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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):

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On Church Statements of Faith (and Historic Creeds)

April 27, 2018 9 comments

My appreciation for the Reformed confessions continues to grow, especially from interacting with the anti-creed, anti-confession attitude — and the consequent superficial, shallow and even false teaching — so prevalent in evangelicalism today.

As noted in Brian Borgman’s series (sermon audio here) from 18 years ago, the historic creeds and confessions provide valuable information to the church as Christ’s body, teaching preserved for future generations.  These statements were carefully developed to refute various heresies, and down through the centuries, the next generation of the church learned its doctrine from the wisdom of past ages.  Then, the 19th century American pioneering culture of ‘rugged individualism’ along with the bad part of the Second Great Awakening revival movement (Charles Finney and others) started us down the wrong path: a view that thinks what is new and modern is better than what came before, a view that does not learn from history, and instead proclaims “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible” (originally said by Alexander Campbell of the “Disciples of Christ” group in the early 19th century).

Christians in the 20th century did provide several Christian declarations, often focused on particular causes/issues of our day, such as the 1974 Lausanne Covenant on World Missions, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the 1980s Danvers Statement (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  Then came the controversial, doctrinal compromising ECT and ECT II (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) in the 1990s.  Since 2000 we have seen more of the specific purpose statements such as the Manhattan Declaration  and now the Nashville Statement.  Borgman’s series from 2000 ended the final lesson (about modern day creeds) on a positive note: the Cambridge Declaration of 1996, the origin of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

In response to the increasing anti-creedal attitude prevalent today, Founders.org has provided a few recent articles that make the positive case for why churches should (still) use creeds and confessions, as with these two:

The problem that comes up in churches that do not reference the historic creeds and confessions can be seen when an independent church with a relatively small congregation attempts to come up with its own “statement of faith” — a (supposedly) simple, not complex or lengthy, original document.  In desiring to use their own statements – apart from the careful analysis and wording used by the large assemblies and church councils in years past – and trying to say things briefly in their own words, their resulting statements have a tendency to be incomplete, misleading, and in some cases stating actual error.  (I realize that this is not their intent; they believe that they are trying to be faithful in expressing Christian truth.  It is their method, and the underlying presupposition to not reference historic creeds, that is problematic.)

As an example, a local church’s statement of faith mentions the inerrancy of scripture “in the original writings” – yet is silent on the related issue of scripture in translations, leaving the topic open to be challenged by others.  Since the original writings are not in common use by most of us, the Reformed confessions, as well as the recent Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, felt it was important to address the attributes of scripture in our translations.  From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X (emphasis added):

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

The Reformed confessions of a few centuries ago also expressed the point, in language less technical, for the purpose of the edification of the saints.  From the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 1 (Of the Holy Scriptures, paragraph 8):

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.

More troubling is when a church’s statement of faith includes faulty hermeneutics, with sentences such as since all Scripture points to Christ, the Old Testament should be interpreted through the New Testament.  Such an idea has serious implications:  if the Old Testament cannot be understood on its own, apart from the New Testament, then no one who lived in the Old Testament age, or in the early church before the NT was written — when the Old Testament was their Bible – could possibly have understood God’s word on its own basis, since the ‘key’ to explaining what the Old Testament ‘really means’ did not yet exist.  Consider that the apostle Paul himself taught the truth of Christ and the resurrection by directly quoting from the Old Testament.  What about the believers in the book of Malachi (Malachi 3:16-18), or any of the other believers who lived before the New Testament was written?

Here again, we do not have to look back very far in history, as the Chicago statement also was clear regarding the hermeneutic of how we understand and interpret scripture.  As Article V explains (emphasis added):

We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.
We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. 

The 17th century Reformed confessions (including the WCF, the Savoy Declaration and the 1689 London Baptist Confession) were written by those who saw the importance of doctrine for all of life, those who saw the need to provide detailed answers to the many questions, and to provide instruction to the common people.  The first chapter provided many paragraphs on Scripture , and these hold up very well, to this day, as excellent summaries of the faith, useful for instructing local congregations in Christian truth.  The modern-day attempt to “reinvent the wheel” regarding definition of doctrine manifests the very problem with trying to do so – belief statements lacking in detail and with faulty doctrine.  We would all do well to remember church history, and learn our doctrine — and how to say it clearly and accurately — from those who went before us.

