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Worldview Suppression: Romans 1 and Apologetics

July 6, 2018 8 comments

From my recent reading (Challies 2018 Reading Challenge) and Reformed theology conference lectures comes an apologetics study of Romans 1.  What do general revelation and suppression really look like, in our 21st century post-Christian world?  This question is addressed in Scott Oliphint’s lecture from the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (theme Spirit of the Age: Age of the Spirit), Workshop 4: The Anatomy of Unbelief.  Oliphint is always interesting to listen to; I enjoyed listening to his lectures last fall, in Reformed Forum’s conference on the Reformation and Apologetics.

This 2018 conference lecture provides commentary on Romans 1 and suppression, and what that involves — what truth is suppressed?  His invisible attributes; His eternal power and His divine nature – and the wrath, the judgment that comes as a result (Romans 1 verses 24 through 32).  Oliphint also recounts his recent experience with a graduate level Hegel philosophy course.  Throughout the course, until the very end, the students were kept in suspense: what is Hegel’s “absolute”?  The expert didn’t know, and the expert admitted that he thinks Hegel himself didn’t know what it was.

Philosophers are nothing new, and Paul in Romans 1 was dealing with the same type of thing from the Greek philosophers of his day.  Yet their ideas about reality are only theoretical and do not work in the real world.  Objective truth is there, facing us every day in the external world.  We cannot arbitrarily ignore and re-interpret reality to decide that a red light means ‘go’ and a green light means ‘stop’.  A chair lifted up and about to hit your face is a real threat that cannot be ignored.

Another interesting point Oliphint noted, was observed by Jonathan Edwards.  We often hear that hell is the absence of God.  Yet this cannot be; by His very nature, God is everywhere, omnipresent–including in hell itself.  Instead, hell is the ever-continuous presence, in wrath, of the God that the people there despise and hate.

My recent reading includes a past Kindle deal that also addresses this subject of Romans 1, suppression, and the limitations of non-Christian worldviews which don’t work in the real world: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes , by Nancy Pearcey.  Suppression involves focusing on one part of reality and making it the full truth – and ignoring the parts of reality that don’t “fit” within the box.  Following an outline of Romans 1, Pearcey presents five points to help Christians identify and respond to worldview suppression, with examples from Hegel, materialism and other philosophies.

  1. Identify the idol.
  2. Identify the idol’s reductionism
  3. Test the idol: does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: make the case for Christianity.

Many examples are provided (with the actual quotes) from secular scientists and philosophers who admit that they really can’t live with the ideas they come up with about reality, such as this section about materialism:

When it reduces humans to complex biochemical machines, what sticks out of the box? Free will. The power of choice. The ability to make decisions.  These are dismissed as illusions. Yet in practice, we cannot live without making choices from the moment we wake up every morning.  Free will is part of undeniable, inescapable human experience—which means it is part of general revelation.  Therefore the materialist view of humanity does not fit reality as we experience it.

When we see statements about how “we cannot live with” a view, that is worldview suppression.  Through the five principles, we can identify the specific type of suppression – and respond to it, to those who present such ideas, with the truth of Christianity.

Oliphint’s lecture is an excellent summary overview of apologetics related to Romans 1.  Pearcey’s book provides more details and examples, with special emphasis on the experience of college students who leave home as Christians and “lose their faith” when challenged by anti-Christians in the academic university setting.

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God’s Providence: Reformed Theology Conference Lectures

June 14, 2018 4 comments

Regarding the doctrine of Providence, here are two interesting conference series from ReformedResources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals),

  • Ian Hamilton and Alistair Begg, six sessions (three each), from the 2014 Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology (full MP3 download set )

God’s Providence Defined  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence in the Lives of His Servants (I. Hamilton)
God’s Providence in the Death of Jesus Christ  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence and Our Worship (I. Hamilton)
Providence Personal Reflections (A. Begg)
Making Sense of the Mysteries of Providence  (I. Hamilton)

and —

The Meaning of Providence
The Means of Providence
The Dilemma of Providence
The Mystery of Providence
The Protection of Providence

