Archive for November, 2020

Way back when in seminary Dr. Kelly had us read The Doctrine of God by Herman Bavinck. Not much by Bavinck was available in English at the time. I think that was basically it.

That has all changed in the past few years. His multi-volume Reformed Dogmatics has become available. Bavinck also produced an abridged version for laypeople called The Wonderful Works of God which is perfect not only for laypeople but busy pastors. It is not a dry theological tome. There is a warmness to this volume.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

My intention is to blog as I go, helping me process the information and make it available to my faithful few readers. The first big chunk of about 100 pages centers on revelation, general and special. But Bavinck begins with Man’s Highest Good.

Simply put, God is man’s highest good. He says it in the first sentence. And then explains it over the course of the chapter. His is our highest good because He is “the source of all being and of all life, and the abundant fountain of all goods.” We owe our existence to Him and Him alone. Unlike the animals we have knowledge not only of the earthly but the eternal, not only the visible but the invisible. We long for the eternal order precisely because the temporal order cannot satisfy us. Science and philosophy can make this temporal order better, to a degree, but they cannot fix our fundamental problem, or satisfy the longings of our heart. “For knowledge without virtue, without a moral basis, becomes the instrument in the hands of sin for conceiving and executing greater evil…” We see this played out in numerous stories about cloning including the The Clonus Horror, its remake The Island and The 6th Day with Arnold which the older CavSon and I watched the other night. People don’t heed the warning in Jurassic Park, being more concerned with if we can than if we should.

Art, like movies, expresses our creativity and longings. It can comfort us, lifting up the soul. It can also be an instrument of sin, not simply portraying sin but glorifying sin and tempting us to sin. Pornography isn’t simply about the beauty of humanity but the objectivization of that beauty, the portrayal of private acts for public and prurient display.

Due to sin man is a contradictory being: “all men are really seeking after God… but do not all seek Him in the right way or at the right place.” “They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him… They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.” This, as he notes from Pascal, is our greatness and misery. “Man is an enigma whose solution can only be found in God.”

That we can discover this is found only in revelation from God, not the speculation of man.

The Knowledge of God

The great organizing promise of the Bible is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” God gives Himself to His people so we can give ourselves to God. To do so we need to know Him. Such knowledge is not rooted in science and speculation. God reveals Himself in creation and through the prophets and Apostles. Eternal life is knowing God, and ultimately this comes through the Son who shows us the Father (John 17). Even the Old Testament comes from the Spirit of Christ moving the prophets. Christ was sent by the Father for this purpose. “At His cross the full content of the faith of the Old Testament is unfolded: Gracious and merciful is the Lord God, longsuffering and abundant in goodness.”

He grapples with our knowledge of God. We have a real, though incomplete knowledge of God. It is real because we are made in the image of God and are able to understand what He communicates to us. It is incomplete because we are finite and His is infinite. But knowing God is not simply informational or intellectual. To know God is synonymous with loving Him. We don’t really know God unless we also love Him.

General Revelation

We can know God because God wants us to know Him. He chooses to reveal Himself. Unlike the demands of many an atheist in a debate, God doesn’t show when we demand He does, however politely or forcefully. “A knowledge of God is available to man only when, and in so far as, God freely chooses to reveal Himself.” It is an expression of His love, and His freedom. He is sovereign in His revelation which reveals, in part, His sovereignty.

Our knowledge of God is not identical to His self-knowledge. The latter is perfect, complete. We cannot apprehend it. What He chooses to reveal is intended for us to glorify and trust God.

“In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearances, prophecy, and miracle to make Himself known to man.”

Bavinck held that the content of general revelation is common grace, and that of special revelation is saving grace. Creation itself, including our creation, is an act of revelation. “Every creature manifests something of God’s excellencies and perfections.” By this common grace God preserves humility so He might gather His people from among them.

General revelation is the world itself, as well as its laws and ordinances, the consciousness of people particularly of a Supreme Being and that man is a moral being. These “proofs” of God are not sufficient to compel people to believe, particularly in the God of the Bible.

The Value of General Revelation

Bavinck warns us of two extremes: over-estimating general revelation or under-estimating it. Revelation from God is always under attack, to under-estimate it, and sometimes the Church is tempted to over-correct. When we over-estimate general revelation we limit the need for and use of special revelation. He notes that while distinguished from one another, these two forms of revelation are alongside each other.

