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A while back our Session was asked to consider whether or not we should say “he descended into hell” when we used the Apostles’ Creed as our confession of faith. This is the result of my work on the subject.

The Apostles’ Creed has been used as a confession of faith in the Western Church for approximately 1,500 years. It is a brief statement of orthodox Christian doctrine. There is one phrase, however, that many people stumble over. Unlike the rest of the Creed, it is not clear and open to a variety of interpretations. Some of those interpretations are theologically acceptable, but may not fit the context. Other interpretations are not acceptable. This leads some to a crisis of conscience when it comes to reciting the Apostles’ Creed.

 

The History of the Creed

In the early church, many churches developed brief symbols or rules of faith to be used in baptismal services. Catechumens would be instructed in the meaning of the faith through the symbol and recite it prior to their baptism. These symbols were necessitated by some false doctrines that had arisen, particularly Gnosticism.

Tradition, according to Rufinius, held that the Apostles’ Creed was put together by the Apostles before they left Jerusalem. They were alleged to have composed one stanza each. There is no evidence for this tradition. We do see that Irenaeus and Tertullian were familiar with rules of faith that greatly resemble the Apostles’ Creed. There was probably some “cross-pollination” between congregations as people traveled throughout the Empire.

Interestingly, the canons of Nicea established the Nicene Creed as the only creed to be used. In the Eastern Church, local symbols were replaced by the Nicene Creed.[1] The Western Church maintained local symbols. These Western forms were shorter and more simple. Schaff notes that they had less variety. He asserts that they were all merged into the Roman Symbol which became the rule of faith for the Western, or Latin, Church.[2] Historian Roland Bainton argues that as the emperors got involved they had wanted to unify or standardize the rules of faith. The local symbols began to be standardized in a cultural give and take.[3]

The first version that includes the phrase “descended into hell” (descensus ad inferos) is found in Aquileia, according to Rufinius in his commentary on the Creed dated in 404. Schaff thinks the church had believed this long before it found its way into the Creed.[4] We are not sure how it ended up there. Some, like Francis Turretin, believe that the phrase was taken from the Athanasian Creed.[5] The problem is that it is highly unlikely that Athanasius, a key figure in the Council of Nicea, wrote the creed that bears his name. The Athanansian Creed has a more developed Christology than that of Nicea and is estimated to be a product of the 7th century.[6] Therefore, it is more likely that its presence in the Apostles’ Creed influenced its inclusion in the Athanasian Creed.

Between the writing of Rufinius’ commentary and the Athanasian Creed, this phrase had spread to be found in the “final” version of the Apostles’ Creed.

 

The History of Interpretation

Unlike most of the Apostles’ Creed, this phrase has suffered from a variety of interpretations. While the Eastern Church did not use the Creed, they were familiar with the phrase. Herman Witsius says that Eastern Churches understood it to mean Christ’s burial. Herman Witsius quotes Vossius in this regard.[7] This would be redundant at best.

The most common understanding of the phrase in the West is that it refers to Jesus’ descent to the dead (infernos) based upon a common (mis)interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18 which has Jesus going to limbo to free the OT saints and bring them to heaven. Limbo is like a holding cell, not necessarily a place of punishment like hell or purgatory. They, unlike the unrighteous, would simply be awaiting release by the Messiah.[8]

Later versions would change the Latin to descensus ad inferna, descent into hell. This fits with another (mis)interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18. This view holds that Jesus descended to the unrighteous dead in hell to declare His triumph to them. We are unsure of why this would take place.

Both of these views would have this descent take place on the three days in which Jesus was in the grave. This aspect is asserted in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, Article 5.[9] They are inconsistent with the best understanding of Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross- “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

MCC-31320 Portret van Johannes Calvijn (1509-1564)-uitsnede.jpgThese interpretations are also common among Lutheran and Anglican theologians. However the most common Protestant interpretation follows John Calvin and is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism (#44). It serves as a summary statement for the sufferings of Christ in that He endured the curse and wrath of God on the Cross. Therefore, His descent is figurative or spiritual in nature. His death is not an ordinary death, but to bear our sin. Calvin expresses it this way:

 

“If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No- it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death.”[10]

 

The Heidelberg Catechism expresses it in this way:

  1. Q. Why is there added: He descended into hell?
  2. In my greatest sorrows and temptations I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.

The Westminster Larger Catechism takes a different approach to the infamous phrase.

 

Q 50. Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?

  1. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.

 

This is a similar enough interpretation to the earliest understanding of the phrase in question. It is not simply being buried, but that for three days Jesus continued in the state of death and was under the power of death for us and our salvation.

 

Options for Moving Forward

The best interpretation of the phrase in question is that put forward by John Calvin and the Heidelberg Catechism. But this was not the original interpretation. If we confess this phrase with this interpretation in mind, we are not confessing it with much of the Church over time. Or as originally understood.

  1. We could remove the phrase from the Creed when we recite it. This would “restore” the Apostles’ Creed to its original versions.
  2. We could no longer say the Apostles’ Creed but default to other creeds like the Nicene Creed or the Rule of Irenaeus. This is the recommendation of William Cunningham.[11]
  3. Continue to recite the Apostles’ Creed as is and clarify it with a notation to affirm the interpretation of our confessional standards.
  4. Recognize that we are but one congregation and have no right to alter the Creed and send an overture to General Assembly to either amend the Creed for our congregations or provide necessary guidance via a study committee. While this process takes place, we could apply one of options 1-3.

 

We decided to merely footnote that portion of the Creed to express the interpretation found in the Westminster Larger Catechism. At some point we may choose to present an overture to our presbytery, but right now there are more pressing concerns for us as a congregation.

 

[1] Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, pp. 530.

[2] Schaff, History, pp. 530.

[3] Bainton, Roland. Christianity. Pp. 150.

[4] Schaff, History, pp 601.

[5] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 362.

[6] Witsius, Herman. Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed in Two Volumes, Vol. 2, pp. 140.

[7] Witsius, pp. 140-141.

[8] Cunningham, William. Historical Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 92.

[9] Turretin, Vol. 1, pp. 357.

[10] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, book II, XVI, 9.

[11] Cunningham, Vol. 1, pp. 93.

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Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace By Mark Jones cover imagePaul speaks of faith, hope and love as the great triad of Christian living. The Christian life is a continual exercise of faith hope and love. Mark Jones wrote a book about them called Faith. Hope. Love. The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace.