The Scottish contribution (Hamilton and Begg) (reference this post, also with an interview link ) is less formal and easier to listen to, for a general audience.  The lectures are interesting (my first listen to these speakers) as a good base; I especially found the 4th one, which connects God’s Providence to our worship, particularly interesting as a topic for further exploration.  Here, Hamilton brought out the reason to include the Psalms in our worship (not a case for exclusive Psalmody, but a balance to include the Psalms):  worship should include the ‘minor note’ so predominant in the Psalms, along with the positive, praising and thankful ‘major note’.  Hamilton also noted a good response to the argument put forth by those who put excessive emphasis on the New Testament — why we should include the Psalms as applicable today in our New Testament age.  Paul, writing to the Romans (Romans 8:36) – in our New Testament age – directly quotes from Psalm 44:22, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’  Thus the Psalms are still applicable to New Testament Christians.

From my recent reading elsewhere, David Powlison (in ‘Speaking Truth in Love’) also referenced the point about the ‘minor key’ versus ‘major key’.

Consider the Psalms, the book of talking with God.  About ninety psalms are “minor key.”  Intercessions regarding sin and suffering predominate—always in light of God revealing his mercies, power, and kingdom.  In about one-third of these, the battle with personal sin and guilt appears.  Often there are requests that God make us wiser: “Teach me”; “Give me understanding”; “Revive me.”  In many more psalms, you see requests to change circumstances: deliver me from evildoers; be my refuge and fortress; destroy your enemies.  These are always tied to requests that God arrive with kingdom glory and power.  God reveals himself by making these bad things and bad people go away!  Then there are the sixty or so “major key” psalms.  These emphasize the joy and praise that mark God’s kingdom reign revealed.

In the 5th lecture, Personal Reflections, Alistair Begg shared much of his personal life experiences including the providence of God that brought him to pastor a church in Cleveland, Ohio.  As just a personal observation from these lectures, I note Begg’s frequent use of humor; at times the ‘laugh-track’ audience response seemed too frequent and distracting, recalling to my mind a post from David Murray (another Scottish Reformed speaker)– this link at Banner of Truth, Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture.  Some preachers naturally like to use more humor than do others, but for my preference the laughter was too frequent at times, though the overall messages were good.

On that more serious note, the second set of lectures linked above, the five from the Westminster Confession conference series, provides the serious, doctrinal look–The Comfort of the Church: God’s Most Wise and Holy Providence.  It takes a while to get used to this style of listening; these are plenary lectures, formal papers presented (read aloud) by each speaker, seminary professors at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  The lectures are rich with references to the Westminster definitions along with many scripture references, on several aspects of providence.  (Note:  The papers from this conference can be accessed in print, the full set here.)  The fourth one, The Mystery of Providence, by C.J. Williams, includes an interesting presentation in typology.  Common “types of Christ” include Joseph and King David, but another Old Testament character I had not considered as a type of Christ, is Job.  Williams expands on the correspondences between Job and Christ:  original great esteem by God, then extreme suffering and humiliation, followed by great exaltation beyond the original condition.  Williams has since published a book, with foreword by Richard Gamble (another of the speakers in this conference set), on the Job/Christ type:  The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job.

These two series are both good ones about the great doctrine of God’s Providence, covering the many aspects of God’s Providence from the doctrinal understanding as well as personal experience of Providence in our lives.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life (2018 Release)

May 31, 2018 2 comments

The topic of Charles Spurgeon — books published by him, and about him — continues to hold great interest, from the renewed interest begun in the second half of the 20th century and increased especially in our day via the Internet.  The distant future (from Spurgeon’s day) has arrived, and it has vindicated Spurgeon:

I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years,” Spurgeon said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Crossway’s “Theologians on the Christian Life” series includes an offering, published this spring (2018), about Spurgeon’s theology:  Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ — a book I received from a free book giveaway (from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; Meet the Puritans blog).  With a series preface by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor, this book considers Spurgeon as a theologian.  True, Spurgeon is known best as a preacher, with great evangelistic zeal and pastoral concern; he never wrote a systematic theology, and shunned speculation and peripheral matters.  Yet for all that, his many writings cover theology in its many aspects and its relevance and application to Christian living.

