Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion (Review)

May 20, 2019 2 comments

From my recent reading, here is an interesting read:  Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion.  A collection of seven essays from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, specifically from the 2005 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, the theme of One way covers many Christian teachings, and how Christianity is the One Way:  one among many, one Gospel, one God, one Savior, one Truth, one Way and one People.

As expected from this type of book, the contributions present the different styles and interests of the writers – many well-known and somewhat-known names, with some chapters having more interest (to the reader).  I was familiar with at least the names of most of the scholars, some more well-known such as Al Mohler, D.A. Carson, and J. Ligon Duncan, and other names known from other conference lectures and/or teaching programs available from the Alliance.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters from David F. Wells (One Among Many), Peter Jones (One God), and One Truth (Philip Ryken).  I have previously mentioned Peter Jones from his 2018 PCRT lectures and Ryken in reference to Thomas Boston and a study on the book of Ecclesiastes.  I had not heard or read David Wells before, but found his study on Acts 17 (Paul at Athens and Mars Hill) and post-modernism quite edifying.  Richard D. Phillips’ chapter on One Savior is another good one, which points out that one Savior is indeed sufficient, just as water from only one spring to a man dying of thirst and only one blood-marrow donor match to a man dying of cancer, are sufficient.

Post-modernism, especially the emerging church, was a big online discussion topic back in the mid-2000s, more so than now, and familiarity with the issues of that time provides greater appreciation of some things mentioned in these chapters.  When David Wells noted that “Some evangelicals have tried to see in Luke’s account [Paul in Athens, Acts 17] an example of how Paul was able to exploit the culture for the sake of the gospel. What they mean is that he was able to capitalize on their cultural habits in order to ‘sell’ the gospel,” we can well recall a particular controversial figure at a mega-church in Seattle during that time, and appreciate Wells’ response, “They could not be more wrong! What we see is Paul confronting his culture, not trying to use it. This is evident from the fact that he starts not with the gospel itself but with that culture’s competing worldviews—each one of which he demolishes.”

An important point brought out by Wells, is the necessity to start with the understanding of the Christian God, even more so than the gospel as a starting point:

The gospel, after all, is not a disembodied message that can be assimilated into just any worldview. Rather, it comes within its own understanding of the world, outside of which the gospel makes no sense at all. It is true that, without believing the gospel, Paul’s hearers [in Acts 17, Paul at Athens] would not know the God from whom they were alienated because of their sin and because of God’s righteous indignation against that sin. It is also the case, however, that without an understanding of God as Creator and Judge, Paul’s hearers could not understand the gospel. It is to the Christian God that Paul takes his hearers first, and he takes them there before he takes them to the gospel.

Peter Jones’ chapter, One God, addressed the familiar subject from the more recent conference (previous post referenced above), with emphasis on the pagan, polytheistic challenge.  He includes many references (with footnotes) to recently published pagan-promoting books and pagan-influence events in the public sphere, observing that:

Ideas have consequences.  One generation after the publication of The New Polytheism, we saw the publication of Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach … which describes the unraveling of single-minded, monotheistic thinking in our society.  We now have two kinds of marriage—straight and gay—and acceptance of a third arrangement—polygamy—cannot be far behind.  Polytheism immediately gives us polysexuality.  In similar ways, polytheistic thinking is extending its influence in every category of human life. …Many Christians will be surprised to learn that the chief doctrinal attack in our time is directed not against the inspiration of Scripture or the deity of Christ, but against the doctrine of God.  The very denial of God is one of the chief obstacles to our preaching the gospel today.

Phillip Ryken’s chapter on “One Truth” also includes great points and great quotes regarding propositional truth.  Starting from John 18:37-38, which contains Pontius Pilate’s famous response to Jesus, “What is truth?” and the challenge of post-modernism and relativist instead of absolute truth, Ryken notes the limitation of looking only at the story, an incomplete picture of reality.  Post-modernism focuses on the story, on the narrative, but we do not get the complete picture of the gospel solely from the narrative accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As the introduction to the book of Acts notes, the New Testament work was only begun by Jesus during His earthly ministry.  It was also necessary for the apostles to continue the work, to write the many epistles that provide the interpretation behind the narrative events and present the propositional truths of doctrinal teaching.

