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Posts Tagged ‘Iain Duguid’


Over the last year or so I’ve read a number of commentaries on The Song of Songs. Some of them have been good, and helpful (Gledhill & Longman), and some were not so helpful.

Like Revelation (no “s” at the end) it is very difficult to interpret with the underlying principle making a huge difference. Various commentaries view the Song as a drama (literal interpretation), an allegory, and a collection of love poems seemingly w/out structure.

Tyndale is updating their OT commentary series. This includes presentation or format (context, comment & meaning). I’m not sure I want to see some of those volumes replaced. In the case of the Song of Songs, they just released a new version by Iain Duguid. Based on his previous work, I knew I should get this and read it before teaching the Song in SS this year.

I have one complaint: it is way too short. Of course it is a Tyndale commentary so it will leave you wanting more. Thankfully an expositional commentary by Dr. Duguid will be forthcoming.

I don’t usually enjoy introductions for commentaries. I enjoyed this one, and found it quite helpful. Duguid approaches the song as wisdom literature. This is slightly more complex than it sounds. Throughout the book he notes words and concepts the Song has in common with Proverbs. Part of its message is a contrast with Solomon’s view of love and marriage (hundreds of wives and concubines). He often notes particular poems, but seems to also see them telling a story instead of disconnected poems. In the meaning section he ties it in to our relationship with Christ. He doesn’t do this in allegorical fashion, but by remembering that earthly marriage is intended to point us to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5). Allegory skips over the earthly marriage part.

There were some very helpful comparisons and contrasts. He reveals some of the parallels within the book: thematic and structural.

In the introduction he notes that at times one’s interpretation says more about you than the text. This is in reference to the sexual imagery. Some commentators see nearly everything as a sexual euphemism. Duguid is a bit more reserved. While not denying sexual imagery, he doesn’t find it everywhere like, say, Longman.

This was a very helpful little volume. It is able to be read quickly due to its size. It is hard to find that balance between detailed enough to be very helpful and so detailed it becomes laborious to use. While at times I wished for more, I was not so inundated with data and ideas that I felt lost. I shall now have to go back over my curriculum and update it, possibly changing some of my conclusions. No study of The Song of Songs can be complete without this great little volume. In this case updating the TOTC was a wise choice.

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In the last few years there has been an explosion of books on the topic of grace. Some of been excellent. Some have been controversial. Some of those that have been controversial had some significant flaws. Not a fatal flaw, mind you. They were still within the bounds of Christianity but not necessarily within the bounds of the community to which the author belonged (how’s this for vague?).

So, it was with a measure of anticipation and trepidation that I read Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I had a sense of anticipation because I have found her husband Iain’s books very helpful. Additionally I saw that she was very dependent on John Newton from whom I’ve also benefited greatly. But I also had sanctification controversy PTSD.

Here is my bottom line: I loved the forest, but some of the particular trees may have issues.

Barbara has some obvious influences, and some that aren’t as obvious. In addition to John Newton, she has a certificate from CCEF, and holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. When she sticks close to those the book is quite excellent and helpful. When she goes beyond them I found it less helpful and has some of the same issues that troubled me about Tullian Tchividjian’s books on grace. I try to remember what Dr. Pratt taught us: you can’t say everything any time you say anything. Yet a qualification or two saves a world of misunderstanding.

The Good

Throughout the book Barbara Duguid is quite honest about her own struggles, which essentially drive the book. This is nothing new. Many theologians have a doctrinal emphasis that reflects their own personal struggles. Think Luther and his emphasis on justification by faith alone. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly when we consider the providence of God in the matter. Yet we should recognize that we, as sinners saved by grace, can still run off into extremes. Her honesty, to get back to my point, is helpful. She is not writing theoretically, but has walked with God through these difficult places.

“God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This book is easy to read. It is not a technical book but intends to make theology practical. She does a good job of this. The first chapter, Welcome to Your Heart, easily introduces you to her heart and by extension yours through a story. She shows how pride lurks in our hearts, distorting our experience by trying to make us the center of … everything.