… Spurgeon was, quite self-consciously, a theologian.  Avid in his biblical, theological, and linguistic study, he believed that every preacher should be a theologian, because it is only robust and meaty theology that has nutritional value to feed and grow robust Christians and robust churches. … That combination of concerns, for theological depth with plainness of speech, made Spurgeon a preeminently pastorally minded theologian.  He wanted to be both faithful to God and understood by people.  That, surely, is a healthy and Christlike perspective for any theologian.

After a basic overview of Spurgeon’s character and personality (biographies have already been done on Spurgeon’s life), the focus soon comes to actual points of theology (on the Christian life), and Spurgeon’s views are described with numerous quotes from him, making this book also a great source for Spurgeon quotes on various doctrinal topics.    Spurgeon’s theology is presented in three parts: Christ the Center (the Bible; Puritanism, Calvinism; Preaching), the New Birth, and the New Life.  These sections include chapters on topics including the new birth and baptism, sin and grace, the Holy Spirit and sanctification, prayer, pilgrim army (the Christian as a soldier), suffering and depression, and final glory.

Much of the material was already familiar to me, from my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last several years (starting in volume 1, 1855, and now I’m currently in the 1868 volume) – presented in summary fashion rather than a complete exhaustive concordance of everything Spurgeon said on every topic.  Spurgeon’s textual preaching style is also well described.

Among the interesting points brought out — from previous sermons I had come across Spurgeon’s variation on trichotomy: that the believer has a soul, spirit and body, contrasted with the unbeliever having only two parts, soul and body.  Spurgeon on the Christian Life adds that Spurgeon’s view here, a unique one, is similar (probably unintentionally so) to that of Irenaeus of Lyon; Michael Reeves also briefly deals with the actual theology, noting the problem with Spurgeon’s idea here:

Yet, in order to underline human inability and God’s grace, he [Spurgeon] also developed a more peculiar opinion with greater similarities (almost certainly wholly unintended) to the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons.  As Spurgeon saw it, man naturally consists only of a body and soul, but when he is regenerated, there is created in him a third and wholly new nature: the spirit.  This is a higher nature, beyond anything in creation; it is a supernatural, heavenly, and immortal nature… Such a spiritual nature must be the gift of God.  Yet is this redemption?… To be sure, we gain more in Christ than ever we lost in Adam, but Spurgeon seems to overstate his case here, temporarily losing something of the restorative and reconciliatory aspects of salvation.

I especially appreciated the chapter on Spurgeon and “Suffering and Depression,” a feature of Spurgeon that has often been observed and discussed (reference, for example, this recent post and also this post).  This chapter includes a good summary of Spurgeon’s personal suffering, his seeking to understand theologically the reasons for his suffering —  along with explanation of the reasons for suffering, replete with many excellent Spurgeon quotes about suffering, including this selection (from sermon #692):

In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing. “Ah!” says one, “but suppose you have fallen into some great sin—what then?” Why then the more reason that you should cast yourself upon Him. Do you think Jesus Christ is only for little sinners? Is He a doctor who only heals finger-aches? Beloved, it is not faith to trust Christ when I have no sin, but it is true faith when I am foul, and black, and filthy; when during the day I have tripped up and fallen, and done serious damage to my joy and peace—to go back again to that dear fountain and say, “Lord, I never loved washing as much before as I do tonight, for today I have made a fool of myself; I have said and done what I ought not to have done, and I am ashamed and full of confusion, but I believe Christ can save me, even me, and by His grace I will rest in Him still.

The last chapter, “Final Glory,” touches on Spurgeon’s eschatological views, correctly noting that Spurgeon held to historic premillennialism and that he did not value the time spent on speculative matters of prophecy.  Here I would only add, from my observations of actual Spurgeon sermons, that Spurgeon did not consider premillennialism itself to be a matter of speculation.  It was his frequent practice (within the textual style sermon) to first speak to the literal, plain meaning of a text before turning aside to his own exploration of the words of a text.  So here, too, Spurgeon’s sermon introductions — to texts such as Revelation 20, and Old Testament prophecies about the regathering of national Israel — included very strong affirmations of his beliefs: a future millennial age, Christ’s premillennial return, and a regathering of national, ethnic Israel, to be saved at the time of Christ’s return.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life is another great addition to the collection of material about Charles Spurgeon, a good reference for quotes from Spurgeon as well as to showcase Spurgeon’s theology on Christian living.

