Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther’


Before I begin, I want to commend the use of the Oxford Comma in the PCA Report on Human Sexuality.

As I noted in discussion about the Twelve Statements, I wasn’t exceedingly pleased with the order. I understand some want to just get to the point. My wife reads the end of a novel, and then the rest. If I know the ending I think, “What’s the point?”. I wanted to see the work they went through, at times, to better understand their conclusion.

Some of the issues being discussed in our churches today have to do with understandings of sin and gospel expectations.

They were to examine the differences with Roman Catholic theology on the issue of concupiscence with regard to same-sex attraction. This is the overflow of the Revoice issue. Some of the speakers at Revoice were Catholic. Additionally, some of the debates among pastors centered on the question of when temptation becomes sin. As I noted previously, in those discussion I was thinking of sin as an act or transgression, not as corruption or original sin. But some were speaking of corruption. I suspect there was plenty of talking past one another, and accusing people of having a Roman Catholic view of concupiscence.

What is surprisingly missing here is interaction with Thomas Boston and his Human Nature and its Four-Fold State. Just saying, since he’s not only a personal favorite but also this is a standard work. But this is a personal thing. He notes that both our corruption and regeneration are total in that they affect the whole of us. They do not mean each has been affected completely.

The Report notes the Confessional distinction between the corruption and the active fruit of that corruption. This is part of why I try to maintain this distinction. However, those who speak of our corruption with regard to same-sex attraction seemed not to affirm it with regard to heterosexual lust.

I wish their distinction between original and actual had been more explicit in the Statements.

As a technical theological term, “actual”sin refers not to the reality or non-reality of sin, but to its being an act of the soul as opposed to a disposition or inclination only.

The summer of the original “debates” I preached on a number of these issues in a special series, taking an overtly redemptive historical approach. Internal temptation flows from our corruption. Internal temptation is sin in the sense of corruption. It is a desire, in this case, for something sinful in itself. It becomes an act when we entertain said temptation, not simply when we act on it.

Luther is noted for saying that you can’t stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop him from building a nest there. We can’t control that we experience temptation, but we are responsible for what we do with it. That was my point. This is what they are getting at in the Report.

After regeneration we do continue to be corrupt. This is part of the already/not yet. We are already renewed but not yet perfectly renewed. We still have that original sin or corruption from which our sins actual continue to flow. “The fact that the corruption remains highlights that justification is imputed, not infused.” We are simul justus et peccator as Luther also said. The change in regeneration is total, in that affects our whole person, but it is imperfect. They pull a number of chapters in the Confession in this: Of the Fall of Man, Sin and the Punishment Thereof, Of Sanctification, and Of Free Will. We continue to have disordered desires. At times we will and act good things, but not perfectly and exclusively. Our good works are truly good, yet mixed with our corruption. They bring us to Calvin.

“If the true standard of righteousness is to love God with the whole heart, and mind, and strength, it is clear that the heart cannot incline otherwise without declining from righteousness… The law, I say requires perfect love: we do no yield it. Our duty was to run, and we go on slowly limping.”

Those imperfect stumblings in the way are purified by the work of Christ. He accepts our sincere efforts despite their many weaknesses and imperfections.

They lay plenty of groundwork for our view before getting to the Roman Catholic view and the application to the current issues. They bring us to the Council of Trent. This affirmed there was an incentive to sin, concupiscence, but it was not properly considered sin unless you consented to it. The Report summarizes “the Council says that concupiscence is a result of sin and inclines to sin, but is not sin itself.” They anathemtize us and the Reformers. There seems to be an acknowledgment that the Bible calls it sin, but the Church doesn’t. So we return to one of the main emphases of the Reformation: the nature of authority. Their tradition was not in accordance with the Scriptures and they were okay with that. The Reformers weren’t, and should not have been. When our “tradition” departs from the Scriptures we should submit to the Scriptures. Sin, in Reformed Theology, is always connected to the Law of God.

Rome has a fundamentally flawed view of sin, and as a result salvation. Baptismal regeneration essentially removes corruption in their view. It accomplishes what Pelagius did with original sin. Sin becomes limited to transgression, act/actual in their view. Some of the main speakers at Revoice expressed this and similar views.

There is a danger shift in this away from the imputed righteousness of Christ toward a confidence in our own righteousness. This is why justification follows sanctification in their views. Christ only justifies the sanctified rather than sanctifying the justified. But if sin has been ontologically removed via baptism, then temptation itself has no connection to sin.

“The Reformers, however, stressed the importance of recognizing the ongoing presence of sinful concupiscence in the Christian precisely because it highlighted that the righteousness given is only and completely an imputation of that which is Christ’s.”

The Reformed view rests on the authority of Scripture, not the (ever-changing) authority of the Church. The Reformed view recognizes are on-going need for pardoning, purifying and empowering grace.

The Report than brings us to the “Common Dynamic of Concupiscence.” This is not just about same-sex attraction. It “is not unique to those who experience homosexual desire. All people experience it.” This cannot be downplayed. We all have spontaneous thoughts, of all kinds, that flow out of our corrupt nature. They are sin original and lack conformity to the law of God. The Report rightly warns us about thinking homosexual desire as qualitatively different from our disordered desires. “Or worse, some may be willing to assert the sinfulness of one category of spontaneous desire but minimize or remain largely ignorant of the sinful concupiscence that is common to all.” This doesn’t make homosexuality “less sinful” but reminds us of the actual sinfulness of our own disordered desires. “Good Reformed teaching on sin places us all on equal footing in our need of Christ’s imputed righteousness.” It seemed to me that some forgot that very important point.

Because of continued corruption we should not be surprised if homosexual attraction continues after conversion. Yet, some seem to think it should cease. Careful study of our continuing corruption should lead us to not promise removal such desires even as we encourage on-going sanctification. In this context they address “reparative therapy”. If there is a promise of such freedom, and a corresponding demand for such freedom then “that demand is an anti-gospel that only crushes and condemns- especially if the admonitions are applied selectively to this form of concupiscence but not to other common varieties, both sexual and other.”

I’ve interacted with people who have such a view of repentance that the Report warns against. If only people truly repented they would not experience homosexual desire, it is said. I guess many of us haven’t truly repented of all our sins if we commit them again. This is truly a perversion of the doctrine of repentance. As a result, all such claims or demands must be rejected and resisted. Not by a liberal or anti-confessional basis but precisely on a Confessional and Scriptural basis.

Does this mean we are being soft on same-sex attraction? Are we pandering to their sin? No. The Report then addresses real change. Regeneration is total, affecting the whole person, Boston notes. Sanctification is total as well. There should be progress as the Spirit sanctified the “whole man.” The person experiencing homosexual attraction needs to put it to death. They should seek real change “even if that change is incomplete and mixed.” Strides made are real even if imperfect.

This means we should “Celebrate Sincere Efforts.” While all gospel-change is “incomplete and mixed with corruption” it is still gospel-change. Christ is transforming them even if it is the putting to death of temptation one time this week. We celebrate, not the attraction, but our baby steps in sanctification.

This continues in establishing a moral difference between corruption and transgression. The initial desire/temptation is different morally than the desire or temptation that is turned over in our mind, and then to act on it. In this they use the language of WLC 151.

“The point here is not to encourage those with homosexual attraction to become comfortable with or accepting of it. Rather, it is to counter the undue heaping of shame upon them as if the presence of homosexual attraction itself makes them the most heinous of sinners.”

This has been one of my concerns, the reality of shame. They way some of us speak about homosexuality we just heap shame on people. No wonder they don’t want to talk to some of us about their same-sex attractions. This was my concern when focusing on their corruption but ignoring our own. The idea of repent of their orientation isn’t applied to other people’s sinful inclinations in the same way. We place improper shame on them: not the shame of being a sinner but of being a different & worse sinner than the rest of us.

Despite the fact they didn’t bring Boston into the discussion, there are a number of excellent points made in application of the doctrine we have in common. There are good correctives and clarifications so perhaps we can have more fruitful discourse in the future.

Addendum:

Of course after writing this, I read the chapter in Maturity by Sinclair Ferguson on Overcoming Temptation.

“In biblical teaching temptation as such is not sin.”

6fb996429b682df40584f0a1a7acad70_1024xHe also notes that “the distinction between temptation and sin is vital theologically and also pastorally.” He’s getting at that moral difference between them. As a “student” of John Owen’s, he’s not ignoring our corruption (he addresses that on the very next page) but focusing on sin as transgression in those statements. There is plenty here to apply pastorally. And Ferguson does just that. “We are conflicted. Christ dwells in us, yet sin remains.”

He’s writing for the tender-hearted, like I can be, who can be filled with guilt and shame over the existence of temptation in our lives. He offers a general rule of thumb to help such people.

“A rule of thumb that will be helpful if we are prone to confuse being tempted with actually sinning is this: Ask yourself: ‘Do I want this temptation? Do I want what it solicits me to do or have? Or is it distasteful to me?‘”

This is helpful, I believe, for those Christians tempted by homosexual attraction. Many don’t want those temptations that they experience. They wish it were different. They don’t yield to it, but due to indwelling sin still experience it.

“… sensitive Christians must learn not to listen to Satan’s sinister suggestions that by being tempted they have already sinned and are thereby condemned.”

He develops the doctrine of concurrence in this chapter looking at David’s sins in the affair with Bathsheba, as well as Job. This is not simply external temptation, but how Satan piles on when these desires arise from indwelling sin.

Ferguson also quotes the main passage from Owen that defines what he means by “entering into temptation.” This is a sentenced I missed while re-reading Owen for my sermon on the subject in 2018.

” Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a longer or shorter time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we ‘enter into temptation’.” (Owen, Works, VI, 97)

Ferguson develops this process from temptation to sin in the life of David, and applies it to us in what I find a helpful way. All in all, it is a very helpful chapter in his book regardless of the nature of our temptations. I heartily recommend it. I heartily recommend Ferguson’s books because I find him to have a pastor’s heart, not simply a theologian’s mind. I continually praise God for his ministry to my life and the model of doing theology in his writings.

 

Read Full Post »


Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with the culture war.

I’m torn in two. I have strong convictions on some things that I think are important. But I’m weary of how we as a culture, including the church, discuss these matters. I’m becoming more concerned with ministering to struggling people than trying to be right. I do want to explore nuances on some issues.

The subtitle of one of Scott Sauls’ books interested me. That book is Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. Sauls is a PCA pastor in Nashville who used to work with Tim Keller in NYC. In many ways he is like Keller, making distinctions and exploring nuance. He tends to tick off both the left and the right. If the Bible is true, Keller notes, it will critique every culture and every person. That means that everyone will be annoyed by something it says. The same will be true for faithful pastors. The left thinks you are too right and the right that you are too left.

In his introduction Sauls puts it this way:

“Are we known by what we are for instead of what we are against? Are we less concerned about defending our rights- for Jesus laid down his rights- and more concerned about joining Jesus in his mission of loving people, places, and things to life?”

While we believe in truth, we also believe in grace and peace. This means a Christian should be pursuing all of them, not just one. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he calls them to end what we’d call their tribalism in light of the fact they’ve been baptized into Christ. Their union with Him and one another takes precedence over the divides that kept people apart in their culture. In light of this we keep truth and love together, as Paul notes in Ephesians 4. Sauls wants us to see beyond the polarization to affirm what is true about each side of an argument in the process of finding the truth in the middle so we can love both sides and hopefully bring them together.

The book is divided into two main sections. The first addresses issues between the various “Christian tribes”. The second addresses some of the issues that polarize the church and the world.

The first issue he addresses could be in both sections of the book: politics. Reflecting Keller he argues that no political system or party is fully aligned with Jesus and therefore subject to critique. Politics is like a religion in America. There seems to be no middle ground.

God has instituted government, and raises up and casts down leaders. Those governments and leaders don’t serve Jesus. In our own context the two parties grab hold of part of what Jesus says. As Christians we can think they have the whole (or none in the case of THEM). We each have agendas and choose the candidate or party that best represent them. And one of those agendas tends to be political power. It is not just the evangelical right that courts earthly power, as the evangelical left would have you believe. Both sides have made compromises to gain cultural power so the current dust ups are largely disingenuous to me.

“Kingdom politics reject the world’s methods of misusing power and manipulating the truth.”

As we consider politics we should recognize that Christians should be involved in terms of voting and also holding office. Yet we should do this understanding the limitations involved. No candidate or platform is perfect. We are not electing pastors, and being a Christian doesn’t necessarily make one wise or beyond corruption. This is another way of saying that politics is not a means to usher in the kingdom of God. It is, however, a means to help human flourishing so the work of the kingdom can take place in and through the church.

Sauls notes that Christianity tends to be healthier when it is part of the minority, not the majority. As the minority we are generally less conformed to the world, and less likely to trample other groups. As the majority we tend to cling to power and can abuse it. We are fallen humans after all.

He also notes that “Christianity embraces both conservative and progressive values.” It is neither. Christianity teaches that women are made in the image of God. As such it should embrace equality for women. Christians have long had a prevailing ethic of life contrary to many an earthly government and culture. If we treat women well, the pro-life movement is not assumed to be a war on women.

I don’t want to spend as much time on the other polarizing viewpoints. But in discussing politics with some from the evangelical left recently I’ve heard the accusation that I’m actually pro-birth and don’t care about the poor. That’s a nice talking point, and the second chapter: For the unborn or the poor? Oddly, I’ve found many conservatives at the forefront of care for the poor through groups like the Salvation Army, Compassion International and through funding soup kitchens, pantries and homeless shelters.

It is difficult to discuss this topic without getting back into red state-blue state. But the question is not a new one: who should care for the poor, the church or the state? Calvin argued that church should, and Luther thought it was the state. We have a similar divide between the evangelical right and left. It isn’t really about whether to care for the poor but who and how. Our problem is we tend to see the other side not caring because they don’t do it the way we think it should be done.