One thing that confused me in the early sections of this chapter was his repeated use of Canaanites as opposed to Sethites. I was expecting Cainites but perhaps there was some precedence I am unaware of at this time. The true religion was preserved among the Sethites but was corrupted among the descendants of Cain until they were characterized by unbelief, not simply superstition. Bavinck here is discussing the giving of special revelation, in some sense, prior to the writing of the Scriptures themselves as he explains the pre-patriarchical history.

The Noahic Covenant is a common grace covenant to preserve the earth as a stage for redemption. It is part of the progressively revealed Covenant of Grace but extends to encompass all of humanity and creation. Humanity’s sinfulness continued after the flood and provokes God in innumerable ways. Yet He vows not to flood the earth again. “He obligates Himself to maintain the creation despite its fall and rebellion.”

After further rebellion by failing to fill the earth but gathering at Babel to ascend to heaven, they people were scattered. “Mankind is divided into races who challenge each other’s existence, are determined to destroy each other, and live, century in and century out, in cold or open warfare.” Unity can only, and will only, be accomplished in the second Adam who creates a new humanity out of Jew and Gentile rather than man’s utopian and globalistic spirit. This arises out of sinful humanity’s efforts to save itself through religion, science, philosophy and politics in various turns. While these efforts may produce periods of flowering they are followed by decay as the project crumbles.

The Manner of Special Revelation

“The inadequacy of general revelation demonstrates the necessity of special revelation.” Common grace is not saving grace. For the latter to be known, there must be special revelation. That there is special revelation reflects God’s desire to save His people and give them eternal blessedness.

Special revelation also helps us to interpret general revelation more accurately, correcting our sinful biases and blind spots. Without general revelation, particularly the imago dei and the ability to use language, we couldn’t understand special revelation.

“The great difference between this speaking on God’s part in the general revelation and then in His special revelation is that in the first God leaves it to man to find out His thoughts in the works of His hands, and that in the second He Himself gives direct expression to those thoughts and in this form offers them to the mind of man.” In other words, God is seeking us by revealing Himself to use more directly.

Special revelation teaches us that God and the world are never separated, though distinguished. God is not creation, and creation is not God. But God sustains creation and works in creation directly and through secondary causes. For Bavinck, “miracles are not a violation of natural laws.” Rather, God makes “this created world serviceable to the carrying out of His counsel. What the miracles prove is that it is not the world but the Lord that is God.” Miracles reveal judgment for the unbelieving and godless, but deliverance for His people. They demonstrate His power over nature, the consequences of sin, sin itself and the domination of Satan. We, on the other hand, are powerless before them.

The Content of Special Revelation

Bavinck reminds us Abraham was not the first to receive special revelation. We see others like Enoch and Noah receiving revelation. The primary emphasis of the special revelation in the Old Testament was “that God who is one, eternal, righteous, and holy had bound Himself in covenant to be Israel’s God.” He traces the development of this from the promise to the covenant, Abraham’s justification by faith, and the giving of the covenant sign of circumcision. Judaism was a religion of faith which was not obliterated by the giving of the law.

Bavinck argues that the law was given only until the time when the true seed of Abraham appears. Some saw the law as the essence of the true faith and required Gentiles to become Jews through circumcision and the law. Others despised the law and denied any gracious intention of God in giving the law to His people.

Because it was given by God it “is holy, and righteous, and good, and spiritual.” It can, however, not save due to man’s sinfulness. It has no power and strength in itself. The law makes sin (corruption) visible through transgression and more severe due to penalties. It therefore creates a longing for redemption which we cannot accomplish for ourselves.

“But now the law has fenced Israel in, segregated her, maintained her in isolation, guarded her against dissolution, and has though created an area and defined a sphere in which God could preserve His promise purely, give it wider scope, develop it, increase it, and bring it always closer to its fulfillment.”

The law is subordinate to grace, or the promise. The Mosaic covenant is a “dispensation of grace under the law.” The law was given to people redeemed from slavery and therefore is a law of gratitude.

Sadly, Israel would struggle with persistent temptations to stray. The law had cultic functions to provide provisional relief from the guilt and pollution from sin. The law had civic functions to protect the people from the spread of the most heinous sins. In terms of the three types of law, “in making these distinctions we must not forget that the whole law is inspired and sustained by moral principles.”