For Still Our Ancient Foe: Binary Thinking Vs Paganism

May 11, 2018 5 comments

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals hosted a recent conference, the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology — held Nov. 17-18 in Quakertown, PA: For Still Our Ancient Foe.  The conference included seven lectures from four speakers: Kent Hughes, Tom Nettles, Peter Jones and Dennis Cahill.

Among the lectures on the theme that references Martin Luther’s classic hymn, I found the two lectures from Dr. Peter Jones particularly interesting: Exposing the Lies of Our Ancient Foe and How Did We Get Here, and Where is the Culture Going? These lectures pertained to the same subject, Jones’ observations about American religion over the last several decades, with focus (from the lecture titles) on exposing the Current Lies of Our Ancient Foe, and where is the Church (the professing Church) going?

Jones’ insights on American culture, in contrast with the America he first knew in 1964 (he was friends with John Lennon in high school, and came over to America the same year, though not with the Beatles) and yet as a direct result of the 1960s sexual revolution, are spot-on.  Beyond my previous understanding of Romans 1, Jones well explains the two types of religion in the world:  not the common saying of ‘works salvation versus grace’, but a more philosophical (yet true) contrast between “one” and  “two.”  All religion comes down to one of these two:  those who worship the creation (paganism, one-ism) in contrast with those who worship the creator as distinct from the creation (biblical, two-ism); a contrast between binary and non-binary thinking.

Jones references many authors and books, noting the early trends in the 1970s and the cultural shift from modernism/secularism to eastern spirituality.  An author in the 1970s predicted that atheist secularism would give way to the gods of Greek and Roman mythology; instead of Greek and Roman, the trend actually went to Indian Hinduism.  In our now ‘post-secular’ society, the ‘New Age’ promoted in the 1980s and early 1990s has come into its own, including the pagan focus on merging and reducing everything to “one,” blurring the distinctions that truly exist between God (the Creator) and us (the created).  The leaders of the 1960s sexual revolution concluded that between the two “extremes” of theism and atheism, the “true” middle-ground is pantheism.

I had some previous familiarity with the ‘New Age,’ from the books about it in the Christian bookstore in the early 1990s as well as the pop culture references such as Star Wars and other movies promoting pantheism, such as the book/movie “Secret Garden.”  What is new (to me), brought out by Peter Jones, is the connection between pantheist paganism and homosexuality and transgenderism.  The “Age of Aquarius,” popularized in the late 1960s catchy tune from the Fifth Dimension was also the ‘age of androgyny;’ here reference June Singer’s 1977 book, Androgyny: Toward A New Theory of Sexuality, which describes androgyny as the sacrament of oneism (paganism).  Additional research shows that all ancient, animist religions of the world – Mayan and Aztecs, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Canaan, and elsewhere – feature an androgynous (homosexual) leader.

In the Reformation and Puritan era, the big question was, ‘how can I be saved’?  Today, the big question is ‘Who am I’ – our human identity.  Homosexuality and transgenderism says our identity is whatever we make it to be, something fluid and changeable; an identity that removes distinctions to merge with ‘the one.’  Yet our biblical identity includes heterosexuality and gender distinctions – which show the Creator-creation distinction as well as the relationship of Christ to His people.  We affirm “two,” the Creator God apart from us.  Trinitarian understanding also comes from affirming Creator/creation distinctions.  Our God is not a single entity (monad), that is incomplete without us; before creation ever existed, He was complete: Father, Son and Spirit.  The impersonal gods of non-Christian monotheist religions (such as Islam), do not have the concept of love and relationships.

For further study, here is a list of books mentioned in the conference lectures (many of these are written by unbelievers and apostates; their views described by Peter Jones):

Hermeneutics: Understanding Genesis (and all of Scripture)

March 22, 2018 4 comments

From the Kindle deals in my 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, Jason Lisle’s Understanding Genesis: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture (currently $2.99) is a great resource for Bible interpretation, with detailed explanations of many different hermeneutical principles and the many textual and logical fallacies.  The first several chapters lay the groundwork, of how we approach any written text to understand it – the genre understanding of various types of literature – along with many examples from English language usage for correct understanding as well as fallacies and logical reasoning errors.  The features of Hebrew poetry are also covered – a topic dealt with in greater depth in books specifically about the poetic OT books, such as Dan Phillips’ God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, yet well summarized here.  Indeed, it is yet another wondrous point in God’s great plan, that Hebrew poetry has features that translate well into other languages:  parallelism of thought, rather than our English meter and rhyme of specific English words.

