Archive for the ‘John Owen’ Category

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the Spirit’s work in sanctification out of Galatians 5.  I wish I had more time this week to thumb thru some of the great books I have on this work of the Spirit, and the Spirit of this gracious work.

Here are my favs:

  • Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer.  The focus on this great book is sanctification, and the Spirit’s role.  I read this as a young Christian, and it was very helpful for me, grounding me in a biblical understanding of sanctification.
  • The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and His Power by John Owen.  I read this separately before owning it as part of his Works.  Great stuff!  It was one of the first books by Owen that I read, and helped me major on the majors instead of being caught in excess as a younger Christian.
  • The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is a bit more technical than most of his books.  But that is fine by me.  More people need to read this to avoid the abundance of confusion that is out there today.  There are so many ways in which the Spirit works in our lives, but we focus on the spectacular and extraordinary.  He’s heavily dependent on John Owen, who is one of his favorite theologians.

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Since I’m preaching through Galatians, one of the topics or themes is justification: how we are in a right relationship with God.  It is the main idea of the letter since they had fallen prey to false teachers with hetero-gospels.

I thought it would be a good time to list my recommendations for books on the doctrine of justification.

Great Books I’ve Read:

The Doctrine of Justification by Jame Buchanan.  This is THE book any serious student of the doctrine must read.  I loved this book, and was challenged by this book.  He traces the history of the doctrine, then explains the doctrine.  There is plenty of historical data (keeping in mind it was originally published in 1867) that helps us gain some perspective on the current deviations from the biblical doctrine.  It is rather lengthy, and this may turn off some people.

Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification by R.C. Sproul.  R.C. wrote this, in part, in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together.  He saw that movement as undermining the heart of the gospel.  This is typical RC- good stuff written for average people.  He has a gift for making theology accessible to laypeople.

Justification By Faith Alone by Charles Hodge.  The old Princeton theologian tackles the subject thoroughly in this book.

The Future of Justification & Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper interact with the current attacks on the historical Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone (but that is not alone).   Piper does a good job, and a fair job, but they are polemical theology.  He is disputing a matter.

Books I Hope to Read Someday:

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith by John Owen.  I’ve got this in my Works of John Owen volumes.  I’ll get there.  He can be a difficult read, but I find it immensely rewarding.  As the subtitle reads, he explains it, confirms it and vindicates it as only he can.

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine by John Fesko.   A bit pricey, it also looks at the classic formulation of the doctrine in light of current challenges to the doctrine.

Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification edited by K. Scot Oliphint.  It contains chapters by Westminster professors past and present.

Justification by Francis Turretin.  This is edited from his Institutes of Elentcic Theology, which is very good.  It presents theology in a question and answer format.  He was one of the early Reformed “scholastics”.  Sproul highly recommended Turretin when his Eclentic Theology was finally reprinted by P&R.

Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation by Brian Vickers.  It covers both the imputation of our sin to Jesus, and His righteousness to us.

Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification by Mark Seifrid.  This is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series edited by D.A. Carson.  A bit academic, but focused on biblical theology.

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Back to working my way through Steve McCoy’s Big 5 Books, today the Cross.  As Spurgeon once said:

“Endeavor to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavor especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ.” C.H. Spurgeon

Here are the best books I’ve read:

The books I have yet to read, and hope to:

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Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

