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I want to start with a story or two. Two.

Saturday a friend of mine died. Years ago he attended a PCA church in Orlando where a friend of mine was a pastor on staff. This friend raised concerns to me about this PCA pastor based on some lectures he gave on women in the church. At the time I didn’t share his concerns about my other friend. I didn’t think he was moving toward egalitarianism. A few years later this pastor friend moved cross country to serve on the staff of a church that would eventually leave the PCA and fully embrace egalitarianism. My friend did “slide” into egalitarianism, but may have hid it since he credited one of our professors. My late friend was right, and I missed it.

In my first pastorate one of the influential women gave me a book to read. She was on the search committee that called me. She had been auditing courses at RTS Orlando. She led our women’s ministry. The book was Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church, which is clearly egalitarian. Earlier she’d given me insightful articles from Kenneth Bailey. This book was less than insightful contrary to the positive blurbs by respected men, but it was insightful into this friend’s trajectory. It broke my heart when she and her husband left the church and began to attend a PC(USA) church (now ECO).

Sometimes you can see it coming, and sometimes it is more subtle. Some people claim they see Aimee Byrd well on the road to egalitarian. I’m not so sure. My foresight, obviously, is not perfect including in this area. But the issue may be their adherence to the CBMW formulation of complementarianism.

Cognitive Dissonance

Today we’ll look at the beginning of the Part 2: Recovering Our Mission. The first chapter in this section is Why Our Aim Is Not Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She begins this with part of her story. She was married a month after graduating from college and began to read books to help her become “the perfect Christian wife.” This was when she read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood aka the Big Blue Book. She was seeking a “biblical understanding of the sexes.” There were parts that were hard for her to accept, but she trusted the radio shows that spoke well of the book. “That’s what I wanted to be: good and conservative.” She was not comfortable with “some” of the teachings in the book. Not all. Not most. Some. She assumed she’d understand them better as she matured.

“I do want to note that there are plenty of helpful teachings in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, written by authors who have benefited the church in numerous ways.”

Over time, however, “more and more strange teachings on femininity and masculinity have emerged under the rubric of biblical manhood and womanhood.” She is not alone in thinking this. She mentions some of them earlier in this book, and they concerned me when I read them years ago. I thought they were aberrations but now realize my understanding of complementarianism is not on the same side of the spectrum as theirs. I was concerned when Piper thought women shouldn’t be police officers because that involves authority over men (“Should Women Be Police Officers?” August 13, 2015). In that article he mentioned teaching in colleges as well. Byrd also notes a place where Piper discusses a woman being careful in giving a lost man directions lest we undermine his sense of masculinity. Sorry, I don’t get it. I simply want to get to my destination, and apart from verbal abuse I’m not guarding my sense of masculinity.

Eternal Submission of the Son

Where she goes here is more fundamental, however. She came across a CBMW document expressing ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son). This view states that in the ontological Trinity, the Son submits to the Father. This view is not expressed in any of the major creeds and confessions. We do recognize that in the economic Trinity, the Son as Messiah submits to the Father on our behalf. The first speaks to the Son in his essence, the second to the Son in his office as Redeemer.

She pursued conversations with representatives of CBMW including the president at the time. In books, members of the CBMW continued to assert this view. It shows up in the ESV Study Bible as well. This view is used as the basis for their version of complementarianism: men and women are both human (equal in essence) but women submit to men (different in role/function).

I don’t believe in ESS nor agree with its use by CBMW to defend an erroneous view of men and women. In Ephesians 5, wives submit to their own husbands, not men in general. Women are not inferior to men due to their gender, not to submit to men in general. In the 10 commandments, we are to honor our parents meaning that sons (even as adults) are to honor their mothers. Mothers don’t submit to adult sons.

Back to Byrd’s book from that aside. She tried to address this publicly as well. As she tells it no one was listening. Then Liam Goligher did a guest post on her blog on this subject and the can of worms was opened. ESS became a big internet controversy.

Okay. At this point I wondered if she wants credit for exposing this heterodoxy, simply wants to say no one took her seriously or both. Goligher was more than a “housewife theologian” and had more gravitas. That he was a man can also play into it. But there seem to be some sour grapes at work in this too.

She then brings it back to the Big, Blue Book. Once again she notes there is good material in there, but also some disconcerting material as well. There is a big problem when the differences between men and women are reduced to “one of ontological authority and submission.” I’ve always understood this as patriarchy, not complementarianism. While she mentions Denny Burke, Owen Strachan and others, her focus is on Wayne Grudem who has been a big advocate for this deviant view of the Trinity, including in his work on the ESV Study Bible notes. I was disappointed to see Ligon Duncan so earnestly affirming the updated version of the Big, Blue Book such that communicating the doctrines and applications taught in it were essential to Christian discipleship.

“While I wholeheartedly affirm distinction between sexes, I am convinced that our choices are not between CBMW complementarianism and vague androgynous discipleship.”