He didn’t simply write a book but also a catechism. That’s pretty bold. The book is laid out according to this catechism of 58 questions. Each of the 57 chapters and the appendix is 3-5 pages long and explores the catechism question and answer in view.

The book is broken up into three sections covering each of the three virtues. These are of uneven length. Hope is the shortest section and love is the longest by far.

His preface begins with a quote by Augustine:

“Thus it is that love is not without hope, hope is not without love, and neither hope nor love are without faith.”

The preface is a brief history of how this triad of virtues has been handled by theologians. He indicates that this volume is geared toward laypeople. He also explains why he utilizes the method of catechism.

The first section, faith, is the one that the layperson will likely have the most difficult time. It is the most technical discussion, laden with distinctions. That doesn’t mean it is overly technical, in my opinion.

He begins with the question “what is the worst sin?” which brings us back to the Garden of Eden. They doubted God’s words to them, doubted God’s goodness and sought to become like God. Since then the foundational sin is unbelief.

“Unbelief remains at the heart of our sin and our love for sin.”

As he moves into the discussion of saving faith it gets more technical. Jones himself is grounded by the Westminster Confession of Faith. Saving faith is not merely assent, as some disciples of Gordon Clark want to assert. The power of our faith is not in the strength of our faith but the One we receive and rest in by believing. Saving faith produces obedience, but we are not saved by said obedience.

Jones dives into faith as a gift of God. God ordinarily gives us faith through the ministry of the Word. We truly believe, but are enabled to believe by God’s effectual call. He addresses whether we are saved by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith alone or simply by faith in Christ. He moves on to the enduring power of our justification. God’s judicial declaration in justification is unchanging, being grounded on Christ’s perfect obedience, and preserved by Christ’s on-going intercession for us. The next controversy concerning faith is neo-nomianism. Faith receives Christ’s righteousness, it is not itself righteousness.

“Faith exists as the antithesis of anxiety, fear, and doubt. Yet Christians still experience this trio of life struggles. Such difficulties do not nullify their faith but do highlight the weakness of it.”

Our faith is weak, and God strengthens it by the Spirit through the means of the Word, sacraments and prayer. Satan, on the other hand, is at work so we may forsake faith.

So we see that the section on faith takes us in a number of directions. These should prove helpful.

As Jones shifts to hope he necessarily begins with distinguishing biblical hope from what most people commonly mean by hope. I hope the Red Sox win the World Series each year, but that hope is often disappointed. Biblical hope is rooted in God’s promises. What we believe about God will affect our hope. As He notes, if our god is small, so shall be our hope. A great God produces great hope.

Jones looks at the connection between faith and hope. We must believe if we are to have hope. Faith, as he says, gives birth to hope.

“Simply put, faith believes, but hope waits patiently.”

He talks about the supreme object of our hope. Hope is about the return of Christ, our resurrection and all that comes with them.

He then takes us in an unexpected direction: the salvation of our children. He brings us the “you and your seed” passages that hold out covenant promises to us. Not guarantees, but they should prompt hope in us. Our children are raised among the means of grace though which God effectively calls us. This discussion moves into the salvation of infants dying in infancy. He avoids any thought of innocence, and the view of John MacArthur. God may be merciful and save all such children in Christ, but we should only hope for those whose parents are Christians because of the difference the covenant makes.

Love is what endures beyond the grave into eternal life. Love reflects God’s character. The Christian religion is rooted and grounded in love.

“Love is a virtue that seeks union, satisfaction, and goodwill.”

He defines love. It is an unusual definition but one that reflects the biblical data when we think about it. Love is made complete in union, as we see in marriage. It finds satisfaction in the beloved and wants the best for the beloved.

Jones brings us to the law, which we should understand as a law of love. The law is what love looks like. It is rooted in God’s love and righteousness. Love for God is expressed by obedience to the law. Love toward our neighbor is expressed in accordance with God’s law. It includes material from the Westminster Larger Catechism. It is a challenging section.

“Christianity is, of course, a heart religion- a religion of love.”

One interesting and potentially controversial view concerns the Sermon on the Mount. I happen to agree with Jones, and have been frustrated by the focus on justification by most. Yes, we need the imputed righteousness of Christ. But when Jesus speaks of our righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees, Jones discusses the lack of righteousness by the Pharisees because they did not act in faith and love. Jesus’ focus seems to be on the imparted or infused righteous that comes to us in sanctification. The gospel is about sanctification too, not simply justification. The whole Christ to whom we are united brings to us the double grace of justification and sanctification. We receive both imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness in our union with Christ.

This book is better than the cover art may indicate. It looks like it could be a spine, I’m not really sure. But the book itself is quite good. It is informative, encouraging and challenging.

He provides information which is important for disciples to know. This is not a sentimental, feel-good book. He brings truth to bear, as as mentioned provides plenty of proper distinctions to help us follow Jesus.

He encourages us with the truth as well. He wants us to find satisfaction in Christ as we mature in Christ.

It is challenging because it calls me to change. Faith expresses itself in love and we quickly see how little we love.

I see this as a helpful tool for discipleship. I am thinking about using it for personal ministry. I might try to adapt this for a SS class as a means to help our congregation grow in faith, hope and love. All three are rooted in Christ and necessary parts of our salvation.

 

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What Is Evangelism? (Basics of the Faith)P&R is one of the usual sponsors for the PCA GA (enough initials for you?). As a result, one of the freebies we all got was a booklet from their Basics of the Faith series. I’m assuming a variety of booklets were dispersed among PCA pastors. The one I got, in God’s providence which sometimes seems utterly random to us, is What is Evangelism? by George W. Robertson.

I’ve picked up a number of these for the congregation. One of the complaints I’ve heard is that we don’t do a great job explaining the faith to new Christians or the Reformed heritage to people new to it. So, these little booklets help us to provide easy to read and understand materials for young Christians to develop a basic understanding and vocabulary.

Obviously this is basic material. You can’t provide an exhaustive look at a topic like evangelism in 32 pages. That doesn’t mean you can’t say something meaningful. Robertson does.

He begins with the three P’s of Proclamation, Persuasion, Prayer. We have the good news of Jesus to proclaim, and if we find it to be good news we want to proclaim it. Robertson admits that most people who ask him about evangelism aren’t generally satisfied with the 3 P’s. We should make the simple message known, persuade people to believe it, and pray for them to believe it.