Sauls brings us back to the reality of both the unborn and the poor bearing the image of God. This should lead us to have a comprehensive ethic of life. Mine would go something like this: The state should protect the unborn while the church/Christians should provide for the unborn and the poor. The state should protect the living by bearing the sword against the wicked who forfeit their lives for certain heinous crimes.

The section also addresses personal faith or institutional church, money guilt or money greed, racially the same or racially diverse, and him or her. These are important issues that we tend to take extreme positions on and fight about in the church. These, of course, are false dilemmas for the most part. We should value both personal faith and the institutional church. One tends to be dead without the other. Sauls notes that the early church was FAR from perfect, so the problems of our churches shouldn’t mean we reject “organized religion”. Rather, the church is a place where we learn to love people who are very different from ourselves. As he argues, we need the church and the church needs us.

In discussing money he reminds us that the underlying issue is contentment. Most people are not content with their wealth. This can manifest itself in either hoarding or spending. We inevitably have to see the God-man who was rich but became poor to enrich others. As we consider Him He makes us people who also enrich others.

Racial questions are difficult because we have such a hard time moving beyond our experience. We tend to normalize our experiences and can’t see other people’s experience (especially minorities) as valid or true. People in the majority need to begin listening to minorities. Privilege, I’ve found, doesn’t have to do with having an easy go of things so much as there are things you never have to think about. For instance, when I get in my car I never wonder if I’m going to get pulled over by the police. Many blacks and Hispanics do, and that is because they are pulled over far more frequently than me. When I get pulled over I don’t think that I’d better record it just in case things go south. I’ve always been treated with respect by the police. But many blacks and Hispanics are viewed with more suspicion by police than I am. Their experience is so different than mine. There are negatives I don’t experience due to my race, social status or both.

The same is true regarding men and women. I don’t go for a jog (when I used to) and wonder if I’ll get jumped and raped. I don’t pay attention to the cars on my walk to see if the same one keeps going by. I don’t pay more for a car or repairs because of my sex. Studies show that women are often taken advantage of by sales and repair men.

Where Sauls goes is inequality in the church in both chapters. Minorities often feel forced to fit in with the white culture of a church. They feel like a token instead of someone who has a seat at the table with decision-making power. Women also have decisions made for them without seeking their wisdom and counsel. God gifts women for ministry too. They don’t have to hold office to exercise those gifts like egalitarians think. Some complementarians need to remember that this is true and not unnecessarily restrict the ministry of women.

In the second section he discusses affirmation or critique, accountability or compassion, hypocrite or work in progress, chastity or sexual freedom, hope or realism, self-esteem or God-esteem and then provides some quick pointers on living outside the lines in the epilogue.

He spends time discussing our need for affirmation and encouragement. He also distinguishes critique and criticism helpfully.

“Because an affirming critique always comes from the motive of restoring and building up, unlike criticism, which aims to harm and tear down.”

We all been victims of criticism. You feel worthless, humiliated and exposed. Critique is not focused on fault-finding and assigning blame. It is concerned with how we can do better. Affirmation should not be devoid of critique, but it should be devoid of criticism. In this context he shared a story of a bad relationship with another pastor that brought out the worst in each of them, and how it turned the corner into a healthier relationship when they considered how God was sanctifying each thru the other.

He invites to consider both the justice and compassion of God that is revealed in the cross of Christ, as well as the final judgment. This is not a book whose message is “can’t we just get along.” It brings us often to the gospel while reminding us that divine truth is not simplistic. Our positions may have elements of the truth but not the whole truth. As we interact with people of differing opinions we may discover they have some of the truth too. Sauls is not selling relativism, but is reminding us that the truth can be more complex than we want to make it in our quest to be right. Seriously, who wants to be wrong?

There is much to make you think and move beyond the false dilemmas we find in life. There are also some great stories. I loved the story about Doug and how Scott struggled with a competitive spirit with a man he hadn’t been in contact with for over a decade. Scott is vulnerable in this book. He’s not the hero who has it all together. He comes across to me as a guy who’s trying to figure all this out and shares a few of the things he’s learned. See this as critique instead of criticism and you’ll benefit from the book. See it as criticism and you’ll just get ticked and retreat to your own tribe within the lines. It might feel safer, but then so is a prison cell sometimes.

Read Full Post »


The fourth, and currently last volume, in Nick Needham’s history of the church (2000 Years of Christ’s Power) is entitled The Age of Religious Conflict. This volume covers the 16th to 18th centuries. Just as the early church struggled with conflict within, so the post-reformational church struggled with conflict within. This book still includes some conflict between the branches of the church (particularly in the section on Eastern Orthodoxy).

This volume acknowledges the help of old friend Keith Mathison. It does change the format slightly which threw me off when approaching it. The major sections of chapters are numbered and start on new pages as if they were themselves chapters. This briefly messed with my reading schedule. A tiny, inconsequential thing.

He addresses these conflicts in Lutheranism, the Reformed Church (continental), England, Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church (centered on France) and the Eastern Orthodox Church (centered on Russia). The focus is on England which occupies two chapters in the volume. Throw in Scotland and you have 3 chapters on the British Isles. He does have 2 chapters on Roman Catholicism as well. We see the book is heavily weighted toward Protestantism and particularly light on Eastern Orthodoxy. Thankfully he does cover EO, which so many histories seem to neglect after 1054.

One conflict that runs throughout the book is the relationship between church and state. We’ve seen this conflict before, particularly between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. Now it unfolds in a number of nations as various kings and tsars want to control the church and various popes, patriarchs and archbishops want to either be free from state control or control the state. It seems that no good equilibrium could ever and can ever be achieved. The conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman will always be played out on this field of battle until King Jesus returns to set all things right. To those willing to listen, there is much that applies to their particular situation. The quest for power and control exacts a great toll.

A second conflict that runs through much of the book is the place of Augustinian theology in the life of the church. The questions of human depravity and election rise in each of these church bodies. I think this illustrates for us the importance of this question as one that should captivate the church.

In Lutheranism, the death of Luther meant it lost its earthly center, the figure who drew all the strands together. The theological tensions, understandably, began to pull the church apart. Such a focus on theological controversies led many to view them as falling into dead orthodoxy. Pietism rose to call people to faith and sound practice, not the pursuit of theological subtleties. In the midst of this was the Thirty Years’ War which ravaged northern Europe. The root of the war was state control of the church. In one of those ironies of real life, Catholic France supported the Protestants against the Holy Roman Emperor in order to weaken him and gain power for France. War can create strange bedfellows and alliances.

Image result for synod of dort

Synod of Dort

In the Reformed church there were two theological controversies that occupied most of the energy: Arminianism and Amyraldianism. Surprisingly he didn’t trace the shifts in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper very much. I say surprising because it was a frequent topic in the 3 previous volumes. The first of these controversies had some sort of settlement at the Synod of Dort. This did not put an end to Arminianism, of course. Much of Protestantism is Arminian today.

The lesser known and understood conflict was a result of the teaching of Moise Amyraut: Amyraldianism. He was the son of Huguenots. He was no stranger to controversy. Some political (refusing to kneel before King Louis XIII since Roman clergy didn’t have to) and some theological. At a time when the Huguenots were an oppressed minority, the battle over his theology split them as a kind of civil war. This civil war spread to England and other branches of the Reformed church.

Since this controversy is less known I will try to briefly summarize. Amyraut was distressed that many in Reformed theology held to double predestination and the idea that God created much of humankind for the purpose of damnation. Being in France, he was sensitive to the (mis)characterizations of Calvinism by French Catholics. He saw himself as rescuing the Huguenots from this caricature of God as “capricious, unjust, and unloving.” He viewed election in light of the cross instead of the cross in light of election. Therefore, Jesus did not die to save the elect, but died for all humanity. Salvation was conditioned upon faith. Since faith is not possible for fallen sinners, God elected some to salvation. In some ways this is a quibble about the order of decrees (which in my opinion is part of the secret things referred to in Deut. 29:29). In my opinion he presents a very confused God. This view is sometimes called the hypothetical atonement. He’s trying to walk a mediating position between Augustinianism/Calvinism and Arminianism. To me it seems an untenable position- logically unstable and unable to stand long before lapsing into greater problems.

In England there would be a literal civil war as various kings sought to control the church. England has some who wanted an Episcopal church, whether of Arminian or Calvinist leanings, some who wanted a Presbyterian church of England with a solid Calvinist bent. The Independents wanted religious freedom so that England could have Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational churches who held to Arminian or Calvinist views. As mentioned, Needham spends two chapters laying out the groundwork for the civil war, the war itself, life under Cromwell and the restoration of the monarchy which again ruled the Church of England too. In many ways this is a sad tale as so much blood was spilled to accomplish essentially nothing. Christians should be wary of taking up arms for the sake of faith (see the Thirty Years’ War as well).

Scotland had a similar struggle between the Crown Rights of Jesus (church over the state) and the will of a king who wanted to rule the Church of Scotland. We see the rise and fall of the Covenanters who pursued the rights of Jesus and desired a free church in Scotland. At times the Presbyterians won in Scotland. At times kings introduced an episcopal form of government which led to a watering down of the theology of the church. As you consider Scotland’s history of being occupied, any English influence was offensive to them.

Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPG

Blaise Pascal

Needham focuses on France for Roman Catholicism since at this point it had become the most powerful Catholic nation, supplanting Spain. Most of the movements within the Catholic church had their center in France. One of the main controversies was the Jansenist controversy. In a very Jesuit nation which was therefore not friendly toward the influence of Augustine’s view of salvation, a view that was dependent on Augustine would be controversial. The Jansenists were essentially Catholic Calvinists. They still submitted to the Pope and held to the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory. But they held to total depravity and election. The most famous Jansenist was French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. The fortunes of Jansenism were often tied to politics. The more power the Jesuits had, the more the pressure on them. When a French king wanted to establish his own power the Jesuit influence waned and Jansenism was able to grow.

What Jacobitism was to the churches in the British Isles, Gallicianism was to France. It was the view that the king of France, not the Pope was the head of the church in France. While there was not outright war, it saw political maneuvering and persecution.

Another controversy that can’t ultimately be separated from the political situation was the growth of Quietism, a form of mysticism that flourished in France for a time. It would fall in and out of favor with kings, surging and shrinking as a result.

In this section he also mentions Jesuit missions to eastern Asia. We see early versions of the Insider Movement as missionaries struggled to be all things to all men. Sometimes they allowed all men to remain in their paganism. Sometimes they required converts to become western. These are struggles that still take place in missions.

Cyril Lucaris 1632 Geneva.jpgAs Needham turns to Eastern Orthdoxy we see various splits form in the church. Some feared the power of the Pope and unification with Rome. They were haunted by the Union of Florence. Seeing the success of Protestants in separating from Rome, some like Cyril Lucaris began to use their methods and some theological distinctives. Cyril is controversial, to say the least. He clearly adopted “total depravity” which affected his view of salvation. His critics claimed he was corrupted by Reformed theology. A quite Protestant sounding confession that bears his name (whose authorship is questionable) was condemned and he was too, if he held to those views expressed that confession.

Others fearing the Protestant leanings or reform of men like Cyril, used the theology and methods of the Jesuits to reform the eastern church. So we find the main reformers in Eastern Orthodoxy at this time drawing on western methods and articulation of doctrine, whether Protestant or Catholic. They weren’t trying to become either but trying to protect Orthodoxy from the corruption of the other.

Since Constantinople was now under the control of the Ottoman Empire and called Istanbul, the Patriarch of Constantinople was under the control of muslims, Moscow grew in power as the “defender of the faith.” We see the same struggles there. Who would be in control: the tsar or the patriarch? With the rise of Peter the Great this was answered once and for all in favor of the state. Peter would also seek to westernize Russia, and the church. We also see a worship war that was far more bloody than ours since it got wrapped up in politics. With the advent of the printing press in Moscow, they discovered variants in liturgies. Their assumption was there was ONE way to worship. So, which was it? Some stuck with the way the Russian church worshiped while others argued they should be worship in accordance with the older Greek liturgies. Our sinful quest for power again corrupts the worship of God and splits the church.

In some ways this was the most difficult volume in the set for me to read. I was familiar with the material covered regarding England and Scotland, so I didn’t learn as much. Due to my existential realities, reading about all the conflict was less than pleasant. One thing is clear is that the Church desperately needs Christ. She so quickly lapses into conflict, splitting over points great and small. She is ceaselessly attracted to power.

This is not to say this wasn’t worth reading. It is an excellent series and this is a very good volume in this set. This is helpful reading for pastors and lay leaders. It is good reading for anyone with an interest in history. Written by a Protestant, this much more information about Eastern Orthodoxy than you are used to seeing. It helps balance our perspective on the Church, and that is a great thing.

Read Full Post »


Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

Read Full Post »


I first heard of this book from Tim Challies’ blog. It piqued my interest. I thought it may prove a good resource when I preach through NT epistles.

This book is Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew Rueger. Rueger is a Lutheran pastor who was asked to teach a lesson “on the other side” at a university class on ethics. The argument by cultural progressives is that Christianity is morally regressive. Rueger explodes this myth/fallacy by showing what the world was like before the Christian sexual ethic took root in the Roman Empire with the spread of the gospel. The sexual morals of societies before the spread of Christianity looks like where the progressives are trying to bring society. Rueger then moves to the present and discusses the current debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

“My desire in writing this book is to help Christians engage the world around them in reasoned discussion.”

In a sense this feels like two books at times- or perhaps three. There are historical sections, theological/expositional sections and then sociological sections. They all work together to build a compelling case.

In many ways this is not an easy read, or one that should be read by everybody. In particular, some may struggle with the early chapters discussing the sexual morality of Greece and Rome. It made me very glad I was not born in that time and place. People who have suffered similar victimization may be troubled by it. However, this is an excellent book to offset the views students are taught in public schools and centers for higher learning.