After discussing the law as a law of liberty, Bavinck gets into the structure of Israel centered on the household. “But in Israel the man was regarded first of all as a member of the family, and his task was first of all to care for the family. As such he did not stand over against or high above the wife, but beside her. She together with him, laid claim to the respect and love of the children and she was in her own right deserving of the praise of her husband.” We discover here a picture of marriage between equals, king and queen, not master and slave.

Bavinck continues to trace the history of special revelation and God’s people until he gets to the relationship between the new and the old. “Thus the whole revelation of the Old Testament converges upon Christ, not upon a new law, or doctrine, or institution, but upon the person of Christ.” The focus is not the Lutheran law-gospel distinction. It is “promise and fulfillment, of shadow and body, of image and reality … of bondage and freedom.”

One point of disagreement, as least in terms of semantics is “Israel is supplanted by the church…” He then mentions the new man out of Jew and Gentile. I guess I’d say supplemented by the inclusion of Gentiles in the assembly (ekklesia) accompanied by the exclusion of unbelieving Israel. The key there is “unbelieving”. Believing Jews are united to Christ the true Israel and remain a part of the true assembly. This translation as “supplanted” give fodder for accusations of “replacement theology.”

The Holy Scriptures

Bavinck notes that our knowledge of both general and special revelation depends on the Scriptures. Not all special revelation was recorded and is found in the Bible. He argues this, in part, from the fact that not everything Jesus did and said was recorded in the gospels.

“Scripture is therefore not the revelation itself, but the description, the record, from which the revelation can be known.” Yes, this sounds confusing. It is the recording of some of special revelation. Some separate instead of distinguish between revelation and Scripture. Think of revelation and Scripture as 2 concentric circles with revelation being larger, rather than 2 overlapping circles.

Even in his day people were saying that the Word of God is contained in the Scriptures to communicate that not all of the Scriptures are the Word of God. We must, in their view, distinguish between the two.

He covers inspiration and illumination in this chapter as well. The leading of the Spirit is common for all Christians, but the moving of the Spirit in inspiration is granted to the prophets and apostles. Though they were moved they also spoke. It isn’t just God’s Word but also spoken of as their word. This leads us to dual authorship. He also addresses the reality of progressive revelation here. He also develops the different genres or categories of Scripture (history, prophecy and wisdom).

Scripture and Confession

Without Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, the gospel “hangs suspended in the air.” It has no grounding. The Bible is essential to the existence of the Church. He discusses some issues of canonicity here. One things lacking is that of the Apocrypha, and why the Protestant OT is different than that in the Roman and Eastern churches.

Confessions exist to maintain the Scriptures against individual caprice. They direct our knowledge as summaries of Scripture. They can be revised as we grow in our understanding of the Scriptures. He explains briefly the difference between the Lutheran Reformation (limited to the restoration of the preaching office), and the Reformation in Switzerland that looked at all of church life. It was also more extensive concerning it’s spread throughout Europe and beyond.

This is not an exhaustive systematic theology. He doesn’t cover everything you might want him to cover. There is plenty here to chew on though. It is generally in a warm, pastoral fashion, not in a dry, academic tone.

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I picked a good time to read A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward Welch.

First, it is 2020. The pandemic has brought out the worst in many. Idols have been threatened and risen to the occasion. Government edicts have been inconsistent, blind to the collateral damage they cause and often exercises in ego rather than genuine concern for the people. This is shown in the utter hypocrisy of many of those in power who disregard their edicts as for the hoi polloi, the masses, and not the political class.

Toss in the personal side of all this with loss and change as a son, father, husband and pastor. Throw in a hotly contested election cycle and an election process tossed in the air by the fears raised by the pandemic. There has been plenty of anger and impatience to go around and so very little peace.

A Small Book about a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace

This book by Welch is part of a series with other volumes on grief and anxiety. This volume contains 50 meditations, generally 3-4 pages (it is a physically small book with small pages). These are bite-sized meditations to prompt you to meditate. They generally end with questions to direct your thoughts.

If we can boil it down, Welch’s main argument is that your problem with anger and impatience is driven by your problem with pride. Anger and impatience are only the tip of the iceberg. Lurking beneath the surface of the water is a massive structure of pride. This makes the battle against anger & impatience a battle against pride AND for humility.

So the course of the meditations focuses on how pride drives our anger and impatience. He also returns often to the destructive character of our anger as we judge others and find them wanting in our eyes. This means we then punish them in a variety of ways. Due to indwelling sin this all seems so natural to us until grace interrupts the cycle. So this book also drives us to meditate upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ as the source of forgiveness and growth in humility. This book may be primarily about anger, but it is gospel drenched (calling for faith and repentance).

