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From the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer cast a long shadow that is still seen in the 21st. L’Abri and his disciples like Os Guinness, Jerram Barrs, and Nancy Pearcey continue his work. I enjoyed his book True Spirituality, but got bogged down in He is There and He Is Not Silent. I’ve been meaning to read some of his other books.

As a result, I decided to read Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar on my study leave. Reading a book in this series has been my practice for the last few years. As I consider our changing place in American culture, I thought this would be a helpful read. In some ways it was. In other ways it wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped.

The book was written by one of his disciples: William Edgar. Edgar was a college student seeking truth when he visited L’Abri and met with Schaeffer. Francis was instrumental in his conversion and growth as a Christian. He teaches apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He begins the book with that personal reflection of his experience with Fran, as close friends like Edgar called him. This volume is not hagiography, however. He’s honest about Schaeffer’s shortcomings. He tries to present a balanced volume, and I believe he succeeds.

One of the flaws that Edgar mentions is his interaction with Cornelius Van Til, who was his professor for a time. Their apologetic method was very similar, but they seemed to dwell on their differences. In Edgar’s opinion they often talked past one another, as is often the case in such debate.

He then moves to Schaeffer’s life in two parts. The first is his early life, and life after the beginning of L’Abri. Little is known of his ancestors prior to his grandfather’s arrival in America in 1869, after the Franco-Prussian War. He apparently burned all of the family records.

His father only received a 3rd grade education. He apparently was a thoughtful man, as Fran would later reflect that working-class people could be deep intellectually. He worked hard, including time in the Navy. They attended a Lutheran church and believed the gospel. They would struggle financially even as they tried to leave behind the poverty of their parents. As a result, they only had one child (Francis). No books were in the house. The only vacations were trips to nearby Atlantic City.

In addition to this obstacles, Francis likely had dyslexia. Despite this he had a thirst for knowledge. He was driven by consistency. He wanted it to all fit together. He had an interest in Greek philosophers. He read the Bible through so he could reject it with integrity. Instead he became convinced that it was the most consistent way of looking at life that answered all the big questions.

At college he met Edith, who grew up in China because her parents served as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. This experience may have influenced L’Abri’s position as a “faith mission” (not sharing financial needs with others but simply praying for them). They both attended a meeting at First Presbyterian Church to hear a Unitarian attempt to refute Christianity. She responded to him citing J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson from the new seminary down the street. This caught Francis’ ear and attention. He walked her home and requested she break off a date with another young man to go out with him. They were well suited for each other and complemented each other well.

Francis would end up at the new seminary, Westminster, as a student. There were two issues that the seminary left open: the millennium and Christian liberty. This would become a big issue in the also new Orthodox Presbytery Church in addition to the seminary. The last exam that Machen administered was to Francis, at his bedside.

Some in the community forming around Westminster and the OPC were historic premillennial and abstained from Christian liberties. They struggled with those who weren’t so inclined. It was not enough for them to separate from the Presbyterian Church in America (the liberal northern denomination that no longer exists and not to be confused with current PCA), and they separated from the OPC to found the Bible Presbyterian Church.

This was pertinent for his spiritual crisis. Schaeffer realized that he was not gracious and kind to those with whom he disagreed. He realized he was wrong. Hopefully most of us come to this understanding as we age in years and mature in Christ. That is counter-cultural in this age of outrage. It is one thing Edgar probably could have spend more time.

While the pastor of a church in St. Louis, God seemed to be calling Schaeffer to Europe. When he left St. Louis, his friend and one of my former professors Elmer Smick took over his responsibilities. At this time Schaeffer met Martyn Lloyd-Jones who similarly called evangelicals to leave the Church of England. He also met C. Everett Koop (who treated his daughter) and Hans Rookmaaker who would become life-long friends.

Image result for L'AbriSchaeffer talked much culture and was often critical. His views were not the conservatism of, say, D. James Kennedy, but those of the revolutionary. While they may have overlapped at points, Schaeffer wanted Christians to buck the trends and lived in a counter-cultural fashion. This was to exhibit the reality of Christianity.

His spiritual crisis in 1951-52 resulted in True Spirituality. It was about living in the reality of Christianity. We are really guilty, and Jesus has really made atonement for sin. Schaeffer stressed the authority of Scripture. “Wherever it touches upon anything, it does so with true truth, but jot with exhaustive truth …” He focused on propositional truth as conveyed by the Scriptures. The Bible spoke about how things really were.

A large part of his apologetic was to point out to people how their worldview didn’t match up with their lives, and often couldn’t. He looked for the inconsistency, the borrowed capital (as David Bahnsen calls it) of their view. He wanted to bring people to square with reality.

“All of us battle with the problems of reality … Reality is not meant to be only creedal, though creeds are important. Reality is to be experienced on the basis of a restored relationship with God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.”

This brings freedom to the Christian. We are free from the bonds of sin and the bonds of legalism to live free in Christ to live godly lives of faith and love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. That is because we’ve been delivered from the Law’s loud thunder. Still sinners, we have both died with Christ and die daily. Self-denial is a central reality in the Christian life.