The first chapter is The Roman Context, which necessarily includes Greece too. At the time of Christ, much of the Roman Empire had once been part of the Greek Empire and Hellenized. There were not really differences of practice, but there were differences of rationale behind those behaviors.

He begins by noting that orientation is a “modern phenomenon” which seems to be lost on most conservatives. Orientation is slippery, in a sense, because some gay activists freely acknowledge that orientation is a concept of recent conception, and some would not agree with the way orientation is defined by the courts. They see orientation as fluid, while the courts have defined it as immutable (he notes Varnum v. Brien, Iowa 2009).

The ancients, therefore, including the early Christians “did not understand sexuality in terms of orientation.” For Greek culture, “sex was about the pursuit of beauty”, and they took it where they could get it. The ideal of beauty in their culture was young boys. In Roman culture, sex was tied to their idea of masculinity which was domination. Men were honored for dominating others sexually, and ridiculed if they were dominated sexually. It was an ethic very much like what we see in prisons today. This shaped their view of rape in the legal system. It was only rape if it involved a free Roman citizen. Slaves and non-citizens could be raped without consequence, particularly by free Roman citizens (talk about privilege!).

Greeks made no such distinction between citizens and non-citizens. Pederasty was common among Greeks and Romans, though there was some taboo in Rome where freeborn boys were concerned. Young male slaves were vulnerable. You were expected to take advantage of them.

“Our early Christian ancestors did not confess biblical chastity in a safe culture that naturally agreed with them.”

Marriage was not between equals. Male privilege ran rampant in these “progressive” cultures. Marriage was for status and heirs and the Empire, not love. Sexual pleasure was sought elsewhere. Seeking sex from a boy or man was viewed as a higher form of sexual relationship which included intellectual love.

He discusses the role of the gymnasium in Greek and Roman life. The word meant ‘naked’ for it was where the boys and young men exercised naked. One of the more popular sports was wrestling. Clothes, inhibitions and modesty were all shed together. Generally slaves were prohibited from entering the gymnasium. These teens were watched, and pursued, by older men in this environment.

Family life was twisted by their diminished view of women. Greek wives were virtually prisoners in their homes. They would leave for some religious rites, but that was about it. Roman wives had more rights and mobility. They could conduct trade. Since their “job” was to produce children for the Empire, women were often married once they were able to have children to maximize the child-bearing years due to infant mortality rates. For the population to grow, you needed to have at least 3 children survive to adulthood (it’s all about the Empire)so you needed to have at least 6 children. Expectations were different for the wealthy (you can’t have too many elites), and infanticide was a problem in Rome.

Husbands had rights over their wives, but not wives over her husband. He was free to sow his oats outside of the marriage. She was not. If caught, she and her male partner could be prosecuted (assuming the husband was a free man with means). In keeping with the twisted view of sexuality in Rome, the husband could “rape the male offender and then, if he desired, to kill his wife.” This was a brutal and depraved society.

Image result for escherIt was a world of promiscuity and perversion into which the gospel of Jesus Christ was first preached. Paul called it a crooked and twisted generation (Phil. 2:15). The Gentiles who converted came from a background of pornography, prostitution (including temple prostitutes), homosexuality/bisexuality, and rape. Like those around them, they had been given over to their disordered desires. The Gospel called people out of this perverse way of life, confronting the sexual mores of Rome.

Rueger then addresses the Jewish Context, which should not be assumed to be the same as the Christian viewpoint because it wasn’t. Judaism did not permit homosexuality like the Gentiles did. It prohibited prostitution. It did, however, permit polygamy and concubines. There was also a double standard concerning adultery. Wives were to produce heirs.

The sexual abuse of children was considered punishable. But it was merely a fine in the Mishnah. Generally, Jewish culture was less perverse than Greek and Roman cultures. But we see it was still warped by sin. The Gospel and subsequent definition of holy living would confront aspect of Jewish sexuality and marriage as well.

“We live in a culture that has a vested interest in misinterpreting the passages about sex and morality.”

He then moves into the expositional section of the book. Rueger looks at particular passages that are central to these discussions. He discusses context, briefly, to help people understand how to interpret texts. He includes some passages about marriage to indicate the equal rights and responsibilities of spouses in sexual matters. He then moves into sexual immorality and homosexual sex. In 1 Corinthians he notes the two words used for homosexual activity which indicate both the penetrator and penetrated are guilty of breaking God’s Law, which is quite contrary to Roman ethics.

“It should be noticed that Paul does not treat homosexual sins differently than heterosexual sins when it comes to the application of Law and Gospel. Both are addressed side by side as equally contrary to God’s Law and both are spoken of as equally forgivable.”

He then moves to the present with “Mom, Dad, I’m Gay”. As a Lutheran pastor, he applies Law and Gospel to this situation. He also challenges the basis for those who challenge traditional/biblical teachings on homosexuality. In our culture, objectivity is laid aside and subjectivity is embraced. He discusses the many reasons why someone could be homosexual.

“It is important for us as Christians to understand that not all homosexuality is the same. … Christians do a great disservice to those who seek Christ’s grace and mercy by lumping all same-sec attracted people into one group.”

In that application of Law and Gospel, he draws a big distinction between those who seek to normalize homosexuality and those who believe it is wrong and struggle with their same sex desires (as well as other sexual sins). The former need the Law to convict them of sin, and the latter need to Gospel for forgiveness and sanctification. Too often I hear Christians speak of people struggling with same sex desire as one big group, as if they are all activists. There is a quiet majority (?) of those who are conflicted in themselves between what they experience and what they believe is right.

Additionally, the Church needs to remember that heterosexual desire also creates sinful desires (such as for adultery, fornication, pornography, polygamy etc.). I’ve had pastors say to me that it is different because same-sex attraction is unnatural. But we need to put those desires to sin to death because they are just as deadly & dangerous, just as sinful, as same-sex desires. Until we do that, we will treat them as lepers.

He stresses the role of the Church as making the pardoning and purifying grace of Jesus Christ known to its members who struggle with these desires. Being Lutheran, he stresses the sacraments. As a Reformed Christian, I hold a high view of the sacraments and their being means of grace. But not as high as Lutherans. He seems to disconnect their efficacy from faith. But the Table is a place to bring disordered desires of all kinds to Jesus and receive His help through our union with Him.

“Temptation is not the same as sin. Temptations play on those elements of our inner being that have a weakness for a certain sin, but in and of themselves temptations are not sins.”

He moves into an area of debate among even conservative Christians. He distinguishes temptation from sin. His statements are similar to those of Nancy Pearcey, Rosaria Butterfield and others (though Rosaria then seems to put homosexual temptation in a separate category in the next paragraph). The gospel does teach us to say ‘no’ to unrighteousness, which means we are mortifying our temptations. As Christians our temptations, while real and present, should not define us. He includes three paragraphs from Luther’s Larger Catechism in which Luther differentiates temptation and sin. Luther further distinguishes temptation from desire (or what we call lust), in which we are entertaining or giving way to temptation rather than mortifying it, but have not yet committed the act in question. This is likely what Owen means in his phrase “entering into temptation.” I find this a helpful distinction.

Tempted? Mortify it! Lusting? Mortify it and repent! Done it? Repent!

“Christians are not less sinful than non-Christians, but they do have a Savior who both forgives sins and fights within them against the temptations in their path.”

He returns to the question of orientation. It usually refers to the idea that sexuality and attraction are essential elements of a person resulting from their individual biology which cannot be changed. This “immutability” is an accident of their birth. This is how the courts have spoken about this. As Rueger notes, real life is not some simple. For some people, “orientation” or attraction is more fluid. They shift between heterosexual and homosexual at points in life (as opposed to bisexuality). The claims of the courts, and activists, don’t fit reality. Instead of orientation, he advocates talking about sexual identity or gender preference. These leave room for the gospel to be at work, while the language of orientation is misleading and fatalistic.

Rueger then addresses “A Mixed Bag of Objections”. He brings up objections to the Christian understanding of homosexuality and refutes them. We see objections like “inconsistency in applying the law” to which he responds with the three divisions of the law. He brings up racial prejudice and slavery, genetics and brain studies, and twin studies. He explores them, affirms where there are real concerns (Christians have been guilty of prejudice and advocated for and against race-based slavery rooted in man-stealing). He examines those studies and mentions other studies that sought to correct methodological flaws.

The next chapter focuses on same-sex marriage. He builds a case against it from natural law and reason since most people (especially the courts) aren’t concerned about what Scripture says. He brings up studies indicating that children thrive to a greater extent with two parents of the opposite sex. They do better in school and get into less trouble with the law. Where traditional marriage decays (including through divorce and never-married parents), state funding to support children increases greatly. He recognizes the limits of these arguments. Most people, while appealing to reason, often don’t listen to it. Their hearts want what their hearts want. Only God, by His Spirit can change that.

“Sexual promiscuity leaves a trail of broken people and regret. It also tends to go hand in hand with an attitude that sees people as objects for one’s own sexual gratification and not as beings worthy of committed love.”

This was a very helpful book. It is not a long book. Rueger is generally succinct and gets to the point. He does make a number of good and necessary distinctions which often trip up discussions by their absence. This would be a helpful book for pastors, youth workers, teachers, parents and students facing pressure to conform to worldly standards.

To return to his thesis: Christianity is not affirming regressive sexual mores, but continues to call people out of the regressive sexuality that results in rampant promiscuity, sexual abuse and assault, societal instability and misogyny.

 

Read Full Post »


For those who have forgotten, my reading project this year is 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, a church history set by Nick Needham. Each quarter I’m reading one of the 4 volumes in the set. Due to vacation I started the 3rd volume a little late but finished it before the end of the quarter. A whole week to spare.

Volume 3 covers the Renaissance and Reformation. It covers quite a bit of material since the Reformation was not a uniform movement. By no means am I an expert on the history of the Reformation, but have read a fair amount. Needham provided plenty of nuance in his discussion, bringing in other factors that influenced people and events. There was plenty here I didn’t know and found beneficial particularly on interactions between groups seeking elusive unity. One issue that kept arising, and preventing union, was communion. Attention is paid to the different views and meetings over those views. Another distinctive mark of the series so far is present here as well. He addresses events in Eastern Orthodoxy during this time period in the final chapter. That he refuses to limit himself to Europe is one of the strengths of this set.

The first chapter covers the Renaissance, which in God’s providence give birth to the Reformation. The humanists were those who developed a great fondness and dependence on the “ancient books” that had in many places been forgotten. They began to read Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and fell under the spell of Greek and Hebrew. It was a revival of the knowledge of the past. There were pockets of the Renaissance in Italy, Germany, England, France and Spain. It was not a uniform movement with ideological goals. But many humanists, like Erasmus, begin to see and confront the problems they saw in the church. There were some theological critiques due to the renewed influence in Augustine, but largely they focused on moral issues.

The humanists laid the groundwork for the Reformation by bringing the study of Greek and Hebrew, and Augustine (among others) back into vogue. Many began to realize the rich heritage of the Church and how it differed at points with parts of their contemporary church. The theology of Rome was not uniform either. The theological aspects of the Reformation would later produce more uniformity in Roman Catholic theology as a response.

There were “Reformers” before Luther, people who expressed “evangelical” theology and called for changes within the Church. They would influence communities, but not a nation like Luther did. Needham notes people like John of Wesel who held to an early form of sola scriptura, attacked indulgences, rejected transubstantiation and enforced celibacy of priests. He was deposed from his office and subjected to the Inquisition. 79 years old, the Inquisition was too much for him and he renounced his “heresies”. He was sentenced to imprisonment in an Augustinian convent where he died 2 years later. Wessel Gansfort was a teacher who made many of the same criticisms, though he accepted a form of transubstantiation. He managed to escape the Inquisition. Girolamo Savonarola led a moral reform in Florence in which people burned their pornography, cosmetics and gambling devices. In his preaching he also attacked the corruption of the papal court. He was a strong Augustinian, and therefore drew the ire of the Franciscans.

One of the ironies of the Renaissance is the rise of the witch hunt. In such a time of great learning, there was also a time of great superstition and fear regarding black magic. Over 300 years governments put thousands of men and women accused of black magic to death. Estimates range (widely from 100,000 to as much as 9 million). For instance, in Geneva while Calvin was alive 2-3 women a year were executed by the government for witchcraft. Most were hanged, not burned.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifNeedham moves to Luther in whom all of this took root, and through whom all of this came to be a crisis that rocked Europe. While a monk and professor, Luther’s spiritual guide was Johannes von Staupitz. He was a professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University, as well as a disciple of Augustine. He was highly influential on Luther. Luther would take over Staupitz’ duties in 1512.

The initial dispute was over indulgences. Eventually the dispute moved to the root of that dispute: justification. But this took a few years. Luther’s personal breakthrough on the issue of justification likely took place in 1518-19 (with Melanchthon’s help), after the 95 Theses sparked the controversy. Men like Spalatin, Carlstadt and Melanchthon joined Luther. Some for a time (Carlstadt) and others for a lifetime (Melanchthon).

As one considers the Reformation, you see the different tensions that emerge. There was the theological tension between Augustine and Aquinas (despite being greatly influenced by Augustine), nationalism and the Holy Roman Empire, informed faith and implicit faith. The Reformation was about salvation, worship and Church government as well as the Church’s relationship with government.

The 3rd chapter focuses on 1521-1531 as Luther’s views began to shake up and shape much of Germany. In Germany a state church developed under the authority of the magistrate. There were no more Church courts, thereby unrolling the reforms of Hilbebrand.

All was not fine and dandy however. It was the Peasant’s Revolt, which was a misunderstanding and misapplication of Christian liberty among other things. There was also the iconoclast vision of Carlstadt and Zwilling in Wittenberg. They were concerned with actions, not hearts and went far beyond where Luther was willing and disrupted the city.