In order for the gospel to have this transforming effect, it needs to be explained. Stories are not self-interpreting. Therefore, God has given us a true theology to explain the gospel story. The Gospels are followed by long doctrinal letters that teach basic truths about God and his salvation, and it is characteristic of these letters to give us truth in the form of propositions. As Luther said, ‘There is no Christianity where there are no assertions.’ …. The Bible is full of theological propositions—unchanging truths of the Christian faith.

Also from Only One Way, this well-expressed summary regarding the gospel and doctrine:

Today we often hear that creeds and confessions are outmoded. Rather than defining the Christian faith in terms of its theology, people say, we need to define it in terms of its story. Doctrine is de-emphasized, especially if it deals with difficult or intolerant subjects like sin, judgment, wrath, and atonement through a sacrifice of blood. … But of course this is a false dichotomy. The gospel is relational, because it establishes a reconciled relationship between fallen sinners and a holy God. However, the gospel cannot be relational unless it also gives us true information about God and about us—about Jesus, the cross, and the empty tomb.

These seven chapters in Only One Way are insightful, well-written for the Christian layperson, presenting many good points from scripture along with analysis of our relativist, post-modern and in many ways post-Christian society.  At just under 150 pages, it is not lengthy reading, yet packs in a lot of good content in this relatively short book.

 

Thoughts on Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology, the Doctrine of God, and the Trinitarian Debate

April 26, 2019 11 comments

Lately I’ve been considering the issues of systematic theology, confessionalism, and the Doctrine of God and the Trinitarian Debate.  Over at the Mortification of Spin podcast, Carl Trueman has several recent posts in a series, Some Thoughts on Systematic Theology as Poor Relation:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

This is a recurring topic in recent years, one I often come back to, from frequent interacting with the errors from non-confessional Calvinist Baptists: minimalist doctrinal approach, overemphasis on biblical theology (and absence of any type of systematic theology) and the related anti-confessional New Covenant Theology.  For reference, see these previous posts such as these about Confessionalism (article 1, also this article, and this one).

In the above posts, Trueman is coming from the opposite perspective, of confessionally Reformed churches where people are redefining the words of the confessions to mean different things today than the 17th century Reformers understanding.  His points, though, are just as applicable to the anti-confessional group, as the basic issue of present-day evangelicalism (after pointing out the merits of biblical theology):

even with all of these important contributions, we need to remember that a narrow focus on the storyline of scripture has its limits.  If the danger with Systematic Theology is that it can so emphasize conceptual unities that it misses the particularities of the biblical text, then the danger with Biblical Theology is that it so emphasizes the particularities that it misses those underlying unities. The answer to missing the trees for the wood is not to miss the wood for the trees.

The importance of systematic theology relates to the more specific issue of the doctrine of God, including the controversies of recent years – the impassibility of God, and the “Trinity Debate” (Eternal Submission of the Son error) of 2016.  For further reading on the 2016 Trinity Debate, see this web page from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, with links to the many blog posts back and forth during summer 2016.

From browsing the Alliance’s collection here are some helpful sermon series from Liam Golligher (the current Senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia) —  three sets of messages (the “Trinity” set in response to the 2016 Trinity Debate) from the early chapters of the book of Hebrews:  Trinity: The Eternally Divine Son (8 messages), Trinity: The Two Natures of Christ (8 messages), and Trinity: Christ the Mediator (6 messages).  I’m in the second half of the second set now, so more to report later.

From the content I’ve listened to so far, these messages emphasize the transcendence of God, the reality of a God that is different from and above us, the eternal God who does not change, the Creator/Creature distinction, and the big picture view of God’s dealings with His people throughout history.  The doctrine of God, and the Trinity, are things that our finite minds will never completely grasp, yet the Christian creeds and confessions set forth the truths that we affirm.