The next three chapters, leaning heavily on Newton, are about the three stages of Christian life: babes in Christ, maturing and grown-ups. Sadly, not many people talk about this. It is helpful to recognize the differences so a person has more accurate expectations. Babes often have few trials and lots of joy. God has merciful on them. There is often, in my experience, significant change almost immediately if one converts as an adult. But then life gets hard. God begins to work more deeply, and most often through hardship and failure. The focus is on developing deeper dependence on God, and the destruction of our pride.

“A mature believer studies all the aspects of a person’s struggle with sin and makes allowances. He never stops calling sin the ugly and evil thing that it is, but he understands how deeply rooted it is in human nature and how helpless every Christian is to stand against it.”

Her book offers hope to all of us who struggle with sin, which is every Christian. She reminds us of the providence of God, the preservation of the saints, and the doctrine of assurance (from the Westminster Confession of Faith) which instruct us that sometimes God does in fact bring us through periods of disobedience. The problem is most Christians don’t talk about with struggles (contrary to James 5) so when we struggle with sin we think we are the only one, or more messed up than everyone else in church.  We have to remember that God is up to something bigger than “sin management.”

Our struggles with sin should translate into greater patience with the sins of other Christians. When we consider how patient God is with us, and how sufficient His mercy is to us, we are able to be patient and extend mercy to our brothers and sisters even (particularly!) when they sin against us.

“The more I see myself as the biggest sinner and the worst transgressor, the more I will be able to step up to love others even when they sin against me time and time again.”

I can see Ed Welch’s (a professor at CCEF)  as well as Newton’s influence in the last chapter. Part of how we strive for holiness is in community and making use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). We need each other profoundly. Her the individualism of Americans is anti-thetical to the gospel. We need help to see our sins. We need help through the prayers of others not only for our illnesses but our sins. We need to remember that the Lord’s Table is for us as saved sinners who still need grace along the pilgrim road.

Her audience is those who are depressed and overwhelmed by their on-going struggle with sin. These people need to know of God’s extravagant grace toward sinners saved by grace. There is plenty of truth to encourage them so they can strengthen their weak knees and keep moving by the grace of God.

“Although God did not create your struggle or tempt you to it, he has called you to walk with it. He has assigned it to you, and he loves you as he calls you to walk through it. He is not disgusted by you.”

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

There are some questions that are raised by this book, reflecting problems with other books on grace. The sanctification debates seemed largely focused on the third use of the law. These go deeper and are, I think, more important.

1. Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? This book seems to give conflicting answers at times. Newton often refers to striving for holiness, and she echos that at times. But she is also critical of unnamed pastors who seem to focus on our responsibility. Philippians 2:13 has been one of the key verses for me to understand the relationship between gospel indicatives (facts) and gospel imperatives (commands). God works in me so I will and work according to His purpose. We can’t focus on only one part of that. Edwards noted that it is “all of God and all of me”. I can only work because He works in me (grace!!). But I actually work. He’s not working for me, believing for me, repenting for me. It is typically a hyper-Calvinist view to minimize the exercise of our wills. At times she comes really close to this.

2. What is the nature, or goal, of sanctification? She frequently criticizes the view that it is “sinning less and less.” This seems contrary to the way it is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to which she holds as a member of the ARP.

Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

She doesn’t really qualify or explain what she means. She is correct if she is referring to simply external obedience. The truth is that our “obedience” is often driven by fear and pride instead of faith and love. When we obey out of fear (the fear of getting caught, what people will think etc.) or pride (having a reputation to uphold, a sense of entitlement) we are not really obeying. If this is what she means, I wholeheartedly agree. God is working to address the fear and pride behind so much “obedience.” God also won’t give us “victory” (I hate that term) if it will lead us to spiritual pride. Fear and pride are sins too, but sins that drive other sins as well as counterfeit obedience.