“Christians have a responsibility not only to tell unbelievers that the Lord has done great things for them, but also, like these pilgrims, to encourage one another with the same gospel.”

He moves us to something every Christian should have, a testimony of grace. We don’t need to be great story tellers, but we have a story that reflects the Big Story found in Scripture. We were once lost and we’ve been found by the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us, took it up again in the resurrection and came looking for us. He briefly explores Psalm 126 as an example. Our testimony can be boiled down to 3 minutes or expanded to 3 hours if the circumstances dictate it. If we aren’t moved by their condition, we won’t share this testimony (and we should pray that we become so moved).

He notes that the testimony isn’t the whole enchilada. There should be an invitation to come to the Savior. Robertson notes passages like Luke 14:15-24. As he talks about the excuses people use, he focuses on people and possessions. Okay, relationships. Those relationships and possessions seem too important to neglect or forsake to find out about or come to Jesus. It was the people without relationships and possessions to distract that came to the party: the disenfranchised.

If we recognize that people have excuses, we are able to remember that even if we do it all perfectly, they’ll still have excuses. We have to rest in His sovereignty.

He encourages us to invite children in particular. He talks about conversion rates. For kids between 5 and 13, that rate is 32%. It drops precipitously to 4% during ages 14-18. It increases to 6% for adults. Get them while they are young is the idea. This is simply noting how God ordinary works. I’m one of those rare 20 year-olds to convert.

Most people come to faith and walk with Jesus through personal evangelism and the second most common is being invited to an ordinary worship service (not special outreaches). Simple churches are more effective evangelistically.

He talks about intentionality. To be intention, “one must willing to place limits on his or her rights to win some for Christ.” To Jews Paul seemed like a Jew, and to Gentiles like a Gentile. He didn’t compromise morally. This is a hard thing to do, limiting your freedom.

In a culture like ours we may found ourselves in uncomfortable places. The people we mingle with may cuss like sailors and tell off color jokes. He’s not saying you should too, just that you aren’t going “Language” as Captain America did to Stark in the Age of Ultron (creating a movie long gag). It may mean going to movies or concerts you’d probably not attend to spend time with people. Reaching others means identifying the man-made rules you don’t need to follow in order to do it. Jesus often broke the man-made traditions of the Pharisees.

“Evangelism can be dangerous both inside and outside the walls of the church.”

He then moves to compassionate evangelism. “Compassionate and practical acts of service open doors for the gospel.” This means that evangelism can take some interesting forms. We begin to live as salt and light. It can look like “social justice” as the church has been instrumental in adopting children/orphans, abolishing slavery, education reform, workers’ rights and more. Some people aren’t interested in the gospel as an opiate for the masses, but begin to take notice when they see the impact it makes on people.

“By virtue of the Spirit who works by and with the Scriptures, every Christian has within his or her worldview the answers human need.”

Evangelism is also intellectual. Defending the faith from challenges by culture can challenge our minds at times. We begin by understanding the other person’s context. Robertson is thinking of both worldview issues and practical issues (financial, educational, medical, legal etc.). Like Paul we can find the point of contact with the gospel. Paul worked to understand the people he sought to win to faith. He also identified the point at which they were suppressing the truth. This is where he went to work. Then we call people to repentance.

“The Christian faith can withstand whatever question or attack is brought against it because the truth of the gospel empowered by the Spirit is able to penetrate, convert, and renew the will of any unbeliever.”

Robertson covers plenty of territory in only a little space. It is a good place for a new Christian to start to understand our calling to evangelize the lost.

 

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Sometimes the people you read champion a book that was influential on them. You make note of the book. You buy it and eventually you read it.

Because of R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer and John Piper I began to read the Puritans. Due to Tim Keller I began to read John Newton. Newton has been very helpful for me.

Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching GraceBecause of Keller, and some others, I picked up Harvie Conn’s Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. It was foundational for them in advocating for what I think is a healthy balance of seeing justice as an implication of the gospel. Transformed people will want to see their world transformed. As we grow in personal righteousness (sanctification) we will act justly and seek to love our neighbors. I seemed like I needed to read this little book when I found it in the internet “discount bin”.

Were my expectations too high? Would it exceed my expectations?

One important thing about when I read a book is how much red ink I use. That could mean either a great book with lots of “money quotes” or big ideas I want to keep track of. Lots of ink could also mean it is a book I take great exception to, as the writing in the margins argues against the authors point.

I didn’t use much ink in this book before I gave up in the midst of his chapter on prayer. It was meh to me. I was underwhelmed and found it too bound to its time.

In his preface he notes that it is not a “how-to” book. “Rather, this is an effort to look at the relation between evangelism and social questions as two sides of the same coin.” He uses the terms holistic evangelism and Lordship evangelism to describe this balance and interdependence. It was written as the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelism was doing its work.

Time can prove that many of our fears and expectations are unfounded. History takes unexpected turns. He brought up the United Presbyterian Church’s steep decline in membership. If such trends continued, he anticipated one priest (?) for each communing member by 2000. Well, they were part of the formation of the PC (USA), which while continuing to bleed churches and members still has a fair amount of money and more members than pastors.

He does address the need for contextualization, “how to communicate the relevance of the gospel.” He faults, to a degree, the seminaries’ focus that has seemingly resulted in homogeneous churches instead. We forgot to be all things to all men while presenting the one message in a way those people can get. The doctrine of accommodation should teach us that we must shape our message to the people who are listening.

In his day (and more so ours) there is a skepticism to our message and the stories of those who bear it. Conn notes that Corrie Ten Boom is seen as a “woman with high ideals who showed remarkable resiliency under pressure” rather than recognizing the triumph of grace in her life. You see the times in the skeptical views of reports of the conversions of Charles Colson, Larry Flynt and Eldridge Cleaver. Clearly the 2nd proved false. I chose not to bring up his false conversion in a sermon, thinking it was a bit too edgy. Conn mentions plenty of such things in this book.

IHardcore Postern the context of accommodation and the message he refers to the movie Hard Core about the daughter of a pastor whose daughter leaves home and enters the porn industry. Oddly, I’d recently heard an interview with the writer & director, Paul Schrader, who also worked on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, 1st Reformed, American Gigolo, and Mosquito Coast. He grew up on the Reformed Faith and sees himself as a preacher, but not of faith though the “failures” of faith often show up in his movies. We speak into this skepticism, failure and scandal, whether we realize it or not. If we do, we can speak to it as well.