She is raising serious issues here. In my opinion she is right. I’ll let her speak for herself:

“Nowhere does Scripture state that all women submit to all men. … And it is difficult for a laywoman like me, who does see some theological teaching for God outfitting qualified men for an office to see this kind of reductive teaching and call it complementarianism. … My femininity is not defined by how I look for and nurture male leadership in my neighbors, coworkers, or mail carriers. I am not denying the order needed in both my personal household and in the household of God, but I do not reduce the rights and obligations in a household to mere authority and submission roles. … I uphold distinction between the sexes without reduction, as Scripture does.”

She affirms that church office is reserved for qualified men. She refers to Genesis 2 in the footnote, but overlooks 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is puzzling, frankly.

In the next section she’s wondering if we’ve baptized “chivalry” and made it biblical manhood. I think she is onto something with this. Like the Pharisees added to the laws regarding the Sabbath and used the corban principle to avoid caring for parents, we can add cultural understandings to our biblical understanding in a way that is inappropriate and confusing. She quotes Sarah Coakley as noting that the point of headship “is not executive dictatorship but responsibility for the “well-being of the whole.”” She uses John McKinley’s “necessary ally”, though I prefer Allender and Longman’s “intimate ally”.

To be fair, in What’s the Difference?, Piper’s contribution to the Big, Blue Book, he mentions men listening to their wives to gain input. The “definition” expresses “benevolent responsibility”. But we do need to emphasize, I think, the partnership of marriage. Headship in Ephesians 5 is sacrificial and for the well-being of the wife. Back to Genesis 2, she is an ally in our God-given mission. Being a man or woman can not be reduced to authority/submission. There is a bit of overlap in their expression of this relationship, but their foundation is quite different.

Restoring the Imago Dei

I think she takes too much time expressing the fact that our goal in discipleship is not masculinity or femininity but conformance to Christ (Romans 8). At a few points that will be different. But the goal is being a mature human being, restoration of the image of God (Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3).

“Christian men and women don’t strive for so-called biblical masculinity or femininity, but Christlikeness. Rather than striving to prove our sexuality, the tone of our sexuality will express itself as we do this. … I do not need to do something in a certain way to be feminine. I simply am feminine because I am female.”

She sees some benefit to exclusive studies for men and women. There are “shared experiences and responsibilities within our sex.” (She probably should use “gender” in these instances.) Her concern is that we take this too far too often, as though we can only be discipled separately. Drawing on Phillip Payne’s material she asserts (rightly) that both men and women received authority over earth and creatures. Unlike in the pagan cultures around them, men were supposed to leave their family of origin to cleave to his spouse. In pagan countries she shifted from her family to his.

In Mark David Walton’s article for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood these gender distinctions (authority & submission) remain for all eternity since they are ontological. Women, in this view, would eternally submit to men even though both are made in the image of God.

Peel and Reveal

She goes off her on “role”. She does this, in my opinion, in a reductionistic way. She focuses on the definition derived from the playhouse. As a result she wants us to stop using this in discussing men and women. She’ll also do this in chapter 6. But according to dictionary.com the 2nd definition is “proper or customary function” and the third is the sociological use (pertinent here!) “the rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status.” That status should not be “woman” but “wife”. Not “man” but “husband” and “church officer”.

She seems to be going after both ESS and expressions of complementarianism at the same time. She does not clearly delineate between the two but goes back and forth between them. They are related, but distinct. This is a weakness of hers or at least this chapter.

And then she returns to norms. “I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality.” But in this section she seeks to get metaphysical and philosophical. She depends on Sister Prudence Allen in pp. 124-30, and frankly I’m lost. Philosophy is not my strong point, and I’m not familiar with this philosopher. I got “fractional complementarity” and “integral complementarity”. She brings in Pope John Paul II, as well as Paul Zanacanaro and Julian Marias. In all this I couldn’t tell if she was using them positively (she does say they think more thoroughly and biblically) or negatively (since their conclusion sounds remarkably like Piper and Grudem). Just call me Vinnie because “I’m soooo confused.”

The peel and reveal section seems to waste the good and important material she covered in the body of the chapter. There are serious problems in the theological basis for the CBMW version of complementarianism, and therefore serious problems in how they understand masculinity and femininity in relationship to one another. She could have done a better job delineating her points of agreement with CBMW since there are some.

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As a new Christian without a clue I stumbled into the Christian bookstore in Kenmore Square, uncertain about what to buy to better understand this new faith I barely understood. Among the various and sundry items I noticed a book that had sold over a million copies and won some award. The title was simply Knowing God by someone by the name of J.I. Packer. I wanted to know God, so I bought it.

That book, which I’ve read a few times since the initial read, has been one of the most important purchases of my life. After finally becoming a certified “Calvinist” I re-read the book and saw all the seeds had been sown by Packer in this book.

