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Habakkuk, Genesis 3:8, and ‘A Day of the Lord’?

September 14, 2020 2 comments

A recent sermon series, “The Gospel According to Habakkuk,” has included a lot of good points on the law, gospel, trials and suffering, judgment, and more — all from the minor prophet Habakkuk.  Going through the first complaint-response and then Habakkuk’s second complaint, up to the beginning of chapter 2, includes many issues in Habakkuk’s struggle.  One’s basic orientation / disorientation, and reorientation toward life (after working through a very difficult time) is seen in Habakkuk’s experience, and often in the lament Psalms.

One of Habakkuk’s issues, of judgment, relates to understanding of the term apocalypse, which (as we know) means to uncover or reveal something.  Revelation is the actual English translation of the Greek term of apocalypse.  Here, though, one idea seems rather novel, something that I haven’t come across in the historic Reformed and Puritan commentaries:  the idea of many small ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events — a wide definition that even includes Habakkuk’s experience.  In this sense, any event in one’s life that brings trials and difficulties, is a small ‘Day of the Lord’ event, one that helps each of us prepare for the coming final Day of the Lord.  The term ‘Day of the Lord’ thus refers to many different historic events, occurring throughout history and not limited to the future Second Coming.  Overall, yes, this makes sense, in that every difficulty presents itself as a growth opportunity, with a choice of faith or pride; we can humble ourselves, look to God in faith, and learn what God would have us learn (I especially think of Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot), or answer with pride and self-righteous anger.  As pointed out in this series, the recent events (including the response to the covid-19 pandemic) have revealed a lot of shallow and superficial Christianity, a lot of self-righteous pride, rather than humbly considering what it is that God wants us to learn.

Then we come to Genesis 3:8, which describes Adam and Eve hiding from LORD God in the cool of the day.  The new idea mentioned here takes a different interpretation:  this was not a comment on the weather, but God coming in judgment to Adam and Eve; the term ‘cool,’ sometimes translated as wind, can also mean spirit, and so this verse is describing a terrifying judgment scene rather than a casual conversation with God.  The sense of Genesis 3:8 is quite different than what is found from reading Reformed and Puritan commentaries such as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, or John Bunyan’s (unfinished) commentary on Genesis 1-11.  The text here is compared to other Old Testament texts that describe the terrifying experience such as what Moses and the Israelites heard on Mt. Sinai, and references in the prophets — such as Jeremiah 46:10 (about Egypt), Ezekiel 30:2-4, Joel, and Zephaniah 1:14-16.  Joel 2 — again, according to this view — is fulfilled in Acts 2.  This view then makes an even greater leap, to state that all of the Old Testament ‘Day of the Lord’ prophecies were fulfilled at the Cross.  Only the New Testament passages about the future Day of the Lord are still considered relevant, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.  Further, Revelation 1:8, which describes John being in the spirit “on the Lord’s Day” is equated with the Day of the Lord.

From all of this, it seems to me that general application of scripture — about how we learn and grow from our trials, as events that reveal our hearts and provide opportunities to repent and grow in faith — has been mixed in with doctrinal teaching about the prophetic scriptures that address the Second Coming of our Lord.  Both ideas are important and should be taught, yet that does not require conflating the two ideas as done here.  I’m also reminded of other modern-day doctrinal innovations such as this previous post coming out of the ‘Redemptive-Historical’ school of thought.  Again, I don’t find such ideas in the Reformed and Puritan commentaries, and wonder why modern teachers seemingly have the desire to come up with new interpretations rather than standing by traditional, historic teaching.

In closing, I appreciate this commentary excerpt from John Bunyan on Genesis 3:8:

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God.” This voice was not to be understood according, as if it was the effect of a word; as when we speak, the sound remains with a noise for some time after; but by voice here, we are to understand the Lord Christ himself; wherefore this voice is said to walk, not to sound only: “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking.” This voice John calls the word, the word that was with the Father before he made the world, and that at this very time was heard to walk in the garden of Adam: Therefore John also saith, this voice was in the beginning; that is, in the garden with Adam, at the beginning of his conversion, as well as of the beginning of the world (John 1:1).
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The gospel of it is, in the season of grace; for by the cool of the day, he here means, in the patience, gentleness, goodness and mercy of the gospel; and it is opposed to the heat, fire, and severity of the law.