In the second chapter he moves to what we are calling people to: incorporation, humanization, celebration and justice. Our words should also be backed up with actions. We speak of love, and should show love.

“Evangelism must become gospel show-and-tell, showing mercy and preaching grace.”

This can be difficult for smaller churches, like the one I pastor. I agree there is an evangelistic aspect to diaconal ministry. But our first priority is to our members. With limited resources to help the household of God, the evangelistic bent to diaconal ministry gets lost.

10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5

He then moves into justice; setting things right as part of evangelism. “The doing of justice becomes the distinguishing mark of the people of God before the world.” Instead, we seem to either be afraid of doing justice lest we become social justice warriors, or go so far as to justify the injustice. Yes, there is a real threat to devolve in to a social gospel, which is not gospel at all.

As I think about things, I struggle with the whole concept of the culture war. Doing justice isn’t about embracing or resisting worldly agendas. We shouldn’t be either SJWs or oppressors/defenders. Our marching orders are from the Scriptures, not culture. We should be walking a tightrope instead of moving toward the extremes which tends to demonize people who commit one sin while excusing others. We need to hear the call to “love mercy and act justly” instead of thinking they are opposed to one another.

One way he puts this is in talking about publicans. Among the people we meet are those who sin and those who are sinned against. Actually, every person we meet is both a sinner and someone who has been sinned against. We should address both sides of that coin.

“A gospel that does not address people as sinned-against pose a lot of problems for the publican, the sinned-against. Either he rejects the gospel or sees it as an opiate.”

The prostitute is not simply a sinner, though we want to reduce her to that. She likely has been sinned against as a child. She is likely being oppressed in the present, a slave to a pimp, as well. (The same is true for male prostitutes though we don’t speak of them often).

We can’t turn a blind eye to past and present oppression of the black community in America. The gospel is often seen as a way to placate them and keep them in submission instead of offering freedom and hope. Doing justice opens the door for the message.

He then discusses a two-dimensional spirituality. We are to obey both the cultural and evangelistic mandates. We are not to pick and choose between them. Love for neighbor means not only proclaiming the gospel but also doing no wrong to our neighbor by our actions (or inaction). Into this he returns to the Lausanne Covenant. It speaks of “sacrificial service evangelism”.

He doesn’t want us to pick one, but to see them as “two stages in God’s covenant relationship with man.” Having failed in the cultural mandate, we now have the added evangelistic mandate. Continuing to fail in terms of the cultural mandate means that those fallen social, economic and political structures hinder evangelism.

At times, this chapter is less than clear. He uses terms without always defining them. Snooze at any point and you get lost. But here are a few parts I underlined:

“This kind of spirituality does not equip us for evangelism by taking us out of the world. It puts a new world into us, the world of the spiritual, that new lifestyle caused by the Holy Spirit, centered in the Holy Spirit, and possessed by the Holy Spirit.”

“Living in the Spirit is not an evangelistic escape from history, but a participation in the new reality of history brought by the redemptive work of Christ and the applying work of the Holy Spirit.”

I’d been trying to read this book alone with my sermon series on Mark. It seemed to fit the idea of following Jesus in terms of what it looks like to submit to the authority of Jesus. We act justly and preach grace. But this short book always seemed to get lost in the shuffle, and was far more theoretical than practical.

And so I started to read the chapter on prayer and gave up. His writing style was less then helpful to me. Perhaps I’m too dull to get it, but I lost my patience for the book. It was time to move on for me. There are other books crying for my attention, and it is time to heed those calls.

I was disappointed. Perhaps it is this particular juncture in my life and ministry. Perhaps it was just bad timing. I don’t want to write off the book as utterly unhelpful, but it was not as helpful as I’d hoped. Conn’s approach seems meandering at times, lacking focus. At least I coudn’t always tell where he was going, and the process of getting there was roundabout-ish.

There is it. Hopefully you get a few good thoughts to move you forward in thinking about justice and grace in the work of the church. Biblically, they are not opposed though we often move toward extremes of either the social gospel or spirituality of the church. This is a conversation worth having as we see the rise of the social justice warriors and their mirror reflection in conservative culture warriors. Jesus, I think, would distance Himself from both.

 

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With the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dordt, there have been a number of books about this important 17th century document of the Dutch Reformed Church (though there were a few members from other nations present).

Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God Kevin DeYoung cover imageAt the recent RTS alumni and friends lunch at General Assembly, I was given a free copy of Kevin DeYoung’s book Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400 Year-old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God. This was fortuitous since I had considered buying a copy but didn’t get around to it. I actually cut back on my book buying for the first part of this year. I didn’t just get free books at General Assembly, but did actually buy some.

Over the last two afternoons in upstate NY, I read the book. This means that it is not a very big book, and it was very interesting. At least to me.

Since I am a Presbyterian as opposed to Continental Reformed, I’m much more familiar with the Westminster Standards than the Canons of Dordt. I’ve referred to it at points but haven’t spent much time studying it. I thought this was a great opportunity to begin wading into this important document.

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Day 1 view

DeYoung’s book is an excellent place to start. He is succinct in his approach so it is quite accessible to lay people but interesting to pastors. DeYoung is generally not overly-wordy. I would rather be left wanting a bit more than finding a book tedious (I have to remember this as I edit my own manuscript). As I noted above, it does not require a huge time investment. Over the course of those afternoons I enjoyed two cigars, so it will take about 3 hours.

The book has 4 chapters and 4 appendices. The text of the articles of the Canons of Dordt are in the text of the 4 chapters. He lays out a few articles and then comments on them, majoring on the majors. The appendices include the Rejection of the Errors By Which the Dutch Churches Have for Some Time Been Disturbed, which summarizes the errors they believe the Remonstrance (Arminians) had fallen into; the Rejection of False Accusations; the Opinions of the Remonstrance given in response to the initial presentation of the Articles; and the Scripture Proofs of the Canons of Dordt (DeYoung uses the alternate spelling of Dort throughout the book, but I’m used to Dordt and will use it with apologies to Kevin). He makes these original sources readily available for ease of use and to provide a proper context. He states a few times that you can’t always understand what they are arguing against apart from the Rejections and the Opinions. We can sometimes misinterpret them. One example is the use of “common grace” which in this context refers to the “light of nature”.