While struggling with sanctification and charismatic issues I picked up Keep in Step with the Spirit which also proved to be immensely helpful. While looking at RTS Orlando in 1991, I was able to go to the Ligonier National Conference on The Cross of Christ and Packer’s lectures were profound. He was not the most dynamic speaker in the line up, but his content was amazing. Steve Brown also stands out in my mind as impactful, though he got in “trouble” because people misunderstood him.

I have a long, storied history with J.I. Packer. He’s been one of the most important theological influences in my life, particularly in the early years. He kept me from any number of heresies. I am thankful for J.I. Packer, and was looking forward to reading Samuel Storms book Packer on the Christian Life in the Crossway series. It was time for vacation/study leave and time to read another volume in the series.

Samuel Storms is an interesting choice to write the volume on Packer. Sometimes the editors do that, choose a wild card from outside the person’s theological heritage. Storms is also a Calvinist who loves the Puritans. But Storms falls into the new Calvinist camp (non-denominational, non-confessionalist, baptistic and continuationist) while Packer himself is an old school Anglican who affirms the Westminster Confession (I’m pretty sure) as well as the 39 Articles. He is, therefore, denominational, confessional, paedobaptistic and a cessationist who isn’t too hard on his continuationist brothers and sisters.

“Theology, as I constantly tell my students is for doxology: … Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong at a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in bot senses cold: cold-hearted and uninterested.”

The subtitle of the book is Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit, which brings both of the books I’ve mentioned into focus. It also sums up Packer’s understanding of the Christian life. It draws on many of Packer’s numerous books and articles.

As with all the volumes, Storms begins with a short biography of the subject. If you’ve read one of the biographies on Packer, there isn’t much that is new. But if you haven’t, you’ll get a good sketch of the man. One of the key events of his life was an accident as a child that kept him from sports and forced him into the library. Whatever your views of nature and nurture, Packer became an academic that we can’t be sure he’d be if he hadn’t had to wear a metal plate that encouraged the worst out of his peers. One key friendship was with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, centered upon the Puritans. Both men were key in a Puritan conference and Banner of Truth. Lloyd-Jones’ call to separation from the Church of England at the Evangelical Alliance conference in 1966, along with Stott’s response, created a rift between the men. Packer would be despised by the the non-conformists like Lloyd-Jones (whom Packer still spoke highly of) and distrusted by the Anglicans who kept moving to the left (Storms credits Carl Trueman for this observation). Trueman thinks this is behind Packer’s move to Canada, far western Canada at that. He was, in a sense, in exile. Eventually the Church of England would go too far, and Packer along with many others would seek refuge among the African bishops. In many ways Packer has been a man without a home, looking for the city whose builder and architect is God.

“Self-denial is a summons to submit to the authority of God as Father and of Jesus as Lord and to declare lifelong war on one’s instinctive egoism.”

In terms of analyzing his view of the Christian life, Storms begins with the cross of Christ. Apart from this, none of what Packer believes about the Christian life makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, to me anyway, is that Storms doesn’t refer to Packer’s famous introduction to an edition of Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. This is one of the few places where Packer draws a hard line in the sand, calling the various alternative theories to particular atonement false gospels. Packer didn’t usually take such hard stances, but for him this was the place to take the hard stand. Packer didn’t normally do polemics, but when he did he did them well.

Packer affirms the necessity of the atonement due to our sinfulness, Christ’s substitution in our place to pay the penalty of said sinfulness and sin, and its propitiatory nature. Packer held to a cross that saved elect sinners, not to a cross that merely made salvation possible to every sinner to which faith must be added.

As a confessional Christian, Packer affirmed the authority of the Scriptures above all else. It is to this that Storms turns next. Here we see why Packer walked out of the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster. It was their acceptance of same-sex unions contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture. He, rightly, saw this as no small thing. Authority rests, not in culture, not in my personal interpretation or even the Church and its interpretation of the Bible, but the Scriptures themselves. There ultimately can be no living of the Christian life without an atonement and the Scriptures as our authority. This is not to reject Confessions and Catechisms. Packer encourages the use of catechisms to disciple believers new and old.

“In the New Westminster debate, subjectivists say that what is at issue is not the authority of Scripture, but its interpretation. I do not question the sincerity of those who say this, but I have my doubts about their clear-headedness. The subjectivist way of affirming the authority of Scripture, as the source of the teaching that now needs to be adjusted, is precisely a denying of Scripture’s authority from the objectivist point of view, and clarity requires us to say so.”