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To be fair, I thought I’d put down how God brought me to embrace Reformed Theology as the most consistent understanding of biblical theology.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?   That would be Packer’s Knowing God, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I had been a Christian for less than a year when I bought it.  It remains one of my favorites.  After I “got” Reformed Theology, I re-read Knowing God, and saw all the seeds had been sown there.  Sproul’s Chosen By God was the one that gave me words to express what I had come to believe.
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  In addition to the 2 already mentioned, Martin Luther- Bondage of the Will; John Piper- Desiring God; J.I. Packer- Keep in Step with the Spirit; Jerry Bridges- Trusting God; R.C. Sproul- The Holiness of God.
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey? Prior to seminary, R.C. Sproul.  I devoured his books and audio tapes prior to going to seminary.  J.I. Packer, who joined Sproul in introducing me to the Puritans, the Reformers and Jonathan Edwards.  In seminary, I spent lots of time reading Edwards and the Puritans (particularly Burroughs, Owen & Boston).  Post-seminary it would be John Frame, Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and Jack Miller.  Yes, I cheated.  But I affirm grace, baby.
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Probably Sproul’s Grace Unknown (I think it is now called What is Reformed Theology?) or Ferguson’s In Christ Alone.
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  Particular Atonement.  Packer’s intro to Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is must reading to understand how essential this doctrine is to grasping biblical Christianity, and how other theologies offer a different gospel.  This is a much understood doctrine thanks to the many straw men those opposed to it put up.  This is usually the hardest distinctive doctrine for people to accept.

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This is my chosen sermon text for the week.  Here are some interesting thoughts I ran across in my prep today:

“There can be no sustained faithfulness on our part unless we are convinced that we can trust God.  The basis for that trust is the consideration that we have a high priest who is merciful and compassionate in his relationship with us.”  Wiliam Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“The promise is that God’s children will receive mercy accompanied by sustaining grace.  Mercy and grace are closely allied and essential aspects of God’s love.  That love is outgoing in providing the protective help that does not arrive too late but at the appropriate time, because the moment of its arrival is left to the judgment of our gracious God.”  William Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“For he is not talking about sin and its guilt but about temptations, afflictions, and persecutions.  So the mercy meant here must be the cause for our deliverance- namely, in its consequences.  … In addition to this, the apostle is not here referring to the initial approach of sinners to God through Christ for mercy and pardon, but about the daily access of believers to him for grace and assistance.  To receive mercy, therefore, is to be made to participate in the gracious help and support of the kindness of God in Christ, when we are in distress.  This springs from the same root as pardoning grace and is therefore called ‘mercy’.”  John Owen in Hebrews

“… God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts… God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“… for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“After terrifying us, the Apostle now comforts us, after pouring wine into our wound, he now pours in oil.”  Martin Luther, quoted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

“The hardness of the struggle should be an inducement to the Christian to draw near to the throne of God’s grace, rather than to draw back and abandon the conflict…”  Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

These are things I need to keep in mind, not just for a sermon, but everyday life.  As I prepare, it has been one rough week.  It is not just something to talk about, but something I need to be true and rely upon.

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Have you ever wanted to sit down and chat with Sinclair Ferguson?  I have.  Though I’ve met him, I haven’t really talked to him.  I feel … so unworthy.  He’s not just a thoughtful theologian, but he exudes godliness.  It could just be the Scottish accent, but I doubt it.

Well, C.J. Mahaney did sit down and chat with him, and made the conversation available to all of us.  I am so thankful.  I laughed, I cried and had godly passions stirred up.

He mentioned his mentors, the 4 Johns- the Apostle, Calvin, Owen and Murray.  When he first heard of John Murray he remembers wondering “who’s John Murray and what’s Westminster Theological Seminary?”

He talked about an older pastor who poured his life into him.  What a magnificent gift that so many young men never receive.

He spent time talking about learning how to preach in a Christ-centered fashion.  We tend to look inward, rather than outward to Christ.  He also ties that in with C.S. Lewis’ comments about Milton’s Paradise Lost that it is easier to portray evil than good.  As pastors we fall into this trap, focusing more on sin than the “sweetness and excellency of Christ” (as Jonathan Edwards often said).

I can’t wait for my copy of In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life to arrive so I can dig in.  You can download the first 3 chapters.  I suspect this book will challenge us to get out of ourselves and lay hold of Christ who lays hold of us.

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In simplifying a few things, I am dropping the Book Reviews page since I use posts to do that now (they were reviews done on my first blog, which I didn’t want to lose).  So here are the old ones from there.  They are fairly short.  Enjoy!