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Day 2

His introduction is called In Praise of Precision. He refers to the common notion that all opinions are equal. Due to changes in culture including the internet, we can think we know more than those who have studied a subject for years or decades. We often prefer passion over precision. Theological debate should not simply generate heat, but also light (all thanks to Jonathan Edwards). The shedding of theological light requires precision. I have been frustrated in recent debates in our denomination over the lack of precision. I should have asked more people for clarification when I thought precision was lacking.

Often we refer to the acronym TULIP as shorthand for Reformed Theology. While we embrace TULIP, Reformed Theology is more expansive than these views on salvation. The Canons of Dordt are therefore more precise than an often misunderstood acronym.

He very briefly outlines the history of the debate in the universities, churches and nation. It was more than a theological argument, but not less than one. Other forces were at work as well. The liberation of the Netherlands from Spain is in the background. Some saw the Remonstrance as favorable toward a friendly relationship with Spain (many of the merchants concerned about trade). The political class, clergy and lower classes tended to be critical of the Remonstrance as a result. This doesn’t mean there weren’t real and important theological issues at play, but just some non-theological reasons people may have had to embrace or reject theological positions. We are not always logical or driven by truth.

Arminius was a “Calvinist” and studied under Theodore Beza who was asked to refute the divergent theology of Dirk Volkertszoon Coornhert. He ended up embracing his theology and was so popular in articulating them that these views were named after him instead (Arminianism is easier to say than Coornhertism).

After he became a professor at the University of Leiden, his colleague Gomarus opposed his views. While both espoused a doctrine of predestination, they differed greatly in what they meant by it. After Arminius’ death, a number of his followers met in Gouda and produced a document called the Remonstrance, outlining their protest against the official doctrine of the Reformed Church. This was in 1610, and they expressed these in the Five Arminian Articles. The distinctions were often vague, but would become more clear as time went on.

After some political controversy, a national synod was called by Prince Maurice. Some might think the government should not be involved but this was a state church and they had a vested interest in the debate being resolved. As noted above, not all the members were Dutch. 26 were from Britain, Switzerland and Germany. The synod met in 1618 and 1619. This means that the controversy was nearly 20 years old- far longer than many of the tempests in teapots that I’ve seen in the last 30 years of ministry.

The Arminians were given an opportunity to respond to “first drafts”. The canons were adopted on April 22, 1619. They responded to the 5 points of Arminianism, with 5 points of their own (subsequently expressed in TULIP by English speaking people).

The first chapter concerns the first main point of doctrine, God’s Purpose and Good Pleasure in Predestination. The heart of the controversy revolves around the question of whether God chose the elect so they would believe or because they believed (foreseen faith). The Reformed held to the former, and the Arminians the latter. The Reformed began with the reality of original sin. Our fallen condition required God’s election of some to salvation, the sending of the Son to live, die and be raised for sinners, and the sending of messengers with the gospel message.

Contrary to many accusations I have heard, the Canons are clear that we are chosen in Christ, our redemption is through Christ and we trust in Christ. This is a Christ-centered document for a Christ-centered theology.

They also upheld a single decree of election, while the Arminians held to two. For Arminians, the first is unconditional, that God wills the salvation of all sinners. The second is conditional, that only those who believe receive that salvation. We see the beginnings of neo-nomianism in Arminianism. Not only did they have a different view of predestination, but a different view of justification. They held that faith is righteousness rather than the righteousness of Christ is imputed to those who believe.

DeYoung also quickly discusses the issue of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. The Canons assume an infralapsarian position, that God elects to save sinners from destruction. It is not election apart from our sinful condition. People aren’t condemned because they are “reprobate” but because they are sinners who have sinned and refused to believe in Christ (another sin).

In many places DeYoung notes the pastoral concerns raised in the Canons. They sought to help struggling Christians. This is not intended to be dry theology, but also to meet pastoral needs. This is a good example for denominational study committees. This was one of my complaints about the Nashville Statement. As one of my preaching professors would say, “Where’s the gospel?”. Part of this is the articles regarding how to properly teach and respond to these doctrines. Another aspect was the salvation of the infants of believers. The Arminian opinions connect that to the age of reason, such that children are innocent. The Canons connect it to the gracious covenant and promises of God. This is because people are fallen, even infants.

The second chapter moves to the 2nd point of doctrine, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. This is the doctrine of limited or particular or definite atonement. Commonly this is conceived of as the extent of the atonement. It is that, and the nature of the atonement. DeYoung notes that the emphasis in the Canons of Dordt is “about how God’s justice can be satisfied.” Scripture connects the cross with both God’s love and justice. If we are sinners, and we are, justice must be satisfied.

His atonement is of infinite value. It could sufficiently atone for the sins of the whole world. But Dordt argues that this was not God’s eternal intention. They did not believe a universal atonement  was necessary for universal gospel proclamation. To understand Dordt’s position, he backs up to explain the Arminian position. The Arminian view is rooted in God’s “will of intent” to save all, and neo-nomianism. They hold that Jesus made people saveable. The Reformed view is that Jesus actually saved people. God’s will, not man’s, is what makes the atonement efficient or efficacious.

DeYoung then moves in to a (too) brief discussion of the meaning of “world”. It can mean “the world as the sum total of all created things”, “the dwelling place of man, earth” and “fallen creation in subjection to the evil one.” Jesus died for all kinds of people, not every single person.

“Most often, world refer to badness instead of bigness, and when it refers to bigness, world means everyone without distinction, not everyone without exception.”

These distinctions were taken seriously. Gomarus challenged another delegate to a duel for expressing a divergent view. That would make presbytery meetings a little too interesting.

Also entering his discussion was Davenport’s “hypothetical  or conditional universalism”, an attempt to find an acceptable middle ground between Lutheranism and Anglicanism. The particular atonement of Dordt is meant to magnify Christ as the Savior of sinners.

DeYoung addresses the 3rd and 4th points of doctrine in his 3rd chapter, Human Corruption, Divine Conversion. The reality of our corruption necessitates divine conversion. They reject any Pelagian notions of imitation. We inherit corruption from our first parents. We have “an inherited guilt and an inherited depravity.”  We need more than a little help and assistance. We need God to convert us.