The Christian life, entered by faith (self-abandoning trust) in the person and work of Christ, is about holiness. Storms makes great use of Rediscovering Holiness (a hard to find gem in my opinion) in this chapter. He also refers to Keep in Step with the Spirit to discuss Packer’s early struggle with Keswick theology (let go and let God for victory) from which he was saved by discovering John Owen. Missing is Holiness is about the heart that results in actions, not simply outward conformity to rules. From him I discovered the hard truth that the holier we are the more discontent we will be with our holiness. True holiness is empowered by the Holy Spirit, not by us. Packer writes of the opposition to holiness. We are taken to God’s gym and made to sweat as unholiness leaves the body. Holiness involves a life of repentance driven by self-examination (not simply introspection) and the war on pride in our hearts. It isn’t simply a personal and individual thing, but God places us in a community to help us become holy precisely because holiness is about love and without a community we can’t grow in love (and forgiveness).

“Purity of heart is indeed a matter of willing one thing, namely to live ever day of one’s life loving God.”

Having defined holiness, Storms moves into the process of sanctification. Here he leans on Hot Tub Religion, another hard to find gem. You may begin to think that books on sanctification don’t sell well. Storms returns to the influence of John Owen whom Packer called “God’s chemo for my cancered soul.” He address the synergism of sanctification revealed in the God who works in us to will and work according to His good purpose (Philippians 2). It is the transformation of our desires, disposition and motives.

“God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort.”

The Christian life, as already mentioned, is a struggle. Storms brings us to Romans 7 to discuss the problem of indwelling sin in the life of every Christian. Storms goes through the various views of this passage, but spends particular time explaining Packer’s view that this is the experience of Paul as a Christian (he provides further support for this view in an appendix). Paul affirms God’s law but struggles to do it. In Romans 8 we see that the sinful mind is hostile to the law. If we are honest, our obedience is always less than we desire it to be. We drift. We are prone to wander. This all drives us back to Jesus and Him crucified for our deliverance. And yet we do have the Spirit at work in us to put sin to death (back to Romans 8). We are changed people, but not as thoroughly changed as we ought nor long to be.

In keeping with Romans 8, Storms brings us the Packer’s views on the person of the Spirit who provides the power of Christian living. Like many of the Puritans, Packer held to experiential Christianity, not simply intellectual or rational Christianity. We must be born again, and we must have the Spirit dwelling in us. While personally a cessationist, Packer was not as rigid in addressing charismatics as, say, John MacArthur. But Packer does not limit the work of the Spirit to the gifts of the Spirit. His focus is on the fruit of the Spirit, produced in sanctification. There is that word again. The Christian life is taken up in sanctification; a sanctification that flows out of knowing God in Christ through the atonement we know about through the Scriptures.

“Our lack of love for praying may be an indication of all-round spiritual debility. … Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.”

One of the ways this all works out is prayer, which is the next chapter in the volume. He discusses hindrances to prayer as well as the activity of prayer: petition, conversation, meditation, praise, self-examination, and lament. Growth in holiness is produced in part by a commitment to prayer. The same Spirit who works in us to will and work, works in us to draw near to the Father thru the Son to express our hearts.

Connected to prayer (and Scripture) is the role of guidance in the Christian’s life. We do need to discern the will of God. Many of Paul’s prayers for others found in Scripture relate to this need on their part and ours. Packer connects this to the doctrines of adoption and God’s sovereignty. God’s guidance comes primarily from the Scriptures which were written for us upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10). Guidance is not helpful without a commitment to submit to God’s guidance. We must accept His will as our own. As such, Packer rejects fleeces and signs as not normative for Christians. That is not how we ought to seek guidance, though we see some saints of old, who didn’t have the whole Bible, did receive guidance this way.

“Discernment comes through listening to Scripture and those means of grace that relay biblical teaching to us in digestible form- sermons, instruction talks, hymns, books, Christian conversations and so forth.”

Christian living takes place in the context of suffering. We can suffer from unwanted temptations and struggles with sin, our bodies that won’t work right, persecution, and hard providences. Suffering is inevitable. Packer does note that God is particularly gentle with new Christians, so often suffering can become more profound the more we mature. Packer, like Luther, was a theologian of the cross. He rejects the triumphal theology of glory that has capture the heart of so many American Christians. Such triumphalism often points to some failure on our part as the cause of suffering. We need to identity the particular (often unconnected secret) sin so God will restore a suffering-free blessing. Such people aren’t growing in perseverance and character (Rom. 5), but remain immature as they reject God’s purposes in their lives. Packer speaks of our weakness and grief as important in helping us grow.

“… a most painful part of the pain of grief is the sense that no one, however sympathetic and supportive in intention, can share what we are feeling.”

In a sense, Storms brings us back to the beginning by talking about the theocentricity of the Christian life. Eternal life is knowing God, and Jesus whom he sent (John 17:3). It isn’t Christian living without Christ as the center of it. We are to believe in Christ, love Christ and hope in Christ. Christianity isn’t just doctrine, intellectual commitment. Christianity is personal commitment to Christ about whom the doctrines speak. It is vital union with Him, and experiential.

“Again, Christianity is Christ relationally. If there is a center or hub to all of Packer’s thought on the Christian life, it is here. Christian living is conscious, joyful, trusting relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.”