The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship by John Frame.  A few years in the reading.  This is a tome, not a book.  But it was well worth the investment of my time over that period.  Frame is not the most exciting author, but he is able to open my eyes to some of the more profound truths of Scripture. 

Particularly helpful is his exhaustive understanding of Lordship (presence, authority & control).  If this is all you get from the book, you have done well.  It really changes how you view Scripture, and seek to apply it to your life.

The section on the Trinity was probably the weakest- but that is because there is so much mystery surrounding it.  Our faith seeks understanding, but that exceeds our mental faculties.  Still, invest your mental faculties on this book, er.. tome.

Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.  May passed away recently.  He spent time looking at the works of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.  He provides a flawed but helpful book.  First, John and Teresa seem to be complete Pelagians.  If May is accurate, they believed that we all are already united to God and people merely get themselves in the way of enjoying God’s delight.  I also have an issue with mysticism.  Since the Scriptures are my sole authority of faith and practice, I find no basis for the contemplative prayer as expressed by the mystics.  We meditate on God’s Word which reveals His character, works and promises.  This is very different from essentially emptying your mind to experience His love.

Despite the terminology, discussion of the 3 ’spirits’ of the Dark Night is helpful for us.  We struggle with the lack of pleasure we experience.  At times, all our attempts to find pleasure are thwarted.  We are then tempted to rage against God.  Lastly we experience great confusion.  We are uncertain what to do, and what lies next.  This is not a one-time experience, but often a continuous process that ebbs and flows.  This happens to wean us from our various idols that we might find our joy and hope in Christ and Him alone.  This section of the book, the last, is most helpful for the average Christian.


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I got a few pleasant surprises this weekend.  Books!

A former elder of mine gifted me with 3 volumes from the Works of John Owen.  I received Volume 4: The Work of the Holy Spirit; Volume 8: Sermons to the Nation; and Volume 11: Continuing in the Faith.

John Owen is one of my favorite Puritan theologians.  I look forward to having the time to sit down and read some Owen, particularly on Continuing in the Faith.  I have most/some of his work on the Spirit in paperback form.

Another person gave me The Path to True Happiness by Martin Lloyd-Jones.  It is his book on John 2.  I have not read much Lloyd-Jones, so this should be good for me.  The Dr. was a student of the Puritans.  He and Packer were the impetus behind those old conferences on the Puritans in London.

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This has been brought up by other bloggers, but Pantings & Provocations has an encouragement to read the Puritans.

January: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (128 pp)
February: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (221 pp)
March: The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson (252 pp)
April: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks (253 pp)
May: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ by John Bunyan (225 pp)
June: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (130 pp)
July: A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge (287 pp)
August: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (228 pp)
September: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton (224 pp)
October: The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (207 pp)
November: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (256 pp)
December: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine (148 pp)

This is a great idea, and most of the books are not very long.  Here are some additional thoughts.  I just read The Bruised Reed, and heartily recommend it.  Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence is on my list to read, though I read part of it earlier for some sermon preparation.  I have not read the Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, but I would strongly recommend his book The Doctrine of Repentance, a much neglected but needed topic in the American Church.  Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks is a bit long, but a great read which should prove beneficial.

I have not read that particular Bunyan volume, but Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the best allegories of the Christian life ever.  If you can find it in a modern translation with notes (mine is by Warren Wiersbe) read it.  The Mortification of Sin by John Owen is a must-read, and so is his book On Temptation (as Tim Keller reminded folks).  They are found in his Works Volume 6, and in a few other compilations.