Study on Baptism (Review: J.V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit)

July 18, 2020 Leave a comment

A book I’ve seen recommended in online discussions, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, by J.V. Fesko, is one that I have found very helpful and informative.  Its three sections cover a lot of historical theology as well as review of many scriptures and scripture themes related to the sacraments and especially baptism, and development of redemptive-historical/biblical theology of baptism, with exposition of New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:20-21.

The overall style is more scholarly and sometimes repetitive — yet the repetition, and frequent use of ‘in other words’ with a restatement in simpler words, assist the understanding.  The history section seemed too lengthy, with more details than I wanted, though the early history along with the section on the Anabaptist history were more interesting.  The chapters in parts II and III were well-written and helpful, a series of expositions on several biblical texts–and relating all the separate parts to the overall narrative flow of scripture, the covenants, and the continuity of the main themes in God’s word.  From the entirety of it, I now have a much clearer understanding of the different views such as the medieval baptismal regeneration and infusion of grace, and the different emphases and nuances of the Reformers regarding the sacraments, the roles of the sacraments along with the written Word, and the idea of the blessing and judgment “double-edged sword” sides regarding the benefits (to the true, invisible church of believers) versus judgments (to the professing but false visible-only church) within the overall covenant community.  As a scholarly-type work, Word, Water, and Spirit includes copious footnote references, and Fesko interacts with the views of past theologians including Luther, Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus (who wrote a Heidelberg Catechism commentary, which I am also reading through this year in calendar-week sequence), explaining where he agrees or disagrees with them.

One section addressed a question/comment from someone who had made a comparison between John the Baptist’s baptism and the later New Testament Christian baptism, wondering what type of participants (individuals vs families) were involved in each.  While a common idea is that Christ instituted baptism by His example of being baptized by John, Fesko contends that Christ instituted baptism in the Great Commission and not in His submission to John’s baptism.

Three key differences noted here:

  1. The redemptive-historical timeframe for John’s ministry: This baptism was not a perpetual rite for Israel but a special sign for that terminal generation  John’s baptism epitomized the particular crisis in covenant history represented by John’s mission as the messenger bearing the Lord’s ultimatum.
  2. John’s ministry was preparatory for the ministry of Christ; his baptism was also preparatory.
  3. John’s baptism was one of repentance, whereas the baptism instituted by Jesus was to be administered in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fesko asserts that there is no textual support for Calvin’s claim that John baptized “into the name of Christ.”

Fesko here focuses on the typical (John’s baptismal ministry) and its fulfillment—Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, as well as the significance of baptism into a name:  the triune God name (also referenced in the shortened form baptized into the name of Jesus, in some instances in the book of Acts), also Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians that the people were not baptized into his name, the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13-15)

The book is comprehensive, considering many different scriptures and views, and even provides brief treatment (a full chapter) on the issue of paedocommunion, outlining the main scriptures against this idea.  Another book I’ve received (free from a book drawing) and hope to read soon, Cornelis Venema’s Children at the Lord’s Table?, addresses that topic in more depth.  It was interesting to read here, though, of the parallel between the Lord’s Supper and Exodus 24 (not Exodus 12)– The Passover was not an end in itself, but pointed to the covenantal goal of Exodus 24, worshipping and fellowshiping in God’s presence.

Finally, one more interesting thing I liked is that the author consistently and correctly used the scriptural term “last Adam,” rather than the frequent variation of “second Adam.”  As S. Lewis Johnson liked to point out, the scriptural terms Paul used are “the last Adam, and the second man.”  Johnson mentioned one of his teachers, perhaps Chafer, who had added his notes in a book he owned, that it’s “not the second Adam, but the last Adam.” SLJ then pointed out that the term “second Adam” would imply that a third could come along–no, Christ is the last Adam.  Yet I’ve seen it too often in current-day Christian books and articles, the mixing of terms to say “second Adam” rather than “last Adam/second man.”