This book is also a good addition to the genre of Young Earth Creation books, as a good introduction and summary of the issues dealt with in more detail elsewhere.    Lisle applies hermeneutical principles to several errors concerning the early chapters of Genesis: old-earth progressive creation (two of Hugh Ross’ books), theistic evolution, and the Noahic flood as only a local flood (Hugh Ross again).  Several chapters include detailed interaction with the actual words from several Hugh Ross books plus one by a theistic evolution–a fascinating look at the flawed reasoning and ideas that actually border on heresy.

As with other creation science books, science is referenced, though primarily from the logical, reasoning perspective: pointing out the difference between operational, observable and repeatable science and that which is not really science but history: the one-time act of creation that by its very nature is not observable and not repeatable.  Related to this is the two books fallacy referenced in this previous post, that nature itself is a “67th book of the Bible” on the same level of authority as scripture itself.

Another interesting point developed by Lisle – and an area in which he differs from at least some other creation scientists – is the problem with thinking of the earth in terms of “apparent age.”  As he points out, we come up with ideas about age based on relative comparisons.  Due to observations of many people we know, for instance, we can conclude that a particular individual appears to be about 40 years old.  Yet people take such ideas and try to say that the earth “looks old” and “appears to be billions of years old”; yet we have no other planets for any relative comparison, to make such a claim:

People at the wedding in Cana may have assumed that the wine came about in the ordinary way, and probably believed that the wine was well-aged due to its taste. But Jesus did not create the wine with appearance of age. Rather, He made it good. Likewise, God did not create the earth with appearance of age. He made it to work. If people apply unbiblical, naturalistic assumptions to how the earth formed, and then come away thinking it ‘looks’ billions of years old, well, it’s not God’s fault

The hermeneutical principles and fallacies explained are not limited to use for the early chapters of Genesis, but apply to all other doctrinal subjects.  One such example, provided in Appendix B (about propositions and formal fallacies), concerns the error of baptismal regeneration:

Baptismal regenerationists commit the fallacy of denying the antecedent when arguing that water baptism is a requirement for salvation.

  1. If you repent and are baptized, then you are saved (Mark 16:16)

2. It is not that case that you have repented and are baptized (because you have only repented and have not yet been baptized).

3. Therefore, you are not saved.

Similarly, the meaning of words in their context, including general terms in the Bible that can mean many different things, is another area where people err, with superficial and out-of-context understanding.  The word ‘law’ in the Bible has many different meanings, as noted in this previous post; another term is the biblical definition of death, in its context for Genesis 3 and Romans 5.  The biblical definition of death does not include plant life, or anything other than animate (human and animal) life.

Understanding Genesis is an excellent reference for language comprehension / hermeneutics, and a useful guide for how to interpret all scripture.  It includes good application of these concepts to the specific issues of creation and the flood, yet the hermeneutics extend to all of our understanding.

Christian Living and ‘Self-Help’ Reading

March 6, 2018 2 comments

Over the last year and a half, my reading journey, and especially in the yearly Challies Reading Challenge, has included several books in the category of Christian living, and specifically the area of counseling and what could be called ‘Christian self-help.’ Beginning with Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic work, Spiritual Depression and a David Murray conference series, additional lectures, articles and books have explained and expanded on the topic: the Christian identity, and proper handling of our emotions and dealing with the trials of life.

Recent books in my Challies’ Reading Challenge include Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker,  Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a past free offer from ChristianAudio), and Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Ed Welch.  Some recent helpful online articles include these:
• From TableTalk Magazine February issue, Who Defines Your Joy?
10 types of thinking that undergird depression-anxiety
In defense (somewhat) of self-help

Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You looks to the underlying heart issues behind phone use, including our tendency to distraction, and our need to feel accepted and to be part of the “in” crowd and not left behind. Though the main point has to do with the current technology (smart phones), the broader issue is how we use technology. Technology itself is not bad, and has been around since the early chapters of the Bible. Also, distraction is a tendency of our fallen nature, regardless of time and technology, as seen in the story of Mary and Martha, and Martha’s being distracted with the work of serving. Distraction is a way to avoid quiet and silence, the time needed to think about our soul and eternity, time to spend with God, for deep meditation.