I have begun reading A Lifting Up for the Downcast which is a great book for those struggling with trials.  The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is one of my favorite books which continually points us to the “sweetness and excellency of Christ”.  Any Piper enthusiast will find much to rejoice in here.  I’ve been meaning to read Bolton’s The True Bounds of Christian Freedom for some time, but just haven’t gotten there yet.  Neither have I read the Christian’s Great Interest or A Sure Guide to Heaven.  I know Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor is a classic, but I didn’t find it as helpful as many other people have.  I found it antiquated in ministry style- at least where I have served.  If I regularly visited & catechized my congregants I would soon find their doors unanswered.  There is a level of maturity needed for congregations to embrace that concept which I have found lacking in western Christianity.

In addition to these books, I would recommend A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness by Jeremiah Burroughs

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I spent the last few days reading Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching by Iain Murray.  It was well worth the $4.72 I paid for this book at WTS Books.  It was yet another solid read by Iain Murray.  He’s done us a great service again, though this book is quite short (under 160 pages).

Why might someone want to read this book?  Well, for a few reasons.  One the one hand it can be used to refute Arminians who think that Calvinism itself hinders evangelism.  It shows this by putting forth Spurgeon as a very evangelistic, historical Calvinist.  It shows that Hyper-Calvinism (which does hinder evangelism) is a deviation which should not be confused with the real thing (all those people in the SBC who are afraid of Calvinism should read this).

With the resurgence of Calvinism among young church leaders, we may see a resurgence of Hyper-Calvinism as well.  It was this that led Murray to write the book in the 1990s.  I have only met a few Hyper-Calvinists by doctrine.  However, sometimes we can inadvertantly be Hyper-Calvinists in practice.  I felt that conviction as I read the book.  I have not been as zealous in pleading with people as perhaps I should have been.

Murray begins with a very brief historical sketch of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to set the stage.  He began his ministry at a time when Arminianism was beginning to spread among English Baptists, and part of the reason was that Hyper-Calvinism had infected many of the English Baptist congregations.  The two controversies of Spurgeon’s early ministry were against these to sub-biblical theologies.  By and large they attacked him, though he recognized some indiscretion on his part as he looked back in latter years.

Murray turns to the Combatants and the Cause of the Controversy.  It began in earnest when a well-meaning publisher wanted to show other Hyper-Calvinists that Spurgeon was a man whose ministry they could welcome, even if he wasn’t “fully onboard”.  This draw the ire of the leading Hyper-Calvinists who began exchanging letters to the editors and articles on the matter with some who defended Spurgeon.  Spurgeon himself never entered the fray via the periodicals.  Most of his responses were in the form of instructing his people from the pulpit.

Murray then moves into The Case Against Spurgeon.  They claimed he was touched by an Arminian spirit (attitude, not a ghost or something).  But many of their arguments had a problem- they were refuted by numerous honored Puritan pastor-theologians like Richard Sibbes, John Owen, Thomas Boston and the other Marrow Men.  They argued that non-elect people could not be told to repent and believe since they were unable to do so.  They called the practice of so doing “duty-faith”, quite derisively to make it sound like a work.  The Hyper-Calvinists fell into the same trap as the Arminians, though it took them in a different direction.  For God to command something of people implied they had the ability to fulfill the command.  Arminians accepted this, and believed all people had the ability, not just the duty, to repent and believe.  Hyper-Calvinists, believing non-elect people lacked the ability, also lacked the duty.  In this they were trying to be logically consistent.

The problem is that duty is not connected to ability.  God’s commands are reflective of His nature, not our ability.  As such they reflect our responsibility, what we are to do.  All people are commanded to obey God in all things, though only regenerate people have the ability to actually do that.

Murray turns to Spurgeon’s Fourfold Appeal to Scripture.  As noted above, most of this is culled from his sermons.


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I began reading The Future of Justification by John Piper yesterday.  So far it is very good.  In his introduction, Piper confesses “we all wear colored glasses” and that his “temptation is to defend a view because it has been believed for centuries.  His (Wright’s) temptation is to defend a view because it fits so well into his new way of seeing the world.”  He lays some cards on the table right up front.  Piper is not claiming to be unbiased, but is open about his theological bias.