As subversives we sometimes have cobelligerents: people with whom we agree on a particular issue but do not share the Christian faith and worldview. This seems to be his view of common grace. We both see the truthfulness of this issue and work together even though we don’t see all of life the same way.

Prayer was an important and ordinary part of life at L’Abri. Edgar draws heavily here from Edith’s writings. He often does this since her writings were more about the practical aspects of their lives while Francis was looking at the bigger pictures. This was one of the ways their writings complemented each others’. Prayer is one of the ways we show we believe in God- we rely on Him in prayer. The cross invites us to ask for His help.

In terms of guidance, Edith writes that they didn’t really have a long range plan for L’Abri. They responded to the challenges that came their way. As finite people, making grand plans we can’t actually accomplish didn’t seem to make sense to her. As I face the realities of pastoral ministry, this seems to be what happens no matter how much I want to plan long-range. Cavman plans and God laughs.

Edgar then moves us into the topic of affliction which will surely come upon Christians in various forms. He addresses how Schaeffer dealt with Albert Camus’ dilemma as expressed in the plague. Do you fight against God to seek a cure or against humanity by rejecting one? Schaeffer sees this as a false dilemma. God loves humanity and to fight for a cure would be to fight on God’s side. In Camus’ atheistic world, there is no way to evaluate good and evil, there is no standard of justice.

Schaeffer had a complex relationship with the Church. He loved the Church as Christ’s bride. But he was critical of the ways the evangelical church strayed from its calling. Many who spent time at L’Abri would struggle in church life as a result. Schaeffer would not point to external problems like modernism or liberalism as the Church’s biggest threat, but to trying to fulfill its calling the power of the flesh. The middle class evangelical church is also risk adverse. We don’t want to risk our middle class life and compromise as a result.

“Schaeffer taught the general principle of form within freedom, an freedom within form- especially in the church.” They were not antitheses but needed on another to be meaningful. Jesus has set us free and life finds form within this spiritual freedom. We have patterns that emerge. Within those forms we are able to enjoy a measure of freedom. As one who needs to know the boundaries but wants to play within them rather than be straitjacketed by them, I grasp this. Form is meant to be a guide, not stifling.

“Unlimited freedom will not work in a lost world; some structure and form are necessary.”

He then moves into engagement with the world. This is the application of a revolutionary Christianity to a fallen world. His expectations were not perfectionism- either in the Christian life nor in society. The historical (having taken place in space & time, not simply the belief of the Church) Christianity has historically changed the cultures in which it has taken root like yeast affects dough. It speaks to the issues of any day, calling society and individuals to forsake sin.

As I noted, this book stirred up an interest to read more of him. I saw ways that I had been greatly influenced by what I have read of his. Or picked up from professors who read him.

I tended to see this book as more like Schaeffers views on a variety of subjects than how to live as a Christian in this world. It seemed less than helpful in this regard. It seemed too philosophical at times. Perhaps it was just how Edgar structured the book, and the big themes he addressed. I was left without it making a big impression on me as other volumes in this series have. Interesting? Yes. Impactful? We’ll see.

“I have never met anyone anywhere like Francis Schaeffer, who took God so passionately seriously, people so passionately seriously, and truth so passionately seriously.” Os Guinness

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Considering Uprooting Anger


I decided to read Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert Jones on my study leave. The battle with unrighteous anger or anger expressed unrighteously is never over. I was looking for more help in the struggle. I had high hopes for this book based on the blurbs by Jerry Bridges, Ken Sande, and Paul David Tripp among others.

Do you suspect where I’m going here?

While parts of the book were helpful, I was generally frustrated (angry) and disappointed with the book.

Why would I be angry with a book on anger? I’m hoping that’s not just how I roll.

I think Jones and I have different starting points, presuppositions, regarding anger that led me to find the book less helpful than I had hoped. Perhaps I’ve made my personal struggle into an idol that Jones failed to appease. I don’t know.

But it starts early in what I take as a series of inconsistencies rather than distinctions. On page 18 he notes that most references to anger are about God. This leads him to say “In one sense, God is both the most loving and the most angry person on our planet.” That I agree with precisely because God is love. Unlike Tim Keller (in his sermon The Healing of Anger), Jones does not connect the two. Anger is a response, says Keller, to what we love being threatened.

Jones’ definition is that anger is our “whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil” (pp. 15). On page 19 he applies that to God, leaving in “perceived”. God rightly knows good and evil, there is no perception at play in God’s anger. He follows up slightly to say that “God’s anger is his perfect, pure, settled opposition to evil.” But that he’d pedagogically begin with “perceived” bothers me. Perhaps I’m too concerned with guarding the character of God. I’m not sure. But this sort of theme will pop up from time to time.

He does say that “righteous human anger imitates God’s anger.” But then says little/none of our anger is righteous. His focus is on “sinful human anger”. Perhaps I’d have been less frustrated if I inserted that phrase into any subsequent mentioning of anger. For instance, when he says “Anger is unlike God.” on page 163. This unqualified statement (in its context) makes anger ungodly. I don’t believe that (and neither does he, I suspect).