Running Scared also provides good insights, to what is really behind our fears. What we’re afraid of reveals what we hold dear, such as money and what it provides, or fear of man (desire to not be persecuted; to be liked and loved). Such fears show that we are seeking this world and kingdom, not God’s kingdom. Welch points to the root behind many fears, and notes the answer; logical reasoning, or simply not thinking about the fear, does not really work. Instead, we replace the fears by focusing on what is more important—the fear of the Lord:

They [fears and anxieties] topple from their lofty perch and are replaced by what is more important. Whatever is most important is the thing that rules us. …You treat worries by pursuing what is even more important. Fear still reveals our allegiances, this time in a positive way. If we have a mature fear of the Lord, it means that we value and revere Him above all else. That’s how we fight fear with fear.

Regarding the transformation needed, to rely on the God of Rest:

Your task is not to transform into a superficial, sunny optimist. It is to grow to be an optimist by faith…. As for me, I want to watch and endure, not worry. I want to be like the night watchmen who are waiting to see first light. God is the God of suspense, but it is a suspense that teaches us peace. He is the God of surprises, but the surprises are always better than we could have dreamed. I can’t put Him in a box and assume that He should act according to my time schedule and according to my less sophisticated version of what is good. I need the mind of Christ. I can do with nothing less.

Wisdom often mentioned in these books, to continually remember—especially in response to the world’s way of reasoning: the Christian life is not about results, about seeing and achieving (what we think is) the right outcome.  The Christian life is about being faithful to God in the situation He has put each of us in; God is the one who determines the outcome. David Murray’s lectures about the LER (legitimate emotional response) versus SER (sinful emotional response) expand on this as well, explaining the importance of how we respond to disappointing life events.

These books (and articles) are helpful, providing good reminders along with great Bible application (such as from the lives of Bible characters) for dealing with the trials and discouragements of daily life.  My 2018 Challies Reading list includes two more books that should also prove interesting:  Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, by Bob Kellemen, and Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community, by David Powlison, both oft-recommended Reformed Biblical counseling authors.

Christian Theology and Classics: Augustine, William Perkins, and Millennial Views

February 13, 2018 3 comments

In the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, my recent reading has included writings from the 4th and the 16th centuries:  Augustine’s Confessions as a book about the early church, and Volume 1 of the Works of William Perkins, as a book by a Puritan.

Both of these were featured in Puritan Reformed Seminary’s 2017 conference:  Carl Trueman’s talk about Augustine’s Confessions  and Joel Beeke’s summary of William Perkins.  Augustine’s Confessions was an interesting read, my first such reading of early church writings, and I noted the parts mentioned by Trueman:  Augustine as a youth stealing figs from a fig tree; and a much later event that happened to one of Augustine’s friends (who resolved to never go to the gladiatorial games, was taken there by force by his friends; he kept his eyes closed, determined not to look; but the sounds aroused his curiosity so that he looked –and was then ensnared again in the games).  Trueman had noted here, the power of the visual image.  Other interesting parts included references to the other Christian leaders of the time including Ambrose of Milan and his role in Augustine’s later conversion, as well as descriptions about worship services including the singing of hymns.

As others who have read Augustine’s Confessions have noted, the last few chapters are strange, getting into Augustine’s Platonic philosophy, with a lot of repetitive thought as Augustine considered the meaning of time, memory and forgetfulness.  In this tedious reading, I also observed that the Librivox volunteer readers must have had similar difficulty; the majority of the recording, through Augustine’s conversion, was read by one or two authors. Then, for each ‘track’ section of the last few (weird) chapters, it was a different reader for each segment.