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

Our depravity is total, but not absolute. Every aspect of us is affected but we aren’t as bad as we could be. She notes that though saved, we are depraved, weak little sinners. Where is regeneration? To what degree have we changed? Thomas Boston, in the Human Nature in its Fourfold Estate, argues that our regeneration is total in the same way that depravity is. Every aspect of us is affected by regeneration, but not absolutely. While regenerate we still have indwelling sin. We want to be neither triumphalists nor fatalists. She rightly criticizes the former but sounds an awful lot like the later.

4. Does God get angry with us? Can He be pleased by our actions?

She hammers our position in Christ. Indeed there is cause for great rejoicing with regard to our position in Christ as perfectly righteous. This is our hope: union with Christ. But in sanctification does God only see us positionally or does He also see us personally?

She notes the Israelites in the wilderness as the pattern for us in many respects, particularly their failure (she overlooks how many times it does say they did everything the Lord commanded Moses in particular matters). If they were converted (which I think many/most of them were) they were then united to Christ (apart from whom there is no salvation). During the wilderness journey we often see God angry with Israel (with no differentiation between the elect and non-elect). In Hebrews 12 we see that God disciplines us so we bear the harvest of righteousness. He necessarily sees us as less than personally righteous and moves us toward greater personal righteousness. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness in justification, and He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us in sanctification. These distinctions seem to be missing here (and in other some books about grace). If we can’t please God personally, then why does Paul pray for this in Colossians 1.

Love is not contrary to anger, as she seems to argue. Anger is an important part of love to protect the beloved from danger, including the destructiveness of sin. I wonder how much her own anger issues (one of the sins she says she struggles with) influence her views on this. I don’t want God to be angry with me, but I need his fatherly anger at times, as Calvin notes.

“The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wondrously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons.John Calvin (Institutes 3:2:12)

The Big Picture Problem?

When she moves away from Newton, CCEF and the Westminster Standards, I pick up an organizational principle for salvation that is more Lutheran than Reformed. Lutheran theology (after Luther’s death) made justification by faith alone the organizing principle so union with Christ and sanctification (and all the other benefits) flow out of justification. This, in my opinion, means that justification flattens the other doctrines, our understanding of Scripture and the dynamic rather than static relationship we have with God. This shows up in focusing on the positional almost exclusively.

The Reformed view sees union with Christ as the organizing principle (to borrow Lane Tipton’s terminology, see Calvin’s Institutes, book 3 and the WLC #65-69). Out of our union with Christ we receive all the (distinct) blessings of Christ. We receive the double grace of justification and sanctification at the same time, though they are distinct. We experience definitive or definite sanctification at that point. It focuses on us as positionally sanctified (see Hoekema’s Saved by Grace). Progressive sanctification necessarily focuses on our personal sanctification. He sees us as we are in ourselves (but doesn’t condemn us because of our position in Christ). Reformed Theology has historically held these two in a biblical tension that appears to be lacking here.

Yesterday I looked at some other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing the boat, or seeing something that isn’t there. Both Mark Jones and Dane Ortland saw the same things or similar things.

Like Dane Ortland I recognize the many good things about this book which includes some things that are rarely taught which need to be heard. But I want to filter out the ways in which she departs from (my understanding of?) Reformed Theology. Enjoy the forest, even if some trees have thorns. Or to use a different metaphor: it is a good meal, but there is some bone and gristle to toss out.

Time for a little Double Cure.

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One of the series I’ve discovered and enjoyed over the years is P&R’s Gospel in the Old Testament series.  WTS Books is currently running a sale on them of 50% off the 11 volume set.  They would make a great Christmas gift (sorry Desert Springs people, I have most of them).

I first learned about the series when the late Ray Dillard visited RTS Orlando for Spiritual Emphasis Week.  He preached on Elijah and Elisha and their connection with Jesus and the gospel.  This was turned into Faith in the Face of Apostasy.   Unfortunately Dr. Dillard would not live much longer.

I am currently re-reading Living in the Gap between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham for my sermon series on the life of faith in the life of Abraham.  Iain Duguid, formerly of Westminster West and now at Grove City College and planting an ARP church, is the author.  He also wrote Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel According to Isaac and Jacob.  These are 2 of my favorites in the series, offering hope to guys like me for whom life is a series of struggles- some self-made.