From the first set, one message specifically addresses the Old Testament theophanies as part of God’s plan to familiarize His people with their God.  Another message, ‘Mary, did you know?’ references the words in the Mark Lowry song along with many scripture references.  A later message in the first series mentions a not-so-well-known history fact:  hymn writer Isaac Watts’ later writings indicate that he was a Unitarian and viewed Jesus as a created being, as the archangel Michael.  Googling on the topic indicates that a lot of people question this (is it really so?), and provides further historical details regarding Watts and the New England slide from Puritanism to Unitarianism.  Certainly Watts, who disliked creeds, did not articulate Trinitarianism and left himself open to the charge of Unitarianism, leaving us the question ‘will we see Isaac Watts in heaven?’  For further reference, here are a few interesting articles about Isaac Watts’ Unitarianism:

The above posts and sermon series are very helpful for a good overview of the whole issue of the doctrine of God and proper, orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  The link between the historic creeds and confessions, and orthodox Christian belief, especially comes out when studying the doctrine of God, a topic/study that is not as easy from the human viewpoint.  It is all too easy for us finite humans, as creatures, to think of God as somehow an extension of ourselves, someone greater than us but like us (in ways beyond the “communicable attributes”).  In this modern anti-creedal age, a time of “no creed but the Bible,” some doctrines are still easier to ‘get’, such as the doctrine of scripture, of the authority and importance of God’s word; but taking the same anti-confessional approach to the doctrine of God, more often than not, leads to error and even heresy.  As stated in the above article (Implications from Isaac Watts’s Trinitarian Controversy):

Furthermore, claiming to have no creed but the Bible may sound noble and pious, but it is a fact of history that when individuals or groups completely reject confessional language, even with noble desires for Christian unity or biblical authority, they almost always end up with significant theological problems. And this is exactly the case with the Nonconformists in England following Watts: those who, like Watts, claimed to accept no human creed ended up fully denying the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and even the sufficient atonement of Christ.

Studies on The Lord’s Prayer

April 8, 2019 4 comments

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar scripture passage, one of the most memorized passages (along with Psalm 23 and a few other verses such as John 3:16).  From Christian contemporary music (when I listened to it in the late 1980s through mid-1990s) two song versions come to mind, from Tony Melendez and Steve Camp.

The Sunday School class has been studying Al Mohler’s book on The Lord’s Prayer (The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down), and so a blog post about this and related resources is fitting.  Mohler’s book is a good layperson resource, with good introductory material, many quotes from Martin Luther (especially his words addressed to his barber, Peter Beskendorf), J.I. Packer and others, and examination of the theology involved in each clause of this prayer (from Matthew 6 and Luke 11).

Classic Puritan recommended resources (from others in online reading groups) include Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer (free e-book available from Monergism.com) now on my list to read.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ series through the Sermon on the Mount ,and other expositions on the Sermon on the Mount / The Lord’s Prayer, are also recommended studies.

From the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the 2002 PCRT conference has an interesting 4-part series with messages by Richard Phillips and Hywel Jones: “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”. Dr. Jones’ three lectures provide exposition of Luke 11:1-13, of the prayer itself and the related parable.  Among the highlights from this series, Hywel Jones exposited Luke 11:1, the introductory words that we usually do not think about, which provide the setting and the fact that Jesus was praying in a certain place and for a specified time.  The Luke 11 account is shorter than the Matthew 6 parallel, but Luke’s version should not be considered incomplete; it has the same basic content that is expanded on in the Matthew 6 version.  This prayer has some similarity, along with important differences, to other 1st century Jewish prayers in its form.  The Lord’s Prayer (a model prayer for us to follow) fits the common pattern, yet includes a personal touch:  the word “Father” and “my” personal father, and that we are to forgive others “as we have been forgiven.”