He also lays out some of the issues he will be addressing in the book, the “head-turners”.  He wants to be fair to N.T. Wright (to whom he gave an early manuscript, received a lengthy response which resulted in a lengthier book).  “(T) confusion is owing to the ambiguities in Wright’s own expressions, and to the fact that, unlike his treatment of some subjects, his paradigm for justification does not fit well with the ordinary reading of many texts and leaves many ordinary folk not with the rewarding ‘ah-ha’ experience of illumination, but with a paralyzing sense of perplexity.”

In his footnotes, he quotes both Jonathan Edwards and John Owen on the idea that some men are saved despite not believing some important doctrines.  However, they say that the more one resists attempts to correct their faulty understanding the less likely it is that they are truly saved.  This notion begins with both charity and an honest estimation of the process of maturity in faith.  New believers know little of the truth, and and they study God’s Word their views should become more and more conformed to biblical teaching.  If they don’t … there is cause for concern.

In an unnumbered chapter On Controversy, Piper explains why he believes in the need for what I’ll call “pastoral polemics.”  As a pastor he doesn’t need to bark at every person or animal on the street, but only at those close enough to potentially represent danger.  His parishoners won’t be reading guys like Sanders or Dunn.  But since Wright is an evangelical, and has made many solid contributions to the church, his people might read Wright’s material on justification and potentially be harmed.  Note that Piper does list Wright’s many positive contributions as an evangelical scholar.  He is not demonizing Wright, but taking issue with him on a particular topic.  This is not a “shock and awe” attack meant to rob N.T. Wright of any shred of credibility.  It is an attempt to understand his views on this matter, and address those ways in which Wright has drifted too far from the biblical text & meaning.


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I’m working on 1 Timothy 4:9-10 for Sunday at Cypress Ridge PCA.  I thought it would be fairly easy, as the next in line of the “reliable sayings” Paul offers young Timothy.  I was wrong.  If you look at other translations beside the NIV “this is a faithful saying deserving full acceptance” is its own sentence, creating some ambiguity.  Is it refering to verse 8 or verse 10?  Is it “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for this life and the life to come,” or “we have hoped upon the God who lives, who is the Savior of all men especially those who believe”?

Some worthy commentators (Stott and Hendriksen) go with verse 8.  But… in the previous “reliable words” this phrase introduces the saying rather than following it.  I have to lean toward it being verse 10, which puts verse 8 back into the context of grace.  Godliness is a sign that we have hoped in God.  We don’t pursue godliness so God will save us.

This letter addresses a young pastor surrounded by people with counterfeit hopes.  Part of his ministry is to call them from their counterfeit hopes, which will wear them out and still disappoint them (false teachers, ascetism, wealth, genealogies/race).  For the first time I’ll use a film clip.  Red and Andy debating hope in The Shawshank Redemption.  This hope, like godliness, has benefit in this life as well as the one to come.

Some use verse 10 to argue for a form of universal atonement.  It is hard to take this as God might be the Savior of all men, but only saves those who believe.  The “especially those who believe” argues against any form of universalism.  So what is Paul talking about here?  Very good question.


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“If I have observed anything by experience, it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and of his love.”  John Owen as quoted by John Blanchard in Truth for Life

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In the second chapter of Velvet Elvis called Yoke, Rob Bell tackles the issues of authority and interpretation.  He provides some interesting background information, showing that he is well-read.  He continues the practice of asking questions instead of answering questions.  In the process, as in the previous chapter, he unwittingly (?) seems to set people up to question themselves right out of orthodox Christianity.  Here are some examples.


“Notice this verse from 1 Corinthians: ‘To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)…’  Here we have Paul writing to a group of Christians, and he wants to make it clear that the next thing he is going to say comes from him, ‘not the Lord’.”

Rob does not discuss the context of this passage from 1 Corinthians 7.  Paul differentiates his counsel which is coming from the Old Testament, and that which is not found there.  Are we to take Paul to mean that we don’t need to heed this instruction because it’s from him and not God?  I don’t think so.  I’m not going to start chopping my Bible up into what God says and what the human author says.  But Rob’s statements undermine the authority of Paul’s instruction (unless I’m really missing something here).