This period includes the beginning of the Swiss Reformation under Zwingli. While there were many common points with Luther, the one big difference was the Lord’s Supper. While they tried to work it out, it seemed insurmountable. Luther would condemn the Swiss Reformed, not even counting them as brothers. The milder Melanchton would maintain his friendship with them and would end up counting John Calvin as one of his best friends.

Martin Bucer by German School.jpgNeedham then brings us to Calvin whose reformation when deeper than Luther’s on many points. It would have gone deeper still if not for the hindrances of the local magistrate which saw itself as controlling the church. Under this chapter he includes Bucer who would have a great influence on Calvin, as well as Peter Martyr. Martyr would work with Calvin to “finalize” the Reformed doctrine of communion as distinct from transubstantiation, Luther’s view and Zwingli’s memorial view. Emphasis was placed on our union with Christ, the nature of signs and the role of faith in receiving that which they symbolized by virtue of that union.

He then focuses on Calvin. One of Calvin’s contributions was his view of the Church in distinction to the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist views. Calvin is dependent on Bucer but was able to say it better, with more force and able to implement it far more than Bucer did. They distinguished between the visible and invisible church, argued that the church and state work together but that the church was not controlled by the state. The church must exercise church discipline lest the visible church become corrupt.

Needham spends a fair amount of space on the controversy with Servetus. This “tragic episode” should be seen in a larger context of Calvin’s controversy with the Libertines or Perrinists. The Libertines opposed Calvin in his desire to enforce moral discipline. They often had loose morals and many held hetrodox views: pantheism, denying the inspiration of the Scriptures etc.. The Libertines made life very difficult for Calvin: so difficult he often wished God would let him leave. At the time of the Servetus trial and execution, Ami Perrin was the chief magistrate.

Michael Servetus.jpgServetus was considered a heretic by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike for his denial of the Trinity. Over the years he had correspondence with Calvin in which Calvin tried to reason with him. Eventually Calvin decided to no longer offer pearls to swine. Servetus was arrested and condemned by the Inquisition, but escaped the prison before he could be executed. For reasons unknown he went to Geneva where he was arrested.

The trial was a contest not only between Servetus and Calvin (a primary witness against him) but also between Calvin and the Libertines (who controlled the city council). In one of histories great ironies, Servetus believed that the magistrate should put heretics to death. He just didn’t believe he was the heretic. The Libertines used this as an opportunity to harass Calvin, putting every conceivable obstacle in the way to justice according to Genevan law. They strung it out even as they knew they couldn’t acquit him with all the western world watching. The council condemned him to death by burning. Calvin argued for a quicker, less cruel manner of death. His old friend, Farel, called Calvin soft.

The Libertines had destroyed their credibility by how they conducted the trial. In the next elections they lost power. In response they staged a riot, for which the ringleaders including Perrin were arrested and convicted. Most were banished, but Perrin was sentenced to death. He was able to flee Geneva to Berne to avoid his sentence. But the Libertines troubled Geneva no more.

Calvin’s work as a pastor and theologian of the first order was not carried out in ease. “He was a constant martyr to arthritis, migraine headaches, bleeding from the stomach, bowel disorders, hemorrhoids, inflamed kidneys and kidney stones, fever, muscle cramps, and gout.” He endured all of these without the benefit of modern medicine.

The 5th chapter covers what is called the Radical Reformation. Needham views this time as one of Reformations, not a single Reformation with different branches. This is due to the complexity of this phenomenon regarding theology and the view of the state and worship.

Needham identifies three Radical tendencies. Any group may have more then one of these tendencies, but any one of them put them outside of the Lutheran and Magisterial Reformations. Those three tendencies were Anabaptism (rejection of infant baptism and baptizing people “again”), Spiritualist (rejecting the authority of the Word for the Spirit apart from the Word) and Rationalist (rejecting the authority of the Scriptures for the authority of one’s on reason).

Some groups majored on Anabaptism, thinking the Reformers at the time weren’t going far enough in their rejection of Rome. Many of them were peaceful groups wanting to live out their faith in an increasingly dangerous environment due to the political realities of the time. One of their distinctive views was that of a “pure church” comprised only of the truly committed. Today this is expressed in a “regenerate church” in which being in the covenant is conflated with salvation. This is the presupposition that drives credobaptism. Zwingli, for instance, believed the Swiss Brethren were asking too much of him- to abandon the existing church and form this new separatist religious communities. Early on, Anabaptists like Grebel did not seek to change the mode of baptism to immersion but that would come and become a shibboleth for “real baptism” among Baptists today. Zwingli saw their baptisms and celebration of the eucharist as anarchy since they were outside of the established church.

They also seemed to shun theology. The Schleitheim Confession is a case in point. It “dealt exclusively with matters of morality and Church order.” With regard to the latter it develops their understanding of the ban or shunning. They thought everything flowed out of lifestyle, and theology arose from their “ethical and communal concerns”, which is quite the opposite of the Magisterial Reformation and Luther. This led to a rejection of the Augustinian views of salvation found among the Reformers. They were semi-pelagian or even Pelagian in their understanding of salvation. They rejected the forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone, and maintained Rome’s conflation of justification and sanctification. Like Rome they feared it was a license to sin.

Since Zwingli was forced to engage them on baptism, his own position changed. Early on he wrote that infant baptism was “neither right nor wrong.” In 1523 he was committed to infant baptism. In his engagement with the Anabaptists he formalized a biblical defense of infant baptism rooted in the covenant and connected to circumcision. One of his key texts was Romans 4, which was one of the key texts in my transition to Reformed infant baptism.

Unfortunately, some Anabaptist groups began predicting the return of Christ. Perhaps this was a consequence of their pure, or true, Church focus. Now that the true Church had been established, Christ would/could return.

MennoSimons.gifMenno Simons was one of the more balanced Anabaptists. But one way he differed significantly from the Reformers was his formulation of sola Scriptura. He disallowed any appeal to tradition. It was not simply that Scripture alone is the final authority, but cleaved Scripture and the church from the past for help in understanding Scripture. That is a very dangerous place to be.

The more a group also drank from the Spiritualist well the more dangerous that group became. This thread subordinated all external authorities, including Scripture, to the “living voice of God speaking directly in in the individual’s heart.” It was about “inward personal experience.” Sebastian Franck went so far as to argue that God deliberately placed contradictions in the Bible to point us away from it to the Spirit. At its worst it also resulted in the Munster community which was filled with sexual license and violence before the armies came to lay siege.

The Rationalist Radicals subordinated all external authorities, including to Scripture, to human reason, often called “right reason”. As a result they rejected the doctrines which were revealed but not provable by reason: the Trinity and the Incarnation. The most famous of them was Socinus.

Needham moves to the topic of Europe divided. Here is where the politics of the time rises in prominence. There were power struggles galore as states sought independence from the Holy Roman Emperor and regional churches sought independence from Rome and the Pope. At times it stained the Protestants, including Luther, Melanchthon and Bucer, when they approved of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse. This was significant because Philip’s role in the Schmalkaldic League which united Lutheran states against the Emperor. When Luther died, Charles struck and defeated the League. He could defeat their armies, but not their faith.

The Reformation spread to the Scandinavian countries, first gaining a toe hold in Denmark. Luther’s death also saw the growth of the Reformed faith in Germany due to the work of people like Peter Martyr. France experienced stiff resistance to the Reformed faith with quite a few persecutions and eventually a war that split the nobility. The Catholic League formed an alliance with Spain to destroy the Huguenots. Philip Duplessis Mornay, a Huguenot, developed Calvin’s statements on the lesser magistrate into A Defense of Liberty against Tyrants, which would be a theological justification for the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the horrible excesses of the French Revolution.

In addition to the divisions on the European continent, divisions would come to the British Islands. The 7th chapter focuses on England and Scotland. Here as well politics and religion formed a dangerous combination at times with persecution breaking out periodically, particularly by Mary as she sought to restore Catholicism as England’s faith. It all began with a king’s idolatrous pursuit of an heir. His three children from three mothers led to a see saw effect. Edward embraced Protestantism, Mary Catholicism and Elisabeth was Protestant but more concerned with uniformity. Her Act of Supremacy reasserted the throne as the Head of the Church of England setting the stage for the rise of the Puritans and the English Civil War.

In Scotland there was no king like Henry VIII, but plenty of internal struggle between Catholic royalty and Protestant nobility. We see the rise of John Knox (who spent time in England and Geneva as well as a French slave galley to make for an interesting resume).

The Catholic Counter-Reformation was not quite uniform. Needham spends some time on the evangelical Catholics. They affirmed justification by faith alone but typically maintained allegiance to the Pope and the doctrine of transubstantiation. One of these was Luther’s old mentor, Staupitz. While a faithful Catholic, his books were placed on the index of forbidden books in 1563. Others included Albert Pighius, Jacob Sadoleto and Juan de Valdes.

One the other side of the spectrum was the rise of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. A former military man, he organized his order in similar fashion and acted like it was on, moving into “enemy territory” to reconvert the Protestants.

Rome also responded to the Reformation with the Council of Trent. Intended to be ecumenical, it was anything but that. The Pope(s) and Emperor struggled over the Council including its composition and location. They each had factions loyal to them. The Catholic Evangelicals were involved in early meetings but soon were pushed out. Roman Catholic theology had a greater breadth and variety leading up to the Reformation. Trent changed all that, bringing greater uniformity with its anathemas and affirmations. Needham notes that the anathemas were largely aimed at straw men. They consistently misinterpreted Protestants.

In the East, the Church fell on hard times to the spread of the Ottoman Empire. The courting of Rome for help didn’t work, and alienated much of the Orthodox masses who greatly resented the Pope and Roman Catholicism. The Russian Orthodox, among others, saw this compromise as close to apostasy. The Ottoman Empire defeated Constantinople and made Christians 2nd class citizens. They allowed the Patriarch of Constantinople to exist, but began to appoint men to the position. There was some correspondence with the Lutherans who wanted to remind Rome that there were churches tracing their roots to the early church that rejected Rome and the Pope’s authority. It didn’t get far due to stark theological differences.

The power vacuum created by the Ottoman conquest was filled by Moscow which was granted the position of Patriarch city. Oddly, the Russians didn’t seek to push the Ottomans out of Constantinople. While offended that Constantinople looked West instead of North, they did nothing about it. But the compromise of the South lead Russian Orthodoxy to believe they alone held to the true faith, a view which still exists today.

There is obviously much more in this volume. I’ve only touched on some highlights. As usual, this volume is engaging in its writing. Some history can be dreadfully dull as written. Needham’s isn’t. He hits on some points that other historians seem to overlook. He also rejects the temptation to neglect the Eastern Church after the Great Schism. This is good and informative reading that includes sections of original source material. Can’t beat that.

Read Full Post »


Sometimes the question of whether or not we should use unleavened bread in communion arises. Our Session addressed the question recently.

Here are some of the common reasons given for using unleavened bread in communion.

  1. “Unleavened” bread is mentioned 62 times, not exclusively in connection with Passover aka the Feast of Unleavened Bread. No leavened bread was to be used in the Passover.
  2. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the Passover, using unleavened bread, when the Lord’s Supper was instituted.
  3. Tradition may have overridden God’s Word in permitting leavened bread to be used.
  4. Scripture never says to use leavened bread.
  5. No teacher or pastor promotes partaking of leavened bread.
  6. Leaven has a negative symbolical overtone. Since it seems to symbolize sin how can we use it to celebrate the Lord’s Table.

 

In Response:

  1. Leavened Bread was Only Prohibited During Passover

Leavened bread should not be seen as a symbol of sin. It was permitted to be eaten 51 weeks a year. It is okay for us to sin 51 weeks a year?

The bread of the Presence, set on the table in the Tabernacle (Ex. 25) is not said to be unleavened. If it was a symbol of sin, would such leavened bread be permitted to serve as the bread of the Presence?

In Exodus 29, recounting the ordination of the priests, it is unclear if the bread mentioned in vv. 23 (one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the Lord) is the same as that mentioned in vv. 2 (unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil). Both include bread, cakes and wafers. But vv. 2 indicates all of them are unleavened. In vv. 23 only the wafers are. Only bread, unqualified, is mentioned in vv. 32 & 34. This is clarified in Leviticus 8:26 which again mentions both.

26 and out of the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord he took one unleavened loaf and one loaf of bread with oil and one wafer and placed them on the pieces of fat and on the right thigh.

In Leviticus 7, thanksgiving offerings include unleavened bread, BUT peace offerings include leavened bread (vv. 13).

In Leviticus 23:17 bread baked with leaven is used in during the Feast of Weeks.

17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.

 

  1. Leaven is Not a Symbol of Evil

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13 c.f. Luke 13:21

In this passage, we see that leaven is used positively in describing the kingdom of heaven. While many of the uses of “leaven” are negative, the overall use is figurative to indicate how a little of the matter at hand spreads to permeate the whole of a body. This is how it is used; sometimes negatively and sometimes positively. Therefore, leaven itself is not to be seen as evil. Its presence would not necessarily make the bread “unclean” for the purposes of the Lord’s Table.

 

  1. We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not the Passover.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 indicates that Christ has fulfilled the Passover for us. It was a type of Christ. The shadow of Passover has been fulfilled and abrogated as part of the ceremonial law which governed worship in the Old Testament. Paul’s use of leaven/unleavened in the context is figurative rather than literal: malice & wickedness vs. sincerity & truth. He speaks not of the bread used, but of our attitudes in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (not Passover).

In 1 Corinthians 10:14ff we see Paul using the general word for “bread”. The flight from idolatry is also the flight from syncretism. His focus is on our unity in Christ as depicted in the Lord’s Supper.