Overall, Word, Water, and Spirit is a thorough and informative reference work, addressing many scriptures from the Old and New Testament along with historical theology and the views of many theologians down through church history.

 

Studying the Confessions: Chapter 1 and Scripture

January 16, 2020 1 comment

As I mentioned last month, one major study for this year is the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms.  Going through the Westminster Daily, the first few days’ readings are in the beginning questions and the first chapter, on Scripture.  I’ve added a few commentaries, including A.A. Hodge’s “The Westminster Confession: A Commentary” and Thomas Boston’s commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

I’ve also found out that many commentaries exist for the WSC, but very few (really only two) for the WLC; one of the two is reportedly suspect as having some Socinian tendencies; the other is only available in print, apparently no e-book.  Through some exploration of Sermon Audio for a few Reformed names I’ve heard recently, I came across one sermon series (with 104 sermons) on the Westminster Larger Catechism, from Daniel Hyde, which covers at least some of the WLC, and several other series from various Presbyterian churches posting to SermonAudio.

Along the way I’m also reading the ‘scripture proofs’ and noting any differences between the Westminster standards and the 1689 Baptist confession and catechism.  The scripture references remind me of what Carl Trueman has well explained: the Assembly was asked by the Parliament to provide these references, so the scripture verses were an ‘add on’; also, the scripture references there are to prompt the reader to go read not only the verses but the commentary books written by the Puritan Westminster Divines.  Well, at this point I am mainly reading the actual Confession and Catechisms along with the verses, as I don’t necessarily have the particular commentaries from Puritan authors on any or all of the particular verses.  Yet I find the Confession and Catechism commentaries helpful.  In reading some of the Bible verses, though, I am reminded of a few Charles Spurgeon sermons I’ve read and especially liked, such as Psalm 16’s ‘the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance,’ (referenced in the first question in both the WSC and WLC) and a verse that Spurgeon often referenced.

The Heidelberg Catechism also has a yearly plan, the Lord’s Day weeks 1 through 52 as outlined in the actual catechism, and Zachary Ursinus’ commentary is in the public domain and available at sites including Monergism.

The main focus of these first daily readings is on Scripture, and natural revelation as contrasted with special revelation.  Here, A.A. Hodge provides some interesting points, noting the difference between what natural man came up with in the early pre-Christian era, as contrasted with the supposed ‘natural theology’ of the German enlightenment rationalists of the 19th century, living in and experiencing the benefits of a Christianized society:

We must, however, distinguish between that knowledge of the divine character which may be obtained by men from the worlds of nature arid providence in the exercise of their natural powers alone, without any suggestions or assistance derived from a supernatural revelation — as is illustrated in the theological writings of some most eminent of the heathen who lived before Christ — and that knowledge which men in this age, under the clear light of a supernatural revelation, are competent to deduce from a study of nature. The natural theology of the modern Rationalists demonstrably owes all its special excellences to that Christian revelation it is intended to supersede. …

That the amount of knowledge attainable by the light of nature is not sufficient to enable any to secure salvation. ….    From the facts presented in the past history of all nations destitute of the light of revelation, both before and since Christ. The truths they have held have been incomplete and mixed with fundamental error; their faith has been uncertain; their religious rites have been degrading, and their lives immoral. The only apparent exception to this fact is found in the case of some Rationalists in Christian lands; and their exceptional superiority to others of their creed is due to the secondary influences of that system of supernatural religion which they deny, but the power of which they cannot exclude.

In the early questions, the Westminster and Baptist confessions and catechisms are very similar, yet I notice some interesting differences, particularly in the ‘scripture text’ references, with the WCF/WLC/WSC generally providing more scripture references including key texts such as Isaiah 59:21 and overall more references to Deuteronomy and the Old Testament.