The book ends with a chapter on ending well. When Storms wrote the book, Packer was 88. He is still alive, and still writing (though much shorter books). He is increasingly weak, but still has a sharp mind. He is a model of using one’s faculties and energies to live and serve as long as one has them. One may retire from a vocation, but not from living as a Christian.

Overall this was a good and thorough contribution to the series. Storms made ample use of Packer’s writings. As I noted above there were some glaring omissions; not just his introduction to Owen’s book (he wrote introductions galore, actually), but also Faithfulness and Holiness which introduces the read to (and includes) Ryle’s classic Holiness. This is a hard to find volume, but of immense help. I blogged through this in April of 2007 for those who are interested.

In the bowels of the Bird and Babe (1999)

Storms did mention the need for community, but as I get older I see the need for friendship. Jesus had the 12, and the 3. He enjoyed the closest of friendships with Peter, John and James. When I visited England with friends, we spent a few days in Oxford. We had meals and drinks at the Eagle and Child. We went to the Inklings exhibit as well. Friendships are a part of community, but the special relationships that we enjoy that extend beyond our worship communities by geography and time in many cases.

As I go through an extended period of loss, I’m seeing the lack of friendships I have as a pastor. I don’t have enough. Storms mentioned Packer’s friendship with Lloyd-Jones (interrupted by controversy) and John Stott. I’m curious about his friendship with Sproul, which seemed to end with Evangelicals and Catholics Together. What is missing is Packer’s long time relationship with another of the important men in my life, Dr. Roger Nicole. Even Nicole’s biography seems skimpy on this account.

We think of these theologians’ writings, but often don’t think of their friendships (except for C.S. Lewis, it seems). These friendships, and sometimes how they end leave their mark. I know this is true in my life. If the Christian life is largely about love, and it is (!), then there should be more about the long term relationships with the people they loved (including spouses!) in these volumes.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy this series and that is why I read a volume on each vacation. I’m just pointing out a weakness in the series, and one in my life and in the lives of many men. At a time I find I need my friends, they seem busy. And I can’t point a finger at them for I realize I have not pursued them in their similar times of need and loss. Friendships matter.

Some of the bestest friends a man can have!

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It started with an ad in Discipleship Magazine. I was a relatively young Christian and noticed the ad from Ligonier Ministries for a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series on VHS. Yes, this was the late 80’s.

I really didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with “Reformed Theology” was “Reformed” or Liberal Judaism. I was still a bit frightened of that word ‘holiness’. As many discovered, it was a great series. I began to buy books and tape series for my cassette player in the car. R.C. taught me a whole lot of theology before I went to seminary. He didn’t just introduce me to Reformed Theology but also (along with John Piper) to the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards.

When I was looking at seminaries the ad for RTS caught my eye. Jackson, MS? Me? Perhaps it was too many viewings of Mississippi Burning on the Movie Channel, but I didn’t see this Yankee doing well in Jackson, MS.

Later there was a new ad for a new campus with R.C. as one of the professors. I could handle Orlando. I was looking to get away from the snow. When I got information from RTS they offered a prospective student offer that included free admission to the 1991 National Conference in Orlando. So I made a call, booked a flight and discovered Orlando was the place for me. Somehow at one session I ended up in the front row talking to Vesta.

While I was there I had R.C. for Systematic Theology III (Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology) and a seminar on The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. For one class, John Gerster was in town and led our discussion for his former pupil. Most of the time, there was Vesta sitting in the back with his soda while R.C. taught.

It was not all bliss. There were some conflicts on campus. It was a little like Corinth at times. It was mostly the students, but it was apparently there was some friction in the faculty. Somehow I didn’t get very caught up in that (I’m often loyal to a fault).

After seminary I ended up working for Ligonier Ministries. I was in the phone room during the era when they wanted seminary trained people answering the phone to answer theological questions as well as take orders. In many ways it was a great time. I worked with some people I knew from seminary, and some other great folks. I got to travel to Memphis, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit to work conferences. I have fond memories of frisbee golf, a rotating restaurant in St. Louis, meeting John Piper, sharing an elevator with R.C. and going to the occasional taping. R.C. would warm up the crowd with baseball trivia. Before they built the studio on site, they recorded at Greg Rike Studios where I discovered the signatures of Deep Purple’s members since they recorded Slaves and Masters there.

I had the privilege of writing some articles and reviews for Tabletalk Magazine while I was there. I also had the privilege of preaching at the chapel for the 25th anniversary of Ligonier Ministries.

Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to be in pastoral ministry. I decided to go to seminary for a Masters in Counseling to increase my skill set. Having recently joined a PCA church, I came under care of the Central FL Presbytery. This was the meeting when R.C. requested to “labor outside of bounds” for the new church called St. Andrews. It was a politically charged meeting due to some controversial statements and the fact that he wasn’t physically present.