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.

Challies’ Reading 2018: Machen’s ‘Christianity and Liberalism’

January 16, 2018 2 comments

For the 2018 Challies’ Reading Challenge, J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, a book by an author no longer alive, is an excellent read.  E-text including kindle version available free online from sources including Monergism, this is Machen’s classic work from 1923, defending true Christianity and proving that the liberal (so-called) Christian theology, is not Christian at all.  As noted in a Reformed Forum podcast which talked about Machen and his successor Van Til, Machen was a good and clear, straightforward writer. Christianity and Liberalism sets forth several contrasts of key Christian doctrines and the liberal view:  the nature of God and man, the Bible, Christ, Salvation, and the Church.  As Machen later said:

In my little book, Christianity and Liberalism, 1923, I tried to show that the issue in the Church of the present day is not between two varieties of the same religion, but, at bottom, between two essentially different types of thought and life. There is much interlocking of the branches, but the two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or (otherwise designated) non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity, spring from different roots. In particular, I tried to show that Christianity is not a “life,” as distinguished from a doctrine, and not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression, but that–exactly the other way around–it is a life founded on a doctrine.

Machen’s “little book” relates to my previous studies on this era of church history:  a series on “The Church and the World” from Reformed Theological Seminary with great overview of the three early 20th century responses to modernism; Machen was one of three responses (the other two being fundamentalism and Barthian neo-orthodoxy).  This was also a generation after Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy; not surprisingly, similar observations come from Machen as from Spurgeon: the dishonesty of the liberal theologians who would use the same ‘Christian’ terms to disguise themselves as true believers, yet attaching very different meanings to the terms.

A classic with staying power through the years, Machen’s book contains some dated material, especially in the introduction and conclusion—with reference to the pressing current events of the time including anti-Christian legislation directed at the public schools, a situation where some states actually prohibited anything other than a public education.  History has since shown the direction of the Christian church and the secular world; though overall conditions appear far worse, past the modernism of his day to today’s post-modernism, yet people today do have other educational options outside of the public schools, including the surge of evangelical Christian private schools and homeschooling, unknown in his day.

Trends in existence then have continued, though in different variations, to the point of current-day churches which do not embrace liberal theology with its rejection of miracles and a secular, naturalist “historical Jesus”—yet doctrinal understanding among professing Christians is at an appallingly low level.

Another troubling point today is the overall lack of knowledge concerning this period of history: the early 20th century fight against theological liberalism.  Machen stood against the promoters of liberal so-called Christianity, including one of its main advocates, Harry Emerson Fosdisck, pointing out that “The question is not whether Mr. Fosdick is winning men, but whether the thing to which he is winning them is Christianity.”  Reference this article from Tim Challies, on the details regarding Harry Emerson Fosdick and the conservative response from Machen and his collleagues.

Many today do not even recognize the name of Fosdick, and yet a hymn written by Fosdick (“God of Grace and God of Glory”) has actually made itself into some church hymnals used by Calvinist churches.  People who are ignorant of the issues will defend the singing of that hymn because the words are nice; yet with all the many hymns written by true Christians, why include a hymn from someone who did not worship the same God and was clearly a false teacher?

I especially liked that Machen himself referenced the theology of hymns, making a good point regarding low and high views of Christ’s atonement (along with reference to the Titanic sinking):

The reality of an atonement for sin depends altogether upon the New Testament presentation of the Person of Christ. And even the hymns dealing with the Cross which we sing in Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they are based upon a lower or a higher view of Jesus’ Person. At the very bottom of the scale is that familiar hymn:

Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!
E’en though it be a cross
That raiseth me.

That is a perfectly good hymn. It means that our trials may be a discipline to bring us nearer to God. The thought is not opposed to Christianity; it is found in the New Testament. But many persons have the impression, because the word “cross” is found in the hymn, that there is something specifically Christian about it, and that it has something to do with the gospel. This impression is entirely false. In reality, the cross that is spoken of is not the Cross of Christ, but our own cross; the verse simply means that our own crosses or trials may be a means to bring us nearer to God. It is a perfectly good thought, but certainly it is not the gospel. One can only be sorry that the people on the Titanic could not find a better hymn to use in the last solemn hour of their lives. But there is another hymn in the hymn-book:

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

That is certainly better. It is here not our own crosses but the Cross of Christ, the actual event that took place on Calvary, that is spoken of, and that event is celebrated as the center of all history. Certainly the Christian man can sing that hymn. But one misses even there the full Christian sense of the meaning of the Cross; the Cross is celebrated, but it is not understood.

