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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Hodge’


While considering what to study in our men’s group this Fall, one of the books I read was Family Shepherds by Voddie Baucham. It covers some of the same ground as The Masculine Mandate. But this book has a very different feel to it, handles things in a different order and has a more distinct agenda(s) than Rick Phillips’ book did. Since I pretty much read them simultaneously, I have a hard time not comparing them.

Family Shepherds reflects Voddie’s personality and ministry, just like Rick’s book reflects his. I’ve read another book or two from Voddie, and this is similar in tone and agenda. He has a prophetic bent (Rick’s, perhaps from his time as a tank commander, is more kingly). Voddie is not afraid to get into the reader’s business. Rick also stands firm on his views, but is less “in your face” about it.

Voddie’s ministry is marked by a few drumbeats. One of them is vitally important, particular in the context in which he ministers. The other is one I have some sympathies, but aren’t as passionate and dogmatic about as he is.

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“In Christ” is one of Paul’s favorite phrases. A parallel phrase he uses is “with Christ”. Both of these phrases are his shorthand for union with Christ. This is undeniably one of the most important theological concepts in the Scriptures, for our salvation is “in Christ”. Yet, this subject has been largely ignored by theologians for over 100 years. The contemporary church is much weaker as a result of the neglect of this foundational doctrine.

There have been a much needed spate of books that have sought to address this weakness and restore this doctrine to its rightful place in our minds and hearts. That this took so long reveals one of the weaknesses of the current state of publishing. Even Christian publishers are too focused on sales at the expense of needed truth. Thankfully, some smaller publishers have been acting contrary to common practice.

One of the authors of these books is Robert Letham. I must confess that I had not read any of his books, nor owned any until this past year. Now I own three of his books, including Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology. It shares its subtitle with his book on another neglected subject, the Trinity. The other work of his I recently purchased and began to read is on the also neglected Work of Christ (part of the excellent Contours of Christian Theology series).

Letham, for those unfamiliar with him, is the Senior Lecturer in Systematic and Historical Theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He has advanced degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen. The book has an academic feel to it, and I was intellectually stretched while reading much of it. This is not a bad thing, people. This is not a fluffy topic, but one that requires rigorous thinking in addition to the illumination of the Spirit to grasp.

I was well rewarded for my efforts. This book is only about 140 pages long, but it is a dense 140 pages. It is full of meat as he grapples with the topic at hand. True to the subtitle, Letham examines Scripture, the history of the Church and theological formulations to help us understand and apply this most important subject. The importance of this subject is evidenced by how many doctrines Letham addresses in the course of examining it: creation, incarnation, the atonement, justification, adoption, resurrection, sanctification etc.

“Because man was created in the image of God, he was made for communion with God, to rule God’s creation on his behalf.”

Letham begins with creation, which surprised me. But since Jesus is the 2nd Adam, this is the best place to begin. Humanity’s communion with God was destroyed by the first Adam’s sin. Jesus would become man in order to restore this communion, and be the means of that communion. So you see that the book takes a few unexpected twists (I’ll be interested to see how the other books I’ve picked up on the subject work thru this). He spends a chapter on the Incarnation, surveying the development of the doctrine. The Eternal Son united himself with human nature, joining Himself with humanity in order to secure our salvation. In salvation, He then unites Himself with the elect as the means of their salvation thru the Spirit. We only partake of the benefits of salvation if we are so united to Him. This is one of the tougher chapters since it grapples with the nature of the hypostatic union. He traces its development through the ecumenical councils and expressions by Athanasius, Cyril, Nestorius and others. He also shows how this is not neglected by the Westminster Confession of Faith but expressed most often in the Larger Catechism.

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Chapter 5 of Recovering the Reformed Confession is the second part of Recovering a Reformed Identity.  Here Clark focuses on the need for Confessions of Faith that we might be in agreement about the meaning of Scripture.  The Reformed Church has been busy making Confessions of Faith since the 1500’s.  There is no lack of them.

