing books like these.
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin
(Also posted at CVBBS.COM under BOOK BLOG)