Dordt distinguishes between the general earnest call of the gospel, and a saving effectual call. The preaching of the gospel is not restricted, but it is not effective apart from the sovereign, irresistible, call by the Spirit. This despite the frequent drumbeat of human responsibility by Dordt. We are to blame for rejecting the gospel. The Spirit does more than persuade us. Regeneration precedes and produces faith rather than following faith. Arminian loses sight of this because they lose sight of the distinction between union and communion. They lean on the passages speaking of communion to “prove” faith precedes regeneration as a result.

The last point of doctrine is found in the 4th chapter which covers the perseverance of the saints. It affirms that the saints struggle with sin in this life. They can fall into serious sin, being “carried away by the flesh, the world and Satan.” We are in need of God’s help to stand firm in the faith.

“The doctrine of perseverance does not negate repentance; it leads to repentance.”

DeYoung and Dordt goes into the doctrine of assurance. We can truly be saved but not be assured of our salvation because while we are positionally holy (having Christ’s righteousness) we are not personally holy yet. A holy life helps assurance. Some of the means for salvation and assurance are Word and sacraments.

“We need a God who does the unconditional electing, a God who does the effectual dying, a God who does the supernatural resurrecting, a God who does the unilateral gifting, and a God who does the unbreakable preserving.”

DeYoung has produced a great little and helpful book. It is worth the investment of time to understand the controversy and how the Reformed Church responded to it. It is well-worth reading.

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A Christian's Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible (Pocket Guides)Another free book I got at the RTS Alumni and Friends lunch was How We Got the Bible: Old and New Testament Canon and Text by Greg Lanier. It is part of the Christian’s Pocket Guide series by Christian Focus books.

As the title indicates this is a brief introductory study into understanding why the books in the Bible are in the Bible and whether we have an accurate text. Modern scholarship and the media have been busy to undermine our confidence in the Scriptures, and Islam has also been at work to distort people’s view of the Scriptures.

Lanier briefly summarizes the need for this information. He addresses these questions in 6 chapters, though the last is just a few pages as he offers concluding thoughts. He wanted to provide a brief, non-academic book so lay people can have answers they need when challenges to the canon or the texts arise, and they do.

Canon has to do with which books belong, and don’t belong in the Bible. Textual criticism has to do with understanding which texts are the best, or most accurately reflect the original manuscripts.

He begins with understanding the Bible as a Divine Deposit. There have been books that have been discovered that some argue should be in the Bible. Novelists like Dan Brown have had popular stories that argue that the Church has conspired to keep these books out of the Bible. How can we know that these “lost books of the Bible” aren’t really part of the Bible?

Muslims often argue that the Church has changed the Bible since the rise of Islam since they think Muhammad is one of God’s prophets. They want their understanding of the Bible to supplant historic Christianity’s understanding of the Bible.

He defines Scripture as:

“the inspired deposit of writings received as divinely authoritative for the covenant community.”

This is an important definition. We believe they are writings that have been inspired or breathed by God. They were received by the covenant community. This is a distinctively Protestant view. We do not think the Church formed the canon, but rather received it. Scripture is also a covenant document intended for God’s people to know who He is, who we are with respect to Him, what He does for us and also what He requires of us. The first chapter unpacks these ideas in a succinct and clear fashion. It provides the foundation for the next 4 chapters in which he addresses the canon and then text of the Old and then New Testaments or covenants.

The question of the Old Testament canon identifies differences not only regarding “lost books” but differences between Protestants, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox with regard to the Apocrypha. Protestants recognize the Jewish canon, those books recognized by Jews as divinely inspired covenant documents. He explains the three-fold shape of the Old Testament: Law, Prophets and Writings. Law, or Torah, came first and relates the giving of the Old Covenant. The Prophets apply the covenant to the people in later times, and hold out the promise of the new covenant. These cite the Law as divinely inspired. Many of the prophets will also affirm the message of earlier prophets as divinely inspired, as well as often claiming such inspiration for themselves in prophetic formula. The writings contain sections also found in the Law and Prophets.

In terms of the Apocrypha there is little evidence that those books, or additional chapters were understood by Jewish communities as divinely inspired. In the early church there was little agreement about them. This means a few people may have included some of them but most did not. Augustine, for instance, affirmed all found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Church followed his lead. Jerome used them as helpful but did not admit them as authoritative. This view held in the Roman Church until the Council of Trent which declared they were part of Scripture.

The Protestant churches have followed Jerome in finding them (possibly) helpful but not authoritative for faith and life. Some, like Calvin, thought they could be helpful. Most Protestant Bibles don’t contain them, and they are not generally read by most Protestants.

Moving to the text themselves, Lanier discusses the kinds of manuscripts we have and how they compare with one another. Another factor is the translations of the Old Testament we have, which themselves are over 2,000 years old. Those would be Greek, Samaritan, Aramaic, Latin and others. As a result we have many manuscripts and fragments to compare and find the best to form the texts that serve as the basis for our modern translations. The God who inspired the Old Testament texts also preserved them sufficiently for us.

Lanier then moves on to the canon of the New Testament. Contrary to Dan Brown’s fictional assertions, there was no council to form the canon. The canon is those books that were used and recognized by the early church. In this he discusses the centrality of the gospel, or new covenant, eyewitnesses, oral and written records. Unlike the books we find in our Bibles, these “lost books” were not received and recognized by the early church. Those who affirmed them we recognized as heretics. There are some books that the early church did use, like the Didache, which they found helpful but never recognized as inspired and authoritative. We see this from how the church fathers write about them.

from NT Bad Arguments

We then move into the question of whether we have the right words. He brings up former Christian and current skeptic Bart Ehrman. He can’t thoroughly refute Ehrman’s arguments, but generally refutes them. He mentions the Muslim doctrine of tahrif al-nass which states that “Jews and Christians have intentionally corrupted the text. As a result the NT doesn’t mention Muhammad (let’s ignore that it was written 500+ years before Muhammad). The text that Muhammad affirmed in 600 is older than many of the manuscripts we have today. Their doctrine is an illogical red herring.

He begins with discussing where our English Bible comes from. This refers to the formation of the Greek texts used in the vast majority of translations. We return to the large number of manuscripts available to us that have been found in archeological digs and copies by scribes. The relative number of differences is small, and largely insignificant. He discusses scribal errors and corrections, as well as how the better copyists provided marginal notes which help us as well. We also have ancient Latin, Syriac and Coptic translations.