Hodge’s commentary is good overall for the Westminster Confession, at a general level; it includes good explanations regarding natural and special revelation, and the difference between spiritual illumination and inspiration.  Hodge keeps to this basic level, though, not an expanded scope (or length required) for all details.  For example, January 10’s reading on WCF 1.6 includes the doctrine of ‘good and necessary consequences’.  (The LBCF equivalent has slightly different wording, ‘necessarily contained in Scripture’, which I wondered about–and from googling found the explanation for the different wording, that its writers held to the same concept just with different wording a generation later.)  Hodge provides a general overview of the paragraph, but nothing specific to the understanding of good and necessary consequences.  Online articles abound, though, on this specific topic, such as these helpful ones, which give interesting historical and scriptural explanation, including a few examples of this principle in scripture–such as Jesus’ inference, upholding the truth of the Resurrection from Exodus 3:6.

Thomas Boston’s commentary on the WSC is good and fairly in-depth, as far as I’ve read into the first volume and just the first three questions, as is Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg catechism.

Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Review)

January 6, 2020 2 comments

From free books provided (for this one, free copies provided at the local church), I recently read Mark Jones’ Antinomianism:  Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (from 2013).  Online articles at the time, including these two from Kevin DeYoung (this one and also this one), recommended it as one of a few books responding to the modern-day antinomianism error.

My study on this topic over the last few years has included some online sermon series including a 1689 confession series, Reformed articles and a few books such as Barcellos’ Gettting the Garden Right and R.C. Sproul’s Crucial questions booklet How Does God’s Law Apply to Me?.  Jones’ book covers a lot of similar Reformed understanding, with reference to the moral law and the third use of the Law and other doctrines that are taught in the Reformed confessions (and included in SermonAudio confession-study series).  Jones’ book is at a more academic level, with many quotations and footnotes, and especially looks at the historical situation in England in the 17th century.

Among the highlights:  discussion of Christ’s intercessory work and the importance of strong Christology, as well as the Reformed understanding of rewards (good works, chapter 16 in the 1689 LBC and the Westminster Confession of Faith), assurance, gospel threatenings (as different from Law threatening, the type to bring unbelievers to see their need of Christ, as the first use of the Law).  This book also covers the differences between Lutheran and Reformed views; though the Lutheran view includes the third use of the law, it emphasizes the first use, in contrast to the Reformed (Calvinist) emphasis on the third use.

Many good Puritan quotes are sprinkled throughout, such as this one from John Flavel:

I will further grant, that the eye of a Christian may be too intently fixed upon his own gracious qualifications; and being wholly taken up in the reflex acts of faith, may too much neglect the direct acts of faith upon Christ, to the great detriment of his soul.

But all this notwithstanding, the examination of our justification by our sanctification, is not only a lawful, and possible, but a very excellent and necessary work and duty.  It is the course that Christians have taken in all ages, and that which God has abundantly blessed to the joy and encouragement of their souls.

The discussion about law obedience versus gospel obedience reminded me of the first time I read this, and the encouragement in this explanation, well described by J.C. Ryle (excerpts from Holiness) — that the believer’s works (though imperfect) are yet acceptable and pleasing to God the Father:

Sanctification is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin and merit heaven is simply absurd. …

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

This book includes a quote from Thomas Shepherd that well summarizes the difference between gospel obedience and law obedience:

the law calling and urging of it that so hereby we may be made just, it therefore accepts of nothing but perfection; but the gospel requiring it because we are perfectly just already in Christ, hence, though it commands us as much as the law, yet it accepts of less, even the least measure of sincerity and perfection mixed with the greatest measure of imperfection.”

The book is applicable to us in our day, in which antinomian teaching is quite common.  Jones interacts with current-day teaching, with quotes from and responses to Tullian Tchividjian (reference also old articles such as this one):

According to Tchividjian, ‘We’ve got work to do—but what exactly is it?  Get better? Try harder? Pray more?  Get more involved in church?  Read the Bible longer? …. God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ.  Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.’  How does this fit with Paul’s exhortation to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?  Paul surely did not reduce Christian living to contemplating Christ—after all, in 1 Thessalonians 5, toward the end of the chapter, Paul lists over fifteen imperatives.  But Tchividjian’s type of antinomian-sounding exegesis impacts churches all over North America.

