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The Reformed Confessions and Evangelical Anti-Creedalism

March 15, 2017 4 comments

From my recent studies and conversations with others, I continue to notice and appreciate the amazing detail and depth in the Reformed confessions; these great statements of faith  encompass everything related to each doctrine, even our proper attitude towards the doctrines.  The anti-confession (really, a lazy and anti-intellectual) idea that people who know their confessions inside and out may just have a lot of head knowledge, and that we shouldn’t be so concerned about systematic theology – because it’s more important to have Christ in our hearts, and communion with Him – is misguided on several points.

First, we all have a creed.  The question is not whether to have a creed — but the content of that creed.  The earliest belief statements arose in response to heretics who said they believed the Bible, but who clearly did not have in mind the same definitions of basic orthodoxy.  The many statements of faith that have come down through church history contain excellent summaries of the Christian faith.  As S. Lewis Johnson well observed:

Now remember, everybody has a creed, and in fact the person who holds up the Bible and says, “I have no creed, I simply have the Bible,” well, that’s his creed; that’s precisely his creed. We all have a creed, but the Christian church has been characterized by some outstanding creeds. The Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran church is an outstanding Christian statement. The Westminster Confession of the Presbyterian churches is an outstanding statement. Other statements come to mind immediately such as the thirty-nine articles of the Anglican church, also an outstanding statement. The Heidelberg Catechism of the Reform churches is an outstanding statement. These are great Christian creeds, you should study them. You should know them. They are not creeds that were constructed by half a dozen fellows who met over the weekend in order to give us a statement, but most of those creeds were the product of the study, debate, discussion of outstanding leaders of the Christian church over, sometimes, lengthy periods of time. As you well know, some of those creeds are the product of years of study and labor by men who were very competent in the word of God.

Also, in response to the anti-intellectual idea that belittles serious study of God’s word, because it might lead to puffed-up head knowledge:  as Dan Phillips expressed (in his book on the Proverbs), our nature is such that anything can make us proud; he observed that he could just as easily become proud of nothing, of not knowing, as with having knowing.  As has also been observed by many: just because a particular doctrine (any doctrine, and including the study of systematic theology) has been abused or misused by others, is NOT an excuse for YOU to not study God’s word for yourself.  This view is actually a form of post-modernism/ deconstruction – here, as Dan Phillips describes it:

In God’s eyes, there simply is no greater arrogance than rejecting Yahweh’s viewpoint in favor of my own. It is grimly fascinating that some Christians abhor the believer who dares to think that he or she knows something from the Word. To such folks, claiming certainty on any given issue is the height of arrogance. They are certain that certainty is certainly bad. By contrast, it is the height of arrogance to have a word from God and refuse to trust it by incorporating it into our way of thinking and living.

Thirdly, I would suggest that it is the non-confessional Christian – rather than the one who understands and has studied the confession statements – who is more likely to have his or her doctrinal perspective out of balance.  I’ll expand on this in the next post, but to state it briefly here:  the confessions themselves include statements about how we are to view certain doctrines.  Reference the LBCF chapter 3 paragraph 7, for instance, as an answer to the all-too-common “cage stage Calvinism” among today’s non-confessional “Sovereign Grace” Calvinists.  A full reading and study of the LBCF (or any similar confessions) will address all the doctrines, not just one’s own “pet doctrine” to the neglect of other doctrines.  God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, and the distinction between justification and sanctification, are a few examples of this – where non-confessional Calvinists tend to go astray, emphasizing one doctrine and neglecting or simply not understanding the other.

More next time, with a look at specific doctrines and how they are explained in the 1689 Confession.

The Puritans, and Online Resources

July 1, 2014 4 comments

In 1987 Dr. S. Lewis Johnson observed the negative slant our culture puts on the Puritans, while emphasizing the positive aspect of true Puritanism:

There is a genuine New Testament Puritanism. A separation from sin and evil that a genuine Christian must cultivate. Even Arminians and Calvinists who don’t agree on soteriological truths, do agree here if they’re believers in Christ. Christians are to separate from evil and sin in their Christian life. …. New Testament Puritanism is no harsh, repellant thing eradicating the affections. It’s the opening of the heart to eternal love, to eternal joy, to eternal comfort in rich fruitfulness. There is puritanism in the New Testament. It’s for everyone of us who named Christ. May God help us to illustrate it in our lives.

Yet in recent years within evangelical Christianity, the Puritans have made a “comeback,” with increased popularity as their writings have become more available to our generation. Over the last few years I’ve come to greatly appreciate Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, both of whom were influenced by the Puritans. So I’ve recently looked more closely at the Puritans, both in the history and literature, and put together this list of resources for introduction:

Introductory articles:

Why You Should Read the Puritans, by Joel Beeke:

He recommends starting with these three works:

then move on to the works of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Jonathan Edwards.

History of the Puritan Era

Overview history:

The detailed history of the Puritans, over a thousand pages in the details starting with Henry VIII, through the late 17th century, is available online: Daniel Neal’s History of the Puritans.  The full five volumes are available online, both at Google Play and Archive.org. Here are the two volumes of the abridged set, from Henry VIII to the early 18th century Queen Anne:

  • Volume 1 (Henry VIII to King Charles I)
  • Volume 2 (King Charles I to Queen Anne)

Collections of Puritan Writings

Puritan Blogs

Great Book Offer: Steven Lawson’s Pillars of Grace Series, Volume 2

October 24, 2012 Leave a comment

A great e-book offer available now for only 99 cents:  volume 2 of Steven Lawson’s “Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men, Volume Two).”  – This second volume, 562 print pages, highlights the belief in the doctrines of Grace by the great Christian thinkers from the 1st through the 16th century.  From the patristic era to the Reformation, 23 men – from Clement of Alexandria through John Calvin –are highlighted, showing that the five points of what is sometimes called Calvinism have been affirmed throughout church history.

In honor of Reformation Day (October 31), the publisher is offering this special price from now through October 31.

From J. Ligon Duncan’s foreword:

as Dr. Lawson highlights some of the Church Fathers’ comments on the sovereignty of God, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible calling, preserving grace, and more, and as we see the church’s theology of grace develop across the boundaries of time, place, and culture, we gain a greater appreciation that the doctrines of grace are not the invention of the sixteenth, seventeenth, or nineteenth century, or the product of one narrow branch of the Christian tradition. Rather, they are part of a common and catholic (or universal) theological legacy. Yes, they were not always fully understood. Yes, they sometimes were obscured or ignored. But the cumulative testimony of history is a powerful witness to their universality.