Shortly thereafter there was a change in philosophy regarding my job description. I had reservations but didn’t get to find out how it would go as I was laid off that afternoon. I’d made the wrong guy angry (not R.C.).

R.C. was very personable, but not very accessible. Keep in mind, I was nobody. Still am. He was a very busy man and I think he still worked at the golf club at the time. It can be hard to meet your heroes. He was a man who needed Jesus, just like me. The sanctifying grace of God was at work in R.C.. Years later I discovered that he and the other professor had reconciled and did some work together. The last time I saw him I wondered if he would recognize me. There was no “hey, Steve” but that’s okay. I was not an important person in his life. He was already on oxygen and likely distracted with his own limitations.

If you listen to his sermons and audio series you’ll learn a lot of theology, and a lot about his life. Perhaps that is one reason I use personal illustrations. There are some issues I disagree with R.C. on, like apologetics. But on the main issues we are in sync.

The church owes him a great debt. He was one of the main figures in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He made theology accessible to ordinary people. He was one of the key figures in the revival of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in the American church. He was greatly used by God.

I owe R.C. a great debt. I’m trying to pay it forward like I should.

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I had never read a biography of anyone I knew before. That changed with Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole by David Bailey. This is an apt title for a book about our “dear brother” for this phrase from Ephesians really seems to sum up the late Dr. Nicole as a person and Christian.

All who knew Dr. Nicole knew him to be wise and gracious. He knew what he believed, taught what he believed but did it in such a way that was kind. I never heard anyone say anything negative about Dr. Nicole, rather he was beloved by students and colleagues alike. In areas of disagreement, he was gracious and endeavored to understand the opposing position, teaching us to read our “opponent’s” work as a result.

In his preface to this book, Dr. Nicole noted:

“But this is a biography, not a eulogy. I am a Christian, which means that more than eighty years ago and ever since, I have confessed with tears that I am a miserable sinner”born in iniquity, inclined unto evil, inecapable by myself of any good thing, and who transgresses every day in several ways God’s holy commandments.” This is what I was saying every Sunday and a very realistic summary of the biblical doctrine of sin. I know myself as a disobedient sinner, proud, selfish, unbelieving, deceptive, lustful, lazy, insensitive, a ‘lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God’. I have even now not yet begun to plumb the abyss of wickedness from which I desperately needed salvation- how it is that none of these things is very apparent in this biography?”

Most of these sins were not as apparent to us as they were to him (and Annette). He was a godly man. This means that he was outwardly very much like Christ, but that, like Paul, knew the sin no one else could see. We don’t need to know the particular sins of this brother unless they directly impact his story.

David Bailey focuses on his work. That is good in my eyes. I don’t need to know his sins. Many of us wish (selfishly?) that Dr. Nicole wrote more since he was such a wealth of wisdom and knowledge for the church he loved and spent his life edifying.

As I read this book I wished I knew him better than I did, but in reading this book I understand why I didn’t. I met him during his ‘semi-retirement’ when he was a professor at RTS Orlando. He was my first academic adviser and I was fortunate to take 4 courses with him. I didn’t just learn theology from Dr. Nicole but also lessons about how to do theology (which I am still struggling to apply due to my own sinfulness) and live in community.

Our beloved professor didn’t arise in a vacuum. He was very much a product of his family. He inherited a legacy of godly, brilliant people who lived long lives. I see God keeping his multi-generational covenant in the Nicole family.

I was also encouraged to read how God provided for him in unexpected ways. In the early days of Gordon-Conwell professors were not paid well, but due to the gift of land from the seminary he was able to retire comfortably and continue his life of ministry in theological education.

Theological education was not just a job to him. In his “off time” he would teach at other seminaries, particularly in Canada. Dr. Nicole’s students fill the world enriching the church. He also served God’s people as a pastor and interim pastor to a number of churches. In God’s providence, he and Annette had no children and this freed him up to spend more time engaged in these various duties.

His story is one of God’s grace and faithfulness. Therefore this was a very encouraging read. Here we read of the formation of Gordon-Conwell, its struggles and the formation of other seminaries, like Fuller. He was instrumental in the formation of the Evangelical Theology Society. He was also one of the main contributors to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. His was a rich legacy on behalf of the church.

Of note to me was he words regarding the church that nursed me in my early years as a Christian. He had been an interim pastor in that church years earlier. As a result we knew some of the same people. He left them a legacy of covenantal and Calvinistic theology that unfortunately was ebbing away while I was there. Without nurture a church can easily begin to fall into step with more common (and less vibrant) theologies.

There were some subjects that I wish were addressed in greater depth. One that comes to mind was his friendship with Jim Packer (J.I. to you and me). I suspect that is more a function of Dr. Nicole than Mr. Bailey. He struck me as a man of his age, more private than people today. As a result he may have seen that friendship as more for each of them than one for our instruction (I don’t think McGrath touched on it much in his biography of Packer). Due to his involvement in so many organizations Dr. Nicole had friendships and associations with many of the leading figures in the American church in the 20th century. I suspect there would be much for us to learn from those friendships.