In keeping with his anti-fundamentalist bent, he turns his gaze to the Southern Baptist Convention (without naming names).

“The reason their annual gathering was in the news was that they had voted to reaffirm their view of the importance of the verse that says a wife’s role is submit to her husband.  This is a big deal to them.  This is what made the news.  This is what they are known for.”


Last I checked the SBC didn’t control the news outlets.  I have some bones to pick with them too, but this is not one of them.  It made news because it is so counter-cultural.  I applaud them for not giving in to cultural pressure to somehow water down Scripture.

But Rob has a question or two.  First, “What about the verse before that verse?  “What about the verse after it?” The prior verse is a summary statement that we should submit to one another (a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit).  Paul then lays out some examples- wives to husbands, children to parents, employees to employers (yes, I made an epochal shift there out of slavery).  No one says that parents should submit to their children, or that employers should submit to their employees.  But somehow Paul is not to be taken to mean that wives should submit to their husbands.  He wants you to doubt that it really means this, and the SBC is foolish for believing it (Neanderthals!).  I guess Christ should submit to us.


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Here is the final, short part of my outline to Packer’s classic intro.

III.  About “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”.

            It is his second major work.  It took him more than 7 years of study to prepare it.  He addresses three variations on Arminianism.

            1. Classical Arminianism.

            2. Amyraldism (a ‘four point’ Calvinism denying the particular atonement).  It is also called hypothetical universalism.  It differs from classical Arminianism by holding to the eternal security of the believer.

            3. The Views of Thomas Moore.  His book, “The Universality of God’s Free Grace in Christ to Mankind” was published in 1646.

            Owen spends time refuting all three of these similar errors.  He is very difficult to read, and his work requires multiple readings to be fully understood and appreciated.  He is very thorough in his examination of the biblical texts used by proponents of both views.

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Here is the second part of my outline of Packer’s Introductory Essay.

II.  Owen’s Defense of the Gospel.            A.  “Calvinism” is the Gospel.

                        The question at hand directly impacts the content of the gospel that is preached.  This is not a minor, insignificant issue.

                        1.  The “Five Points” in History.

                                    They were a response to the five-fold protest of some Dutch theologians in the seventeenth century.  This protest had two philosophical foundations.

                                    a.  Divine Sovereignty is incompatible with human freedom and responsibility.

                                    b.  Ability limits obligation.  If man lacks the ability than he is under no obligation to perform an action, and therefore cannot be held responsible.

                        As a result, since we are commanded to believe we must be fully able to believe, and God does not enable us to believe.  This ability is universal.  As a system, this five-fold protest is summarized as follows.

            1. Humankind’s corruption is not so complete that anyone is unable to believe, unaided by God.

            2.  No one is so completely controlled by God that they are unable to reject the gospel.

            3.  God’s election of individuals to salvation is based upon His seeing who will believe on their own.

            4.  Jesus’ death did not purchase anyone’s salvation, but only created the possibility of salvation for all who freely believe.

            5.  It is within the power and therefore responsibility of believers to continue in the faith.  It is possible to fall from faith and be lost.

            In this way, this protest, called Arminianism, teaches that one’s salvation ultimately depends on oneself.  We are saved or lost by what we do, not by what Jesus has done.


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I outlined Packer’s Introductory Essay to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ a few years back.  Here is part 1:

I.  The Unstable State of Evangelicalism Today

            A.  Owen’s work sets to show that a universal atonement is unbiblical and therefore destroys the gospel.

            B.  The last few decades have seen the church compromise in a large number of areas.  The reason that we are falling down is that we have lost the biblical gospel and have been preaching an impostor.  This impostor is quite similar to the true gospel, but is in reality a different gospel that is unable to save.  This ‘new’ gospel “fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church[1], the very things that the Bible teaches are the result of the true gospel.