The book covers many other interesting topics as well, even some quotes from Puritan writers about the ‘boring’ limited-selection preaching of the Antinomians.  The whole counsel of God includes so much more, the many doctrines set forth in the Reformed Confessions, beyond this limited issue that the antinomians wanted to continually ‘harp on’.  Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is another great and very informative book in the Reformed tradition, well researched and addressing this issue and how the Puritans responded to it.

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.

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 (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.

 

 

Van Til on Presuppositional Apologetics

August 17, 2017 6 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, some books are more challenging and slower-going, such as a selection for apologetics:  Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith,  about presuppositional apologetics.  The writing style itself is not always easy to follow, with a lot of abstraction and philosophy, though some parts are clearer.  Overall, though, I see the basic points of presuppositional apologetics, along with a detailed explanation for why classical/evidential apologetics is not the best approach for communication with unbelievers.

Throughout, Van Til contrasts Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical (Arminian) apologetics, with the understanding of Reformed Theology.  As well-pointed out, what it really comes down to is that Reformed folks should use the same approach for both preaching and apologetics; Reformed preaching proclaims the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation, as well as the total inability of the lost sinner.  Yet often, Reformed Christians depart from this when it comes to apologetics, turning instead to lost man’s “reason” independent of the authority of God’s word.  The analysis of basic differences in the very definitions of concepts between unbelievers (even unbelievers of varying types, pagan polytheists versus secular), such as the concepts of deity and mankind, is quite interesting, all supporting the point that believers really do not share any “common” point with the unbeliever, in terms of the natural man’s thoughts and reasoning.

The Reformed Christian is often Reformed in preaching and Arminian in reasoning.  But when he is at all self-conscious in his reasoning he will seek to do in apologetics what he does in preaching.  He knows that man is responsible not in spite of but just because he is not autonomous but created.  ..  He knows also that the sinner in the depth of his heart knows that what is thus held before him is true.  He knows he is a creature of God; he has been simply seeking to cover up this fact to himself.  He knows that he has broken the law of God; he has again covered up this fact to himself.  He knows that he is therefore guilty and is subject to punishment forever; this fact too he will not look in the face.

And it is precisely Reformed preaching and Reformed apologetic that tears the mask off the sinner’s face and compels him to look at himself and the world for what they really are.  Like a mole the natural man seeks to scurry under ground every time the facts as they really are come to his attention.  He loves the darkness rather than the light.  The light exposes him to himself.  And precisely this neither Roman Catholic or Arminian preaching or reasoning are able to do.

Van Til points out that evidentialist apologetics does the first part of evangelism by appealing to the natural man’s thinking, and challenging the atheist/agnostic unbeliever with the fact, the existence, of God.  Only after this first part of “accommodating” the unbeliever, the apologist then “switches” to the Christian perspective and why one should believe the Bible, etc.  The unbeliever can certainly follow along at the first point, since nothing is being challenged in his fundamental human reason.  As Van Til observes, the result is a two-phase approach to Christian conversion:  first to Theism, then, later, conversion to Christianity.  This method obviously does ‘work’, as God’s sovereign purposes in calling His elect include even faulty apologetic methods; but Van Til makes the case for a true Reformed approach to the matter.

It helps to relate what Van Til is saying to real-world examples.  What Van Til described here, describes the conversion story of C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist when he met colleague J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1920s.  Much has been said on the negative side regarding the theology of both of these men – though as has also been noted, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity in general, not to Catholicism.  Yet as Lewis himself described it, his conversion was indeed a two-phase process: first, conversion to theism, and then – about two years later – to the Christian faith.  Van Til’s critique of classic apologetics provides the clear explanation for the very process/method of Lewis’ conversion experience.

Though the overall reading is not easy, I’m now over halfway through, and some parts are quite good, with insightful quotes.  In closing, here are a few great quotes from Van Til:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work but it also tells us who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

And

Time rolls its ceaseless course. It pours out upon us an endless stream of facts. And the stream is really endless for the non-Christian basis. For those who do not believe that all that happens in time happens because of the plan of God, the activity of time is like to that, or rather is identical with that, of Chance. Thus the ocean of facts has no bottom and no shore.