I do not see these concepts as really absent from the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets, for example, we have many instances of Israel in a corporate relationship with “Our Father,” yet this God is personally prayed to by the psalmist.  Though the Old Testament does not use the explicit terminology found in the New Testament, certainly texts such as in Proverbs point out the need of forgiveness for ourselves as well as extending mercy and kindness (and forgiveness), instead of holding grudges or doing wrong to our neighbor.  Certainly it is true, though, that the gospel texts of The Lord’s Prayer set out clearly the things that are more implied in the Old Testament, as to our prayers and the right perspective.

These lectures provide a good overview of the Lord’s Prayer, with consideration of the two passages (Luke and Matthew) and the overall historical context.   For a more in-depth, book study, Mohler’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down is good for basic theology as related to the clauses of this prayer — easy reading, yet very instructive on so many areas of theology.  A sampling of a few quotes:

All we can learn about God from his revelation is designated his Name in Scripture…. A name is something personal and very different from a number or a member of a species. It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name; it stands for our honor, our worth, our person, and individuality. … There is an intimate link between God and his name. According to Scripture, this link is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God himself. We do not name God; he names himself. … Summed up in his name, therefore, is his honor, his fame, his excellencies, his entire revelation, his very being. – Herman Bavinck

Prayer and praise are like a bird’s two wings: with both working, you soar; with one out of action, you are earthbound.  But birds should not be earthbound, nor Christians praiseless. – J.I. Packer

Mohler’s book, the PCRT lectures, and the classic Reformed Puritan resources all contribute to a good study on this model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer — a few verses in scripture, yet packed with so much meaning, truths that we can never exhaust and will always be learning and gaining new insights.

Reformation History Reading, Continued: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 2

March 20, 2019 Leave a comment

Librivox now has the second volume of History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century available in audio format.    Following up on the first volume which I read in 2017, this volume continues the details of Martin Luther, from 1519 through the Diet of Worms in 1521, as well as one ‘book’ within the volume on a lesser known topic, the Swiss Reformation.  (The full 5 volumes is also available in PDF format here.)

The basic story of these years in Luther’s life, and his summons to and speaking at the Diet of Worms, is well known, but D’Aubigne’s book brings out the details.  As in the first volume, one striking thing is the large cast of characters surrounding and supporting Martin Luther, the many minor characters that were used to assist in Luther’s cause and to provide him comfort and help along the way.

D’Aubigne’s commentary on the history brings out many interesting points, as in the description of the 1520 student rebellion.  Every age (some more than others) sees the uncontrolled zeal and fanaticism of youth, especially the college age set, in support of some “cause,” political or other.  (A well-publicized example I recall from the early 1990s, students at the University of Colorado setup their version of “shanty-town,” a protest that involved them living in cardboard boxes on the streets, to protest the then-prominent political issue of apartheid.)  After carefully describing the event of Dec. 10, 1520, when Luther (in response to the Catholics’ burning of his books) in a public ceremony at the University of Wittenberg burned the papal bull that had excommunicated Luther, D’Aubigne observes:

If Luther had commenced the Reformation in this manner, such a step would undoubtedly have entailed the most deplorable results. Fanaticism might have been aroused by it, and the Church thrown into a course of violence and disorder. But the reformer had preluded his work by seriously explaining the lessons of Scripture. The foundations had been wisely laid.

The detailed account of Luther’s decision to go to Worms is reminiscent of Acts 20-21 in which Luke describes Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem though all along the way people are warning him not to go to the great danger awaiting him.  At every town or village on Martin Luther’s journey (a time when travel was a much longer and more difficult task in itself) the people similarly warned him not to go to Worms; apparently even the Roman authorities there did not really want him to show up, did not really want to have to confront him; Luther was calm and resolute, prepared for whatever God had in store for him there.

Luther’s first response at the Diet — to allow for some time, to give his response the next day — has been considered by some as a weakness or cowardice on Luther’s part;  D’Aubigne instead sees this as a great move on Luther’s part; the delay and second day’s meeting brought great anticipation of recantation by his opposition, and brought a much larger crowd of people to hear his response.  This volume contains Luther’s full speech, of which the last part is best known:

Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, — unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, — and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.” And then, looking round on this assembly before which he stood, and which held his life in its hands, he said: “HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER; MAY GOD HELP ME. AMEN!