There is still much here of interest for those who were his students, or are students of 20th century evangelicalism in America. I would recommend this for all who love Dr. Nicole, and the church.

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One of my friends is dying. We’ve known this since shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer more than 5 years ago. He has lived beyond the average life span for a person whose cancer had spread so far. I started thinking about David’s impact in my life. Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of one person on our lives.

I met David Wayne after he transferred to RTS Orlando to finish his MDiv. I had graduated but was still working in the bookstore until the end of the summer. David would come in to browse and buy. He would talk with me and the other guys like Keith Mathison when he was in the store.

I wouldn’t see David for another 6 years. I was living in Winter Haven and serving a small ARP church as their pastor. One of the PCA churches in town was without a pastor. Spring was difficult for me. My girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped me and one of my good friends was leaving the area to serve as the pastor of an ARP church in the Carolinas (the heart of the ARP). I felt lost and lonely. But God would provide.

I heard the PCA church called a new pastor, and his name was David Wayne. I was excited they called a man I knew, although only casually. I was going to be out of town for his installation so I called the office to leave a message congratulating him and that I hoped to see him soon.

When we finally talked it took some time for him to remember who I was. But we were two men called to serve as solo pastors in a place we were still figuring out. So we began to spend more time together. It was a time of healing for me that none of us realized.

(more…)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Here is the first part of my internet dialogue with Dr. Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatatology of Hope.  Keith and I worked together at the RTS Orlando Bookstore, and then at Ligonier Ministries.  After graduating from RTS, he received his Ph.D. from Whitefield Seminary.  He is the author of numerous books, including Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which he wrote while in seminary.  I did such a great job proofing the book that I haven’t worked on one since.

KM:  Thanks for reviewing the book.  I saw it yesterday.  You didn’t say anything about the most persuasive part of the book – the yellow cover.  What’s up with that?!?

Cavman: It is a fine cover.  Kudos to the art department.  I only bought the book for the cover.  Okay …. At times the amillennialism you describe doesn’t seem to be the amillenialism I hold to.  Part of that may be because you were interchangeable arguing against both forms of premillennialism and amillennialism.  I put your book down thinking our differences are more about a matter of degree: how much the gospel will prosper as it covers the earth and converts the nations.  What would you say is the main distinction between these sibling eschatologies?

KM: I think you are correct to observe that at least some of the differences are a matter of degree.  I see the various expositions of amillennialism and postmillennialism lying along a spectrum.  There are extremely spiritualized and pessimistic forms of amillennialism that would be at one end and very this-worldly, perhaps naively optimistic forms of postmillennialism at the other end.  Closer to the middle would be more balanced (i.e. biblical) forms of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  I think, for example, that Cornelis Venema’s expression of amillennialism is closer to some forms of postmillennialism than the amillennialism of someone like David Engelsma.  And my expression of postmillennialism is closer to some forms of amillennialism than the postmillennialism of someone like Loraine Boettner.  I think things get a bit fuzzier the closer you get to the middle of the spectrum.

Unlike some older postmillennialists, who believed that the millennium would be the last 1000 or so years of the present age, I believe the millennium represents the entire present age between the first and second coming of Jesus.  So there’s no disagreement there.  Both amillennialists and postmillennialists say they believe that Christ’s kingdom is growing during this present age.  I think the main difference between the views boils down to how confident we are that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will manifest itself in some visible, tangible ways during this age and what it might look like.  In short, is this kingdom growth more or less behind the scenes?  I’m slightly more optimistic than most amillennialists I’ve read that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will have visible manifestations.  Unlike some theonomic postmillennialists, however, I am less confident about saying exactly what they might look like.

I also believe that the growth/advance of Christ’s kingdom will involve a bloody, difficult battle for the people of God.  Going back to the old D-Day/V-Day analogy, the decisive battle has been won, but the progress will not be easy.  It will involve awful, street to street fighting all the way to the final day.  But the victory is assured.

Cavman: As I read the book, a few things came to mind for me.  On a continuum (Pratt would be proud) I see premillennialism and postmillennial as the 2 extremes.  One pessimistic and under-realized, and the other overly optimistic and over-realized.  The dispensational premillennial position was born in persecution and pessimism, and puts some of the “already” into the “not yet”.  The posmillennial position, I think, sticks too much of the “not yet” into the already.  Obviously I’m biased toward amillennialism as having the best balance.  I have a point here, really.  “Visible manifestations” is a phrase that you used.  I think I see such things now.  Please, spell out what you mean a little bit.  What “visible manifestations” do you have in mind?