In Luke 22:7 we see there is a word for “unleavened bread”. Paul could very well have used this in his letter to the Corinthians to clarify matters for these Gentile Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 11:23ff the general word for “bread” is used again in reference to their celebration of the Supper. Paul does not clarify this for his largely Gentile audience. Paul may have implicitly intended them to use unleavened bread as in the Jewish festival. However, he has previously told them the Passover was fulfilled in Christ. Paul once again seems less concerned with the elements used than how they celebrated it (the point of the passage is corrupt worship in Corinth).

 

  1. Our Confessional Documents Simply Say “Bread”

WSC Q 96: What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.

 

WLC 168: What is the Lord’s Supper?

A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship with each other, as members of the same mystical body.

 

WLC Q. 169: How has Christ appointed bread and wine to be given and received in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper?

A: Christ has appointed the ministers of his Word, in the administration of this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, to set apart the bread and wine from common use, by the word of institution, thanksgiving, and prayer; to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants: who are, by the same appointment, to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.

 

  1. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation. WCF, XXIX

 

  1. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before. WCF, XXIX

 

  1. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries. WCF, XXIX

 

It is noteworthy that only one of the commentaries on the Westminster Standards and Heidelberg Catechism addresses this issue. Those not mentioning this include A.A. Hodge, Robert Shaw, R.C. Sproul, and Kevin DeYoung. G.I. Williamson does not address it in his volumes on the Shorter Catechism. In his volume on The Westminster Confession of Faith he writes:

“It is our conviction that when the Lord instituted the sacrament he used unleavened bread and fermented wine. … And with this evidence agrees the known practice of the ancient Church, in which unleavened bread and fermented wine were used.

“However, we would not argue that the sacrament cannot be valid without unleavened bread and fermented wine. We can readily envision circumstances under which it might be necessary to use either leavened bread, or grape juice, or even both. Though technically irregular, we would not maintain that the sacrament may not be observe under such conditions. Even those who ordinarily use leavened bread and grape juice out of mere convenience we will not condemn. But if the decision to use grape juice instead of win is based on the influence of the Temperance Movement, we must regard this as seriously unbiblical.” (pp. 222)

 

  1. Response from Church History:

Since church history was mentioned we thought it pertinent to include the views of Martin Luther and John Calvin, two of the most influential Reformers. Their views are not authoritative, but rather helpful for us.

One of Luther’s objections to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation was that they no longer served bread and wine. Luther held to the view that we should use bread and wine in obedience to Christ’s institution of the Supper. In culture where bread and/or wine are available (like ours, but not some islands in the Pacific for instance) they should be used. We should not celebrate it with pizza (though it includes bread) and Coke. Luther did not specify that unleavened bread should be used.

“According to Luther, the miracle is that Christ, in his human body and blood, becomes present in, under, and through the bread and wine. There is not a change of elements, but an addition to them.” R.C. Sproul[1]

Shifting to Calvin:

“Furthermore, Satan, to deprive the church of this inestimable treasure, has long since spread clouds, and afterward, to obscure this light, has raised quarrels and conflicts to estrange the minds of simple folk from a taste for this sacred food, and also has tried the same trick in our own day.” John Calvin, Institutes IV, XVII, 1.

Calvin, in the above quote, warns about quarrels and conflicts which estrange people from the Table. Satan, he believes, often tries to keep people away due to secondary matters. Calvin affirms that the signs are bread and wine. He does not qualify them at this point. They are bread and wine, not rice cakes and sake or any other combination. (IV, XVII, 1, 3)

“Thus, when bread is given as a symbol of Christ’s body, we must at one grasp this comparison: as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the life of our body, so Christ’s body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul.” John Calvin, Institutes, IV, XVII, 3)

Calvin notes that the Supper sends us to the Cross, not to Passover except as much as Christ is the Lamb slain for us. The “thing signified” is of far greater importance for Calvin than the sign. As a result, he did not focus on the type of bread that is to be used.

Another aspect of church history we should consider is the practice of the church. It is not authoritative, but illustrative. Both John Hammett and Robert Letham note that the early church used leavened bread. Eventually the Roman Catholic Church began to shift to unleavened bread. Letham connects this with the development of transubstantiation. Leavened bread would create crumbs, and they did not want the physical body of Jesus to fall on the ground. The Anglican Church is the only Protestant church to continue to use unleavened bread. All of the others used leavened bread like the Eastern Church has for over a thousand years.

 

 

In his book Given for You, Keith Mathison, mentions a controversy involving Baptist theologian Stevens regarding the use of grape juice versus the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper. Stevens notes that this is similar to whether to use leavened or unleavened bread. Mathison rightly responds that leavened bread is still bread while grape juice isn’t wine (nor is wine simply juice). The Scriptures and our confessional documents simply say “bread” without any clarification or limitation.

Conclusion:

In light of the above reasons, we believe it is wise to affirm the view expressed by John Calvin.

“But as for the outward ceremony of the action- whether or not the believers take it in their hands, or divide it among themselves, or severally eat what has been given to each; whether they hand the cup back to the deacon or give it to the next person; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; the wine red or white- it makes no difference. There things are indifferent, and left at the church’s discretion.” Calvin, Institutes, IV, XVII, 43

Our conclusion is that we will continue to use leavened bread but also make an unleavened, gluten-free option available for those whose conscience holds that it should be unleavened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Research:

 

Does Scripture Demand Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper? By John S. Hammett

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-scripture-demand-unleavened-bread-in-the-lords-supper/

 

“While evidence as to the early church’s practice isn’t abundant, ordinary leavened bread seems to have been the norm. A difference gradually developed between East and West, though, with the East continuing to use leavened bread while the West adopted unleavened bread- a distinction between Orthodox and Roman Catholics that endures today.”

 

Most Protestant churches used leavened bread while the Church of England continued to use unleavened bread.

 

Argues that in places that don’t grow wheat or have bread, a common staple food can be used.

 

This is not a question of novelty, introducing a new sign, but recognizing that bread would be novel for them.

 

Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper by Keith Mathison

“The bread used by Jesus was doubtless the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, as the wine he used was doubtless the fermented juice of the grape. But this does not mean that we must uof necessity use unleavened bread, nor does it mean that we cannot use the unfermented joice of the grape. … To insist on literalism would be tantamount to legalism.” Quoting William Stevens, pp. 306.

 

Response: “Finally, the comparison that Stevens makes between leavened and unleavened bread and wine and grape juice overlooks one big difference between the two. Leavened bread is still bread, but grape juice is not wine.” pp. 306

 

The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread by Robert Letham

“Following this, the evidence (such as we have) indicates the church in the early centuries universally used ordinary leavened bread. By the eighth century, the bread and wine had officially begin. To be identified with the body and blood of Christ. Since leavened breat was mor likely to crumble and so fragment the body of Christ, Rome required the use of unleavened bread. However, the East refused to follow, accusing Rome of Judaizing tendencies, and to this day it continues to use ordinary leavened bread.” pp. 54.

 

“However, the word consistently used in connection with the Lord’s Supper is the wider ranging term artos, meaning a small round loaf of ordinary bread.” pp. 54

 

“A.A. Hodge, in response to the question “What kind of bread is to be used in the sacrament …?” argues that this is not specified, nor rendered essential by the nature of the service.” pp. 54

 

“What is clear is that the elements to be used in the Last Supper are bread and wine (“the fermented juice of the grape … that wine and no other liquid is to be used is clear from the record of the institution”); but as to the exact brand of bread or wine we have no precise requirement.” pp. 55

 

 

[1] Sproul, Vol. 3, pp. 148.

Read Full Post »


My list differs in that I’m focused on books I actually read in 2017, not books released in 2017. I’ve got a variety of books in this list. It is not simply theology, Bible and ministry related. Perhaps there are some you will be prompted to read. I hope so, because you might benefit from them. So, here we go.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. This was probably the best book I read in 2017. Ferguson focuses on a series of texts that provide a framework for our sanctification. He does a great job of defining sanctification in terms of our devotion to God, and unpacking those texts. I highly recommend this book.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. Yes, another book by Sinclair Ferguson. This is an updated version of one of his earliest book. He addresses the authority of the Bible and how to benefit from reading it. Both novices and experienced readers of the Bible can benefit from it.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman. I’ve loved this series by Crossway. This is another impressive contribution by Trueman. He is not trying to repaint Luther to look like a 21st century evangelical. Luther places great stress on the Word of God in our worship and Christian living. It is an emphasis that should mark us more than it currently does.

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton. This  is another excellent volume in the series by Crossway. It is fairly theological, but not for theology’s sake. Like the Luther volume, we see the very different context in which the Christian live is lived. The church was close to the center of life for most people with services offered daily. Horton focuses on the story of redemption and how this shapes Calvin’s views. Not just a man of his times, Calvin was also a man ahead of his time.

Faith Seeking Assurance by Anthony Burgess. This Burgess is the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange. The focus of the book is assurance of salvation. Assurance is viewed subjectively (Calvin tends to view it objectively- assurance God saves sinners), meaning that God has saved this particular sinner. He holds to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards. In my review I note that this is not a perfect book, but that it is a very good and worthwhile book.

Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Love for God by John Flavel. Another Puritan volume worth considering. It is not long but focuses on maintaining our love for God in a variety of difficult circumstances that Flavel lays out for us. He notes the particular temptation of each set of circumstances and provides means to help us maintain our love for God in them. This is a very good little book.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness by David Powlison. This book is unusual in that it doesn’t frame anger as essentially wrong. He does address our anger problems, tying them back to what we love. Often our anger problems reveal love problems. This was a very helpful book.

Making All Things New by David Powlison. This is a short book focused on God’s plan to restore our broken sexuality. He addresses both the sexual sinner and sexual victims though it is weighted toward the sinner. He is realistic as he views this within the framework of our sanctification. Though brief, it was helpful by providing an overview of God’s goals and purposes.

Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins. If you haven’t read any of John Perkins’ books before, this is a great place to begin. He is an activist for civil rights as viewed through the framework of the gospel. He sees Christ as the only real hope for racial reconciliation. The books is full of stories compiled according to the themes he explores.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. This is a very good and accessible book on the subject of union with Christ. It doesn’t address all that it could. What it does cover, it covers quite well. It is written for laypeople so you won’t get lost in abstraction or in over your head theologically.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together by R.C. Sproul. I read the recently updated volume which was originally published in the 1990’s. Sproul examined and critiqued the controversial Gift of Salvation document which followed after Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Generally winsome and irenic, Sproul explores the reality of the communion of saints and its connection to the doctrine of justification. In the process, R.C. sheds light on a recent theological controversy as well as the one we call the Reformation.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I like Reeves’ books. He writes with a sense of humor, sense of history and wanting a doxological focus. This volume focuses on Christology and presents it in an interesting and accessible fashion.  This is a very helpful book for laypeople wanting to understand Christology.

Jonah (The Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament) by Kevin Youngblood. This was my favorite commentary while preaching through Jonah this fall. It has a very good blend of exegesis and application. It strikes a very good balance. Knowledge of Hebrew was not essential to benefit from his discussion of the Hebrew text. He talked about how each passage fits within the canon of the Bible. I’m looking forward to other volumes in this series by Zondervan.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. Holley has written a number of books about the New England Patriots. So far, all the ones I’ve read have been interesting. This book focuses on the staff, though it includes some material about key players and the draft process.

Read Full Post »


Adam McHugh now wraps up his book Introverts in Church. In some sense this is a summary for much of it sounded familiar. This final chapter is the one that mentions postmodernism and its effects on church and worship the most.

What I think he struggles to say is that as a community, church involves compromise (in the positive sense of not needing to have your way on preferences). We are to stand firm on biblical principle (orthodox doctrine, the elements of worship, mission of the church), but any community, no matter how united on those principles will struggle with preferences as to how those principles are worked out. Often is the squeaky wheel, the loudest protesters or advocates, that may seemingly get their way. In this perspective, it may more often be the extrovert.

Perhaps his perspective is skewed. His pastoral experience seems to be in larger, multi-staff churches. The vast majority of churches in America are under 100 members. His research doesn’t seem to be thorough, but more anecdotal, even though many aspects resonate with my own experience and struggles as one who has been the pastor of average, ordinary churches.

I would say that I think the personality of our congregation is introverted: a congregation that likes to think, appreciates liturgical aspects, wants to sing and not feel like they are at a concert (when discussing music recently I was told not to have it so loud our ears hurt). But we also struggle with over-commitment. Our people are busy and pulled in many directions. They work long hours, have kids in sports or music, are involved with parachurch ministries on top of the primary responsibilities of marriage and parenting. It is hard to really grasp the primary obstacle(s) to outreach. Perhaps it is a lack of an intentional plan (we are working on one to reach a new neighborhood, and extend that to our current ‘neighbors’).

“Learn to say ‘no’. It will be of more use to you that Greek or Latin.” Martin Luther

Okay, back to the book. There are trade-offs in church life. I commonly say worship music is like the car radio on a long ride. You change the station periodically so there is something for everyone’s taste. Many people don’t like that. They want their station (be it Psalms, hymns, choruses or CCM etc.). There is a huge reason the “love chapter” is found right in the middle of Paul’s discussion of worship in 1 Corinthians. True, God-pleasing worship, requires not only love for God but also love for the rest of the Body. You consider their interests as well as your own.

Think of that! Do you consider what the person in the row in front or behind you needs in worship? Do you value their preferences, or just your own? This matters whether you are an extrovert, introvert, ambivert, non-vert, are a confessional Christian, neo-Calvinist, high church, low church, mid-church, amil, post-mil, pre-mil or prefer rock, folk, classical, jazz, blues or country. I forgot hip hop. Tough for public worship.