There are also volumes on Jonah, David, Hosea, Daniel (by a professor at Erskine though not my favorite volume), Job and Israel’s Worship.  I guess I’m missing the volumes on Ruth and Zechariah (which I may not get).

They take the position that all of Scripture (not each and every verse) points us to the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption- Jesus.  So the show how the text points us to and prepares us for the ministry of Jesus for us.  Great stuff.  This series was also helpful for me to learn how to see and make those connections for my people so I was actually preaching the gospel each week.  I find them valuable.

 

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A web site I visit had mention of the new book by John MacArthur, Slave, based on his sermon series on the topic.  Grace To You has a free offer, if you join their mailing list.  Here is the trailer.

It always concerns me when someone thinks there is a ‘hidden’ word or some sort of conspiracy.  I’m not sure why it took him so long to realize ‘doulos’ means ‘slave’ not servant.  I agree that we need to reckon with this since it is Scripture.  Paul, at times, called himself a slave, to emphasize the reality that he had no rights.  Iain Duguid in his book on Abraham, calls a covenant a relationship marked by submission in which one party surrenders their rights.  That would be us, not God.

We also need to remember that in Philippians Jesus became a slave, obedient unto death to deliver us from slavery to sin (see, you are a slave to something as Bob Dylan sorta sang).

But it obviously is not the only identity we have (as MacArthur mentions in the trailer).  We don’t stop being ‘slaves’ though we are ‘sons’, as the trailer seems to imply.  We are both (like we are both righteous and sinners at the same time, just not in the same sense).

Richard Pratt used to tell us you need to go the the biblical medicine cabinet and choose the right medicine for the personal problems people have.  This requires discernment.  Is it a justification issue?  Don’t talk about sanctification issues, or they will end up legalists.  Sanctification issue?  Don’t address it as a justification issue or they will become antinomians.  Paul does this in the Scriputres.  If people are acting entitled (for instance making too much of their Roman citizenship, or suffering from an over-realized eschatology) he takes out the ‘slave’ pill so they know this is part of their identity.  If they are wrestling with a sense of worthlessness and abandonment, he breaks out the ‘son’ pill so they know and experience the freedom and acceptance of God’s adopted children.

I fear that a popular book like this tends to polarize things.  This should transform some people’s experience because they have a strong sense of entitlement.  They don’t grasp that whole obedience thing.  They think Christianity sets them free from all obligation to pursue all their desires.  This is a huge problem here in the land of the televangelists and consumerism.  But many of the people who would be drawn to a book by MacArthur would have the opposite problem.  I suspect they would need to know of God’s love and acceptance because they are prone to a legalistic spirit.

All this to say, know to whom you recommend this book.  It could be a helpful medicine to their sin-sick soul.  Or it could be deadly, because it is the wrong biblical medicine

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I came across The Gospel According to the Old Testament series some time ago.  I’ve picked up new books when they have come out.  I think I have most of the series, and hope to use them at some point for a sermon series or teaching series.  But I haven’t read one in a few years as other matters distracted me.  But yesterday I was showing them to a friend who hadn’t heard of them.  So I decided now was the time to resume some of my reading.

I had read some of Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham by Iain Duguid for some earlier sermons.  I picked up where I left off.  Let me say that I met Dr. Duguid last June.  He left Westminster West to teach at Grove City College.  In the process he transferred to the ARP with hopes of planting a church near the college.  He seems like a stand up guy.

In the gap between promise and reality, we find Abraham failing in Egypt.  I like what Duguid has to say about failure for Christians.

Now, in this chapter, we will see- not for the last time- faith dealing with that failure.  That’s a very important lesson for us to learn, isn’t it?  There seem to be plenty of books telling you how to be a success, but few write about what to do when you find that you aren’t.  Yet what you do when you are at your lowest ebb, when everything has gone wrong and you have failed God and your neighbor utterly, says a great deal about the kind of person you are and the kind of faith you have.

Thankfully the Bible is about real life, and how faith engages real life.  God knows we all fail and made sure we hear about how other faithful followers have gotten up, dusted themselves off (by the blood of Christ) and kept going (by the grace of God).  This is encouraging to me.  I need to hear this.