He does contrast our typical experience with anger and God’s anger. Too often we can assume that our anger is righteous anger because God gets angry. He brings this back to pride. Our anger is primarily about us because pride makes everything about us. In Jesus we see that His anger is about the harm done to others: the least of these, the faithful, His Father. God’s anger is righteous and yet we see He is slow to anger and does not (until the judgment) pour out the full measure of His anger. Ours is generally quick and exceeds the offense as it controls us rather than us controlling it.

Because Welch’s focus is on our unrighteous and therefore destructive anger he doesn’t get to Ephesians 4:26 in meaningful fashion until day 49. This is not a series of meditations on constructive anger because it won’t be constructive until we’ve tamed its destructive power, forsaken unrighteous (prideful) anger and grown in humility.

As a small book, it is one you can go back to repeatedly. Your anger and impatience won’t be gone after you read it. If you listen to these meditations you will be more fully engaged in the battle. You’ll be more honest about their grip on your life and wiser about how to loosen their grip through the gospel. But, this is a life-long battle due to the presence of indwelling sin. This is one of the more helpful books on anger I’ve read precisely because it gets to the root of our anger.

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It’s been a long time coming.

Reading this book, that is.

I worked with Anthony Carter at Ligonier Ministries. I can’t recall how long our employment overlapped but also in the room were fellow future authors Keith Mathison and Ethan Harris. Sherrard Burns (mentioned in this book) also worked there at the time.

Not only is there the personal connection, and I really liked Anthony, but the topic interests me. That book is Black & Reformed: Seeing God’s Sovereignty in the African-American Experience, the expanded 2nd edition of On Being Black and Reformed by Anthony Carter. I actually own the first edition too but never got around to reading it.

Black and Reformed: Seeing God's Sovereignty in the African-American Christian Experience (2nd Edition)

Back when we worked in the Ligonier phone room in the mid-late 90’s being black and Reformed wasn’t a thing. As Anthony notes there didn’t seem to be any prominent Reformed pastors and teachers (except for Carl Ellis Jr. who was like buried treasure). I’m glad that has changed. Perhaps one of the instruments of that change is Anthony Carter.

This is not a long book, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I didn’t know if it would be like Reconciliation Blues but guessed it wouldn’t so much be about what it is like to be black & Reformed. It is more of an apologetic for being black and Reformed. Not in the “I’m sorry” sense but in the defense sense.

The first chapter answers the question, “Do We Need a Black Theology?”. I’m not sure which RTS professor wrote that on his paper (John Frame?) but it got him moving in the direction of writing this book. The answer that Anthony provides is two-fold: yes and ….

Not just yes, he says, but yes emphatically. I agree with him. The black theology of generations past was deeply shaped by liberation theology. That’s to be expected when as a people group you’re “being oppressed, marginalized, and disenfranchised.” Black theology, he argues, became “the theological expression of Black Power.”

He also believes we need a solid Black Theology in light of the different cultural context. “The tendency, however, is for the majority culture to see only its own thinking as normative- that is, to view its perspective as neutral, without any cultural trappings.” I’d go beyond neutral but good. Majority cultures are generally blind to their culture because it is the air they breath. They think other people have cultures.

When I went to seminary I moved away from New England. After I arrived in Florida people talked about my accent. “What accent? You people have an accent.” It’s like that with culture.

Theology does in fact reflect the culture of the author. Black Americans should also do theology, and hopefully enrich Reformed Theology with their perspective.

His second answer is “Yes” too, but “yes, unfortunately”. He notes that is is more reactive. It isn’t really a “theological initiative.” The theology of the West (Reformed, Arminian, Lutheran, Pentecostal etc.) is dominated by white males. As such they haven’t experienced the insidious nature of racism both personal and institutional. They’ve also spoken mostly to other white people. Theology should express not only Scripture but history and experience precisely because theology enables us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. If it doesn’t make sense of our history and experience it is abstract and pointless.

Here Carter moves to discuss the place of Scripture, history and tradition, and experience in theology. Here I find one of the few spots where I scratched my head. I agree with 99.9999% of what he says here but was unclear about “the special revelation of God contained in the Bible.” I’d ask him about that since it sounds a bit neo-orthodox to me, as though it isn’t the Bible, period (2 Tim.3:16). If it contains it it may contain more than it. So, I’d like to be able to clarify his meaning.