Additionally, he doesn’t really work out the reality of the imago dei. God revealed Himself to Moses as “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6) on Sinai in what is a frequently quoted/referenced self-revelation of God. God is not quick triggered or short-fused. He’s not no anger, but slow anger (a phrase Keller uses in the aforementioned sermon). But He does get angry.

Image result for hulk in avengers

“That’s my secret, Captain, I’m always angry.”

God is not ruled by His anger. Unlike us He doesn’t lose it and go into a Hulk-like rage (even though Hulk may be defending something he loves). His is a wise, good, righteous, balanced opposition to the evil at work. It’s not “shock and awe” for the sake of “feeling better”.

James reflects this reality in saying we are to be “slow to anger” in James 1:19. Because I’m made in the image of God, I am to be similarly slow to anger, not to have no anger. I’m not supposed to be like David Banner in the mountains practicing Zen meditation so I’m not angry. Anger serves a purpose, one that I as a sinner am prone to corrupt. This James notes in the next verse. My fallen anger doesn’t help me live righteously.

Here is the crux of my struggle with this book. I get the putting unrighteous anger to death. That really isn’t where I am (or at least think I am). I want help in being “slow to anger” and in applying the Psalmist’s and Paul’s instruction to “Be angry and do not sin”. (Jones does have an appendix on this passage which deals with this text briefly. I’ll say that the imperative being concessive doesn’t remove the point- anger is not inherently sinful but how we do it often is. He seems quite afraid of anger like some people are afraid of alcohol instead of drunkenness.)

Additionally, he seems to make a mistake some, like Jay Adams have made. In the attempt to push back against psychobabble and the ungodly attempt to avoid responsibility he appears to go too far. “We must not blame our family members, our societies, our genes, our parents, our church leaders, society, our hormones, or the devil for our anger.” (pp. 71) Instead we should own that anger as ours. Okay, we do need to own it. But this severely lacks nuance. We shouldn’t blame those people, but as we work through sin we recognize that the curse affects us spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially etc. These can be contributing factors and may be a reason for compassion in light of such sins that may have been perpetrated against us.

Later, he talks about one motive for putting our sinful anger to death: the model we present others. We don’t want to be a bad example to our kids or others. He notes the impact of having an angry friend, being an angry friend. But refuses to put any of this into the equation of counseling wisely to understand how sin operates in your life. I struggle with the part of the biblical counseling movement that follows Jay Adams in doing this. Sometimes the angry person is also the bruised reed and smoldering wick. Life is not frequently clear cut.

I can’t recall where in the early portions of the book, but he says that righteous anger is only that which is God-ward in focus. This means only when I’m viewing the evil as against God. With this I struggle as well. I should be angry when my kids disrespect my wife. They are sinning against her (and God). I don’t think I have to differentiate this in my mind each time I response. But I do have to make sure I’m not sinning in my anger towards them.

This book left me frustrated because I got the impression that ALL my anger was sinful. While he occasionally mentioned the gospel, I was left feeling hopeless in my struggle until Jesus returns. This is part of why I think this wasn’t the book I needed to read, it was not the right medicine for me. Now, I could be completely wrong and just need to repent like he kept telling me. But help me to know, in more than a paragraph, when my anger is a good thing even though I have to be careful regarding how I express it. In this regard, Good & Angry by David Powlison was a much better book.

The book does have good points to it. He does a good job in applying James 4 to our anger. Much of it is about our idols. In this regard he’s tracking with Powlison and Keller. He gets, as does Tripp and Powilson, into the distinction between God’s kingdom and ours and how that drives our anger. Righteous anger tends to be about God’s kingdom (more helpful than his earlier statements) and unrighteous anger tends to be about my kingdom being blocked. We do need to be asking these questions of ourselves regarding our anger. He makes good distinctions in dealing with revealed and concealed anger. But even here the table of contents (perhaps the work of the editor) has “sinful revealing” and “sinful concealing”. Not much is about how to righteously reveal or conceal anger.

One of my existential struggles is discerning in a particular instance whether my anger is about what I think is blocking God’s kingdom, or blocking my kingdom. The heart is deceitful. The lines are not always clear. Perhaps I was demanding he help me resolve this pertinent issue for me, and he didn’t.

He also addresses anger against God and ourselves well.

So, the book has merit. If you are looking for a book focused on identifying and putting your sinful anger to death, then this will be a good book. If you are looking for a book that will also help you express proper anger in helpful ways, then Powlison will be a better choice for you.

 


Image result for medicine cabinetWhen I was in seminary, Richard Pratt told us that the wise pastor gets the right medicine out the cabinet to help the church member. To give someone the wrong medicine could be toxic for them.

The ministry cabinet matters. It should be well-stocked. Before you head to a well-stocked ministry cabinet you need to make the correct diagnosis. If you can’t/don’t diagnose the issue correctly, then you will likely give them the wrong medicine.