 

Reformed Baptists, Charles Spurgeon, and Israel

April 11, 2017 1 comment

 

A recent article, What is a Reformed Baptist, makes some good points as to the defining characteristics of Reformed Baptists, as distinguished from Reformed non-Baptists on the one hand, and non-Reformed (Calvinist) Baptists on the other hand.  Five distinctives are noted:  the regulative principle of worship, Baptist Covenant theology, Calvinism, the Law of God, and Confessionalism.  Overall, I agree with it and find it a helpful article.

Yet one point (under the second heading of Covenant Theology) provides an example of modern-day overreaction against one error (traditional dispensationalism), to the point that would negate the actual beliefs of at least some (pre-20th century) 1689 Baptists.  From the article:

According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16). Abraham’s physical children were a type of Christ, but Christ Himself is the reality. The physical descendants were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line. Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7).  …

Baptists today who adhere to dispensationalism believe that the physical offspring of Abraham are the rightful recipients of the promises of God to Abraham’s seed. But they have departed from their historic Baptist roots and from the hermeneutical vision of the organic unity of the Bible cast by their forefathers. Baptist theologian James Leo Garret correctly notes that dispensationalism is an “incursion” into Baptist theology, which only emerged in the last one hundred fifty years or so.

Dispensationalism is indeed an “incursion” (introduced in the mid-19th century, as even its early teachers acknowledged) but that is a different issue from the question regarding any future purpose for physical, national Israel.  As I’ve noted a few times in previous posts, the doctrine of a future restoration of ethnic, national Israel to their land, to have a significant role as a nation during the future millennial era, is not limited to dispensationalism, nor a distinctive unique to dispensationalism.  The 19th century covenantal premillennialists, who predated dispensationalism (certainly before it was well-known and had gained popularity), taught the same idea which today is often dismissed out of hand (as being dispensationalism) – as for example, Andrew Bonar’s remarks in the introduction to his 1846 Commentary on Leviticus.

True, some of the covenantal premillennialists were from the paedo-Baptist form of covenant theology – notably, Horatius and Andrew Bonar, and J.C. Ryle.  But what about Charles Spurgeon, a well-known Baptist who affirmed and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession at his church?  Several of his sermons specifically addressed the future state of Israel, and his sermon introductions (on prophetic texts that pertain to Israel’s future) included such comments – his brief exposition of the primary meaning of the text, before taking up his own textual-style approach in a different direction regarding the words of a text.

Regarding the specific view of “Abraham’s seed” and its meaning, a search through the Spurgeon sermon archives (at Spurgeon Gems) brings forth several sermons where Spurgeon addressed this.  Consider the following selection of sermons:

The following are a few excerpts which explain Spurgeon’s view of Abraham’s seed – a “both/and” view that includes believers in our age as well as a future group of literal Israel.

From #1369:

Now, our Lord Jesus has come to proclaim a period of jubilee to the true seed of Israel. The seed of Abraham now are not the seed according to the law, but those who are born after the promise. There are privileges reserved for Israel after the flesh, which they will yet receive in the day when they shall acknowledge Christ to be the Messiah, but every great blessing which was promised to Abraham’s seed after the flesh is now virtually promised to Israel after the Spirit, to those who by faith are the children of believing Abraham.

From #1962:

More than that, the Lord kept His friendship to Abraham by favoring his posterity. That is what our first text tells us. The Lord styled Israel, even rebellious Israel “The seed of Abraham My friend.” You know how David sought out the seed of Jonathan, and did them good for Jonathan’s sake, even so does the Lord love believers who are the seed of believing Abraham, and He still seeks out the children of Abraham His friend to do them good. In the latter days He shall save the literal Israel; the natural branches of the olive, which for a while have been broken off, shall be grafted in again. God has not forgotten His friendship to their father Abraham, and therefore He will return in love to Abraham’s seed, and again be their God.

Thus, a 1689 confessional, baptist covenant theology view does not necessitate a removal of one group (ethnic Israel).  Nothing here requires an “either/or” approach that removes and precludes a national future for Israel, as demonstrated in the “both/and” approach taken by Spurgeon (and other covenantal premillennialists).

The Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015 6 comments

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.