After the exciting and suspenseful ending to Luther’s departure from Worms, the story abruptly leave Luther a prisoner in a secluded castle, and tells the account of Ulrich Zwingli’s life from childhood, up through the Swiss reformation up to the year 1522.  I enjoyed Volume 2 of this work even more than the first volume.  Since Librivox has now recorded two of the five volumes, I eagerly anticipate that volume 3 will be recorded at some point in the next year or so.

Challies 2019 Reading: J.I. Packer on Evangelism and God’s Sovereignty

February 18, 2019 2 comments

Going through my stack of paperback books, here is an interesting one: J.I. Packer’s early work (1961) on “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.”  This is an early work (originally published in 1961), preceding his “Knowing God” which made him an evangelical household name.  I find it especially interesting for the historical context of the mid-20th century, the era of “Forgotten Spurgeon” (see this previous post).  Much of what is said here regarding the two seemingly-contradictory truths of divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility, is found in the Charles Spurgeon sermon volumes — ideas brought out in a few sentences at a time over the course of many sermons, and well covered within Packer’s book.

I have not read any other J.I. Packer books, but relate much of what he says here to his comments in a lecture series on the Puritans (and this previous post about the Puritan Papers), in terms of overall ideas about preaching the whole gospel and its full range of application: addressing certain points in one sermon or setting and other doctrinal truths at other times, yet regularly addressing the whole counsel of God, so that people will get the full picture.

In addition to the topic of God’s sovereignty, Packer discusses “wrong” versus more biblical methods of evangelism:  the  Arminian-style special prayer meetings with use of emotion; and, positively, the need to present the full gospel, so that people know what they are committing to. He also describes and advocates what is now known as ‘friendship evangelism’, of the type that presents all of the word of God–as contrasted with the manipulation method of inviting an unsaved friend to a special prayer meeting.

Describing the antinomy between the seemingly conflicting truths, Packer describes the mystery and transcendence of our creator God:

We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Another great quote from Packer:

For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Near the end, Packer addresses the implications of God’s sovereignty in evangelism, as an answer to the discouragement of evangelicals at this point in the mid-20th century, a discouragement brought about by nearly 100 years of “revival” type evangelism campaigns and the dismal results.  Noting the early success of D.L. Moody and others of that era as occurring “not because they were always well planned and run, but because God was working in Britain in those days in a way in which he is evidently not working now,” yet even then the campaigns experienced the law of diminishing returns.

 We had come to take it for granted that good organization and efficient technique, backed by a routine of prayers, was itself sufficient to guarantee results.  We felt that there was an almost magical potency in the special meeting, the special choir and soloist, and the special preacher.  We felt convinced that the thing that would always bring life into a dead church, or a dead town, was an intensive evangelistic mission.  With the top of our minds, many of us still think that, or profess to think that…. But with the bottom of our minds, in our heart of hearts, we have grown discouraged and disillusioned and apprehensive.  … we do not know what to make of a situation in which our planned evangelism fails.

After acknowledging the disappointments (failure of converts) through these methods, Packer brings home the underlying reality:

First, we must admit that we were silly ever to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could of itself guarantee conversions; second, we must recognize that, because man’s heart is impervious to the Word of God, it is no cause for surprise if at any time our evangelism fails to result in conversions; third, we must remember that the terms of our calling are that we should be faithful, not that we should be successful; fourth, we must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism on the omnipotent grace of God.

This is a well-written book for layperson reading, a short book yet very informative, with a lot of solid Christian teaching as to how evangelism has been done and what we need to remember about how it should be done.

 

Challies 2019 Reading: Derek Thomas’ Heaven on Earth

February 14, 2019 2 comments

Heaven-On-EarthMy recent reading of hard-copy books (free from book giveaways) has included some interesting titles, such as Derek Thomas’ “Heaven on Earth.”