Paul makes this point in 1 Thessalonians 5:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

He identifies three different ailments (there are more, obviously): idleness, fainthearted or timid, weakness. He does call the Thessalonians to be patient with them and all others. So, everyone needs patience. But each diagnosis requires a different medicine.

Idle ==> Admonishment

Fainthearted ==> Encouragement

Weak ==> Help

What do you think happens when you admonish the fainthearted or weak? They become increasingly disheartened! In addition to being fainthearted or weak, you are now making them feel guilty.

What happens when you encourage or help the idle? You enable them to remain in their sin.

TRelated imageoo often we can be “one-trick ponies”. We are really good at admonishing (or tend to see people needing admonishment everywhere). Our ministry  becomes toxic. We beat down the timid and weak. Those with a prophetic gift can be guilty of admonishing people they should encourage or help. “Repent” is not the answer for all that ails us, and we shouldn’t act like it is.

Some people or churches are gifted at encouragement and see every issue as one needing encouragement. They enable the idle to remain idle, but they also leave the weak to pull themselves up by their bootstraps instead of assisting them.

Other churches or people are gifted at helping and seek to help all who struggle. They enable the idle. The fainthearted are helped but their discouragement isn’t really addressed.

It is so important to properly assess the issue and then apply the proper gospel-medicine. Then we will help people grow and mature. If we don’t we’ll not only not help them but damage them further.

 

Considering On the Brink


I found it in a “clearance bin” online. It was discounted, but I was intrigued.

The title was On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor. I wasn’t sure if I was burned-out but I was certainly discouraged, folded, spindled and mutilated (or so I felt). The last few years of ministry had been very difficult and were taking their toll on me. I was a ripe candidate for this book by Clay Werner.

“It is much needed because pastors experience loneliness and discouragements, even depression and despair, more often than most church members (and even other pastors) realize.” Dennis Johnson in the Forward

In the midst of ministry we can often lose sight of God. Our God awareness suffers. This is where he begins. He spends time looking at Moses and Israel in the wilderness journey to help us understand the pressures at work. We work with people who are prone to forget God’s grace & goodness, grumble & complain (we are in that mix too). We see Moses at times strong and wise and at other times foolish and worn out. At times we are up for the challenges, and sometimes they eat our lunch. Moses never gave up and ran away. But Werner reminds us that Moses was simul justus et peccator, and so are we.

Image result for pressureHe looks at both external and internal pressures upon pastors. We face the challenges of balancing ministry and family, leadership, administration and management. We face the isolation of leadership (people may know some of what troubles us, but rarely the whole picture and we can’t necessarily share all of it). Compassion fatigue can hit us as wave after wave of difficulty hits us. That has been the last few years with a steady stream of high involvement crises, deaths, conflicts and other losses sent me tumbling like a toy boat caught in high tide at a set of breakers.

Into this he addresses the futility of our work. Ministry has been complicated by Adam’s disobedience and the curse that came as a result. There are lots of thorns and thistles, and not as much fruit as we’d like.

This shifts us into the internal pressures to perform and produce. We struggle with idolatry and establishing our kingdom and not His.

“… there are times when walking away from the community to which God has called you to minister seems to be safer than staying.”

God gives us the gift of disillusionment. He quotes Eugene Peterson who’s simplifying Bonhoeffer: “The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.” We have a longing for Eden though we live east of Eden. All pastors will wrestle with this if they have any ambition: godly or selfish. God works to expose the “utopian concept” most Christians experience. Growth is intended to take place (for the pastor and the congregation) in the midst of this very imperfect community. The community is “at the same time just and sinner” too. We live in a tension between loving the community as it is and yet longing for it to change (and working for it).

Werner moves to the great crisis of his faith. If the resurrection wasn’t true, he was done with ministry. And so he took a retreat to the woods to read and pray. In this chapter he also discusses the reasons were are “on the brink” or the injured list: prolonged exhaustion, delight turned to duty, discouragement ==> depression, older-brother mentality, anger, self-indulgence and the list goes on. If the resurrection is true, why do we experience these and why is the church so slow to change? This is where it hits, and hurts.

In the midst of this (and so many other areas) he turns us to John Newton. He warned of listening to yourself. He warned of comparing your place with that of others, particularly those that seem to be flourishing. Newton points us to God and his sovereign faithfulness.

He has a short transitional section on the cross as the remedy. God addresses our needs in Christ and Him crucified. We see His love and commitment as well as our stubborn sinfulness.

This brings him back to the resurrection: the resurrection of Christ, our hearts, our hope, our joy and endurance. Here he also applies the already-not yet to the reality of ministry.

He then reminds us of the love of God for us, the transforming love of God. This love enables us to forgive others and love them in their weakness and sinfulness.

This also allows us to dive into the difficulty of ministry. Jesus didn’t pull back from ministry with such flawed disciples. He calls us to join Him in working with such people.

He then deals with our desire to run away, the selfish desire to have our own life. We are curved inward, which is precisely why Jesus had to come and rescue us. He reminds us of the Suffering Servant again, who didn’t run away from the demands of ministry to difficult people like you and me.