                        1.  This ‘new’ gospel is man-centered.  It diminishes the glory and power of God, such that man need not fear or worship Him as the Almighty One.  It is not concerned with the glory of God, but on being helpful to the listener.  The center of reference is humankind, not God. 

                        2.  The ‘old’ gospel focuses on the glory of God, and our need to worship Him alone.  It teaches of our utter and complete dependence upon Him for all things.

                        3.  Because of this shift in our understanding of the gospel, the most important aspects of theology concerning salvation are no longer preached.  They are not seen as helpful, but seen as destructive to the individual’s self-esteem.  This ‘new’ gospel presents a part of the truth as the whole truth.  Therefore it is utterly misleading and false.  God’s love is reduced to a desire that we be saved, Christ’s death as making salvation a mere possibility, and as God sitting waiting with baited breath to see if anyone will actually be saved.

                        4.  We must return to the ‘old’ gospel if we long to see biblical Christianity revived, our preaching and lifestyle return to biblical norms and the most pressing needs of society met.  Packer looks to Owen’s treatise for wisdom in this matter.

[1]  pp. 1.

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J.I. Packer’s introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is one of the great theological essays ever written.  The Gospel Coalition has done us all a great service by putting this online.  I recognize that not everyone will want to read Owen’s book.  It requires lots of brainpower to work through Owen’s classic treatment of particular atonement.  Then this is the essay for you.  He summarizes Owen’s work and explains how Calvinism and Arminianism essentially are two different gospels.  Packer, of course, would say that all Calvinism is is the biblical gospel (and I would concur).  So if you haven’t read it…. what are you waiting for?!

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Wayne and Joshua Mack’s book A Fight to the Death: Taking Aim at Sin Within is deeply dependent on John Owen.  The title alludes to his famous statement: “Be killing sin or it will kill you.”  This is a good and helpful book.  Before I sing its praises, so to speak, I’ll briefly address my frustration.

Why Do They Do This?  Publishers, that is.  I know why- to sell books.  But… this book, through no fault of its own, suffers from blurb over-kill.  “With the exegetical precision of John Owen and the practical animation of John Bunyan, Wayne Mack and Joshua Mack make on of the most neglected and misunderstood doctrines today- the mortification of sin- accessible and livable.  No pastor, church leader, or member can afford to ignore this title!”

Their dependence upon Owen and Bunyan are clearly evident, both explicitly and implicitly.  But it isn’t Owen or Bunyan, if you get my drift.  They depend on Owen’s exegetical precision, but this is not what I would consider an exegetical book.  Maybe I’m spoiled by having read Owen on this matter.  It is far more accessible than Owen’s work on this subject- so it has that going for it.  But if a pastor, church leader or member has read Owen, or Kris Lundgaard’s book The Enemy Within, they can afford to ignore this title.  I guess they hyperbole bothers me.  Something about the sin within our hearts being at work there somewhere.

This is a Very Good, Understandable Book.  The focus is on our battle against indwelling sin, or the remnant of sin in a Christian.  It does not neglect the reality of the devil and the world, but reminds us that their work would be useless were it not for the flesh.  Much of evangelicalism focuses on the world and the devil, neglecting the flesh.  As a result, we think of sin as primarily being “out there” rather than “in me.”  So we fight culture wars via moralism instead of seeing all of it as a gospel issue.  I need the gospel to deal with the sin that remains in me, and my neighbors need it to flee from the wrath to come.  Moralism won’t deliver the culture- but gospel transformation can.

The book digests Owen (like a bird regurgitates food for nestlings), and illustrates with Bunyan (though not exclusively).  So, this is a Puritan view of sanctification which is so sorely lacking in our day.  The theology is quite sound and biblical.  But it is not overwhelming.  The chapters are manageable, and there are questions at the end of each chapter.  This makes it a great book to use in a small group, SS class or other discipleship setting.


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