Thomas’ work, noted on this Theology to Go podcast is an interesting read, a short one that can be read within a day or two.  It provides a good summary regarding the difference between heaven as the intermediary state (sometimes called paradise) where the believers who have fallen asleep in the Lord are now, and the later Resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth.  The book is also noteworthy as a treatise that discusses the future, especially the Eternal State, without one single reference to the millennial age or to millennial views.  Thomas appears to have a view similar to that of Hoekema – amillennialism that recognizes the Eternal State New Earth as a place/time that includes the basic things of this creation such as geography, physical activity, and animals.  This view also fits well with what Michael Vlach described several years ago as the “New Creation model” – as contrasted with the “Spiritual Vision” model (the traditional church view of saints sitting up on clouds with their harps), with reference to the Eternal State.  Thomas also sees the future New Heavens and New Earth as a renovation rather than annihilation/completely new creation; here, reference this post (The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3) from several years ago, regarding 2 Peter 3 and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.

Other reviewers have mentioned the part about dogs being in heaven – an item specifically mentioned on only one page, yet fitting within the “new creation” model, a future that does not specifically include our own beloved pets from this life, but will include the reality of animals then to care for and appreciate.  Thomas also considers questions for speculation and the imagination, such as what our resurrected bodies will be like:  will our bodies age?  will they change in any way? will they grow tired and require sleep?  will we experience pain, if we fall on rocky ground, will they bleed?  and what age wil we be?  Will we all look like athletes?  Along with quotes from C.S. Lewis in his non-fiction as well as fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia The Last Battle,  and The Great Divorce), and consideration of various OT and NT scripture texts, a lot of questions are raised, on practical things such as will we recognize each other as friends from this life.  Jesus told the Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33) that in the resurrection we will be “like the angels,”  but given the context of that, we should not over-interpret.

I do not think that we should over-interpret this passage, in a way that suggests that we will not have close friends in the new heaven and earth.  Jesus had close friends -Peter, James and John – and the latter was His closest friend.  I see no reason to doubt that we shall experience these kinds of friendship in the new earth, and with those who have been our spouse and best friends here in the old earth.  And perhaps this helps us understand a little Jesus’ statement about marriage.  It is not the intimacy as such that is dearest, but the companionship and the love.  And Jesus didn’t say that we won’t experience the friendship and the heady sense of love that two people know.

This book is an enjoyable read about a good topic — suitable to share with friends who have questions, and a good book for the average evangelical Christian.  It’s a short read at about 100 pages, but with a lot of good points and ideas to consider, great “food for thought.”

“Rediscovering the Holy Spirit,” and Holy Spirit Indwelling

January 14, 2019 8 comments

Going through a stack of unread paperback books I’ve received over the last year or so, recently I’ve  been reading Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.  With a style that is somewhat scholarly — more difficult than average layperson books (though not as difficult as some scholarly theological books) – Horton’s book is interesting in several aspects, with plenty of footnotes and references to other theologians, a serious look at the oft-neglected and often misunderstood role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

Though expressed in more technical language, this book references the “seminal headship” error commonly associated with Anabaptists (referenced in this previous blog post):

The God-world antithesis was so marked that many Anabaptists held a form of Docetism, with the Son believed to have assumed “heavenly flesh” rather than a true humanity from the virgin Mary in the power of the Spirit.  … Menno Simons argued that “there is no letter to be found in all the Scriptures that the Word assumed our flesh.”… The Polish Reformed theologian John a Lasco took the lead in challenging this view as taught by Menno Simons, and Calvin criticized it in the Institutes…