He also calls us to fight for the unity of the church. The Prince of Peace came to bring unity to the church. The gospel is necessary for us to pursue peace. We also need character formed by the gospel to pursue peace. Additionally we need gospel competency.

God is our God for the long haul. He calls ministers to work with their congregations for the long haul. He ends on this note.

This is a brief book (about 130 pages) which is good for pastors who are “on the brink”. They need succinct help, and Clay Werner provides it. He draws on Scripture, John Newton, John Calvin and Francis Schaeffer throughout this book. They provided him with wise advice that he wants to pass on to others.

Image result for in case of emergencyThe chapters are similar to sermons. There is an opening illustration to frame the chapter. He returns to illustration to wrap up the chapter. It is a well put together book. It is a book that pastors are well advised to keep on their shelf. At some point they will need it “in case of emergency” because one day that emergency will come. The pastor who reads it can receive help and survive the inevitable emergencies. Maybe you’ll even find a copy in a clearance bin. Don’t confuse that with its worth.


It’s that time of year to root thru the archives and put together the list of the best book I read in 2018. Yes, the focus is on those I read not those that were released. Perhaps you will find a book worth reading, one that strikes your fancy. I’m not including the commentaries I read. I seemed to have less time for additional reading this year, but maybe that was just my distorted viewpoint.

Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty. This is a short book about the importance of singing. My interest was congregational singing. I’m grateful to be part of a congregation that loves to sing. Many don’t have this blessing. This book wants to help such congregations understand the importance of congregational singing.

Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality by Nancy Pearcey. This was a great and challenging book to help Christians think through the many changes taking place in our society. Some might question some of the philosophical presuppositions, but I found her analysis helpful. I was prompted to preach about some of these topics in the summer.

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by John Dunlop M.D. is written at a everyday person level to help people understand the process of patients with various forms of dementia. He looks at it in terms of medicine as well as faith. He helps people walk through this from both perspectives. He includes end of life issues. As one who has a parent with Alzheimer’s I found this helpful.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. In this volume Rosaria focuses on intentional hospitality. She ties this in with the gospel. It is well worth reading.

God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker takes on a difficult subject from a biblical perspective. He balances truth and compassion which (sadly) seems to be a rare combination. Due to the fall we are sinners and broken. He addresses both the rebellious and those who are struggling with unwanted feelings thanks to the fall. There was plenty of wisdom in this book.

Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew Rueger examines the claim that Christian sexuality is regressive. He looks at the context for Christian sexual morality and how it confronted Greek, Roman and Jewish sexual mores. He then examines, briefly the biblical view of homosexuality and same sex marriage. As a Lutheran pastor, he often bring the law and gospel distinctive to bear on these matters. As confusing as our days might be, this book will make you glad you weren’t born then.

Hit By Friendly Fire by Michael Milton is about how to cope with the damage done by other Christians. It is short and to the point. It is also helpful for all who’ve been hurt by other members of the family.

Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice is an honest book about the challenges of evangelism. Much of this focuses on the painline. Like a guy trying to decide whether to ask a girl out, we must decide to cross the pain line. This is one of the main reasons we don’t engage in evangelism: a refusal to cross the painline.

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and Mystery of God’s Mercy by Tim Keller. He uses Jonah to expose us all. This is another great book by Keller that applies the gospel in winsome fashion to both our younger brother waywardness and older brother bitterness. Yes, he connects Jonah’s ministry to the parable of the two sons at times. This book poked and prodded me in a difficult time.

Puritans:

Christian Love by Hugh Binning. This is part of the Pocket Puritan series. This was a challenging little book focused on how God loved us and how we are then to love one another. There was plenty here about self-denial. This is not about emotions but the responsibilities of love.

The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock came at a good time for me. I’m struggling with getting older and those realities pressing in. The flesh will fade, but will faith flourish? The foundation of the book is a funeral sermon he preached. Good and encouraging material from the Puritan.

History:

The Last Battle is about the final battle in the European theater of WWII. It actually took place after Germany had surrendered. A group of Allied soldiers, resistance fighters and German soldiers joined forces to free some French political prisoners before the SS executed them. This is a very interesting story that could be well served by a movie.

2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham. This is a great 4-volume (so far?) church history set. In the first volume he includes the African church, which is often overlooked. Each volume includes substantial material on the Eastern church. A result you have a more balanced church history instead of a Europe-centered history. Some of the themes that run thru the volumes are: the doctrine of the Eucharist, the state-church relationship or struggle for power, and how the different branches of the Church related to one another. I was generally encouraged by this set.

The First Heroes by Craig Nelson is about the Doolittle Raid. This is a great piece of history. He spends time giving the background of the raid including the attack on Pearl Harbor, the training, how participants escaped the Japanese or endured their capture as well as how they fared after the war. Their is personal history as well as world history. It made for very interesting reading.

 


The fourth, and currently last volume, in Nick Needham’s history of the church (2000 Years of Christ’s Power) is entitled The Age of Religious Conflict. This volume covers the 16th to 18th centuries. Just as the early church struggled with conflict within, so the post-reformational church struggled with conflict within. This book still includes some conflict between the branches of the church (particularly in the section on Eastern Orthodoxy).