Bavinck, in The Wonderful Works of God, addresses this (pp. 79-80). He warned of the view that denied divine authorship (co-authorship) of Scripture and it imperfectly recorded revelation. It was up to us to discern what was and was not revelation or the Word of God. “It is a point of view which leads to the expression that the Holy Scripture is not the Word of God but that the Word of God is contained in the Holy Scripture.” I sincerely doubt this is what Carter means, but I’d like to know what he means so people who read this don’t fall into this error unintended.

He does refer people to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy though. Though the Bible alone is authoritative, that doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t helpful or even necessary. Theology never arises out of the ether. It is formulated out of the questions and controversies of a particular time. Black spirituals and hymns reflect their history and experience. We should be going to the Scriptures to answer those questions and controversies. Richard Pratt taught us both that theology is done with our contemporary and historic communities, not as individuals. Tradition is the answers to those questions at a given point in time. It is helpful or can be but is not determinative.

“A black theology that is both biblical and culturally credible will take the experiences of black people seriously and address a theology in which experience is viewed not above but concomitant with Scripture and community. … My goal … is to redeem and reform our perspective on the black American experience thought the most legitimate lens available, theology…”

In The Case for Reformed Theology, Carter summarizes the 5 points of Calvinism. I’d disagree with him that this is a summary of Reformed Theology though it is a part of Reformed Theology. But, that’s something for a different post. His focus, as indicated in the subtitle, is the sovereignty of God over all things including the African-American experience. He seeks to defend the Reformed view from charges of determinism. He also points to the sufficiency of Christ. He’s trying to be brief, and as a result I thought a few gaps showed up here and there. That refers to things I’d ask him to clarify if this were an ordination exam (which it isn’t, and needn’t be).

In this context of forgiveness he addresses the issue of race and a bitter past. “And nowhere is this work of forgiveness more decisively needed than in race relations in America.” This is what the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s grasped, but the contemporary one seems to have missed.

The Church, and churches, haven’t always treated people of African descent well. This is an understatement. Carter notes this but doesn’t stop there, as many seem to. Believing in the sovereignty of God (and the responsibility of men) he believes God can use even evil for God. “He alone is able to work graciously within the context of such sinful and inhumane treatment to bring about a redeemed people for his glory and praise.” God worked for the good of many despite that wickedness. There shouldn’t be a black Church in America, and yet there is because of God’s gracious work.

As Carter begins to explore the realities of slavery he leaves out Islam, as most people do. The African slave trade began among Muslims but Europeans saw the financial benefits and began to engage in it as well. This doesn’t get white people off the hook, but we see it wasn’t just a white person problem. It wasn’t just a Christian problem. And by problem, I mean the sin of manstealing.

There was plenty of evangelical sins of omission and commission connected to the slave trade and slave ownership. There were many as well concerning church life and practice. He notes how the more experiential traditions, Baptists and Methodists, did more work among the slaves and freed Africans. But there was plenty of racism there too.

He summarizes, using other good sources, the development of black denominations as a result of these obstacles placed before blacks who believed the gospel. He provides a lengthy quote by Frederick Douglass about distinguishing Christianity from the “Christianity of this land” which was distorted in serious ways. He includes a quote from Jesse Jackson with which I can agree: “No matter what ship you came here on, we’re all in the same boat now.” It is true of us as a nation, and should be as a Church as well.

Like many African-Americans who become Reformed Carter struggled to identify with the great theologians of the Reformed heritage culturally due to a lack of common history. If you want to limit suffering to slavery I can see the point. Calvin lived in exile from his home. He could never return to France for fear of death. He was exiled from Geneva as well for a time. Luther had a price on his head and translated the Bible into German while in seclusion lest he be killed. The Puritans often suffered under the Act of Uniformity: marginalized, removed from position, imprisoned and even killed. The Covenanters of Scotland were also hunted, imprisoned and killed.

I don’t say this as though I’m Captain Quint and he’s Hooper, comparing scars to see who has suffered more. The theology of the Reformation was forged in suffering, not in paradise. We don’t need to compare but can affirm that they suffered and that African-Americans have suffered for generations under slavery and Jim Crow. The theology forged in suffering can help those who still suffer.

I do agree with him that this is not, and has not been, a Christian nation. It is a nation with many Christians. I’d say that we were not a nation founded on slavery (it was illegal in some states) but certainly a nation with slavery. I think these are important distinctions particularly in light of the changes in dialogue that have taken place since Anthony wrote this book.