It is well, therefore, that there is another hymn in our hymn-book:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

There at length are heard the accents of true Christian feeling–“the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.” When we come to see that it was no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is of more value, for our own salvation and for the hope of society, than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history.

In this work, Machen includes many great quotes that succinctly stating the contrast between liberalism and Christianity, including these:

All the ideas of Christianity might be discovered in some other religion, yet there would be in that other religion no Christianity. For Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event. Without that event, the world, in the Christian view, is altogether dark, and humanity is lost under the guilt of sin.

The New Testament without the miracles would be far easier to believe. But the trouble is, it would not be worth believing. … Without the miracles, the New Testament might be easier to believe. But the thing that would be believed would be entirely different from that which presents itself to us now. Without the miracles we should have a teacher; with the miracles we have a Savior.

According to Christian belief, man exists for the sake of God; according to the liberal Church, in practice if not in theory, God exists for the sake of man.

the evangelical Christian is not true to his profession if he leaves his Christianity behind him on Monday morning. On the contrary, the whole of life, including business and all of social relations, must be made obedient to the law of love. The Christian man certainly should display no lack of interest in “applied Christianity.” Only–and here emerges the enormous difference of opinion–the Christian man believes that there can be no applied Christianity unless there be “a Christianity to apply.

Machen’s work is available free online in several e-book formats as well as web page text.  It is not long, at about 200 pages, and yet very insightful and packed with great truth, a work useful in its day and through the years since.

Taking Hold of God: Reformed/Puritan Thoughts on Prayer

December 14, 2017 1 comment

Continuing in the Challies 2017 Reading Challenge with book selections from recent Kindle deals, I recently completed a book about prayer:  Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer, by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour.

This work considers the theology of prayer, looking at several major teachers of the Reformation and Puritan era, in chronological sequence—covering two centuries, from Martin Luther through Thomas Boston and Jonathan Edwards of the 18th century.  The chapters summarize the writings of each figure, with selected quotes concerning their teachings and emphases regarding prayer, along with explanation and paraphrase of the teaching of these men: Luther’s view of all that is included within prayer; prayer as communion with God (John Calvin); teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (William Perkins); the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in prayer (John Bunyan); catechism and other practical helps for praying (the Puritans generally, and Matthew Henry); and prayer in connection with the doctrine of Adoption (Thomas Boston), are among the many topics covered.  I especially appreciated the discussion of views regarding the Anglican prayer book and liturgy; overall, the Puritans disliked such ‘formula’ prayer, yet provided their own educational material, such as the Westminster Shorter Catechism and Matthew Henry’s “A Method for Prayer” and books for family devotions.

The chapter on Thomas Boston was also quite interesting, especially as a follow-up to my recent reading of Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ which provided the historical background and setting briefly mentioned in this book’s chapter:

Boston experienced many sorrows in life. …. His first ten years of ministry at Ettrick were a long season of plowing with little yield.  His advocacy of the free grace of God put him at the center of a grievous controversy in his denomination.

Boston emphasized the doctrine of adoption in reference to prayer.  As well explained in the quotes and Beeke’s commentary:

He (Boston) says, “Our names are enrolled among those of the family; and though a new nature accompanies it, yet adoption itself is a new name, not a new nature, Rev. 2:17, though it is not an empty title, but has vast privileges attending it.”  Simply put, true spiritual adoption operates much like legal adoption in today’s world.  When a child is legally adopted, he or she is declared the child of new parents.  But legal adoption does nothing to change the cellular makeup, genes, or blood of the adopted child.  Nevertheless, adotpion places a child into a household where he may learn from his father’s love, example, instruction, and discipline to become more like his father.  Similarly, when children of Satan are adopted by God, they are no longer children of Satan but are counted as children of God, even though remnants of sin remain in them.  Yet the privileges of adoption change their lives.