This volume acknowledges the help of old friend Keith Mathison. It does change the format slightly which threw me off when approaching it. The major sections of chapters are numbered and start on new pages as if they were themselves chapters. This briefly messed with my reading schedule. A tiny, inconsequential thing.

He addresses these conflicts in Lutheranism, the Reformed Church (continental), England, Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church (centered on France) and the Eastern Orthodox Church (centered on Russia). The focus is on England which occupies two chapters in the volume. Throw in Scotland and you have 3 chapters on the British Isles. He does have 2 chapters on Roman Catholicism as well. We see the book is heavily weighted toward Protestantism and particularly light on Eastern Orthodoxy. Thankfully he does cover EO, which so many histories seem to neglect after 1054.

One conflict that runs throughout the book is the relationship between church and state. We’ve seen this conflict before, particularly between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. Now it unfolds in a number of nations as various kings and tsars want to control the church and various popes, patriarchs and archbishops want to either be free from state control or control the state. It seems that no good equilibrium could ever and can ever be achieved. The conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman will always be played out on this field of battle until King Jesus returns to set all things right. To those willing to listen, there is much that applies to their particular situation. The quest for power and control exacts a great toll.

A second conflict that runs through much of the book is the place of Augustinian theology in the life of the church. The questions of human depravity and election rise in each of these church bodies. I think this illustrates for us the importance of this question as one that should captivate the church.

In Lutheranism, the death of Luther meant it lost its earthly center, the figure who drew all the strands together. The theological tensions, understandably, began to pull the church apart. Such a focus on theological controversies led many to view them as falling into dead orthodoxy. Pietism rose to call people to faith and sound practice, not the pursuit of theological subtleties. In the midst of this was the Thirty Years’ War which ravaged northern Europe. The root of the war was state control of the church. In one of those ironies of real life, Catholic France supported the Protestants against the Holy Roman Emperor in order to weaken him and gain power for France. War can create strange bedfellows and alliances.

Image result for synod of dort

Synod of Dort

In the Reformed church there were two theological controversies that occupied most of the energy: Arminianism and Amyraldianism. Surprisingly he didn’t trace the shifts in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper very much. I say surprising because it was a frequent topic in the 3 previous volumes. The first of these controversies had some sort of settlement at the Synod of Dort. This did not put an end to Arminianism, of course. Much of Protestantism is Arminian today.

The lesser known and understood conflict was a result of the teaching of Moise Amyraut: Amyraldianism. He was the son of Huguenots. He was no stranger to controversy. Some political (refusing to kneel before King Louis XIII since Roman clergy didn’t have to) and some theological. At a time when the Huguenots were an oppressed minority, the battle over his theology split them as a kind of civil war. This civil war spread to England and other branches of the Reformed church.

Since this controversy is less known I will try to briefly summarize. Amyraut was distressed that many in Reformed theology held to double predestination and the idea that God created much of humankind for the purpose of damnation. Being in France, he was sensitive to the (mis)characterizations of Calvinism by French Catholics. He saw himself as rescuing the Huguenots from this caricature of God as “capricious, unjust, and unloving.” He viewed election in light of the cross instead of the cross in light of election. Therefore, Jesus did not die to save the elect, but died for all humanity. Salvation was conditioned upon faith. Since faith is not possible for fallen sinners, God elected some to salvation. In some ways this is a quibble about the order of decrees (which in my opinion is part of the secret things referred to in Deut. 29:29). In my opinion he presents a very confused God. This view is sometimes called the hypothetical atonement. He’s trying to walk a mediating position between Augustinianism/Calvinism and Arminianism. To me it seems an untenable position- logically unstable and unable to stand long before lapsing into greater problems.

In England there would be a literal civil war as various kings sought to control the church. England has some who wanted an Episcopal church, whether of Arminian or Calvinist leanings, some who wanted a Presbyterian church of England with a solid Calvinist bent. The Independents wanted religious freedom so that England could have Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational churches who held to Arminian or Calvinist views. As mentioned, Needham spends two chapters laying out the groundwork for the civil war, the war itself, life under Cromwell and the restoration of the monarchy which again ruled the Church of England too. In many ways this is a sad tale as so much blood was spilled to accomplish essentially nothing. Christians should be wary of taking up arms for the sake of faith (see the Thirty Years’ War as well).

Scotland had a similar struggle between the Crown Rights of Jesus (church over the state) and the will of a king who wanted to rule the Church of Scotland. We see the rise and fall of the Covenanters who pursued the rights of Jesus and desired a free church in Scotland. At times the Presbyterians won in Scotland. At times kings introduced an episcopal form of government which led to a watering down of the theology of the church. As you consider Scotland’s history of being occupied, any English influence was offensive to them.