He does all of this efficiently. He doesn’t ignore issues or sweep them under the rug. He instead shows how we’ve worked to find the oldest and best manuscripts to get closest to the autographs using a variety of sources. Integrity is revealed in our footnotes where the most significant issues in our translations are there for all to see. Lanier handles the task well and understandably. You won’t be an expert after reading this, but you’ll have a good idea of how to address many of the most significant objections raised.

I will close with his closing thoughts.

  1. We should be clear on what Scripture is in the first place.
  2. We should have confidence that we do have the ‘right’ OT/NT books.
  3. We should have confidence that we have the ‘right’ words of the OT/NT.

“How did we get the Bible? The answer to this question driving this book is clear. ‘Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,’ and the written deposit has been transmitted in the covenant community with high integrity, by the providence of God, ever since. Through these Scriptures, we are all, now, witnesses of these things: Christ suffered and died and on the third day rose again, so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins may be proclaimed to all the nations.”

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It has been a difficult year or so, so a deacon left a book on my desk for “vacation reading”. It was The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral- And How It Changed the American West. This was a book I’ve seen in looking for other historical books on the American West. It looked interesting to me, and I had planned on buying it. It is also of local interest to me since we live about 90 miles from Tombstone.

Virgil Earp

The author, Jeff Guinn, begins the morning of the shootout in his prologue. The night before there had been a long poker game which included Virgil Earp, the police chief. During the night Ike Clanton had gotten into an altercation with Wyatt and Doc Holliday, threatening them. Virgil’s assessment at the time was that Ike needed to sleep off his drunken rage. Ike was known to be lots of talk and little action. Clanton was tied to the Cowboys, who rustled cattle in Mexico (among other places)and Clanton allowed them to fatten them up on his land.

“Much of history results from apparently unrelated dominoes tumbling over one another.”

Location of Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana Purchase

Guinn begins with his book explaining the West including the political and social climates at work. He begins with Daniel Boone and the quest for land in the West. American territory was expanded by the Louisiana Purchase, the freedom and statehood of Texas, and the Gadsden Purchase. The earliest settlers were mountain men or trappers, individuals wanting space and isolation. The first big wave of settlers was largely people looking for find land to farm since most of the land in the East was not available. Some wanted a new start, and even a new name because they were running from the law. Most of the early settlers were from the North and had a more Republican view of government. Prior to the Civil War, gold and other precious metals were discovered and a new wave of settlers, mostly men went west in search of a fortune. With the trains and statehood for Kansas came the Buffalo hunters.

After the Civil War, many from the South went west to escape the Yankees and their more restrictive government. With railroad towns in Kansas, herds of longhorn cattle began to be driven up north to supply meat to the east coast. Those town thrived on the business, selling booze, sex, gambling and food to the weary cowhands.

This population shift meant conflict at times as Democrats moved into territories run by Republicans. Most deaths in the westward movement were from disease (90%), particularly cholera. Fewer than 400 people were killed by Indian raids on wagon trains. Of course, if that was your wagon train it didn’t seem statistically insignificant. Unless they were married, women were frequently prostitutes hoping to find a partnership, which was difficult when you sell your body for a living. They often turned to drugs like morphine and laudanum.

The West was not an easy place to live. But we also see some similar political and social tensions today: trouble on the border with Mexico, differing political philosophies, drug and alcohol abuse, sex trafficking and some violence.

Most of the cowtowns prohibited guns in the city limits. This meant most fights were fistfights. The idea of the old West with gunfights breaking out is erroneous. Gun violence was mostly in the form of ambushes, not duels to discover the faster gun.

James (Sir not appearing in the films) Earp

Tombstone was mining town, as well as the territorial seat. That meant there were plenty of miners hoping to strike it rich who came and went. There were tunnels under the town. There were saloons with gambling to blow off steam or relax after time in austere conditions. There was also a Red Light district with prostitutes. The sheriff, John Behan at the time, collected taxes particularly from the saloons and bordellos. Wyatt hoped to run for sheriff which offered an excellent salary. Virgil kept the peace, and sometimes his 3 brothers (Wyatt, Morgan and James who ran a saloon) helped out.

Guinn then shifts to the Earp family, obviously with a focus on Wyatt. His grandfather Walter and father Nicholas passed down a heritage of restlessly seeking success and position. Most of the Earp brothers suffered from this malady. Wyatt often exaggerated his accomplishments and overlooked his failures. He was endlessly seeking fame and fortune, which typically eluded him.

After the death of his first wife, Wyatt was a bit wild. He was accused of crimes. While he fled jurisdiction, his alleged accomplices were found not guilty. He was known as a “bummer” in Illinois- generally a lawless person. He was connected with brothels and arrested and fined a few times.  We are uncertain whether he was a bouncer or a pimp. Eventually he was mostly straightened out, spending his time in Kansas in law enforcement, as a bounty hunter and a buffalo hunter for stretches.

Wyatt and his brothers were very mobile in search of wealth and position/power.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt met Doc in Fort Griffin Texas while trying to hunt down some railroad robbers. Doc had left his dentistry practice due to tuberculosis. Both men were not easy to get along with, and they weren’t immediately friends. Later, when Wyatt was back in Dodge, Doc showed up hoping to make money off the Texans who had herded cattle to Dodge. Wyatt had shot a Texan and a mob of undetermined followers sought to kill him. Doc came to help Wyatt out and their friendship was born. Wyatt was loyal to a fault, and this was true with Doc who came with lots of baggage. He seemed to have a death wish, never backing down from confrontation even though he was not a big or strong man.

Guinn shifted his attention, and ours, to the founding of Tombstone as a mining town. In the next chapter about the Earps’ arrival he has accounts of how filthy it was. The winds blew constantly, covering everything in dust. Sanitation was an issue, particularly in light of the animals. Rats infested the town. The population growth was rapid, but amenities began to pop up so people enjoyed good meals. With the trains now stopping in Tucson, many items were now available to be shipped in.

One of the dangers in the area was the Chiricahua Apache. They would make raids to get supplies. Most of those raids were into Mexico, but people lived in fear of what might happen. Since many people in Tombstone came from Texas there was a fear of Native Americans and prejudice against Mexicans.