KM: I see postmillennialism and amillennialism existing on a continuum because they share similar features.  Premillennialism seems to me to be in a separate category altogether.  Regarding “visible manifestations,” like I said, I’m hesitant to offer specifics.  When Scripture speaks of the growth of the kingdom it tends to use figurative language.  What specifically in the real world corresponds to the permeation of a lump of dough by leaven?  Or to the growth of a mustard seed?  The first type of growth is not particularly visible.  The second is.  In short, it isn’t as simple or as cut-and-dried as some would say.  We can’t, for example, measure the growth of the kingdom of Christ by watching the fortunes of our favorite political party or our own nation.  The kingdom of Christ is bigger than that.

What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.  That idea implies that there was nothing noticeably different about the world after the Fall.  Satan’s kingdom, however, has had clearly visible manifestations in the world throughout history beginning with the Fall.  Why would the redemptive kingdom of Christ not have any visible manifestations?  It involves the same world that was cursed as a result of our sin.  Sin did not affect merely the spiritual realm.  It affected the visible and physical as well.  Redemption also affects both.  What might it look like?  I think we have a fairly good idea of what the visible manifestations of Satan’s kingdom look like.  I expect that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will look a lot like the opposite of that.

more to come….

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1915-2010

I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Roger Nicole.  He was also my advisor for much of my seminary experience.  While he was teaching at Gordon-Conwell, he was an interim pastor at the church I would later join as a young Christian.  He still remembered many of the people even though it had been some time ago.

“A good wife will double your ministry, a bad wife will cut it in half.”

He told us this during our Introduction to Pastoral Ministry class.  It was the last year they had this course.  It, and a few others, got put together into the Introduction to Theological Studies (ITS) course taught by Dr. Pratt.

How right Dr. Nicole was.  I have seen it happen.  I am fortunate to have a wife who furthers rather than hinders my ministry.  But there are also uber-wives.  This last week in SS we talked about Martin Luther (we’re studying the Reformation).  He would not have been able to do all he did w/out his little ‘ball and chain’- Katy.  Last night I listened to Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon on Divorce and Remarriage.  Sounds like his wife is one of those uber-wives who quadruples a man’s ministry.  I’ve also seen wives completely sink a man’s ministry.

“Faith and repentance are not flowers that grow on the dunghill of human depravity.”

Another course that got incorporated into ITS was a 1-week tour de force on the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination taught by Dr. Nicole.  That was an incredible week, and this quote always stood out to me.

Sounds a little Puritan, dunghills and all.  Yet, this is so important to remember when you are in ministry.  Apart from the grace of God you can do nothing.  It isn’t about changing people’s minds, evangelism is raising the dead.

“Read your opponents.”

He probably said this in most of his classes (I also had him for Roman Catholicism).  I’ve referred to this concept in other posts.  You want to know firsthand what the person believes, or at least puts in writing.  It is wearisome to read strawman arguments.  I often hear arguments against some of the things I believe: Calvinism, amillenialism, presuppositionalism etc.  You wonder if they actually read anything by an actual proponent of a position, because it has little or no resemblence to what you believe.

Story #1: One day I had an oral exam with Dr. Nicole in his office (for the Roman Catholicism course).  He pointed to a drawing on his desk.  In his strong accent he told me, “My students from Gordon-Conwell made this for me when I retired.  I want you to feel like this rabbit.”  He was pointing to a cartoon of himself in the Swiss Alps next to a smiling little bunny.

His gentleness was amazing.  Here was the most brilliant man I would ever meet but there was no hint of pride.  While teaching he’d sometimes stare into space while reading a page from a book in his head.  But with you he was fully present.

Story #2: In the mid-90’s I gave him part of my manuscript of a book I was writing on the priestly ministry of Jesus.  Dr. Nicole’s specialty was the atonement, so I wanted him to read it for me to make sure I wasn’t off the deep end.  Still waiting……….

His office was always a disaster.  He had numerous books and papers scattered on his desk.  He had so many projects going on at the same time.  Many of us lamented that he didn’t write more books (those available were taken from articles he’d written, like Standing Forth).  But Dr. Nicole could tell you pretty much where any book in his own 25,000+ library was.

Story #3: A few years ago I was visiting the RTS Orlando campus and ran into him in, of all places, the library.  Not much of a shocker if you knew Dr. Nicole.  At this point he was near 90.  The exchange went something like this.  “Dr. Nicole, how are you?”

“I am good dear brother.”  (he was always saying this)

“It’s me, Steve Cavallaro.”

“I know Steve Cavallaro, but you are not Steve Cavallaro.”

“Well, I’ve gotten older,  married and put on weight.”  (I also added facial hair)

“You are not Steve Cavallaro.”

“Yes I am.  Look, here’s my driver’s license.”  He wasn’t convinced.  But the aforementioned Driscoll sermon reminded me of the good doctor, and his great wisdom.  I think the next time we meet, he might recognize me (and say that manuscript was pretty darn good).

Update: Dr. Nicole passed away on 12/11/10 and now beholds the Savior he served so well.  He consistently represented Jesus in his manner

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