Initially there were no exceptions permitted, which makes sense since that contemporary group wrote it.  I wouldn’t be taking exceptions to a document I helped create and approved.  In the denominations of which I have belonged as a minister exceptions are permitted.  We are concerned with the system of doctrine, though any exceptions that depart from the core beliefs would result in exclusion.

In other denominations, we have seen how ministers confess to adhering to the Westminster Confession of Faith yet really do not.  Those denominations have slid consistently to the left until there are barely recognizable as Christian, much less Reformed.  Clark sees the sideline denominations moving in this same direction with the absence of strict subscriptionism.  But the problem was not the absence of strict subscriptionism, but the absence of church discipline against those who departed from the core issues of the Confession regarding Scripture, the Trinity, justification and more.

System of Doctrine was first advocated by Charles Hodge to avoid the loose Irish view of “substance” and the unforgiving “strict confession” of the Scots & American Presbyterians.  Views that contradicted the Reformed faith were not permitted as exceptions.  He viewed that strict subscriptionism would lead to the same hypocrisy as substance subscriptionism did.

The full or strict subscription view is proposed by such men today as Joseph Pipa, Morton Smith and George W. Knight III.  They say that not all doctrines are of equal importance, yet act as if they are.  Since the Confession is a summary of Scripture, Pipa argues that if a minister finds that the Confession is out of step with the Scriptures, they should write exegetical papers explaining the difference and advocating the necessary changes.  In Pipa’s view, this takes place within the courts of the church, not publicly.  In other words, you don’t write a book or teach a class on it.

The “good faith” approach was approved by the PCA in 2003.  The candidate’s views are examined and they are required to take exceptions in which they differ from any part of the Confession or Catechisms.  The Presbytery decides whether or not to grant the exception.  Often, the minister may teach the exception as long as he notes it is not the position of the church.

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The second chapter of R. Scott Clark’s book, Recovering the Reformed Confession, begins his more in-depth analysis of the crisis he laid out in the first chapter.  Here he tackles The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty.

This chapter begins oddly by offering a few examples of this quest in Reformed circles.  Those are KJV-only advocates (I’ve missed this movement in the Reformed community), arguing against women in the military (I’m not sure I see the connection here as he explains it), and the Biblical Counseling movement (since he seems to view counseling as a medical issue instead of a sanctification issue in many cases).  He just drops those, without anything to back up his claims.  There is no smoking gun that these are related to the Illegitimate Quest.  Full preterism and denying the free offer of the gospel are about the only ones that I see as connected to this quest.  And those 2 are problematic.

But he spends the chapter focusing on a literal 6-day creation, theonomy and covenant moralism.  His argument is that in the shifting sands of modernity (or would that be post-modernity) some look for a solid place to stand.  Their insecurity, he says, leads them to seek certainty in all the wrong places.  He sees the role of fundamentalism as important in this.

“In fact, it is not a belief that the Bible is true which makes on a fundamentalist; rather it is the belief that one’s interpretation is inerrant which qualifies one as a fundamentalist.”

An interesting definition or defining factor.  But is he certain they are wrong?

6 Day Creation

He begins with the “rise” of a literal 6-day creation as a boundary marker.  In recent years, this was an issue in the PCA as they tried to determine if ministers should subscribe as strictly to this part of the Confession as other parts of the confession, like justification.  He notes that the RCUS adopted this as their denominational position in 1999.  I have not even heard of the RCUS.  The  OPC and URC have all studied it as well.

They defend this position from Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith (4.1).  This is what is so interesting to me.  He tries to say that the meaning of the Confession is not clear.  Since they may have been arguing against Augustine’s instantaneous creation instead of modern science’s evolution, 6 days doesn’t mean 6 days- it might mean something else.  This is a doctrinal statement, not a literary genre that may use figurative speech.

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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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