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Blaise Pascal

Needham focuses on France for Roman Catholicism since at this point it had become the most powerful Catholic nation, supplanting Spain. Most of the movements within the Catholic church had their center in France. One of the main controversies was the Jansenist controversy. In a very Jesuit nation which was therefore not friendly toward the influence of Augustine’s view of salvation, a view that was dependent on Augustine would be controversial. The Jansenists were essentially Catholic Calvinists. They still submitted to the Pope and held to the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory. But they held to total depravity and election. The most famous Jansenist was French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. The fortunes of Jansenism were often tied to politics. The more power the Jesuits had, the more the pressure on them. When a French king wanted to establish his own power the Jesuit influence waned and Jansenism was able to grow.

What Jacobitism was to the churches in the British Isles, Gallicianism was to France. It was the view that the king of France, not the Pope was the head of the church in France. While there was not outright war, it saw political maneuvering and persecution.

Another controversy that can’t ultimately be separated from the political situation was the growth of Quietism, a form of mysticism that flourished in France for a time. It would fall in and out of favor with kings, surging and shrinking as a result.

In this section he also mentions Jesuit missions to eastern Asia. We see early versions of the Insider Movement as missionaries struggled to be all things to all men. Sometimes they allowed all men to remain in their paganism. Sometimes they required converts to become western. These are struggles that still take place in missions.

Cyril Lucaris 1632 Geneva.jpgAs Needham turns to Eastern Orthdoxy we see various splits form in the church. Some feared the power of the Pope and unification with Rome. They were haunted by the Union of Florence. Seeing the success of Protestants in separating from Rome, some like Cyril Lucaris began to use their methods and some theological distinctives. Cyril is controversial, to say the least. He clearly adopted “total depravity” which affected his view of salvation. His critics claimed he was corrupted by Reformed theology. A quite Protestant sounding confession that bears his name (whose authorship is questionable) was condemned and he was too, if he held to those views expressed that confession.

Others fearing the Protestant leanings or reform of men like Cyril, used the theology and methods of the Jesuits to reform the eastern church. So we find the main reformers in Eastern Orthodoxy at this time drawing on western methods and articulation of doctrine, whether Protestant or Catholic. They weren’t trying to become either but trying to protect Orthodoxy from the corruption of the other.

Since Constantinople was now under the control of the Ottoman Empire and called Istanbul, the Patriarch of Constantinople was under the control of muslims, Moscow grew in power as the “defender of the faith.” We see the same struggles there. Who would be in control: the tsar or the patriarch? With the rise of Peter the Great this was answered once and for all in favor of the state. Peter would also seek to westernize Russia, and the church. We also see a worship war that was far more bloody than ours since it got wrapped up in politics. With the advent of the printing press in Moscow, they discovered variants in liturgies. Their assumption was there was ONE way to worship. So, which was it? Some stuck with the way the Russian church worshiped while others argued they should be worship in accordance with the older Greek liturgies. Our sinful quest for power again corrupts the worship of God and splits the church.

In some ways this was the most difficult volume in the set for me to read. I was familiar with the material covered regarding England and Scotland, so I didn’t learn as much. Due to my existential realities, reading about all the conflict was less than pleasant. One thing is clear is that the Church desperately needs Christ. She so quickly lapses into conflict, splitting over points great and small. She is ceaselessly attracted to power.

This is not to say this wasn’t worth reading. It is an excellent series and this is a very good volume in this set. This is helpful reading for pastors and lay leaders. It is good reading for anyone with an interest in history. Written by a Protestant, this much more information about Eastern Orthodoxy than you are used to seeing. It helps balance our perspective on the Church, and that is a great thing.


I’ve been slowly updating my officer training material after discovering some gaps in the material I covered. Unfortunately (?) this has been more of a side project which fills in open spots instead of a priority matter. I was hoping there would be a book that covered all this stuff to make my life more efficient.

I got an my monthly email offering copies of books to review. The New Elder’s Handbook by Greg R. Scharf and Arthur Kok caught my eye. I’m open to ideas about how to do this better, preparing men more fully for the task that God has called them to.

There are three main sections to the book, or possibly two depending on how you look at it. They break it up into Vision, Training and Two Additional Discipleship Resources. 2 and 3 are similar enough that they could be considered one part. But, that’s not really important.

Before we look at the content, we should consider the authors. I hadn’t heard of either man before and perhaps you are in the same boat. Greg Scharf is an Evangelical Free Church pastor and professor emeritus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He focused on preaching and pastoral theology. This is right up his alley. Arthur Kok trains lay leaders, pastors, planters and missionaries through the Orchard Network. Both men have a tremendous amount of experience in training men for ministry.

Theologically they are at the very least open to Reformed Theology (this matters since I am writing and serving in a Reformed context). You pick this up from some statements, but most often from the books they recommend including Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, Robert Shaw’s The Reformed Faith and many others. They try not to drive people theologically. For instance, on the question of baptism they recommend both Grudem and Horton noting that the former is a credobaptist and the later a paedobaptist. They want you to sort it out rather than sort it out for you. The same is true for millennial views, though there was no representative for the postmillennial position. There were more references for the historic premillennial position in keeping with their theological context however.