We could all share worship service horror stories. McHugh shares his worst which was at a church that had “quadrupled in six years” and was filled with college students and 20-somethings. (Can I say I hate the homogeneous principle?). He felt like it was entering an exclusive club where you had to get past the bouncer. Inside there was blaring music, flashing lights, rolling PowerPoint announcements, lots of chatter (and flirting, imagine young singles…). It was sensory overload for him (and anyone else who finds a need for some reflection and emotional space in worship). The 55-minute message was on sacrificial love (hmmm), and then back to the music. For him it was 2 1/2 hours of words (and loud music) that left him “feeling empty and disoriented. Never have I needed a nap so badly after church.”

This application of the homogeneous principle left him, older people (likely anyone over 30 or who has kids), and those who are nourished by more reflective worship out.

“When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first century life.”

I’m not sure about that statement as many still bring their phones and all those distractions with them.

“My point here is not that churches should coddle introverts. I do not intend to create yet another target audience for a church culture that is already marinating in consumerism. We should not cater our worship services to introverts any more than we should to extroverts. There are times when introverts should feel uncomfortable in worship, though we should be cautious as to the degree of discomfort. But if we are always comfortable, our faith goes stagnant.”

Correct, we should reject a homogeneous principle and recognize that a healthy community has different kinds of people: different ages, sexes, social standings, economic status, personalities, ethnic & cultural backgrounds. These differences require love! That whole thing upon which the Great Commandments hang. This is being a light on a hill and the salt of the earth. This is respecting the different ways our members engage with God and one another (keeping the biblical principles in mind as healthy boundaries).

Love, and such biblical boundaries, will not allow anyone to remain anonymous for long. That is not “a healthy form of belonging.” Such a ghost-like participation makes mission hard, and mission isn’t an elective.

“Through Christ we die to false identities and put away inauthentic behaviors.”

Your primary identity is always “Christian”. Not White (or other ethnic group), American (or other nation), introvert, left-handed, or another of the multitude of identities are culture seems to manufacture to create division and gain power.

Rather, we are to move towards community. We move inward toward self-understanding (not self-actualization), and outward in love. These two movements are meant to be complementary, not competitors. Understand yourself so you know who you are bringing into community: your gifts, weaknesses, priorities, preferences. Then, I think, the Body of Christ will be healthier, stronger, deeper and wider.

 

Read Full Post »


I was so excited about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation I was laying awake for hours in the middle of the night.

Not really. Just some insomnia as I pondered my next sermon, my sermon series that begins in January and a host of other things. One of them was the Reformers.

Some people are very critical of the Reformation. There is indeed cause for lament over another divorce in the body of Christ (as a friend’s sermon put it). Some people are really bothered by the sins of the Reformers and subsequent leaders. Sins they are.

Many happen to be sins that our age looks down upon most severely. Sins that were not necessarily understood to be sins in their day. Luther’s anti-Semitism late in life. Calvin’s involvement in Servetus’ trial as a heretic resulting in the death penalty (this would be scandalous today, not necessarily sinful, though many misunderstand the circumstances and act like Calvin lit the fire). Edwards, Whitefield and others owned slaves. I could go on.

Some try to discredit the Reformation, or other movements within Protestantism, based on the sins of such leaders. How could God use such stubbornly sinful men?

Perhaps their sinfulness is the precise reason God used them.

God magnifies His grace by using Moses the murderer, David the adulterer & murderer, Jacob the con man, Abram the liar, Peter the impetuous, Paul the blasphemer etc. And the Reformers.

Ah, but those men repented. Luther, Edwards and others didn’t. Hmm, what about the sins you fail to repent of? Shall they overcome union with Christ too? Do they mean you were never united to Christ? We have to be careful for the measure we use will be how we are measured.

I’m not saying that these things weren’t sins. I am saying that His grace is greater than their sin (and mine).

By their sinfulness He is also saving us from our sinfulness. As Calvin noted, the human heart is “a factory of idols.” We would turn these men into saints, like Rome and the Orthodox so. Rather than leaders, we’d make them super-saints who were better than us. Even now many of us still struggle with this. Some try to down play, ignore and outright reject the idea that they were sinner like us.

God is patient and long-suffering with sinners. His active and passive obedience are sufficient for our salvation. As Steve Brown so “scandalously” said at the Ligonier National Conference in ’91, “there is nothing you can do to add to, or take away, from the work of Christ.” We are justified by Christ’s righteousness, not our own. This is the whole point of the Reformation’s re-discovery of the gospel. This is revealed clearly in the lives of these men (and women). Their faith was imperfect, just like ours is.

We quickly forget that we have our own cultural blindspots. We stand firm against many forms of addiction/idolatry. But not gluttony or shopping. Not our idolatrous pursuit of external beauty and “fitness”. Our “American Dream” driven greed would be called idolatry by Paul. Our exaltation of our culture as a norm (particularly by majority cultures) would receive a Galatians-like lashing from Paul. We’d better take the log out of our own eyes lest we somehow think we are better than these saved by grace alone saints of days gone by.

Reformation Day should really be humbling. We are truly saved by grace alone, always. Salvation is thru faith alone in Christ alone. It is for God’s glory alone. Reformation Day is the great day to remember that “Salvation Belongs to the Lord”, the focus of my sermon from Jonah 2:8-10.

The Reformation, and the Reformers, need not be perfect for us to express gratitude. It isn’t about big parties and celebrations (though those aren’t wrong) but about the grateful disposition of the heart.

Read Full Post »


I just finished my sermon series (sadly they aren’t organized by series, yet) on 1 Peter called Living Faithfully in an Unfaithful Place. I think I changed the series title about 4 times. It did focus on the fact we live in an unfaithful place but God works by His grace so we live faithfully by faith thru the Spirit.

I thought I’d briefly review the commentaries I used. They will be in order from most to least useful. I used more commentaries than usual for this series, partially because they were available. I probably could have dropped the least useful ones and saved some time and sanity.

The most helpful commentary I used was 1 & 2 Peter & Jude by Paul Gardner. This is part of the Focus on the Bible series. I’m going to appreciate this series as I use more volumes. While succinct it still has plenty to offer. Gardner lays out options on controversial passages, and there are a few in this letter. There is just enough original language material to be helpful but not overwhelming for those who don’t have advanced degrees in them. It also has a section on application at the end of each chapter. It can get confusing if you preach more than one sermon from the material covered in one of Gardner’s chapter.

The Message of 1 Peter by Edmund Clowney is part of The Bible Speaks Today series. I am usually pleased with volumes in this series. I liked this volume when I used it years ago, and I still am pleased. Like the Gardner volume, this has enough Greek to be helpful but not so much that you get overwhelmed or lost. Clowney, known for redemptive historical preaching, brings those skills to this volume as well. He helps you understand this letter’s place in redemptive history and keeps the focus on the gospel. Like Gardner, it is quite readable. The new cover art leaves a little to be desired. I prefer the bland old covers instead of the abstract art that reminds me of the “monthly missalette” in the Catholic church of my youth.

The New International Commentary on the New Testament by Peter Davids, The First Letter of Peter, is my more academic commentary for this sermon series. This is one of the thinner volumes in the series, but still helpful. At points I wish he developed some options for interpretation more thoroughly.

Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Peter. This was one of the commentaries from the past I used. I typically use at least one to get a sense of how a book was understood by the theologians of the past (in touch with our heritage). I pulled quite a few quotes from Calvin. There were a few times I had serious questions about his exegesis. I found this less helpful than Calvin usually is.

In our church library I discovered an old Christian Counselor’s Commentary on 1 Peter by Jay Adams. It is now part of a larger volume. The focus is not exegesis, but application. At times I can struggle with application, so his short, pointed statements helped me think through some application.

Years ago I read the Tyndale New Testament Commentary volume on 1 Peter by Wayne Grudem. The appendices in the back are probably the most helpful part of this commentary. Otherwise the commentary seemed to be rather pedestrian, except in the controversial last paragraph of 1 Peter 3. I didn’t find myself challenged by this commentary.

Martin Luther’s Commentary on Peter & Jude was my other commentary to stay in touch with our heritage. This was not Luther on Romans. There were a few great quotes, but that was about it. He went off on unhelpful tangents at times.

Read Full Post »


Another vacation means reading another volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series of books. So far I’ve read the volumes on Newton, Luther, Bavink and Edwards. I enjoy these books tremendously as they interact not just with their theology but also their practice.

This summer I chose Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever written by Michael Horton. I had some hesitancy about this volume. I haven’t read any Horton in years having grown weary of polemical theology, and not finding his expressions of two-kingdom theology all that helpful. I always seemed to be left saying “And?” when he talked about it.

This book was a pleasant surprise. It was a little more weighted toward theology than some of the others, but that theology was a necessary background to understanding how Calvin viewed life in Christ. There was a good progression of thought throughout the book. There were no exceedingly long chapters. There were plenty of quotes from Calvin and others who have produced volumes on his life and thought to make Horton’s points. I found it to be an edifying and encouraging volume in this series.

As he notes, Calvin’s was a very different time. The Reformation had been spreading throughout Europe and nation-states were gaining some measure of independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor. Like today there were many political and religious refugees in Europe, and many of them made their way to Geneva. In the religious reforms they were still in the process of sorting out how to implement what they believed. Calvin was one of the people working to bring the Protestants together as some differences seemed to be driving them apart.

Church was a central part of life with daily services part of many people’s routine or rhythm of life. It was a less distracted time, even if sin still found its way to manifest itself abundantly. As a result of this, some of how Calvin viewed the Christian life is anachronistic, or at least seems to be to us with personal devices, long commutes, mass media and more. Christian living, while personal, was far more public than we see today.

As one of the great figures in the Reformation we tend to think he was a parochial as we can be. There was no “Reformed tradition” or heritage for Calvin to draw upon. He drew upon the larger tradition of the Church, eastern and western. He was influenced, not only by Augustine, but also by Chrysostom, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Bernard of Clairvoux among others. He interacted with Luther and Melanchthon to find common ground. He was not impressed with Zwingli. He spent time during his exile with Bucer and found that a great benefit. He influenced many of the next generation of leaders, like John Knox. Calvin was not an innovator but a man who lived as part of a theological community that exceeded his geography and time.

Horton begins where the Institutes begins: the knowledge of God and self. We were made to be in relationship with God and to reflect or reveal His glory as His image. So, to know God is to know ourselves in greater measure even if we see what we are not. Calvin was no fan of speculative theology. We cannot know God in the abstract, but know Him in Christ who came in the flesh to exegete the Father. We know God through His works, and so we recognize the divine drama or great Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glorification. All of Scripture reveals this larger Story. We see some differences between how the Reformers and Roman Catholicism viewed general revelation and common grace. He saw our depravity going deeper so that no one was neutral when examining our world and/or doing theology. The pursuit of truth is distorted by our depravity. General revelation is not simply a “dimmer light but a different light than special revelation” because it does not speak of redemption.

Like Luther, Calvin was a theologian of the cross rather than a theologian of glory. God is known through Christ, and Him crucified. We do not seek to climb “ladders of speculation, merit and mystical experience” to gain union with God. Rather we are united to Christ crucified and resurrected for us to gain knowledge of God.

In this great drama there are actors and a plot. Here Horton explains that for Calvin the solas of the Reformation were a fabic, not independent statements. Similar to TULIP which was formulated long after Calvin’s death, they stand or fall together. Scripture is our final authority because it is God speaking to us about the Son through the inspiration and illumination of the Spirit. The great actor is the Triune God, not merely dogma but “the heart of reality in which we live and move and have our being.” The Incarnation of the Son reminds us that matter is good, not evil. That there is nothing inherently sinful about humanity itself despite its weakness and limitations. Our sinfulness is tied to being “in Adam” not simply being human. So Calvin did not hold to a Spirit-matter dualism as did medieval Rome and early Anabaptists. Rather, God made matter and uses it to His good purposes. One application of this is that the Spirit works thru the Word, contrary to the views of the Anabaptists and other fanatics.

The other actors in this are people, and so Horton moves quickly through Calvin’s anthropology. He is always contrasting this with the views of Rome expressed through the medieval church. This brings us to providence and grace as God works to redeem fallen humanity. Horton contrasts providence with the Stoic notion of fatalism. We see a God at work to redeem us, not a people who seek to redeem themselves. We see people who are lifted up by a Redeemer, not who lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We see people who are sought (and found) by God though they hide in the bushes, not people who seek after a God who hides. When we grasp both providence and grace, our circumstances are not punishment from a Judge but instruction from a Father who seeks to mold and shape us.

“Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines.”

From here, Horton proceeds to Christ the Mediator who came to us and for us. He uses a phrase that will be used often within the book, here with reference to His two natures: “distinction without separation”. This is a difficult formula to maintain but it was the heart of the Chalcedonian formula which made its way through Calvin’s theology. This formula, and how it is understood, was a key in the disagreements about the Lord’s Table that separated the Protestants. Horton’s comments on this are quite helpful.

As the Mediator, Jesus does not merely provide assistance to us but saves us to the uttermost. Yet, we live in the gap between inauguration and consummation, the already and not yet tension is at the heart of Calvin’s spirituality. Our salvation is received in union with Christ. We don’t receive His benefits so much as Christ Himself. He brings all those benefits with Him. They are distinct but without separation because we don’t have a divided Christ. Horton distinguishes these benefits in another chapter. They include effectual calling, justification, sanctification, and adoption. He always distinguishes the Protestant view from the Roman view, particularly as expressed in the Council of Trent.

With this heavier theology out of the way, Horton moves into life in the Body of Christ. Our Christian living is not a private thing, but one that is lived in the context of the Christian community. This is important for our individualistic society to hear so we can be freed from the shackles of a privatized faith. For Calvin it was corporate worship (Word, sacrament & prayer) that fed our personal worship (Word & prayer), and not the other way around. Corporate worship is where we learn how to read the Word and pray. We apply that in our personal and family worship. Community has precedence over individual. This is a radical statement today. Yet at we look at love and the fruit of the Spirit we see they all require others. The Trinity is an eternal community or fellowship of love. We have been made in God’s image to be a community or fellowship of love, not simply a periodic gathering of saved individuals.

