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Posts Tagged ‘revelation’


Who wouldn’t want to read John Calvin on The Secret Providence of God? Well, it depends what kind of book you are looking to read.

The subject is certainly an interesting one. The caveat is that the book is polemical in nature. He’s not simply asserting what he believes on this subject so you and I can be edified. He’s responding to “charges” made by a former student/associate of his, Sebastian Castellio. The editor’s (Paul Helm) indicates some of their prior relationship. But in the final pages of the  book Calvin gives us more information about their relationship. This book reeks of betrayal. Polemics and betrayal make for some bombastic language at times. It may also explain why this book is not as clear as I’d hoped at times (but perhaps this was me having been online too much, rotting my brain, or too focused on the good cigars I’d often smoke while reading this). I read this book intermittently over the course of a few months. Far too long for a book of its size (122 pages), but I’ve been busy with other matters.

All this to say, I’d be careful to whom I recommend this book. I would recommend this for more mature Christians who have an interest in Calvin because they’ve already read his more popular works. It would be of interest to students of the Reformation and theological methods. I would not recommend this to someone struggling with the doctrine of providence or unfamiliar with how to do theology.

Helm’s introduction informs us that this was, in fact, Calvin’s third response to his fellow Frenchman on the subject. I suspect his frustrating was mounting as would mine. They met in Strasbourg. Castellio’s strength seemed to be languages, and Calvin appears to have taken a liking to the man. For a time Castellio was rector of the College of Geneva. It didn’t last long. First, Castellio denied the canonicity of the Song of Songs, calling it a lewd book. Then Calvin worked with him on a translation of the Bible into French. They differed greatly, and argued, about their approaches to translation. As the relationship soured, Castellio resigned from the college. He seems to have accepted at least some of Servetus’ writings, for later in this volume Calvin calls Servetus his master (this could be figuratively since Calvin did consider him a heretic in the body of his response). But the execution of Servetus by the Genevan authorities led to Castellio’s personal campaign against them, and Calvin. He was not open about this, often using a pen name instead of his own.

“The work provides us with a small window onto the boisterous, argumentative years of the Reformation, not in this case to the main conflicts but to the skirmishes initiated by some of its lesser characters, such as Pighius and Servetus and, of course, Castellio.” (pp. 18)

Helm notes that Calvin was generally gentle and accommodating to those he considered open or friendly to his views. “But he is pitiless and unflattering toward those such as Castellio who openly crossed him.” Castellio, on the other hand, seems less concerned with clear theological thinking as to ridicule and misrepresent Calvin. His goal seems to be to repeatedly jab his finger in Calvin’s eye. If they lived next to each other in Bowling Green, one thinks he’s blindside Calvin and stomp him when Calvin got off his lawn mower.

“To Calvin’s intense irritation, here is a man, once a friend and follower, who is not impatient of the carefully crafted subtleties that Calvin sometimes uses to advance his position, and above all contemptuous of the God whose interests Calvin sought to advance. Even their Protestantism provides them with little common ground.” (pp. 19-20)

Helm then moves into some theological analysis of the book. He critiques Castellio’s method. The antagonist blurs theological distinctions so that he accuses Calvin of equal ultimacy regarding God’s decrees of salvation and sin/reprobation. Calvin follows a typical medieval view of the two wills of God: his secret will (decrees) and his revealed will (declarations & commands). Calvin depends heavily on Augustine in this volume, the only other author he quotes. Castellio’s method also relies heavily on reason while Calvin’s on revelation. Castellio sets reason above revelation. While Calvin obviously uses reason, he understands it to be bound to revelation. There are limits to the powers of reason as well as things not revealed to us. He invokes Deut. 29:29 (as any student of Calvin’s would guess). His introduction is helpful in understanding how each participant will engage in this disputation. Helm also notes, at the end, how Arminius’ own formulations are dependent upon Castellio’s. He built, as Muller calls it, a theology of creation, far more popular than Castellio’s. But both rejected Calvin’s theology of grace.