The chapter on Jonathan Edwards was also interesting, a good summary (I have read of Edwards, but no actual works from him yet) as it put together Edwards’ theology of prayer from different sources (no one treatise on prayer), and include his post-millennial thoughts (eschatology does affect the content of one’s prayers).  Edwards rightly understood Old Testament passages as speaking of a future golden age, unlike our time; so post-millennials have something in common with premillennialists, recognizing the future aspect of these prophecies (and more common ground than with the amillennialists who reject any literal, future fulfillment of such texts).

Taking Hold of God concludes the Reformation and Puritan era with a look at their prayers for world missions, including mention of the early Puritan missionaries, such as John Eliot in the 17th century, and the beginning of the modern mission era in the 18th century.  The final chapter takes the lessons learned from the Reformers and Puritans, for general application to us in our lives today, with practical suggestions for how to grow in our prayer lives in realistic ways, while recognizing that these men were exceptional even among others in their day.  For how to ‘take hold of yourself for prayer’, consider the following seven principles:

  1. Remember the value of prayer. Seek to realize the value of unanswered as well as answerd prayer.
  2. Maintain the priority of prayer.
  3. Speak with sincerity in prayer.
  4. Cultivate a continual spirit of prayer. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
  5. Work toward organization in prayer. Divide prayer lists into three categories (daily, weekly, and monthly prayer needs).
  6. Read the Bible for prayer. Read the Bible with the intent of responding to God’s word with prayer.
  7. Keep biblical balance in prayer. Types of prayers include praise of God’s glory, confession of our sins, petition for our needs (spiritual and physical), thanks for God’s mercies, intercession for others

Then, for taking hold of God in prayer, these three principles:

  1. Plead God’s promises in prayer.
  2. Look to the glorious trinity in prayer.
  3. Believe that God answers prayer.

Taking Hold of God is an excellent layperson book, a summary of prayer from a Reformed / Puritan perspective along with exhortation for prayer in our own lives.

The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson (Review)

November 20, 2017 2 comments

My recent reading includes a book featured this year in both Kindle format (sale), and as an audio book free monthly offer (from Christianaudio.com):  Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ:  Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters.  A straightforward reading, this book delves into all of the topics included in the title, to bring out many interesting points of both history and doctrine.  The main point throughout is the historical setting of the “Marrow Controversy” in early 18th century Scotland:  the controversy between the “Marrow Men” including its main player Thomas Boston, and those who had twisted the essential grace of the gospel to the preparationist error.  I’ve briefly looked at this error before, including this post about Spurgeon’s response to it and this later post in reference to Spurgeon and preparationism.  Here we see a historical situation that had developed, among those from a Reformed, Westminster Standards background who yet erred in their confused ideas regarding legalism and antinomianism.

Many important truths are brought out in the subsequent chapters:  why it is that repentance logically comes AFTER faith, as a fruit, and not before faith/regeneration; that legalism and antinomianism are not complete opposites but actually closely related, as “non-identical twins” of the same root – not antithetical to each other but both antithetical to grace; and how to compare John Calvin and the Westminster Standards on assurance, seeing them as not in conflict but as coming to the same problem from different angles and arriving at the same middle-ground.

In reference to the initial Marrow conflict and preparationism itself, William Perkins link: post about him (the beginning of the Puritan era) and John Bunyan (late 17th century) manifest the doctrinal shifts during the century between them. Perkins’ “golden chain” includes a “gospel spine” that links each aspect of the application of salvation …to a central spine representing Christ in terms of the various clauses of the Apostles’ creed. … But Bunyan’s map has no Christ-spine… the various aspects of salvation applied are related to each other, not directly to Christ.  Preparationism came about as a result of separating the benefits of salvation to be found in Christ, from Christ Himself.

The book includes many helpful analogies and illustrations, references to Thomas Boston, John Calvin and other teachers, as well as helpful quotes in poetic verse that describe the intricacies and detail of legalism and antinomianism, as with this wonderful piece from Ralph Erskine about grace and law:

Thus gospel-grace and law-commands
Both bind and loose each other’s hands;
They can’t agree on any terms,
Yet hug each other in their arms.
Those that divide them cannot be
The friends of truth and verity;
Yet those that dare confound the two
Destroy them both, and gender woe.