One place I struggle is the idea of a “monolithic white theology”. The white American church is comprised of Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Nazarenes and more. There are many white theologies though, sadly, many of them neglect the place for suffering that we see in the writings of the Reformers and Puritans. Many white American theologies are what Luther called “theologies of glory”. This is a HUGE problem. Black theology is generally what he’d call a “theology of the cross”. As a result, we do have things to learn from our black brothers and sisters.

I’m not so wild about his use of the Wayne Grudem analogy of God as the author of the story. Yes, He is. But how Grudem uses it is to say that the author actually killed the character. This, I fear, makes God the Author of sin. This is not Carter’s intention (nor Grudem). I just don’t find this to be the best explanation of the doctrine of concurrence (which we both learned from Sproul I think). Yes, God willed it but His intention is different than the intention of those who commit particular sins. We see this in the life of Joseph, the beginning of Job, and also in the death of Jesus (see Acts 2).

I do agree that this general lack of God’s sovereignty in black theology is one of the obstacles to reconciliation. Whites can be seen as the Egyptians to be drowned in the sea rather than potential brothers in Christ to be reconciled as Jews and Gentiles are reconciled in Christ who is our peace.

“In fact, much of the unresolved racial and cultural conflict between black and white Christians is founded in a reluctance to see the sovereign hand of God in the slave trade. A biblical understanding would insist that we conclude that the transplanting of Africans to the shores of America was as divinely orchestrated as the pilgrimage of Israel into slavery in Egypt and the migration of the first pilgrims from England to the Plymouth Colony.”

This doesn’t remove the sinfulness of people’s actions or inaction. It provides for forgiveness through the work of Christ. He brings up the racial issues of the early Church and the sufficiency of Christ to address them. We need to address the sinfulness of humanity and sufficiency of Christ to move forward. To limit sinfulness to one portion or to deny forgiveness stalls the reconciliation process.

The last chapter, Embracing the Truth, is very short and begins with the black spiritual Hillary quoted during her campaign. “I don’t feel no ways tired.” Many African-Americans think they need to stop being black if they become Reformed. They don’t, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

I never asked Anthony what it was like to be black and at RTS or Ligonier. I know from Reconciliation Blues that it is exhausting for many. I’ve seen it in friends. They can feel like they don’t really fit in white churches and their theology doesn’t fit in many black churches. You really can feel like a person without a home spiritually even as you exist as a (sometimes unwanted) minority in the larger culture.

I’ve been the “minority” for short periods of time. One night in Atlanta a group of Ligonier employees got lost on the way to Underground Atlanta. It was cold so we ended as the only white people in a McDonalds. You are aware of that. I’ve been in cars pulled over for “driving while white” in Mexico. Living my entire life that way would be exhausting and unnerving. Part of majority privilege is you don’t have to think about it.

The first appendix outlines the initial attempts of some denominations to “limp” toward reconciliation. The Pentecostal resolutions were not very theological but very practical. I think our denomination could learn from some of them. The SBC statement combines the theological and practical better. The PCA document from 2002 is short and not very practical. Our longer version a few years ago was also a bit short on the practicality. But we have done better, I think, in race relations.

I, however, am probably a poor judge of that. I’ve seen some of our African-Americans with prominence leave for other denominations. The issue of CRT may threaten to undo what progress we’ve experienced. I hope not.

The second appendix is a message Carter delivered at an ACE conference on Connecting to the Historical Faith. He connects church history with the “faith delivered to the saints”. It is a practical development of ideas he expressed earlier in the book. The book ends with an interview with Anthony originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

Overall this was a good book. I wasn’t really the intended audience but listening in was helpful. He had some references about a number of black and Reformed pastors in other generations. As I drive thru Rutland, VT perhaps I’ll recall Lemuel Hayes, the first black pastor to an all-white congregation.

My hope is that there will be profound reconciliation in Christ’s body, and among people as citizens of these United States. I think this is one book that can help, among others. Anthony Carter has done both his black and white brothers a service.

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With the recent death of J.I. Packer, I decided to read Leland Ryken’s biography of Packer. I had purchased it earlier this year on sale. I had finished the book I was reading in the mornings and decided this was a good time to read it.