William Perkins

Volume one of Perkins is over 800 pages and three treatises. I read a little of the first treatise, all of the second one, and about a third of the last and very lengthy treatise (the Sermon on the Mount).  The first treatise was about biblical chronology and dating of early Bible events; after a while it was too detailed and tedious.  Here I first learned the idea that the Israelite stay in Egypt may have been only 215 years instead of 430 years—the 430 years starting from the time of Abraham instead of the actual time in Egypt.  I have always thought that the stay was 400 years in Egypt, from the narrative reading and my old NIV Study Bible dates.  From checking online articles, though, apparently this is an area of differing views, and some do take the 215 years view regarding the Egypt stay.  At this point, the 430 years in Egypt seems more reasonable to me, given the large population at the time of the Exodus and allowing for gaps in the genealogies, which occurs often even in later Old Testament genealogies.  For further reading and study on this, are these two articles:

The second treatise was of a manageable length and more interesting:  Perkins’ exposition of Matthew 4:1-11 and the parallel account in Luke, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Good points brought out here include Perkins’ look at the scientific understanding of the human ability to live without food and water, that the human body has a limit of about 14 days­.  This event was supernatural, and necessary for Christ to experience, in similar fashion to the previous 40 days and 40 nights fastings of both Moses and Elijah.  Perkins adds, to any who might reason that ‘why did Christ not do double the length of time, 80 days?’, that Christ also must be shown to be human, and a fast of 80 days would have us question His humanity.  Another of Perkins’ ideas, though, seemed rather strange (again, the first time to hear this idea, for me):  the temptation of Jesus standing on the top of the temple in Jerusalem, was accomplished by Satan’s moving Christ’s body, slowly through the air, from the desert to the actual temple location.  Here again Perkins considers the known natural laws, and reasons that a human body could not physically withstand such flight movement through the air at very high speeds, but that Satan certainly could physically carry Christ a short distance at a slow speed.  I haven’t read other commentaries on this matter, but have always thought of this temptation as done in a vision, not actually there; if Christ were actually there, surely there would have been other people around to notice a man standing up on the top of the temple structure.   But Perkins reasoned that a temptation by vision would not be a real temptation.

The third work in volume one is a detailed exposition, with many excurses, of the Sermon on the Mount.  The reading is straightforward enough to follow, and similar in style to the later Puritans (who held Perkins in great esteem and were greatly influenced by him), with the outline format of different observations and ‘uses’ for application – as noted by J.I. Packer in his summary lecture series on the Puritans .  Throughout the reading, though, at several points I was turned-off by one particular aspect of Perkins’ views: his anti-millennial interpretations.  This comes out in such places as his exposition of Matt. 5:5 (the meek shall inherit the earth), in which he cites four ways in which the meek are said to inherit the earth.  The last two of these, Perkins considered as the primary ones:  3) inheritance in Christ in which ‘all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Cephas, or the world, things present or things to come’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22) and 4) that the meek will be made kings and ‘rule and reign’ (Rev. 5).  Before that, however, he considers that “if it fall out that meek persons die in want or banishment, yet God gives them contentation, which is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth.”  As a premillennialist (and here I recall Spurgeon’s strong words about this text) such an idea misses the mark:  to say that a poor person being contented with what God gives him or her in this life “is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth” is to seriously underrate and misrepresent the wonderful future promise of really inheriting the earth.  Elsewhere in the exposition, Isaiah texts about the millennial era are applied to what we have spiritually here and now.  At a point about various views regarding our neighbors and revenge, Perkins writes:  “Now the devil perceiving this to be their [the Jews’] natural disposition, makes God’s doctrine of salvation seem to them a doctrine of earthly benefits, for he caused them to dream of an earthly king for their Messiah, and of an earthly flourishing kingdom under him.”  Such statements reveal the standard European anti-Semitism along with an apparent hatred of the premillennial doctrine itself, implied in the idea that an earthly kingdom is somehow evil, carnal and unspiritual.  Premillennialists recognize the both/and of a future literal, earthly kingdom that is also spiritual in character, and that both physical and spiritual can co-exist, as in us believers today; and that the Old Testament did promise a future literal, earthly kingdom. The Jews had the basic idea correct; their error was in failing to recognize the two-stage purpose of God, the cross and then the crown, what is described in 1 Peter 1:10-11: the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”

The criticisms aside, both works — Augustine and William Perkins — are good for overall reading of classic and Reformation-era thought, as both provide interesting ideas and points for further thought.  They both serve the purpose of reading “the classics” of Christian theological works, and variety in reading, to go beyond the comparatively shallow and superficial nature of many modern-day books.