This plays out in seeking grace in public worship, not medieval spirituality. We do not ascend to God, but Christ descended to us. We do not seek seclusion like the monks and nuns, but live in Christ in the midst of the world. Horton speaks of Calvin’s views of the preached Word, baptism, confession of sin (a good thing in worship!) and the Lord’s Table.

“The only way to serve God well is to serve our fellow believers. Since our good deeds cannot reach God anyway, he gives us instead other believers unto whom we can do good deeds. The one who wants to love God can do so by loving the believers.”

Horton continues with worship, discussing visual representations and music. These are some of Calvin’s more controversial views regarding worship today. While I want to keep the images of Christ out of our worship, I don’t want to keep the instruments out. I don’t see how they are part of the shadows and ceremonies. I see instruments in the heavenly visions of Revelation. If they are symbolic, what do they symbolize (it notes the singing, so….)? Music seems circumstantial to me. We don’t have any “authorized” tunes. So we waste our time, energy and breath arguing over such things. I’m sure God is more concerned with whether I strummed my guitar for him or myself, or if you listened to the instruments for his glory or simply your pleasure, than whether or not the corporate worship used instruments or not. But I digress.

Horton then brings us to Calvin’s view of prayer as the chief exercise of faith. Horton notes “true worship consists not in outward rights but in casting ourselves on the Father’s gracious care in Christ and by his Spirit.” He interacts with God’s providence and prayer so that prayer is one of the instrumental means of God’s providence. For Calvin prayer was “to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.” Our union with Christ also means that we do not pray alone but that Christ is praying not just for us, but with us. Our prayers are an echo of His prayers for us, we are following His lead because of the work of the Spirit in us resulting from our union.

You can’t talk exhaustively about Christian living without touching upon the Law of God. Horton brings in Calvin’s views in the tenth chapter. Like Luther, Calvin utilized a law and gospel distinction. “Calvin also appropriated Melanchton’s threefold use of the law.” The Law drives us to Jesus as He is presented to us in the Gospel. As justified people, the law shows us the pattern of holiness the Son wants to create in us by the Spirit. Law and gospel are distinct but not separate. Christians hear the law as the words of a Father, not a Judge; wisdom and guidance, not condemnation; and cry out to the same Father to help them walk in this way that pleases Him. Horton then summarizes Calvin’s view of these “house rules” expressed in the Ten Commandments.

Horton then addresses this new society, the church, as a theater of God’s fatherly care. Christian living includes finding a faithful church and making disciples. In church we are fed and guided by pastors and elders. We receive God’s hospitality from the deacons. Horton explains Calvin’s view of elements and circumstances regarding worship and how legalism turns circumstances into binding elements. License turns elements into circumstances. “Thus, the Reformer could see even among elements a ranking order, prizing unity over polity. Here we see a man of principle, to be sure, but among the principles was love. While wanting to obey everything that Christ commanded, he realized that not everything was equally clear or equally important.” And so my comments on music.

“Even when the church lies in ruins, we still love the heap of ruins.”

This new society exists, just as our original parents did, for a mission. For the creation mandate to be fulfilled, the Great Commission must be fulfilled. The church exists to make Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospel known, and to teach people to obey Him. The circumstances of the day meant that the Roman Catholic nations controlled the seas. But Geneva sent missionaries throughout Europe, many of whom died in France. The church brings Christ to the world.

We not only live in the church, but we live in the world. Here Horton explores Calvin’s view of the relationship of church and state, and Calvin’s understanding of the two kingdoms. There is discussion of moral law and its reflection in natural law. Christians don’t retreat from the world, nor do they think they can save the world (or creation) through “social justice”. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t seek justice within our spheres of influence, but we have realistic expectations, goals and agendas. It also makes no sense to focus on race relations in society unless we are addressing them in the church. We don’t focus on sins in one kingdom while ignoring them in God’s kingdom. (My thoughts there)

We offer our gifts and abilities to the world, and the church, in terms of our vocation. The sacred-secular distinction has minimized the value of a layperson’s work in the world. Work that helps others survive or flourish is valuable work, not merely legitimate work. Jobs have value not simply as opportunities for evangelism, but for loving others by providing goods that enrich life. This is a big part of Christian living.

Lastly Horton ends with contemplation of glorification. We are not escaping the material world, but longing for freedom from sin; ours and others against us. We live in the not yet with regard to sin. This is intended to shape our lives in the already.

Horton lays before us a very thorough look at Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life. We exist for God, and to enjoy God. This means we live before the face of God at home, at work and at church. We live before the face of God and experience His grace because of Christ our Mediator in whom we experience all God’s blessings. Christian living is not about trying to attain God’s grace, but receiving it so we can glorify & enjoy Him. This was a great addition to the series.

Read Full Post »


Once again I was up way too early. I was hoping to sleep in. I didn’t have to actually do anything until my seminar at 3:15. This would be a great opportunity to sleep that my body decided to forfeit. Sometimes it doesn’t get the memo, which is why Francis called his “brother Ass”. The benefit was that I could take a walk around the park next to where I was staying. Old trees made for plenty of shade and character. Adding to the character were stone bridges over small streams. It was picturesque. It was humid. I was a soaking, smelly mess. I considered walking to the convention center (just over 2 miles) but in the sun it would get quite hot. Kibosh on that!

Eddie picked me up around 11:30 so we could check in and grab some lunch. We ended up at the Outback within walking distance (but we drove) talking about life and ministry challenges. I enjoyed some coconut shrimp and a Caesar salad with sweet tea (yes!!! It is hard to get in Tucson.). Then we went to a seminar about why old school evangelism isn’t working and what to do about it, which was sponsored by Christianity Explored and about their new series Life Explored. They look at sin and how to address it differently this time around. They have found that younger people don’t connect with the idea of law-breaking but can grasp idolatry. Both are aspects of sin that we see in Scripture. They contrasted the approaches of John the Baptist to Herod and Nathan to David. Both prophets were talking to kings who had it all but weren’t content, and killed someone to take their wife. John was blunt and clear. Nathan snuck in thru the back door with his parable so that David was enraged about this sin/crime in his land when Nathan informed him that David himself was the guilty one. Good seminar and Barry Cooper is funny. They had free books (If You Could Ask God One Question…), and shirts. I wanted to leave a few minutes early to make sure I was at my seminar early (and, selfishly, to get the right size shirt). But Eddie prevailed (he already had a shirt for answering a question). I settled for a medium for one of the kids (I was actually hoping the Life Explored on it would prompt some discussions at the gym).

I was a bit nervous about my seminar, Marriage: Design, Distortion, Restoration and You. In 2010 I did one on adoption for a men’s conference in Tucson. I had 2 guys show up. So, I was nervous about that. With the long delay in the editing process for my book, I’ve been plagued by second-guessing, doubts, fears it would connect with people. This would be a helpful gauge on that question. It wasn’t packed, but it did have a good crowd (thanks in part to Eddie, Bo, Schnee and fellow RTS grad Cullen). People seemed to be encouraged by it, and found it helpful so I breathed a big sigh of relief.

In the exhibit hall, I noticed that shirts were out and mugs were in for the give aways. Very few booths had shirts. Lots had mugs (how many mugs does a man need???). But Covenant Seminary had a nice one with a drawing of Martin Luther. And Serge had a travel mug that I can bring to NY so I have one unpolluted by coffee. I forgot to get a PCA Foundation mug for CavWife. I thought the “Refresh” would be good for her. There were some good book resources that I did not buy. I did not check a bag and therefore had limited space for anything to return. I did see that Richard Belcher has a book on Prophet, Priest and King. This may be the beginning of a run of books on the munix triplex, so I should get back to work on my series on the subject. It would help if my upcoming book actually sells more than 50 copies.

For dinner I “went out” with Charles & Julie Garland (our new church planter in mid-town) and her brother who is a ruling elder in Chattanooga. We were going out when the sky opened up so we ate at one of the restaurants in the hotel. I enjoyed the pecan encrusted trout.

The worship service was very good. I enjoy hearing the different styles of music when we travel to different cities. Tuesday had a jazz feel to it. Great to see a multi-ethnic choir and lead vocalists. But jet lag was catching up with me, as it seems to each year at the initial worship service, during the sermon. I was fighting to stay away during our outgoing moderator’s sermon, Disqualified?. He focused on a mini-genealogy about Moses’ family that included a Canaanite woman, the infamous Nadab and Abihu, and the just as infamous rebel named Korah. He addressed this in the context of Moses’ excuses, particularly his stammering tongue. God uses people with baggage, plain and simple. Just as no one gets out of here alive, no one gets thru this life unstained by sin and effects of the Fall.

Eddie decided that instead of coming to pick me up everyday, I should just borrow his car since he was staying there on site. It worked great and he was able to crash while we had the first item of business- electing a moderator. It was a year for a ruling elder and the vote was close but Alexander Jun, a 2nd generation Korean-American was elected. He is the first minority Moderator in PCA history. This was a good move, even if he has a man bun. I choose to believe it reflects his Korean heritage and not any hipster leanings. Finally it was back home and time to crash in our basement BnB.

Read Full Post »


So far I’ve really enjoyed Crossway’s series “On the Christian Life” having read the volumes on Newton, Bavink and Edwards. I’ve been working my way through the series on vacation/study leave. That all changed when I read Luther.

Oh, I’m kidding. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman is a very good addition to the series. One of the things that Trueman appreciates about Luther was his humor, which is much better than my pathetic little joke there.

One of the strengths of this volume is that Trueman does not try to paint Luther as an “evangelical”. He notes our tendency to repaint our heroes in our own image. He resists this temptation and presents us with the Luther that we both love and don’t quite understand.

Luther’s understanding of the Christian life is very different from that found in “popular” evangelicalism and even in Reformed circles at times. Trueman isn’t here to criticize Luther, but is more to critique us in a round about way.

One of the struggles for a book like this is the sheer volume of material produced by Luther, as well as the development of his thought over time as a pioneer of sorts who came to a greater awareness of the implications, consequences and complications of this ideas over time. Yet, as Trueman notes, evangelicals tend to pull their quotes (sound bytes) from the early Luther.

Trueman begins with a brief biography of Luther so readers can get a lay of the land, so to speak. His life and theology were in near constant interaction. I noticed this tendency in studying some the major psychological theorists, and it is often true for theologians as well. Their theology is an attempt to work out their stuff with God. Unlike one author I read years ago, Luther’s goal was not sexual liberation but rather spiritual liberation.

Luther lived in a time when most people could not read. This greatly impacts his understanding of the Christian life. It is structured around daily worship services to hear the Word of God and to partake of the sacraments. While better literacy rates are a good thing, they have facilitated the individualistic view of the Christian life that actually robs us of maturity. We are meant to live in community, and not just for a few hours on Sunday.

We can’t turn back the clock (this includes rejecting the industrial revolution, modern travel etc. that shapes our lives/lifestyles). But perhaps we can made some different decisions in our own cultural context.

Luther has a strong emphasis on the Word, and Trueman spends time unpacking this. It is tied up on Luther’s understanding of the Word as both God’s revelation and God’s creative power. God’s Word is meant to shape how we think about life and reality. Luther was also concerned about how we approached the Word, and therefore God. We tend to be theologians of glory rather than theologians of the cross. The theologian of the cross sees God and comes to God thru Christ and Him crucified. The incarnation and sacrifice of the Son points to our weakness, sinfulness, neediness and how God is gracious, tender and merciful This shapes a very different life than one focused on God’s power and glory which tends to either drive us to despair (since we are sinners) or puffs us up (due to our pride and self-righteousness). This carries over to Luther’s law and gospel distinction. This is a much misunderstood concept, as if the OT is law and the NT is gospel. As Clapton sang, “It’s in the way that you use it.” The same texts can be used to expose sin, and reveal grace. First comes law to destroy our self-righteousness, and then comes grace.

So we encounter the Word in preaching, singing, meditating, prayer and if possible reading. Luther encourages us to be people of the Word so God will work in us to accomplish His good purposes.

The Christian life is not easy but we struggle with self-righteousness as well as sin. We also deal with anfechtungen, which is difficult to translate into English but could be considered similar to the dark night of the soul. We experience despair and frustration at the trials of life material and immaterial. We are not to look in, but to look out at Christ in the midst of all of this. Faith is looking to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures in dealing with our guilt, self-righteousness, and afflictions. Luther was not an introspective mystic, but one who calls us out of our introspection to look to Christ who is the only One who can help us.

One of the most important chapters is “Luther and Christian Righteousness.” It is written to address some misunderstandings of Luther regarding sanctification. These misunderstandings are found in the books and sermons by Tullian Tchavidjian and Trueman makes a few allusions to Tullian in the chapter. While the Reformation was going swimmingly in its early days, Luther discovered it was not necessarily bearing the fruit it should as he began to visit other areas. He saw that many people calling themselves Christians were ignorant of basic doctrines and lived like pigs.

He made a distinction between alien righteousness and proper righteousness. The former is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us in justification. It is our positional holiness. The latter is righteousness imparted to us by Christ in sanctification. It is our personal holiness. They are distinct but related. The same Christ who justifies us also sanctifies us. First He justifies and then He sanctifies. This order is key to Reformation or Protestant Theology. Luther discovered there was little to no personal holiness, and put forth the need to preach not just alien righteousness but also personal righteousness. This emphasis is seen in The Visitation Articles as well as his catechisms. While Melanchthon is credited with originating the idea of the “third use of the Law” (showing us how to live as Christians) it is actually present in Luther’s writings as well. The Law directs us as justified persons, but it is always grace that empowers us.

