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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category


This was my final article for Tabletalk Magazine, published after I left Ligonier Ministries.  It is a short review of Randy Booth’s book Children of the Promise.

I read many books on the subject of infant baptism, but their arguments never connected with my experience.  When I read that Robert Booth used to be a Baptist minister, I thought he could explain it in a way I could understand.  I was not disappointed this time.

He begins his argument with a thorough explanation of covenant theology.  The question of how to interpret the Bible in regards to covenant theology cannot be minimized.  We tend to read the Bible as post-enlightenment, 20th century, individualist Americans.  The original audience(s) understood covenants and the idea of headship.  Keeping this in mind makes the going easier.

Booth then argues for the continuity of the covenant community between New and Old Covenants.  He does this from a variety of New Testament passages.  This is an important part of the argument, and the biblical evidence must be reckoned with before reaching a conclusion.

The ideas which had presented a problem for me were those of signs and seals of the covenant.  Booth explained them in a way which made sense and made infant baptism nearly unavoidable.  His comparision of circumcision and baptism was most helpful.  They are not identical, but the continuity is important.  There is much misunderstanding concerning the meaning of circumcision today.  This chapter is useful in correcting this problem.  He also reminds us baptism represents what God has done, not what we do.  Here, too, there is much confusion to be removed from the conversationn.  Booth’s presentation is clear and powerful.

The last sections of the book deal with the concept of household baptism followed by a summary of the argument for infant baptism.  In these chapters, indeed the whole book, Booth interacts with the ideas of baptistic theologians like Jewett, Kingdon and Strong.  Booth answered all of the objections to infant baptism I had.  This book, published by P & R, can help those who struggle with this issue.

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With a slight let up in work, I can get to work on the new box of books that just arrived from the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore.  Here’s what I got:

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Keith Mathison and I have a fair amount of shared history.  We were at RTS Orlando together.  We spent lots of time talking books and theology together while we worked in the bookstore.  We worked together at Ligonier Ministries for a few years too, at one point sharing an office (sorry Keith).  He remains at Ligonier, and continues to write in his spare time.

While we were in seminary, he worked on his first book, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which is the fruit of his journey from dispensationalism to covenant theology.  I was one of the people who gave him some feedback on the early drafts.  Some smarter and well-respected people looked at it too.

His book Given for You,  on the Lord’s Table is a very good study of Calvin’s view and its development within Reformed Theology.  I own, but have failed to read Post-Millennialism: an Eschatology of Hope.  It is one of the areas in which we disagree, but I should get to it eventually.

His latest book, From Age to Age: the Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology looks to be very interesting.  And probably more accessible than Vos’ Pauline Eschatology.  Just a hunch. Keith most likely put together another well-researched, meaningful book.  I only have one question: where is my review copy?

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Polemical Theology, whether in written or verbal form, can quickly descend into some ungodly places.  Name calling, anger and refusing to listen to what another actually says are evidence of a lack of love.

Another form of “unfair” dispute is the use of the straw man argument.  Here is a good, quick definition:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

You can tell that Dr. Roger Nicole & J.I. Packer are such good friends.  At times their counsel is so similar.  How to engage in theological debate is one such area.  Dr. Nicole told us to read our opponents, not only second hand sources, so we might truly understand their arguments.

Dr. Packer inserts this wonderful little sentence in the midst of Keep In Step With the Spirit:

“But all positions should be judged by their best exponents.”

He applies this to the various proponents of the views of sanctification.  It is unfair to argue against something by using either a straw man (which doesn’t exist) or its worst example.  You may win the argument, but you defeated a foe that either didn’t exist or rarely exists.  It would be like beating the Bad News Bears, yet claiming to be MLB World Series champions.

I see these arguments regularly in books by authors who should know better.  Sometimes these arguments are used by men who place themselves in the bounds of either Reformed Theology or Calvinistic soteriology (they embrace the 5 points but not a covenantal view of Scripture or other distinctives of Reformed theology).

For instance, one book I read argued against contemporary worship songs.  It did this on the basis of the worst examples of contemporary worship songs.  It brought up the most pathetic, insipid, meaningless songs as if they were representative of contemporary worship songs.  This author may have convinced many people he was right, but he never dealt with the real deal.  Missing were interaction with the contemporary hymns of Townend and Getty, the songs of Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin or any other songs that seek to communicate biblical theology (Sovereign Grace or Indelible Grace would be other examples).

Another highly respected author attacked the charismatic movement on the basis of its worst excesses.  There was no interaction with sane, thoughtful charismatics who share his Calvinistic views like John Piper, Wayne Grudem or C.J. Mahaney.  All were lumped in the same heretical basket, ready to be tossed out &  burned up.

We who understand the doctrines of grace should be more humble & loving in our disputation.  We should argument against real people holding real positions.  And the best representatives of that position- not the Single A or college team.

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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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This week’s text in Galatians focuses on adoption, God’s adoption of sinners as His sons as a result of Jesus’ work of redemption for us.  J.I. Packer comments that you can’t really understand Christianity unless you understand adoption.  John Calvin says you aren’t really a Christian unless, by the work of the Spirit, you call God your Father.

There are not many books on this topic.  It is a much neglected topic- but there are a few great books just the same.

Great Books I’ve Read:

Children of the Living God: Delighting in the Father’s Love by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is not a big book, but it is a great book.  Ferguson does what Ferguson does best, put the cookies on the shelf so lesser beings can enjoy them.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Adopted by God: From Wayward Sinners to Cherished Children by Robert Peterson.  It comes recommended by Packer, Ferguson, and Steve Brown among others.  It is a very good book.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer.  Though not on the topic of adoption, there is a great chapter on the topic.  This is one of the great books which influenced me as a young Christian.  That chapter is just one of the reasons.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray.  He includes a chapter on adoption as one aspect of the application of our redemption.

Books I’d Like to Read:

Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor by Trevor Burke.  Part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, this is a more academic look at this topic (which exceeds use by Paul).

Heirs with Christ: Puritans on Adoption by Joel Beeke.  That should be an interesting read.

John Calvin and the Good News of Adoption by Timothy Trumper.  It is 2 CDs with lectures by Trumper.  Interesting…

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Yes, John Piper has another new book out (I’m already behind).  It is called Finally Alive, and it explores the biblical doctrine of regeneration, being born again.  This is a much needed book since there is so much misunderstanding about what it means, and how it radically affects our lives.

You can look at sample pages.

Not sure about that cover.  Yeah, I know it is about the leaves blowing as a sign of the wind, and regeneration a sign of the Spirit’s work in our lives.  Still … unless you’re already biblically literate it’s lost on you.

Here is some more info from WTS Books:

“I cannot too strongly celebrate the publication of this book.” – D. A. Carson

Publisher’s Description: When Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘You must be born again’, the devout and learned religious leader was unsure what Jesus meant. It would seem nothing has changed. Today ‘born again Christians’ fill churches that are seen as ineffectual at best, and even characterised by the ‘mosaic’ generation as ‘unchristian’.

The term ‘born again’ has been devalued both in society and in the church. Those claiming to be ‘born again’ live lives that are indistinguishable from those who don’t; they sin the same, embrace injustice the same, covert the same, do almost everything the same.

Being ‘born again’ is now defined by what people say they believe. The New Testament however defines Christians very differently.

“When Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7), he was not sharing interesting and unimportant information. He was leading him to eternal life… If he does that for you (or if he already has), then you are (or you will be) truly, invincibly, finally alive.” (John Piper)

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