The above and other parts are interesting, yet I find one area where I disagree with this book.  For some (bizarre, to me) reason, Horton – who is covenantal, affirming the covenant of works and the covenant of grace – states that Old Testament believers, prior to Pentecost, were not indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  This view is most commonly associated with classic dispensationalism, a relatively recent view introduced in the 19th century.  I previously blogged about this question in this post a few years ago (with links to a series from David Murray’s Headhearthand Blog), and still find the posts in that series helpful, regarding the historical Reformed view (with many quotes from the centuries past), and to understand the current-day flawed reasoning—and to respond to it. It is also interesting to note that even “leaky dispensationalist” John MacArthur (as pointed out in quotes at Murray’s blog) has affirmed that Old Testament saints had the Holy Spirit.  Yet Horton introduces an idea in conflict with the historic Reformed view, of a qualitative rather than quantitative difference in the Holy Spirit’s role with believers in the pre-Pentecost era.  According to this view, Old Testament saints were justified and regenerated, and saved and kept in the faith; but the Holy Spirit only “came upon” and was “with” them (with them in the corporate sense of the theocracy of OT Israel); further, that the Spirit being “with” them precludes the possibility of the Spirit also being “in” them.

Mention of this idea comes before chapter 6, “The Age of the Spirit,” but is treated in greater detail in this chapter.  On another topic, one statement takes the classic amillennial covenantal assumption that “the land” was included in the list of things belonging only to the Mosaic covenant:  “The writer to the Hebrews labors the point that the law of Moses—and everything pertaining to it (the land, the temple, the sacrifices, and the commands governing individual and social life in the theocracy)—was a typological shadow.” It’s just a passing statement without further elaboration – but let’s remember that the land promise actually first shows up in the early chapters of Genesis with Abraham, long before the Mosaic economy.

But just a few pages later comes the idea of OT saints regenerated yet not Holy Spirit-indwelled:

Looking to Christ from afar, the old-covenant saints believed in realities that they themselves had not experienced… Justified through faith, they were preserved and kept by the Spirit.  At this level, the difference seems more quantitative than qualitative.  …

The sheer repetition in the prophets of God’s promises to “pour out” his Spirit in the last days indicates a qualitatively new manifestation of the Spirit in the future.  …

the apostles interpret Pentecost as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and not simply as a continuation—even a heightening—of the Spirit’s work in previous days.   (emphasis added)

I understand from the above, that Horton is addressing the corporate nature of Israel, their worship, and God dwelling with them in the Tabernacle and then the Temple.  Yet it also seems to me, from reading the full chapter, that Horton is referencing the Holy Spirit in the Mosaic economy as only having a corporate nature and thus the Holy Spirit not having any purpose regarding individual believers within corporate Israel – taking an either/or approach rather than the broader both/and understanding.  Further, the idea of Pentecost as the fulfillment of an OT prophecy does not necessitate that the actual fulfillment itself is of something substantively different and previously unknown.

At this point I find David Murray’s observations helpful, regarding two mistakes in Bible interpretation:

I’m afraid that some who have argued against the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers may have inadvertently erred in these two areas.

Just because the Old Testament did not clearly unfold the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, does not mean that such an indwelling did not exist.

And to start with “hard” texts like John 7:37-39, or at least to let such difficult texts be determining texts, is very likely to mislead us.

Horton often references the “harder” text, John 7:37-39, putting great emphasis on it (over other texts).  The reasoning here is also using the argument from silence, or confusing “the unfolding of truth with the existence of truth.”  Throughout this section, the “pouring out” of the Spirit is equated with actual indwelling, and silence in the Old Testament means the truth did not exist then. As described on page 151:

The Spirit had not been given, even during Jesus’ ministry, in the way that he would be “poured out” at Pentecost.  Since Moses’s hope for the Spirit’s being poured out on all the people is repeated as late as the Minor Prophets (e.g., Joel 2) without any appeal to a previous era of analogous outpouring and indwelling of the Spirit, we have no reason to believe that God answered Moses’s request until Pentecost.  God went beyond the request, putting his Spirit in, not just on, all of his people.  (emphasis in original)

Reading this book has been an interesting experience, helpful for reading this view I disagree with and for “iron sharpening iron” analysis, to help in strengthening my own understanding of the issue.  I was surprised to see this view (OT saints not indwelled by the Holy Spirit) taught in a book written by a Covenantal theologian, and it goes to show (as I’ve observed with other doctrines) the great variety of differing views even within the umbrella of Covenant Theology.