This paradox none can decipher,
that plow not with the gospel heifer.
To run, to work, the law commands,
The gospel gives me feet and hands.
The one requires that I obey,
The other does the power convey.

The beauty of this book is how it relates these doctrines to current-day questions and objections.  The heart issues underlying the “Marrow controversy” and the Westminster Standards are still with us today.  The chapters on legalism and antinomianism go beyond the surface level, of what many people suppose, to address the underlying issue and current-day issues such as doctrinal antinomianism and anti-confessionalism.  One such example is consideration of the “proof-text” mentality — of those who suppose that the Reformed Confessions came from proof-texting – by noting that:

First, the Westminster Divines were deeply opposed to producing a confession with proof texts and did so only under duress at the command of the English Parliament.  But, in addition, biblical theology itself is much older than its history as an academic discipline.  As C.S. Lewis well notes, we moderns can all too easily be like people entering a conversation at eleven o’clock not realizing that it began at eight o’clock.  The truth is that there is an intricate weaving of exegesis and biblical and redemptive historical theology behind the wording of the Confession, and this is nowhere more certain than in its treatment of the law of God.

The Whole Christ provides many quotes and insights into the doctrines of God’s law, such as this quote from B.B. Warfield on the topic of the law and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what was in it but was only dimly perceived or even not at all perceived before. … Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but is only perfected, extended and enlarged.

Ligonier is now offering a full teaching series on Ferguson’s book, with the first lesson available for free.  As I near the end of the audio-book edition, while referring also to the Kindle version for rereading and reference (including the footnotes, not included in the audio book edition), I appreciate and recommend this book as a very helpful addition to my theology library.

 

 

Psalm 119, the Reformation Anniversary, and Apologetics

November 3, 2017 5 comments

Psalm 119 Thoughts

As I near the end of the Psalm 119 series, here is an interesting point brought out regarding verse 162:  I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.

Here we consider the treasure, the plunder – and the idea also involves the delight and joy of the victory itself, the victory which brought the ‘great spoil.’  Old Testament Israel could certainly relate to and remember the many great deliverances in battle, brought about by their God.  From my own recent reading in Ezekiel, here I also relate this to any victory in battle and the spoil or plunder, not limited to Israel’s warfare; Nebuchadnezzar had worked hard to conquer Tyre, but with no reward – therefore God gave Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, for their payment (Ezekiel 29:18-20).

Psalm 119 and the other psalms so often express this truth so well – how wonderful God’s word is, our love for God’s word — with many analogies and metaphors.  The same truths have their New Testament “equivalents” such as 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 2:2 (the comparison to milk) and Ephesians 6:17 (which also uses the imagery of war and battle).

This psalm also especially shows us the law of God, that which we love (reference also the New Testament, Romans 7:12, 16, and 22), which reveals God’s attributes to us.

The Reformation Anniversary

The last few weeks have brought many interesting “Reformation theme” articles, free and discount sale offers, and conferences.  One item of interest here:  Reformed Resources is providing its large collection (over 3000 lessons) of MP3 download lessons, all free (normally $1 per download), until November 15 – with the coupon code ‘celebrate’.  Among the interesting collections here, are ‘The Bible Study Hour’ with lessons on many of the Psalms and other Bible books, and a series on ‘The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century’.  I’ve already ordered many of these, for future listening.

Many churches have hosted weekend conferences on “the Five Solas” or other variations, bringing to attention key ideas from the Protestant Reformation.  Desiring God’s brief biography podcast “Here We Stand” gives a few minutes each day to some well known or perhaps lesser known person who played a part in the 16th century Reformation.

The Reformation and Apologetics

A conference I have found especially interesting is Reformed Forum’s 2017 Theology Conference, relating the Reformation to Reformed / Presuppositional Apologetics, a six part series available here.  I’m still listening to these messages on my podcast player, and find these very helpful, to build on my recent reading of Van Til’s A Defense of the Faith.  The speakers reference Van Til, but especially point out that presuppositional apologetics existed long before Van Til, in the teaching of John Calvin and others during the Reformation.  Especially of note, one of the speakers references and responds to the errors and inconsistencies in the well-known book Classical Apologetics (which advocates “classic” as in Thomas Aquinas, evidentialist apologetics, though authored by Reformed theologians who are inconsistent and ought to know better).