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One Big Matzoh Ball

At times this is an issue. I’m not sure how much of Grudem’s eternal submission of the Son convictions show up in his systematic theology (one of the resources listed under the Trinity). They recommend Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism in a variety of places. It isn’t a bad book, meaning I don’t necessarily find error in it. For me it has the baggage of being connected with a number of authoritarian cults. I understand; they used and abused it. That is not Coleman’s fault, but … it hangs out there like a big matzoh ball for me.

Another big matzoh ball is The Bondage Breaker. I have grave theological concerns about Neil Anderson’s work. I also know of missions organizations in which this book became a big, divisive problem. I’ve discussed the book with people who like it and it has never gone well. They tend to be dogmatic and run counter to what I think is the sound Reformed & biblical heritage on sanctification. Ironically Scharf and Kok recommend Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices on the previous page. Later they refer, positively, to Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Four-fold State which is the book I used to express Anderson’s errors (perhaps I should blog this material). So this puzzles me.

One thing that may interest some is a confessional context. The EFC is not a confessional body like the PCA is, so I am looking for a confessional context. They do have a few quotes from the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. The resource by Shaw is a commentary on the Westminster Confession so men can read the pertinent chapters in the confession as they go along. We do need to be careful to communicate that the Standards are helpful in understanding the Scriptures, but do not have the same authority as the Scriptures.

I do think this is a very helpful book.

One of the strengths, as laid out in the first part, is the intentional community. This book can be used on your own, but they want to have men go through the questions together. They want iron to sharpen iron, and there to be a mentor (pastor or current elder) who works with them. This is a lengthy process. They anticipate this group meeting for 1-2 years as they work through the 75 questions (2nd part of the book).

One of the strengths of the 75 questions is that they are both theological and practical in nature. They want you to be able to apply your theology in the context of the local church. It is not merely an academic exercise.

“Doctrinal accuracy is indispensable for elders, but it is not enough to preserve the health of the church. Truth must shape life, and truth must be taught to others.”

The view of church elders they communicate is grounded in the pastoral epistles. There is a great concern for holding to the deep truths of the faith, living on the basis of those truths and teaching them while inviting imitation as well. Sound doctrine produces sound living. Both are necessary for a healthy church. And therefore healthy elders.

They also bring us back to Ezra to understand that the real power at work is God. They pick up on the oft used phrase in Ezra “the good hand of the Lord was upon him”. God was at work for Ezra to fulfill his calling to “study, do and teach” the Law to God’s people. They offer a God-centered approach to training (and being) elders.

In the chapter Making Progress, they offer seven foundational principles. You could boil them down to God produces growth in those He gave spiritual life through the appointed means as the Spirit works over time in the community of God.

They are also honest about the challenges and obstacles on will likely face, particularly the world, the flesh and the devil. Community is intended to help us by seeing in us what we can’t see in ourselves due to blind spots.

There is also a chapter on identifying potential elders. They affirm exclusively male eldership (later they mention deaconnesses as an option, not a mandate). They briefly cover the character of the men. They encourage current leaders to pray, watch potential officers and challenge them in growth and service (like studying the 75 questions). Not rocket science, but too often we forget to take our time. We can feel the burden of needing new elders (especially if you have a rotating Session, one that has time limits for terms).

The second section moves into the questions. Each question will have a series of biblical passages to look up, resources for further study and often a few questions to flesh out some aspects of it. I found no discernible pattern to the questions (like we see in the subject matter of a confession of faith). There are questions about the Scripture and how to use it in ministry to others, worship services, counseling others, resisting sexual temptation, legalism, prayer, the atonement, the person of Christ, the Trinity and more. The questions are similar to those we’ve begun to use in our presbytery.

In addition to the supplemental questions, sometimes they provide some instruction on a question. It is concise and typically good. For instance, knowing sound doctrine, the patterns to recognize in false doctrine and how to defend sound doctrine. They continue to focus on theology applied. They discuss same-sex practice to distinguish those who struggle with SSA and those who “embrace and actively engage in same-sex activity”. This, I believe, is how the Bible discusses the issue. They are not buying into the extra-biblical concept of orientation.

Image result for learning to crawlThe first additional resource for discipleship is a tool for a “basic introduction to the Christian life.” It is sort of a “now what” after a person believes. They offer some basics to bible study and then lay it out like how a child grows: eating, walking, talking (prayer), trusting etc. There are lots of verses to look up in each section but it does provide a good process for new believers similar to the old Navigator study guides I used after my own after my conversion.

The second one is a series of lessons from 2 Peter. This is helpful in teaching people the systematic, consecutive reading of Scripture. It helps provide balance.

I would envision using this as part of a small group to develop future leaders over the course of 2 years. This could be followed with the course I’ve been updating. These parts could balance each other out well and make for prepared and godly elders.

As a result, this is a book that pastors and sessions should definitely take a look at as they seek to train men. It could also be used for continuing “education” of elders. They  shouldn’t stop learning and growing and this and the books by Thune and Timmis could be helpful in that regard. While the book itself is not long or difficult to read, the Scripture references and resources make the material meaningful and as deep as time and energy permits.

[As noted above, I received a complimentary copy for the purposes of review.)