The book proper begins with a series of Articles, 14, Castellio generates (better, fabricates) from Calvin’s writings. He presents as series of strawmen arguments since they bear little to no resemblance to what Calvin actually wrote. He misrepresents Calvin. What is unclear is how much of this he actually believed and how much he purposely twisted just to tick Calvin off. As he explains these articles you do find instances of confusing logic, conflation of ideas, failure to make distinctions and more really bad theological method. Here are some example of him tying himself in knots (as I noted in the margins of my copy):

“If God wills sin, then the Devil does not will sin. That is to say, the idea that the Devil is God is a complete contradiction. If God wills sin, he loves sin’ and if he loves sin, he hates righteousness.” (pp. 45)

“… if the (secret) will of God often contends with his command, how can it be known when he wills or when he does not will what he commands? … For instance, if God commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I commit adultery, and yet I ought not to commit adultery, then I ought to do what is contrary to his will.” (pp. 45)

“Your false God is slow to mercy and quick to wrath. He created the largest part of the world for perdition.” (pp. 52)

“But the God of Calvin is the father of lies who evidently governs sometimes by what he says and at other times by his secret promptings.” (pp. 53)

He’s trying to make Calvin’s understanding of God appear to be a moral monster, and the Christian life not practicable because he can’t make simple distinctions. How you think matters. And this is some seriously stinking thinking. He also appears to operate from a denial of depravity. This is an unstated presupposition of his that seems to infect his reasoning leading to a number of faulty conclusions.

“… if God prompts perverse affections and then he flies into a rage, he hates the same people before the perverse affections arise, for to prompt perverse affections is the work of hatred. Therefore, he hates the innocent. For men are innocent before the perverse affections arise.” (pp. 50)

Castellio also attacks Calvin’s “students” as contentious and sinful. He puts all his arguments into the mouths of Calvin’s opponents while affirming them as personally unanswerable. There is one more claim that his “disciples” depend more upon Calvin “than upon reason.” Here he affirms his view of reason over and above Scripture, and denies that Calvin’s doctrines arise from Scripture.

The main body of the book is Calvin’s point by point response to Castellio. He works through the articles. This divides the book into readable chunks for busy people. Much of Calvin’s argument is that his doctrines are in fact derived for Scripture. He places Scripture above (not against) reason. Castellio argues for common sense, common sense, common sense => theology from below, subject to our judgment. Man is the arbiter of truth.

“But if you allow no other form of reasoning except what an earthly man recognizes, then by such arrogance and disdain you deny yourself access to the very doctrine of knowledge of which is only possible to someone with a reverential spirit. … Everything loses its authority and grace if it does not satisfy your reason.” (pp. 61)

Calvin also notes that he has already answered these objections three or four times thus far. He notes that these articles falsely represent his views. He notes his dependence on Augustine who also faced similar stubborn objections. Castellio frequently didn’t cite Calvin’s works. When he quotes Calvin, he takes him out of context. Some of the accusations he makes are similar to those that Paul faced and answered in places like Romans 9-11. Calvin’s point? “You aren’t arguing against me, but the Scriptures when we examine the tensions in Scripture” is what he’d say. In terms of those tensions and distinctions Calvin asks:

“Truly God invites all men to repentance; therefore, all might return to the road where he offers pardon. Now, what we must here consider is whether the conversion that God requires is according to man’s free choice or is a truly unique gift from God. Therefore, insofar as all men are exhorted to repent, the prophet rightly denies that God wills the death of the sinner. Why does God not convert everyone to himself equally? The reason is in the hands of God’s secret will.” (pp. 71)

He notes that Castellio also has to answer these great questions.

“This knot is also for you to untie. Since no one comes near to God unless the secret influence of the Spirit draws him, why are not all men without discrimination drawn, if God wills all to salvation? For from his discrimination it certainly is to be concluded that God has a particular secret way in which many are excluded from salvation.” (pp .73)

Calvin also unearths some of his other presuppositions: “Nor will you accept that the causes of wrath are in man himself” (pp. 74). Castellio rejects the depravity of men as the root of God’s judgment and man’s temptation to sin. He espouses a weak view of foreknowledge, separating God’s “power and his prescience” (pp. 75). He is judging God by feeble sense, to quote Cowper’s hymn on the subject. Calvin warns Castellio of dualism.  He reminds him that God uses primary and secondary causes (pp. 191). He schools him in the doctrine of concurrence- two or more persons willing the same action but for different reasons (God’s being good and Satan’s and men’s being evil).

There are moments you have to stop and think (especially if you’ve been distracted by your children) to sort out the argument. He will trace out Castellio’s argument at times so keeping the train of thought is essential.

He responds to the questioning of Calvin and disciples’ character with observations about Castellio’s.

“When I fed you in my home, no man had ever appeared to be more proud and more deceitful or more destitute than yo. Whoever does not perceive you to be an imposter and a cynic devoted to shamelessness, and a buffoon barking against piety, they are absolutely without judgment.” (pp. 118)

“But it must certainly be that you were too dull, because you were not able to understand what I have taught you, both in the familiarity of my own home and also what you heard when I so often preached in the public assembly.” (pp. 119)

“… you boast among your followers that study is empty and frivolous (the same study that is employed in philosophy, logic, and even theology) in order that you might gain more disciples for yourself. … You, on the other hand, request that untutored men who despise all learning and are inflated only with the breath of arrogance appear in public so that they may audaciously make judgments concerning the mysteries of heaven.” (pp. 120-121)

You see here the sense of betrayal that drives his harsh words. Still, these words are mild by some of today’s standards. We see a picture of Castellio as something of a fundamentalist Arminian. He was anti-intellectual; anti-scholarship in addition to exalting human reason. He was also, in Calvin’s estimation, a heretic. He didn’t just disagree, but held to views that Calvin put him outside the bounds of the Church. And so he ends:

“May God restrain you, Satan. Amen.” (pp. 122)

There is much here that is important to learn in terms of doing theology. There is some here that we should likely avoid in terms of doing polemics. We should continue to speak the truth in love. Lay out presuppositions to the light of day for evaluation. Clearly make proper distinctions. Reconcile the tensions found in Scripture instead of just proof-texting. Bur resist the temptation to denigrate the other person. Truth in the face of lies (even half-truths), and love in the face of animosity. I believe Calvin did the former but at times failed in the latter. May God have mercy on us all.

 

 

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I’ve only read one book by Herman Bavinck. That book was The Doctrine of God, and I read it thanks to Doug Kelly while in seminary. I enjoyed the book and found it helpful, but until recently not much was available in English. I’ve got a copy of a biography on him, but I haven’t read it yet.

His influence, despite this handicap, is evidenced as I read the first few chapters of Bavinck on the Christian Life by John Bolt. I have been greatly influenced by people who have been greatly influenced by Bavinck. I saw much of my personal theology on display in those chapters, much of which is reflected in my approach to marriage in my forth-coming book.

For those who aren’t familiar with Bavinck, he was a Dutch theologian alive in the 19th and 20th centuries. He was a bit younger than his contemporary, the more well known Abraham Kuyper. The book begins with a brief biographical sketch.

Bolt begins the meat of the book with Foundations for Christian Living. The three chapters there cover Bavinck’s theological process so to speak. The first is about creation, Created in God’s Image. We can’t understand the Christian life if we don’t understand ourselves as created in God’s image. Redemption makes us whole humans, not into something altogether different. Bavinck takes a “trinitarian” approach to what it means to be in God’s image: creation, sin & redemption, and eschatology. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 figure prominently in Bavinck’s thought: Adam as a type of Christ. They are the two covenant heads that govern humanity. As a result, Bavinck affirmed the “covenant of works” as vital to Christian theology. He saw this as “a divinely imposed relationship between God and humanity, a relationship under sanctions: obedience leads to blessing; disobedience results in death. (pp. 43)” And so “we are Christian in order to become truly human, not the other way around. (pp. 43)”

“This theological insight implies that in a Reformed understanding of Christian discipleship the creational, natural vocation of human beings is basic and primary.”

This this point, Bolt provides a critique of the more “radical” approaches to discipleship from Bavinck’s prospective. If he were alive today, Bolt (rightly I think) imagines Bavinck having something to say to people like Claiborne and Platt. He would affirm Christian discipleship in the ordinary callings. Some today sharply criticize the ordinary (creational!) and produce unnecessary and unproductive guilt. There is no hierarchy of callings so that one is better than another. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 7, serve God where you are whether rich or poor, slave or free, male or female. Your vocation- butcher, baker, candlestick maker or household engineer- is the context of your discipleship. It is not to be seen as a hindrance to it. The creation mandate is not opposed to the great commission (see pg. 44-45 in particular).

Bolt then brings us into common grace. He notes that the term is often misunderstood, and should not be used to excuse worldliness in Christians. It “is the confession that God continues to providentally watch over creation and fallen humanity and that this care is not restricted but extends beyond the elect. (pp. 48)” Bavinck, like Calvin, distinguishes between a grace common to all humanity, and special or saving grace. Common grace provides the stage for saving grace. His continuing to uphold the creation despite our sin & rebellion is gracious.

Bolt then moves to The Law and the Duty of Christian Obedience. The law is understood within the context of covenant. Our discipleship, occurring within the context of creation also occurs within the context of the law which guides us in a life which pleases God. Bavinck follows the Reformed confessions and catechisms in this expression of grateful obedience.

Bolt spends more time discussing the covenant of works (pp. 56-63) particularly since some prominent Reformed theologians are critical of the doctrine. He notes some of those criticisms, but brings us back to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 again. We see that their roles as covenant heads are revealed matters. For Bavinck, religion is a revealed matter. Apart from revelation we don’t have true religion. Bolt notes the temptations of moralism and legalism. The law is intended to be kept within the context of covenant. The Ten Commandments are given in the context of redemption. They are to obey because they have been redeemed, not to gain salvation. The enjoyment of that salvation, and remaining in the land, hinged upon obedience (and repentance when they disobeyed) while looking forward to the greater Redeemer who would obey perfectly for us, and work in us by the Spirit to grow in obedience and restore the image of God. For Bavinck “covenant is the essence of true religion. (pp. 60)” It is intended to guide our discipleship as the words of a father are to guide the life of a son. We are to submit to the “living covenantal God with whom we are in fellowship. (pp. 61-2)” Our submission is not simply a matter of His Lordship, but also our love in response to His love toward us.

This means that God does not coerce us, but counsels us thru “admonition, warning, invitation, petition. (pp. 63)” This also takes place in the context of community. Not simply alone, or as a couple, but the whole of humanity (or the new man in Christ) is the fully developed image of God (see pp. 65). We also find that the reality of progressive revelation implies the reality of progressive understanding.

One of the interesting applications that Bolt makes is politics. As imitators of God, “we are always to conduct ourselves in way that enhance our neighbor’s liberty and responsibility (pp. 67)”

“And it suggests that Christians evaluate public social policy in terms of the same principles. It also implies, finally, that when it comes to matters of social policy and political actions, Christians have an obligation to respect each other’s freedom on matters that either are adiaphora (things indifferent) or require application of agreed upon moral principle. The example of poverty and poverty relief come to mind. The Bible is quite clear about the responsibility of God’s children to help those who are poor and needy. Whether or not this commitment to the poor demands support for higher taxes or greater government welfare is quite another matter. It is a mistake for Christians to treat their policy preferences as self-evident applications of biblical principle. Christians need to respect the liberty of those who take their Christian responsibilities in directions that are different from their own.”

Bolt then quotes an interesting section from the 1891 Christian Social Congress on general principles. “Therefore, it is entirely in keeping with Holy Scripture to: … oppose the accumulation of capital and landed property. (pp.68)” Not exactly where I would go with applying Scripture, but in Israel there were limits to wealth accumulation.

Bolt then moves to the third foundation: Union with Christ. This is the longest and most complex chapter, as Bolt confesses. But our redemption is “in Christ” and this concept must be understood. It plays, obviously, a big role in Bavinck’s understanding of Christianity.

Here Bolt talks about Bavinck’s dualities, not the same a dualism. He doesn’t operate with a dialectic: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. But two realities, held in a kind of tension: “earthly calling and eternal destiny; general revelation and particular revelation; common grace and saving grace. (pp. 69)” They are not to be set against one another: we experience both. We are pulled by competing, legitimate longings. These tensions don’t disappear, and we shouldn’t try to eliminate them. But … often we do.

Bavinck’s understanding of union is more than redemptive. Christ is the mediator of creation, a common theme in Bavinck. He “bridges the ontological distance between humanity and God.” We not only have the moral obstacle of sin to deal with, but the metaphysical obstacle to fellowship or communion with God. In light of this he speaks of accommodation like Calvin does. All revelation is tied to the work of Christ, whether pre or post-incarnate.

“He has brought creation, redemption, and eschatology all into the doctrine of Christ without in any way blurring the distinction between nature and grace or sacrificing the gracious character and preeminence of Christ as our Redeemer.”

Bolt then discusses the two dangers of discussing union. The elevation of humanity to divinity or bringing God down to us and losing all sense of transcendence. Bavinck warned about shifting back and forth between deism and pantheism. The former is helpful as we think about moralistic, therapeutic deism. The other is helpful as we think about theosis, and avoid the dangers of divinization and neo-Platonism. (pp. 78-80).

Bolt, in light of all this, discusses what the Chalcedonian formula did and did not do. It marked out boundaries for our contemplation of the hypostatic union. It didn’t really define it. He brings this into the disagreement between the Reformers and Roman Church on justification. Rome emphasizes union through sacraments. The Reformers emphasized a covenantal union.

Bolt then gets into Dutch Reformed church history with Arminius and the two seceding groups connected with Kuyper and Bavinck that eventually united. Some in Kuyper’s group held to presumptive regeneration. Bavinck argued that ordinarily the Spirit used appointed means for regeneration, though the Spirit can regenerate someone directly. We should recognize that as extra-ordinary, not ordinary. Therefore, the presumption regeneration regarding our children, as immediate and extra-ordinary, should not be affirmed.

In terms of our union itself, Bavinck joined together “the covenantal, legal and forensic dimensions of justification with the believer’s mystical union in Christ” (pp. 91). Bavinck also takes us to the “covenant of redemption” between the Trinity. Our union with Christ is built on the work of all three members: the Father electing, the Son providing redemption, and the Spirit applying it in union with Christ. Our union is not something considered apart from Christ’s objective work of redemption. The latter is the basis of the former. We receive the benefits of redemption in our union, particularly justification and sanctification. With regard to the latter, Bavinck notes it is both the passive gift of God, and our active responsibility. While not mentioned, this is helpful to keep in mind in the recent sanctification debates within the Reformed community.

Bolt did a great job laying the theological foundation by which we must understand Bavinck’s view of the Christian life. Without grasping creation, law and union with Christ, there is really no proper understanding of the Christian life.

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Back in 2009 I was a spectator in a Presbytery debate about a pastor wanting to transfer into said Presbytery. The concerning symptoms were doubting the historicity of Job and Jonah as well as uncertainty about the number of authors for his favorite book of the Bible, Isaiah. There were some men from Westminster who were very concerned about the influence of Peter Enns on this young man though he didn’t go to Westminster. They were trying to get to the root cause of these symptoms, the erosion of inerrancy. Peter Enns, thanks to his books, has become something of a poster child for the erosion of inerrancy. If there was a wanted poster in a conservative church office, his face would be on it.

G.K. Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (ebook) does not exist apart from Peter Enns. The first four chapters, over 120 pages and over half the books, are taken up in “dialogue” with Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation.

I have not read Enns’ books though I probably will at some point thanks to the lessons I learned from Dr. Roger Nicole. I know people who love Peter Enns as they react to perceived “fundamentalism” or rigidity with respect to perceived problems with regard to the Old Testament and inerrancy. Beale quotes extensively from Enns, usually giving the context, not just a sentence that can be taken out of context to put him in an unnecessarily bad light. Beale’s argument is that there are better ways to understand those passages that do not compromise the historicity of the text and therefore the inerrancy of the Scriptures. The point being that once you are able to discredit the historicity of the Scriptures you begin to lose the foundation for the theology of the Scriptures. Enns, and others, seem to think the theology remains even if the historicity is suspect our flat out absent (note the recent debates about the historicity of Adam). At some point I may come back and blog in a deeper fashion about these chapters. It was my intention to do so but life only allows so much time and energy.

I suspect that the other half of the book also has Enns in view, but no direct appeal is given to him. The questions addressed there are the authorship of Isaiah and the phenomenological language used with regard to creation (this is basically a summary of Beale’s Temple and the Church’s Mission). He provides more than sufficient arguments, to my mind, for believing there was only one author behind Isaiah (this does allow for an editor to arrange material or add a historical statement like we see in Deuteronomy about Moses’ death). He also provides a compelling, to me, case for seeing much of the phenomenological language in light of creation as a cosmic temple. While there may be overlap with other ANE traditions (due to the remnant of the imago dei and therefore knowledge of God) there are marked differences that show Israel was not just copying them.

This is not easy reading and comes across as far more “academic” than Enns’ more popular style (which he seems to use to excuse failing to provide other legitimate understandings of passages or genres that preserve inerrancy). I do think this is important reading for pastors and others involved in church leadership (oversight of the ordination process in particular). If one likes Enns this will provide food for thought, the other side of the argument so to speak that Enns doesn’t normally offer. If you aren’t a fan of Enns this should validate your concerns that he gives too much away. In fact his more recent book seems to go farther down the road than the one Beale discusses here.

Chronologically, this was written before Enns was removed from Westminster Theological Seminary and therefore before Beale ended up replacing him. On the basis of this book, and his commentary on Revelation, I’d say that was a good choice to bring academic rigor and a high view of inerrancy to the post.

This book is well worth the investment of time and mental energy. This is an important topic and one that won’t go away. It is best to be prepared for those moments when that nice guy being examined begins to say things that ultimately undermine the faith of the sheep, even if they won’t recognize it.

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I’ve decided to commit career suicide. Okay, that is a bit extreme. I’ve done a SS class on Revelation. There are just some books of the Bible that should be tackled in a Sunday School setting instead of a sermon series. I couldn’t imagine preaching on Revelation. There are some parts that I haven’t settled on in terms of their original meaning. A Sunday School course allows you to offer up various viewpoints and not necessarily commit to one. I did approach the course with a mix of partial preterism and idealism. I think both are far more helpful than the historicist and futurist views. But some passages just seem to defy all categories.

The Song of Songs is another one of those books that is best done in such a setting but for different reasons. The content is more appropriate for an adult audience. I’m amazed at how anachronistic some approaches to the book are. They despise a more literal approach. I think the book is a series of love poems (not a sex manual or relationship guide). They do have a typological function pointing us to our relationship with Christ, but we must be careful not to eroticize that. It does have plenty of references to sexual activities in veiled fashion. As a part of the canon, it points us to a redeemed, or holy, sexuality. Much of the Scriptures offer warnings about our disordered sexuality. This is largely a re-ordered sexuality. Not perfectly though.

Here is what I’m using:

Song of Songs by Tremper Longman III in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series. This is rated as one of the top commentaries by Keith Mathison and Tim Challies. The opening chapter, which focuses on a history of interpretation, is very helpful in setting the stage for the study.

The Message of the Song of Songs by Tom Gledhill in the Bible Speaks Today series. It also appears on Challies’ and Mathison’s lists. I wasn’t too impressed with the chapter covering introductory matters. It did make some good points about the danger of removing the veil so to speak. People will have to be careful with what they learn and hear lest they plunge themselves into sexual sin by obsessing on something. This is something Mark Driscoll should have paid attention to.

Song of Songs by Dennis Kinlaw in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. I bought the volume for the commentaries on Psalms and Proverbs by VanGemeren and Ross respectively. I have yet to begin reading this. I’d better get on that!

Solomon on Sex by Joseph Dillow. Yes, the Song is not a sex manual but there may be some helpful material in there. I know I liked during my counseling coursework. It has been hidden in notebooks for years and has finally been unearthed. This is out of print and difficult to find. We purchased a photocopied version for our coursework.

Communion with God by John Owen. I read this years ago and remember that he refers to the Song quite a bit. It is not a commentary on the Song. I’ll pretend it functions typologically for my purposes.

Discovering Christ in the Song of Solomon by Don Fortner. Don and I will not agree on much. He uses an allegorical interpretive method, making it about Christ and the Church directly. There is no “original meaning” and then seeing it through the lens of Christ. He jumps right to Jesus. I can tell there is much that is true, but that is not what the text (in my opinion) is saying. There are some statements that I would deem dangerous or controversial. For instance, he takes her statement “I am black and comely” to mean she is both sinner and saint. I find equating black with sin to be troubling. I don’t recall any other portion of Scripture doing this.

Perhaps I’ll be back to update this when I’m done. I can only read so many books to prepare for the lessons without driving myself insane. I read far too many on Revelation (lesson learned!).

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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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It has been a long week filled with in-fighting among Calvinist of various stripes. Lines are being drawn in the sand, but I’m not sure what color. There is much about this that disturbs me, and should disturb everyone involved.

Strange Fire is not John MacArthur’s book on Charismatic Theology. I have not read this particular go round. I did read his earlier book, Charismatic Chaos and some of his study materials on 1 Corinthians that touch on the issue. I was a young Christian who had both Charismatic and non-Charismatic friends (and still do).

At the time, I found some of what I learned in the 1 Corinthians study to be helpful. Some of that was undone with Charismatic Chaos. What I found in that book was disturbing to me. Among the things I read was the suggestion that my friends were being influenced by evil spirits. While I am still not convinced in what is normally called “speaking in tongues” is what happened in the Scripture or produced by the Spirit, I’m just not comfortable going there. That seems, to me, to be an unwarranted leap of logic.

The second thing that really put me off was the use of Straw Men in his argumentation. I doubt the average Charismatic would say that John MacArthur understands his position on this issue.

With his new book and conference, MacArthur has claimed that this book is not about most Charismatics. It does not apply to men like John Piper and Wayne Grudem. It might apply to Mark Driscoll, especially after his stunt. He says he’s going after the extremists, particularly the Word of Faith movement. But in his closing arguments, he said it really wasn’t about the extremists, and that he thinks most Charismatics are not Christians (and he’s not just talking about Oneness Pentecostals). Getting confused? Me too.

Part of the problem is that he confuses their continuationist theology with their prosperity gospel, Roman Catholicism or modalism. He fails to distinguish these theological errors from the continuationist theology they also hold. They are separate matters. In other words being charismatic does not mean that you hold to either the prosperity gospel, modalism, and Roman Catholicism. The prosperity gospel is found among some Charismatics. Neither modalism nor Roman Catholicism lead to being Charismatic. He is confusing correlation with causation as they say in statistics. He therefore does us a disservice.

Another problem is that he writes polemical theology. He tends to writing critical books instead of books that affirm positions. Not all of his books are that way, but many of them are. The problem with polemical theology is that you tend to move toward a more extreme position. As a result, the Charismatics I know get tossed under the Word of Faith and Oneness Pentecostal bus even though they don’t belong there. How he argues his points is part of the problem.

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Vacation is a time to be refreshed. One way I get refreshed is by reading some of those books I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had the time to read. One of those books is Tim Chester’s Delighting in the Trinity. As I have mentioned in other places, there are far too few books on the subjects of the Trinity and Union with Christ. Those books have taken up a fair amount of my free time in the last few years.

“The root of sin is always idolatry. We turn from the true God to find satisfaction in other things and other ways of life.”

Chester’s book is one of the shorter books on the Trinity. He, I think, is shooting for a different audience than either Saunders or Letham. This is intended to be a more accessible book, and it draws on his experiences and concerns as a faithful Christian living in an increasingly secularized England. He sets up the book, in chapter 1, by mentioning conversations he’s been having with Muslim friends. The Trinity is a huge stumbling block for them. We come to a cross roads. Should we not really focus on this, perhaps even ignoring it (like the Insider Movements) or do we recognize this as an essential part of our theology, the very foundation of the gospel? He chooses wisely and picks the latter.

“It is rooted in the electing love of the Father, the finished work of the Son and the present witness of the Spirit.”

So, he argues that the doctrine of the Trinity is not only foundational, but also practical. That does not mean it is easy to understand. I would remind you of Augustine’s statement, picked up by Anselm, that “we  believe to gain understanding.” It is not the other way around.

“But God always speaks with one voice. Father, Son and Spirit speak with one voice because they are one.”

So he starts with Biblical Foundations. The first foundation is the unity of God in the Bible. He starts with the Shema, the confession that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He then brings us to 1 Corinthians 8:6, and sees this as an expression of the Shema in light of the progress of revelation. To claim that Jesus is Lord (kuyrios is used in the LXX to translate YHWH) is to claim that Jesus is the LORD our God. Jesus’ statement that the “Father and I are one” helps us to see both the differentiation and unity within God. The unity of God keeps us from tritheism.

He then shifts to the plurality of God in the Bible. He brings us to creation and back to the Shema before going to the gospels to see the Incarnation of Jesus. One cannot escape the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John (which I happening to be preparing for a sermon series).  In the opening verses of John we see both the differentiation (with God), and identification (was God). God lives forever in fellowship with Himself, realizing the priestly blessing so to speak, as the Father and Son are “face to face” until that moment on the Cross when Jesus experiences the curse as the Father looks away.

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