Doc Holliday in Prescott AZ.jpgWhile Virgil caught on as a Deputy Marshal, Wyatt’s plans initially fell through. Eventually he became a Deputy Sheriff to bide his time until he could become sheriff and enjoy the money and position that came with it. Virgil was building relationships with the town’s powerful in his position. The Earp’s wives, especially those who were formerly prostitutes and generally common law wives, were not accepted by the city leaders and kept to themselves.

With the reformation of the Texas Rangers, many of the outlaws aka cowboys were pushed out of Texas. Many of them moved to New Mexico and Arizona to continue their generally lawless ways. They weren’t anti-social so much as anti-government and the wealthy. They focused on rustling cattle, primarily from Mexico, which they could sell to feed the growing populations of places like Tombstone and the growing military presence. Among those who arrived in Tombstone were Curly Bill and, separately, Johnny Ringo.

“As the frontier contracted and crimes such as rustling began attracting more notice, “cowboy” became a generic term to describe habitual thugs or lawbreakers.”

These men were not like the cow hands Wyatt was used to dealing with. Those men would head back to Texas shortly after the drive was over and once the money was spent. The cowboys remained in the area, and hard feelings would grow. Incidents with some of the ranchers who allied with them also fostered the bitterness that culminated in the famous gunfight.

“Wyatt understood cards much better than people. He was expert in calculating the odds in poker games, but had little comprehension of the infinite number of ways in which human beings try to get even.”

His problem was not just the cowboys, but also his rival for the position as the new sheriff of the newly formed Cochise County. The political tension between Republicans and Democrats had led to a voter fraud problem for the sheriff of Pima county. Wyatt had quit to take sides with the Republican. He even talked a jailed Curly Bill, who’d accidentally shot and killed the marshal, into admitting the fraud on account of the Democrat but the case got caught up in appeals. Behan was skilled in politics, but Wyatt was not. Behan played Wyatt and got the appointment. He displayed his savvy political nature by having Curly Bill help collect taxes instead of robbing his deputies.

“As far as the Earps were concerned, John Behan had lied to Wyatt, and an insult to one brother was taken as an attack on them all. They never forgot or forgave.”

Soon there was an attempted coach robbery that resulted in the death of the driver and a passenger. When the one robber they caught escaped from Behan’s jail, the sheriff spread the rumor that the Earps and Doc Holliday were involved despite the robber fingering other cowboys. Tensions grew. Wyatt’s plans kept coming up empty. With water appearing in mine shafts, the days of mining were numbered as well. Nearby Bisbee was becoming a better investment and growing. The summer heat of 1881 was unrelenting- the town was a powder keg of broken dreams and pent up frustrations.

After a fire burned down 4 square blocks, and squatters descended upon the now empty lots, the chief of police left town under fire. Virgil was named the temporary chief, and 6 days later made the permanent chief of police, added to his role as deputy marshal. His by the book methods led to a number of arrests to clean up the town under pressure from the town leaders.

“The cowboys still did not think of themselves as criminals. They had rowdy fun north of the border, and taking Mexican cattle was pleasant business rather than theft because Mexicans had no rights.”

Behan’s cooperation with the cowboys now threatened his position as sheriff. His window of opportunity came when an angry, drunk “Big Nose” Kate Elder swore Doc had been part of the robbery. If he could get Doc convicted before the election, he might keep his job. But when the charges were dropped after investigation, Behan experienced more embarrassment.

JohnnyBehan.jpgBehan had romantic issues too. He never kept his promise to marry Josephine, and kept getting caught with other women. With his political clout dropping, she began to look for another future. The man she set her sights upon was Behan’s political and professional rival: Wyatt Earp. Meanwhile Wyatt knew that if he actually captured the coach robbers and killers, he’d raise his chances to win the election. He approached the local ranchers Hill, Clanton and McLaury with a plan that would net them the reward (secretly) and him the glory. The plan failed when it was discovered that two of them had been killed in New Mexico.

This failed conspiracy led directly to the gun fight. Clanton was afraid the cowboys would discover his betrayal. He kept accusing Wyatt of telling others, including Doc. The argument the night before was about that issue.

The chapter on the actual gunfight covers the events that morning that led to it. Fear, political pressure, pride and the attempt to save face in front of others and other additives created the deadly cocktail that resulted in Clanton’s brother and two McLaury brothers being killed, while Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded.

Guinn then moves into the inquest and trial in which the Earps were exonerated. This triggered the attacks on Virgil and Morgan in subsequent months. While they shot and killed Morgan in the billiard parlor, their shots missed Wyatt. An angry, vengeful Wyatt would form a posse and kill three cowboys over the next week, including Curly Bill. For killing Frank Stilwell by the train station in Tucson, Wyatt and his posse were wanted for murder.

As Guinn examines the following years and how the mythology of the old west developed, stories like this were sanitized. In fact, there weren’t many white hats and black hats. The men were all flawed and driven by a variety of sinful motives. The men involved in the events of Tombstone scattered as the town struggled and legal problems mounted. It all seems so inglorious rather than the triumph of good over evil that is often portrayed.

This was a very interesting book to read. He reveals the ambiguities for us, stripping away the mythology or veneer that has obscured the real events from our view through books, TV shows and movies that distorted reality and sometimes just plain ignored it.

I’ll end with the words that end the book:

“Historian John E. Ferling has observed that “events by themselves are unimportant; it the perception of events that is crucial,” and Earp mythology may be the best proof of how perception trumps fact and history is subsequently distorted. The October 26, 1881 shootout on Tombstone’s Fremont Street was an arrest gone wrong and the result of complicated social, economic, and political issues that left eight men dangerously mistrustful of each other. In a very real sense, the confrontation did change the West; because of national publicity regarding the subsequent trial, it became clear that, in the future, on the remaining frontier the rule of law would ultimately be enforced by the courts rather than gunplay, Wyatt’s subsequent actions on the Vendetta Ride notwithstanding. But many have come to consider it an ultimate showdown between clear-cut forces of good and evil, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday defined the best of the wonderful Old West- and America- by shooting down the Clantons (Virgil, Morgan and the McLaurys have faded into supporting roles). …

“As for Wyatt Earp, who was  both more and less than his legend insists, we can feel certain of this: He would be pleased by the way everything turned out, except for the face that he never made any money from it.”

 

 

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