Additionally there was the Antinomian Crisis involving Agricola’s deviant theology. Luther notes we are a battlefield between the flesh and Spirit. Preaching only alien righteousness leads to immorality and false assurance of salvation.  So we find the need for pastors to also preach the law for instruction in righteousness.

The Christian life is played out in our vocations of citizen, work and home. Luther rightfully sees the Christian engaged in those spheres. He does not see a secular-sacred divide like the Roman Catholicism of his day (being a priest, nun or monk was seen as a more holy vocation than a cobbler), and some forms of fundamentalism today.

This is one of the shorter volumes in the series, just over 200 pages. There is some theological background that has to go into explaining many of the concepts central to Luther and his theology. Trueman handles that well and in understandable form. In the discussion of sacraments, he doesn’t delve into Luther’s understanding of the Chalcedonian Definition/Formula with respect to how the human nature of Christ is present in a ubiquitous fashion. There also aren’t many Scripture references which is interesting since Scripture was so important to Luther.

It is a worthwhile addition to the series that seems to focus on Reformed pastors/theologians. The fact he isn’t an “evangelical” provides a good corrective to many of us. This book is well worth reading.

Read Full Post »


If our wills are in bondage to our desires, which are corrupt, if there any hope for us?

This is the question we resume with from Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition. There is no hope in ourselves. Our hope has to be with God. The remedy is grace.

“Thus the Lord begins his work in us, inspiring in our hearts a love, desire and eagerness for what is good and righteous- or, more properly, inclining, training and directing our hearts to righteousness; he completes his work by giving us strength to persevere.”

This is not the same as a general removal of our depravity that leaves us in a state of neutrality that we find in some forms of Arminianism. This is the fulfillment of the promise of the new covenant (Ez. 36:26-27). This must precede faith, or we wouldn’t believe. The “human will must be wholly remade and renewed.” He aligns himself with Augustine that ‘grace precedes every good work.’ Grace is not a response to our will, but our will works in response to grace.

Calvin shifts back to Scripture, noting Jer. 32:39-40; Ez. 11:19; 1 Kings 8:58. These all address the stubbornness of our hearts, and the grace that overcomes that stubbornness. In other words, this is no ‘philosophical’ matter but one of life & death; salvation. This is not an Old Testament idea, but we see Paul also teaching this. We see this in Phil. 2:13 and 1 Cor. 12:6; 15:10. Jesus affirms this in passages like John 6:45.

“We must indeed teach that God’s kindness is open to all, without exception, who seek it. But because no one begins to seek it until he is inspired from heaven, nothing here should be allowed to diminish God’s grace in any way.”

He goes back to Augustine. “In yet another place he states that grace does not destroy the will, but changes it from bad to good, and that once it has been made good it receives help. By this he means only that God does not push man by outward force, unfeeling, as if he were a stone, but that he is impelled in such a way that he willingly obeys.” And again, “the human will does not obtain grace through its own freedom, but that it obtains freedom through God’s grace.”

Calvin shifts to the problem of continuing sin in the believer. Calvin, following Paul (Peter, John, James …), notes that our deliverance “is never so complete that no part of us remains under sin’s yoke”. Regeneration does not end conflict in our hearts, but initiates it (Rom. 7 & Gal. 5). There is a new principle moving us toward love and righteousness, and a retention of the natural inclination toward apathy and unrighteousness.

“This produces a conflict which sorely tries the believer throughout his life, because he is raised high by the Spirit but brought low by the flesh. In the Spirit he yearns fervently for immorality; in the flesh he turns aside into the path of death. In the Spirit he purposes to live uprightly; in the flesh he is goaded to do evil. In the Spirit he is led to God; in the flesh he is beaten back. In the Spirit he despises the world; in the flesh he longs for worldly pleasures.”

Our heart and will become a battle ground. The regenerate person mourns their sin, which pains him or her. They affirm and delight in God’s law as we see in Psalm 119.

Even in his day, there were people claiming a form of Christian perfectionism. Some of the Anabaptists advocated this position. They think that regeneration is complete, and we have no more fleshly appetites.

He returns to the idea of man as sinner in bondage to Satan. He mentions Augustine’s analogy (also utilized by Luther in Bondage of the Will)of the will as a horse subject to the rider’s control. Calvin finds it sufficient in the  absence of a better analogy. “What is meant is that the will, being deceived by the devil’s tricks, must of necessity submit to his good pleasure, although it does so without compulsion.”

He then discusses the doctrine of concurrence with reference to the story of Job. In concurrence, more than one person wills the same action but for different reasons or goals. God, Satan and the Chaldeans all willed the theft of Job’s herds, but for very different reasons. We see this as well in the story of Joseph. God’s intention was very different from his brothers’ even though both willed Joseph’s servitude in Egypt.

“Accordingly, it is not improper to attribute the same deed to God, the devil and man. But the disparity in both intention and means ensures that God’s righteousness always appears blameless, while the wickedness of the devil and of man is revealed in all its shame.”

The bottom line for Calvin is fidelity to Scripture, for the Scriptures reveal the sovereignty of God over events big and small. He brings up a number of passages to illustrate his point. Satan, much like Assyria and Babylon in the prophets, is His agent to unwittingly accomplish His purpose. They serve His righteous purposes, even as they pursue their unrighteous purposes. Calvin notes God’s sovereignty over the “mundane acts of life.” He held to a meticulous providence, as God brings about “whatever he knows is needful, but also to bend men’s wills toward that same end.”

Calvin then addresses a series of common objections. First, necessary sin is no longer sin. While they “necessarily” have to do it, since God ordained it, it is still voluntarily chosen by them. He does not force them to sin, but they want to commit that particular sin at that particular time. Second, reward and punishment no longer apply. God is so kind that he rewards the graces which he bestows on people. The voluntary nature of sin makes punishment just. Third, good and bad are no longer distinguishable. If this were so, it would be so for God who does good “by necessity” or in keeping with his immutable nature. Fourth, exhortation and reproof become superfluous. They are, rather, the means God uses to help shape our choices. He not only ordains what will happen, but how and why.

“God is active in us in two way: within, by his Spirit, and without, by his word. With his Spirit enlightening the mind and training the heart to love righteousness and innocence, he makes man a new creature by regeneration. Through his word he moves and encourages man to desire and to look for this renewal.”

Calvin then notes a variety of Scriptural evidences including, the law and its commands, the command to repent, God’s promises & reproofs, his punishments and more. In many ways Calvin rightfully goes back to Philippians 2:13- For God works in us to will and work according to His righteous purpose. We are to believe that we are dependent upon God, but also that being gracious and powerful he consistently works in us to accomplish his purposes, which are good. This is an important doctrine which humbles us, and grants us confidence.

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »


The final view of sanctification addressed in Christian Spirituality is that of the contemplatives. The Church has a long history with contemplatives, or mystics, that transcends geography and denominations. Some well-known names were contemplatives: Bernard of Clairvoux, St. John of the Cross, Teresa Avila, Thomas Merton and more. In my younger days as a Christian I read Brother Lawrence and The Great Cloud of Unknowing. How does E. Glenn Hinson describe contemplative Christianity?

Contemplatives try to balance the inner and outer life. They usually assert that being will result in doing (which is a far more biblical idea than doing will result in being). They do spend most of their time addressing the inner life: being. Its focus is on communicating, communing and contemplating with God internally. Like Wesleyian sanctification the focus is on one’s love for God. Instead of gaining this thru a second blessing, one pursues it, so to speak, through a series of activities that leads one thru the stages of increasing communion with God. I’m trying to do this justice on its own terms.

“Contemplation has to do with this loving attentiveness to God.”

In contemplation there is an assumption that God is immanent in the created order. He is inescapably near to us. There is no disputing this, the question is “how is He near?”.

In Hinson’s description, there is a “naturalness” to this pursuit of the Divine Lover. He does not clarify and it can sound awfully Pelagian to many ears. Since contemplatives typically eschew theological distinctions, lots of things are vague enough to be misunderstood. Or properly understood.

At the very best, it is typically Arminian. God is a gentleman who never knocks our door down but respects the freedom He gave us. There is a resistibleness to this “grace.” Let me clarify: in Reformed Theology God does not violate the will of the creature, but in regeneration changes the character/nature of the creature so the person’s will is changed. We cannot thwart God’s purposes and plan. In most contemplative theology we, not God, are in the driver’s seat.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


“Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification, is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. … Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. … Our sanctification consists merely in being shaped by, or getting used to, justification.”

At first glance you’d think I culled this from Tullian Tchvidjian’s blog. These are the words of Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. The first view that is examined is the Lutheran view. I’m not sure Luther himself would fully embrace this view, but it is built on many elements of his teaching (perhaps taking them farther than he intended).

Much of Forde’s chapter is largely rhetorical and polemical rather than putting for a clearly articulated understanding. In this way it also sounds like much I hear from the previously mentioned PCA pastor on the subject of sanctification.. I am left wondering with whom he is arguing for the views argued against do not reflect those of my own theological heritage. He is obsessively concerned with legalism, but offers no concern about antinomianism. As a result (or perhaps I’ve got the causality backwards) the focus is almost completely on justification.

I agree, we need to begin living as justified people who are fully accepted in light of the righteousness of Christ. Sanctification is to be pursued as justified people. But in his Lutheran logic (which often trips me up in many areas of theology) any view of progressive sanctification (righteousness imparted, not a self-improvement project) is antithetical to and undermines the free grace of God in justification. It is as if he thinks one could lose one’s justification for not being sanctified enough.

I see him making a similar error to that which Roman Catholicism make though in the opposite direction. Both end up conflating justification and sanctification. For Roman Catholic theology you cannot be justified unless you are sanctified; or, your sanctification is your justification. In Forde’s expression of Lutheran theology, your justification is your sanctification.

In Reformed Theology we make distinctions, almost to a fault, to best understand the dynamic quality of Scripture. We recognize initial or definite sanctification (which is positional, like justification) and progressive sanctification. The latter is rooted in the former. In relating texts about sanctification, Forde refers to all those about definite sanctification and ignores those about progressive sanctification.

“Doesn’t the Bible follow the declaration of grace with certain exhortations and imperatives? So the protestations go, for the most part designed to reimpose at least a minimal conditionality on the promise.”

Here is evidence of polemics, and bad polemics at that. He doesn’t deal with the biblical data (all those imperatives in Paul’s letters to CHRISTIANS), but an ad hominem attack. Obviously anyone who wants to deal with God’s commands wants to undermine God’s grace, in his mind. Rather, as a new creature in Christ I now want to please God (before I was primarily concerned with pleasing myself). As a justified man the law no longer condemns me. It still shows me where I fall short of God’s glory, but also points me to God’s glory and what it means to imitate the Father. He writes as if we only hear the law as the old man, not the new man. The law, obviously doesn’t provide any power. The Holy Spirit provides that. According to Paul the problem was never with the law, but with us as sinners. But the legalistic strawman grows wearisome quite quickly. He repeated talks about “the scheme”. of sanctification which is presented in an obviously negative light.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


It has been crazy busy around here this Fall. In addition to normal pastoral duties I’ve been running a New Members’ Class and Officer Training on Saturdays. This means that the Session has to spend time interviewing new members, and soon will examine officer candidates. As a Session we’ve finally finished our revised By Laws and new Manual of Procedure (I can really hate trellis work), and we are getting ready to present a Master Site plan and “Bridge” Plan to renovate and expand our current facilities. Our music director took an unexpected leave of absence for a month so I had to provide additional leadership to our music ministry. There were also a few unexpected “crisis” that ate up time and energy. You know they will happen, but you don’t know when and they seem to come in bunches.

As if that wasn’t enough, in addition to normal Dad and Husband duties, two kids and CavWife had surgery this Fall. We had family in town for about 2 weeks and missionaries stayed with us back in September. I’ve also been editing a book in the hopes of publishing. Part of that has included some structural changes in chapters.

So obviously I should read Kevin DeYoung’s latest book Crazy Busy. Just makes sense, right?

Absolutely! The subtitle is A Mercifully Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem. The book really is short- 117 smallish sized pages that make it easy to  read in short blocks of time.

“If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy.”

In terms of material he covers, I’ll start with the end. He admits that we should be busy because God has given us plenty to do to fulfill our calling. The problem is not being busy, but often we are busy with the wrong things. As a result we are often unproductive. This is not a call to the life of leisure, but wisdom: choosing the best instead of the good or the not-so-good. The reason we in the West tend to suffer, so to speak, in our busyness is that we don’t expect to be busy (and suffer) in addition to an unwillingness to make difficult choices.

“Paul had pressure. You have pressure too. But God can handle the pressure. Do not be surprised when you face crazy weeks of all kinds. And do not be surprised when God sustains you in the midst of them.”

Kevin writes the book from the perspective of a man who struggles with busyness. He is crazy busy himself and much of what he writes is what he is trying to implement. He hasn’t arrived at the perfect point of balance in his life. He is not making promises either as if he’s offering a 7-step plan to achieve bliss.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Weakness is not something we tend to spend much time thinking about. We usually spend time avoiding it or trying to get out of experiencing weakness. Thankfully there are men like J.I. Packer who don’t (or can’t) run from it. Recent health problems have provided him with the opportunity to consider his own weakness. More importantly it gave him the opportunity to consider 2 Corinthians and how Paul, when faced with his own weakness, found strength in Christ.

The fact that weakness is not option is found in the title of the book that resulted: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. This is a short book with only 4 chapters. Size should not be confused with significance. This is no Knowing God, but it is a balm for the soul plagued by weakness, which will eventually find all of us.

“The memory of having fallen short in the past can hang like a black cloud over one’s present purposes and in effect program one to fail.”

Many of us live with such black clouds. It could be moral failure. It could be vocational failure. I was the pastor of a church that closed. That black cloud hung about me for years. It still shows up  at times seeking to distract & deceive me. For Packer, his childhood accident and its consequences have hovered over him his entire life: weakness, alienation, left out…

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »