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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Nicole’


When I went to seminary, I was fairly ignorant. Some might argue that I still am. They gave us  a series of questions so they could understand the background of their new students. One was whether I held to Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology.

I was in a quandary. As a new believer I had read some Hal Lindsey (never a good idea) and embraced Dispensationalism in its popularized form. But over time I began to have serious questions concerning its validity as I continued to read Scripture. By the time I showed up in Orlando, I was not a Dispensationalist.

But I had no idea what Covenant Theology was. I would learn.

When I got to the congregation I pastor here in the desert, there was a large number of small pink books on a shelf. No, not books by Pink. Pink books.

The book was A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology by Richard Belcher. Before using it as a give-away, I thought I had better read it. Was it really a comparison, or was it a polemical book? That is important. We sometimes have people who begin to attend who are new to what we believe. I don’t want to turn them off unnecessarily. If I started to hand this book out, I wanted to be sure it was fair and accurate. So I finally read it.

The book is quite short (46 pages including the bibliography). His main point is that everyone has a theology, and most Protestant embrace one of these two theological systems (it was published in 1986, and since then New Covenant Theology has grown in popularity).

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I’m tired from studying Canaanite religion and pondering the church schedule for the next 6 months.  No real connection there.  Since I was looking at some options for materials for us in groups and SS, I decided to see what books are going to be released in the next few months.  Here is what grabbed my attention:

The Works of John Newton.  It was probably re-released in December.  In the last few years I’ve grown to appreciate John Newton.  I’ve been pondering getting his works.  Good timing?

The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel by Stuart Robinson.  This is another reprint.  The title alone intrigues me.

Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living through the Rediscovery of Abba Father.  It is a book based on the Together for Adoption Conference (in 2009?).  It includes chapters by John Piper and Scotty Smith (both of whom pastor churches cultivating a culture of adoption).

The Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson.  Yes, published in October 2009, but oddly on the coming soon section of WTS Books.  Go figure.

Genesis 25-50 by John Currid.  I used his commentaries on Exodus when preaching through the book earlier in my ministry.  I found them helpful, and suspect this would be as well.  If I continue beyond the life of Abraham, I’ll have to pick this up.

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton.  This is a risky pick for me.  I used to be a big Horton fan, but I see his books as more diagnosis than cure these days.  I also hesitate with regard to his understanding/application of the 2 kingdoms doctrine.  But you never know.

Standing Forth: The Collected Writings of Roger Nicole.  Not new, but one I should get.  My late professor was a brilliant and godly man.

Speaking the Truth in Love: Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole.  You need to read biographies of men greatly used by God.  You learn, often, how they were greatly broken.  I’d like to learn more about my late professor.

When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search: Biblical Principles and Practices to Guide Your Search by Chris Brauns.  I saw this and swore to myself.  This is the book I’ve been meaning to write.  I may still write it, though with particular reference to the Presbyterian circles in which I live and work.

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W. Robert Godfrey’s book God’s Pattern for Creation: A Covenantal Reading of Genesis 1 is a short, fairly easy to understand book that wrestles with some of the issues regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1.  Godfrey, from Westminster West, focuses on the theological and is not trying to integrate the scientific.

Godfrey was a student of Meredith Kline’s, and the book (mostly) teaches the Framework Hypothesis (FH).  He has some mild critiques of the FH, but the vast majority of what he says fits quite well within the FH.

My beloved professor, Roger Nicole, jokingly called his friend Meredith Kline “covenant crazy.”  It is appropriate that Godfrey’s book focuses on a covenantal approach to Genesis 1.  He sees it as a covenant prologue of sorts for the Exodus generation (and all who follow).

“It is a covenant history focusing on what the people of God need to know about their God and themselves.”

Godfrey often frames God’s act of creation as preparing a suitable environment for humanity.  God is also revealing who we are and what we are supposed to do.  God subdues the chaos (tohu) and fills the void (bohu), even as He overcomes the darkness (the 3 problems Godfrey highlights in verse 2).  The creation mandate is to fill the earth & subdue it.  As God’s vice-regents, Adam and Eve were to act like God on God’s behalf.

“Genesis 1 presents creation as the progressive ordering of the earth to be a home for man in fellowship with God and to teach man how he is to bear God’s image.  Genesis 2:4-4:26 begins with the creation of man in fellowship with God and then presents the formation of a place for man to live.”

Godfrey is also highly dependent on Calvin’s method of exegesis (his principle of accommodation- God speaks so we’ll understand).  While Calvin does not do it with his work in Genesis, he often recognized that many historical accounts in the OT were not in chronological order, but in topical arraignment.  He attempts to take Calvin where Calvin did not go.  And this, I think, is the weakness of the book.  He argues that Days 1 & 4 were the same day since sometimes Hebrews were not as concerned about chronology as we are.

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Polemical Theology, whether in written or verbal form, can quickly descend into some ungodly places.  Name calling, anger and refusing to listen to what another actually says are evidence of a lack of love.

Another form of “unfair” dispute is the use of the straw man argument.  Here is a good, quick definition:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

You can tell that Dr. Roger Nicole & J.I. Packer are such good friends.  At times their counsel is so similar.  How to engage in theological debate is one such area.  Dr. Nicole told us to read our opponents, not only second hand sources, so we might truly understand their arguments.

Dr. Packer inserts this wonderful little sentence in the midst of Keep In Step With the Spirit:

“But all positions should be judged by their best exponents.”

He applies this to the various proponents of the views of sanctification.  It is unfair to argue against something by using either a straw man (which doesn’t exist) or its worst example.  You may win the argument, but you defeated a foe that either didn’t exist or rarely exists.  It would be like beating the Bad News Bears, yet claiming to be MLB World Series champions.

I see these arguments regularly in books by authors who should know better.  Sometimes these arguments are used by men who place themselves in the bounds of either Reformed Theology or Calvinistic soteriology (they embrace the 5 points but not a covenantal view of Scripture or other distinctives of Reformed theology).

For instance, one book I read argued against contemporary worship songs.  It did this on the basis of the worst examples of contemporary worship songs.  It brought up the most pathetic, insipid, meaningless songs as if they were representative of contemporary worship songs.  This author may have convinced many people he was right, but he never dealt with the real deal.  Missing were interaction with the contemporary hymns of Townend and Getty, the songs of Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin or any other songs that seek to communicate biblical theology (Sovereign Grace or Indelible Grace would be other examples).

Another highly respected author attacked the charismatic movement on the basis of its worst excesses.  There was no interaction with sane, thoughtful charismatics who share his Calvinistic views like John Piper, Wayne Grudem or C.J. Mahaney.  All were lumped in the same heretical basket, ready to be tossed out &  burned up.

We who understand the doctrines of grace should be more humble & loving in our disputation.  We should argument against real people holding real positions.  And the best representatives of that position- not the Single A or college team.

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Justin Taylor (Between Two Worlds) linked to a post by Ray Ortland  that is a good reminder for all of us who are Reformed in our theology (I spoke with a potential real estate agent about that this morning).  Here is some of what he says:

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.” It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.

So, while I agree with J.I. Packer and Roger Nicole that “Calvinism is the gospel” (meaning the most accurate understanding of the biblical gospel), I need to be wary of my little inner Pharisee which tends to make that a litmus test.  I have been fortunate to be friends with people from a variety of Christian ‘traditions’, and continue to be.  But sometimes my inner Pharisee appears and I try to convert them to Reformed theology instead of waiting for Jesus to sort all that out.  Oh, I should be willing to discuss it with them but I shouldn’t feel the need to argue them into it.  (Apologies to all those I’ve done this to … there are more of you than I probably know.)  One phrase I used in seminary was “you don’t have to understand gravity for it to still have an effect on you.”  It is the same way with grace- we don’t always have a good understanding of the “hows” but what matters is that it has effected someone savingly.  The understanding will come later (sometimes MUCH later).  And that goes for me too, for all of us have blind spots in our theology.  But if they grasp Jesus by faith- they are Christians, part of his church, body and bride.

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Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

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It has been a strange few days.  With no response from the local job market, I’m spending too much time at home.  Strange things happen when daddy’s home so much.

Recently CavGirl has decided she wants to poop on the potty.  We had been making no headway on this agenda, and she had previously announced she’d start to do it when we went to the Farm (her grandparents).  She had apparently changed her mind.  This is a good thing in the overall scheme.  But as those who’ve been through it (rather than letting child care take care of it) it has its moments.  She’s only had one accident, usually going prior to naps or bedtime.  She is still using a diaper at night.  Except 2 nights ago… she decided to go her own version of commando.  I don’t know what we were thinking- we probably weren’t since we were stunned by the announcement.  This ended with her crying out in the middle of the night quite wet.

Last night was another go.  We had a plan.  In addition to the plastic undies, we would wake her up periodically to have her go pee.  I was sent off to grab some ice cream, arriving home to her in the potty.  Every few minutes she was going back to the potty, and doing business.  Like 5 times.  No, she was not sick.  I don’t know where it all came from, but we alternated going in to help her wipe.  It was getting downright wearisome.  We couldn’t relax!  And in between she had 500 comments and questions (God has given her 100,000 words a day).  Finally she announces she wants a diaper.  Whew!  No additional wake ups (CavBoy is worth 2-3 per night for water).

Today I mowed our neighbor’s lawn (since they are away) and our own.  It was probably about 90 degrees when all was said and done.  I was dripping wet, hot and not wanting to be bothered.  Our neighbor has a pool and we are free to use it.  But I was hoping CavWife would take the kids shopping.  She, of course, didn’ want to go with the kids.  The compromise … we’d go in the pool now and she’d shop while the kids napped.

At some point, a friend’s pre-teen son seems to have told CavGirl that the pool vacuum will swallow you.  Since our neighbor is away, the vacuum is in the pool.  She is utterly terrified, afraid it will swallow us up.  We show her that it will not hurt us.  Still crying.  Occasionally screaming.  CavBoy is happily puttering around in his little float, grasping CavWife’s hand.  The Girl continues to be traumatized- afraid for all of our lives.  Our relaxing dip in the pool is anything but.  After 45 minutes of evidence that no one has been swallowed by the pool vacuum, she tentatively enters the water.  Who knew raising a child would have such irrational, irritating moments?!  Was I like this?

Then there are the odd conversations I have with her.  He only has 6 words, so there are no conversations.  I asked her the other day about why she was angry.  She’d been having a few rough days.  I let her know that she was teaching her brother to do wrong.  “I want to teach him to do wrong.”  Ah … her depravity rears its cute little head.  We talked some more about that.  I apologized for the times I shouldn’t be angry, that I’ve taught her to do wrong.  Our anger doesn’t help us live in a way that pleases God and helps others.  We need to pray for Jesus’ help when we are angry and shouldn’t be.

Then there was the pool side conversation today after CavWife took CavBoy home to start lunch.  “Do you like me?” she asked.  “I like you, and I love you.  Sometimes I don’t like the things you do.”  “I like you, Daddy.”  Despite the ways we disrupt her life with discipline, she thinks we are “good helpers”.   She told CavWife that “God gave us a great mommy and daddy.”  I guess we are doing something right, even in the midst of our frustration and confusion.

One last conversation.  I was reading some of Dr. Roger Nicole’s Our Sovereign Savior at breakfast.  I pointed to his picture and told her “This was one of my teachers.  He is a very nice man, and very smart.”  Her response, “Do you hug and kiss him?”  Slight pause.  “No, I don’t kiss him.”

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