J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life By Leland Ryken, Afterword by J. I. Packer cover image

In the past I’d read J.I. Packer: A Biography by Alister McGrath. It is one of the key sources for Ryken’s book (along with extensive interviews, personal reflections and of course Packer’s numerous volumes).

Though these two biographies cover the same territory (though Ryken has a few more years to cover), they are very different. Both men knew and appreciated Packer though their perspectives are a bit different since McGrath is British and Ryken an American. A bigger difference is that McGrath is a theologian and Ryken teaches literature.

McGrath takes a chronological approach to Packer’s life. The first 10 chapters cover different periods of his life. The last chapter is an assessment of Packer by McGrath. The book runs about 310 pages without the extensive end notes.

Ryken, on the other hand, breaks the book into 3 main sections. The first is The Life of J.I. Packer. This covers 13 chapters and about 181 pages. The second section, The Man, covers 3 chapters and about 60 pages. The last section is Lifelong Themes winds through 7 chapters and 140 pages. It wraps up with an afterword by Packer himself so the book is about 410 pages.

There are strengths and weaknesses to Ryken’s approach to this biography. He doesn’t want to just copy McGrath’s work, and that is admirable. He also addresses not just the details of his life, the facts, but tries to provide a portrait of Packer as a person in the second main section. In the third section he identifies the major themes throughout his life, helping us to understand how they shaped him and he served the church through those themes. For instance, there is more detailed coverage of the controversies of his life as they are found in the first section and a chapter of 30+ pages in the last section.

The weakness is that he covers some material 2-3 times. It can feel repetitive at times. Some quotes show up 3-4 times. They are good quotes, don’t get me wrong, but when you have ADD the repetition can be difficult at times.

His life reveals the providence of God in a way that few lives do. Obviously God is control of all our lives, but we can see it most clearly. The early accident shaped his life by limiting options to him as a child but developed a deep intellectual ability in him that might not have been cultivated as well had he been focused on sports or other interests that we cut off to him. While it may have been difficult for him to live through all those transitions, we can see God opening doors for Packer so he was increasingly useful for Christ and His church. One of those open doors was as an author through which he was of benefit to millions of people.

It is important for most of us to realize that Packer was a “churchman”. He loved the Anglican church and continually worked for its reformation. He saw the Puritans as people seeking to reform the Church of England. In this respect he was a modern Puritan. This difference in how to understand the Puritans, Ryken notes, explains the break between Packer and Lloyd-Jones after Lloyd-Jones pled with evangelicals to leave the Church of England. While Stott was more critical of Lloyd-Jones it was that Puritan connection that ended up creating the great distance between Packer and Lloyd-Jones. Even when he moved to Canada Packer was very involved in trying to reform the Church. Eventually he was ousted, along with others, over the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals as priests. Packer and many other exiled Anglicans joined the Anglican Church of North America under the authority of African bishops.

It was those Puritans that saved his sanity as a young Christian. He fell under the influence of Keswick theology (let go and let God victorious living) while in college. He discovered John Owen and reading his books on indwelling sin and the mortification of sin changed his life. Packer would be devoted to the Puritans thereafter. As a modern Puritan, Packer held to a Calvinistic soteriology. He introduced many of us to Reformed Theology through Knowing God. That, and Keeping in Step with the Spirit, which focused on sanctification, we very helpful in my early Christian life.

It is hard to fit everything Packer did into 400 pages. At least to the depth I’d like. I wanted to learn more about his important work on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He and Sproul were important figures in that important document. Additionally, Ryken worked with Packer on the ESV, and the Packer was the general editor of the ESV Study Bible. I would have like to learn more about that, particularly the issue of the Eternal Submission of the Son which shows up in the notes. Did Packer miss this? Did he affirm it? Inquiring minds want to know.

As an Anglican who had a prominent role in evangelicalism, Packer also had an ecumenical spirit that got him into trouble periodically. For instance, Packer was involved with the Evangelicals & Catholics Together documents. It seemed to arise from a desire to be co-belligerents in the culture war, but there was over-reach on “common theology”. This cost Packer his working relationship (and friendship?) with Sproul.

This brings me to unmet expectations. I know, this is already a long book. But the repetition could be cut to include a few other subjects. To know Packer the man we should know something of Packer the husband and father. Kit is barely mentioned. There is one reference to his adopted daughters, and as an adoptive father this is of great interest in me.

Another aspect that grows more important to me as I age is friendships. There was little here about his friendship aside from how a few ended. Through the RTS grapevine, I’ve heard of his long-term friendship with Dr. Roger Nicole (called an “American professor” who was actually French but moved to America). I’d like to know more about these things because I want to understand the man and some of his struggles. I’m not interested in hagiography, but how God worked in, in addition to thru, the man.

Don’t get distracted by my minor complaints. This is a book well worth reading. I just wish there was more. There is plenty to chew on as Ryken spends time examining many of his most famous books. He also unpacks some of his sermons in his chapter on Packer the Preacher. This is worth the investment of your time, even if you’ve read McGrath’s biography.

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Periodically a book comes along that is a “game-changer”. The information isn’t novel, but it is able to drive it home and help you see the great importance.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund is one of those books. Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves was an earlier book that tied a number of threads concerning the love of God together helpfully. Ortlund’s book does the same, for me, with the kindness and compassion of Christ.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers - Ortlund, Dane C. - 9781433566134

Ortlund plunders the Puritans in this book, particularly Thomas Goodwin (as well as Sibbes, Flavel, Baxter and Bunyan). Incidentally, Michael Reeves gets a “shout out” in the acknowledgments for introducing Ortlund to Goodwin.

Each of the 23 chapters looks at a verse connected to this subject, and in true Puritan fashions wrings every last drop out of the verse. Okay, a bit a hyperbole since Goodwin’s sermons on Ephesians 2 take up a volume in excess of 500 pages. These are “bite-sized” chapters that explore the subject. I read a chapter a day to make the most out of it, despite the temptation to devour the book quickly. This is a subject that you should chew on, turn over in your mind in meditation, and Ortlund greatly facilitates this process.

The thrust is that Christ isn’t simply merciful toward sinners in terms of acts of mercy and compassion. Christ is mercy & compassion. His heart can be defined as merciful and compassionate. As such, He is drawn to sinners and sufferers.

He notes that this book was written “for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.” I decided to give a copy to a pastor I knew that was struggling, and picked up one for myself. I often fit the description of the intended audience.

His heart, who He is in his inner person, is “gentle and lowly”. What Ortlund wants for us is to believe that not only does Jesus act with mercy and compassion but they define who He is. Jesus is not reluctant in showing mercy and compassion, but He is internally motivated to pour out mercy and compassion when He meets sinners and sufferers. His heart is tender toward us, not hardened toward us.

He does not neglect the justice of God. How God reveals Himself, particularly as we contemplate Exodus 33-34 with Ortlund heightens His grace and mercy (first for emphasis) which is for thousands, while justice is for 3 or 4 generations. As our Father, God wants us to run to Him with our sin and suffering instead of running from Him. While He is slow to anger, He is abundant in mercy and grace.

“It means his mercy is not calculating and cautious, like ours. It is unrestrained, flood-like, sweeping, magnanimous.”

Ortlund does not neglect justice, and not all receive His mercy. For instance, in his first chapter on the phrase “gentle and lowly” from Matthew 11 he addresses the fact that a few verses early addresses Chorazin and Bethsaida in a fashion similar to how He address the unrepentant Pharisees and Scribes (and ordinary people). “This is not who he is to everyone, indiscriminately. This is who he is for those who come to him, who take his yoke upon them, who cry to him for help. He is merciful to the repentant, but to the unrepentant His justice will be done.

While I am gushing over this book, there was a concern. This was on page 179. “The evidence of his mercy toward you is his (life)- mistreated, misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned. Eternally. In your place.” That one word “eternally” is problematic to me. He is my eternal Substitute, but He isn’t eternally suffering and abandoned. Perhaps it is modifying his life, but that is unclear and I’m surprised some editor didn’t say “wait a second!”.

The rest of this book is satisfying meat, like the filet mignon we had the other night. This is a book for pastors and elders so they are reminded to speak much of this heart of God in their public and personal ministry. It is a book for strugglers of all kinds. It is accessible and warmly written. It is not dry, academic and heady. This is a book to warm and renew the heart.

The best of books lead you to new places. This is one of those books. Desiring God lead me to Jonathan Edwards, Henry Scougal and others. This book prompts me to buy and read Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ at the very least. This is a fountain and yet develops a thirst for more.

Like some other pastors I know, I’m considering preaching thru this book. Perhaps over the course of a few summers to make sure it isn’t a one and done. Our weary hearts need to hear this message often and Ortlund writes well of it.

The Heart of Christ (Puritan Paperbacks) Goodwin, Thomas cover image

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