Does failure drive you away from God, or does it drive you back to square one, back to where you started, back to the altar, the place of sacrifice, so that you can call on the name of the Lord?  The builders of the Tower of Babel made no room for offering sacrifices to God and calling on the name of the Lord.  Their motto was “In man we trust.”  For that reason, when their building project fell apart, so did they.  They had no means of dealing with failure.  There was no room in their hearts for repentance, and consequently their religiousity could not survive the exposure of their own inadequacy.

Have you met those guys?  I have.  It is not pretty.  By God’s grace I’m not one of them.  I’m pretty inadequate.  As Paul told the Corinthians, any competency I have comes from God.  That’s true for all of us, but not all of us realize it.  So, failure means you are a failure.  I heard a great line about Isiah Thomas when he was FINALLY fired- “putting the ‘L’ in losing since 200_”.  I joke with CavWife that I’ve put the ‘L’ in losing since 1965.  I’m not a “super-apostle” or an uber-Christian.  I’m an ordinary guy with an extra-ordinary calling.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll be successful in all I put my hand to.

Good people, people of faith, fail just as others do.  The difference is that when they fail, they do not fall, because they return to the Lord in repentance, calling on his name and seeking forgiveness.

So, what do you do when you fail?  Do you give up or get back up?  Don’t beat yourself up, but recognize that Jesus was beaten (and crucified) for all your sin and failure.  Get up, and get going just as if God has made all things right (because, well, He has in Christ).

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I am currently preparing my sermon on Ruth 3 (check CavSermons to the right).  It has been some time since I’ve tried to handle a whole chapter of an historical book in a week.  Whew!  I don’t have an hour like Big Name Preachers (nor the gifting necessary to pull an hour off).  So it has been interesting.  What have I been using?

Esther & Ruth by Iain Duguid from the Reformed Expository Commentary Series.  He is a prof at Westminster West.  I’ve enjoyed his books from the Gospel in the Old Testament series (also published by P&R).  Note this is expository, not exegetical.  These are his sermons on the texts, so there is focus on application beyond the meaning of the text.  There are footnotes interacting with some of the language issues (and there are plenty in Ruth).

This book is solid, and accessible to pastors and lay people alike.  He has a great way of putting things that gets to the heart of the issue.  And, it also covers Esther as a bonus.  This is the first book in this series I’ve purchased, and I’ll probably buy more.

The standard exegetical commentary would be The Book of Ruth by Hubbard in the NICOT series.  There is lots of ambiguous Hebrew in Ruth, so a mere 4 chapters required 280+ pages.  It was very helpful, though difficult to get through all the material each week (average of 50 pages/week of dense reading after the introductory material).  If I’d gone slower through the book, I wouldn’t have felt so overwhelmed.  You live; you learn.

I wanted to pick up The Message of Ruth in the Bible Speaks Today series (one of my favorite commentary series), but the RTS Orlando bookstore didn’t have it in stock.  I didn’t have the time to go on line and have it shipped to me.  But since Hubbard was so exhaustive, I may not have had the time/energy to work through that one too.

[I have since purchased and read Sinclair Ferguson’s short book, Faithful God, which is a short commentary on Ruth.  It is fantastic. I’ve also purchased Dean Ulrich’s From Famine to Feast in the Gospel in the Old Testament series, but I’ve yet to read it.]

(more…)

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“Persecution and difficulty will inevitably tell the truth about our motivations. … As long as we can have both God and the world, it is going to be hard to tell for sure.  But when we have to choose between God and the world, between serving God and progressing in our careers, between following God and getting married, between being rich to God and laying up large amounts of money, between obedience to God and life itself, then we find out in a hurry the true nature of our commitment.”  Iain Duguid in Hero of Heroes: Seeing Christ in the Beatitudes

btw: This is yet another great book in a great series.  Well, technically this does not fall into the same series as The Gospel in the Old Testament, but it does follow the same pattern, including questions for discussion after each chapter.

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