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Posts Tagged ‘total depravity’


In Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition, we’ve seen how the knowledge of God gives us a truer knowledge of ourselves. While made in His image, we have fallen into sin and unrighteousness. Instead of glorifying Him, we seek to glorify ourselves (make a name for ourselves) which typically means taking advantage of others and bringing shame to ourselves.

Knowledge of ourselves should humble us. We are not what we were intended to be, but a rather tawdry sham instead. We over-estimate our abilities and good deeds, while we minimize our faults, weakness and wrong-doing.

“However, the person who carefully measures himself by God’s standard finds nothing to give him inner confidence, and the more closely he studies himself, the more dejected he becomes until, bereft of hope, he has nothing to help him lead a well-ordered life.”

We have fallen so far from our created glory as the imago dei. The great endowments of Adam and Eve testified to the “Creator’s extraordinary generosity.” They had done nothing to receive these great gifts from His hand. Their disobedience stripped them of much this glory. “The heavenly image he bore was therefore erased; being estranged from God by sin he was likewise deprived of his share in the blessings which can only be had in him.”

This brings us to total, or radical, depravity. From the womb we are prone to sin. We are not born innocent and then personally fall when we sin for the first time. Calvin argues against Pelagianism briefly. We are not “basically good” and only in need of a good example but better ourselves. Calvin affirms original sin, “a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’.”

I wish Calvin added “covenantal” to the hereditary. Adam was not just our father, but our covenant head. In this sense, we are also held accountable for his disobedience.

From here, Calvin moves into his discussion of the freedom of the will. Definitions matter greatly in this discussion, and often they are not laid out appropriately. Calvin notes two dangers: indifference and excessive boldness. When we stress our depravity, people can lapse into indifference or fatalism. They see themselves as unrecoverable, even by the God of grace. When we stress the imago dei, people can have a view of themselves that is unreasonably high, a sense of entitlement.

“To avoid both of these pitfalls, we will follow a middle course. Man must learn that there is no good in him, and that misery and want are all around him. But he must also understand how he may aim at the goodness he lacks and at the freedom which is denied him.”

He then moves to some philosophic theories of the mind and will. “The role of the will is to choose and follow whatever our mind judges to be good, and conversely to reject and shun what it reproves.” So, the will works with the mind, not independently of the mind. “All we need to know, without entangling ourselves in superfluous issues, is that the mind is like the helmsman and captain of the soul, and that the will depends on its good pleasure…”

In fallen man, the mind is not fully functioning and flooded with divine light. Romans 1 shows us that the mind is darkened and futile because it has exchanged the truth for the lie. It is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil, the very thing Eve wanted when she disobeyed.

Calvin notes that the Church Fathers are uncertain guides in this matter. He saw them as capitulating to philosophy on this matter at times. Chrysostom, for instance, notes,”The wicked man can become good, if he chooses, and the good man may change into a wicked one.” Calvin sums up, “We see from these statement that the Fathers credited man with greater power than was proper…”

He interacts with the 3 A’s: Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. He finds Aquinas’ definition sound: “Free will is an elective power which, intermediate intellect and will, inclines, however more toward will.” So, how free is the will?

Calvin wants to generally avoid the term “free will”. The Schoolmen note that “man cannot be said to have free will because he is free to choose both good and evil, but because he does what he does voluntarily and not out of compulsion.” He argues that this term has been wrenched from this definition as a “justification for self-pride.” In other words, people use it not for the voluntariness of our our decisions, but to freely choose between good and evil.

Augustine is presented as a trustworthy guide. He affirmed the enslavement of the will. It is grace, and grace alone, that frees it from bondage to our appetites. Augustine moves us toward humility by seeing our natural powers as “impaired, demolished, scattered, destroyed.”

“For the human mind, because of its ignorance, cannot follow a sure path in its search for truth, but blunders into various errors. Just as a blind man stumbles about in the darkness until he quite loses his way; so the mind, pursuing the truth, shows how ill-suited and ill-equipped it is to seek and find it…”

Calvin then differentiates between stuff of earth and stuff of heaven. The bondage of the will, the depravity of the mind does not mean we are stupid intellectually, but stupid morally. We are able to structure societies reasonably well (though the current state of American politics may indicate otherwise), and most citizens are reasonably law-abiding. People are able to master mechanical and liberal arts. We do have a capacity for rational perception. This would be an example of common grace. God gives us the ability to improve our earthly state. This is undeserved, and therefore gracious.

Calvin notes that these natural endowments are gifts of the Spirit, “who distributes them as he pleases, for the common good of humankind.” Our corrupt minds are not as corrupt as they possibly could be. Although the Spirit only dwells in Christians, He is infinite and “does not fail to fill, move and quicken by the power of that same Spirit all creatures, according to the nature with which he endowed each of them at creation.”

Heavenly things (knowing God, his will and living accordingly) are a different story. We are spiritually blind apart from grace. Part of people’s blindness is their inability or unwillingness to accept this. People fall for all kinds of superstitions and foolishness (including deviations from Christianity). This blindness is taught in Jeremiah 24, John, Ephesians, 1 Cor. 2 and Colossians as well as Romans 1.

Calvin affirms the reality of natural law, arguing that its purpose is to make us without excuse. He points us to Romans 2 for this purpose. He defines natural law as: “an operation of conscience by which it is able to tell good from bad, with sufficient clarity that man cannot plead ignorance as an excuse, being rebuked by his own testimony.” For instance, as a teenager I had the capacity to recognize certain things as wrong. But I did them anyway.

Our moral reasoning and judgments are often (always?) clouded by our self-interest and passions/desires. We can talk ourselves into almost anything. We fail to grasp how evil our appetites often are.

After about 30 pages (and there are 40 more) he gets to Paul, who is obviously more authoritative than the schoolmen. It is also very different. We see the inner conflict of Christians in Romans 7 and Galatians 5. We have the Spirit by regeneration, how much worse the condition of those outside of Christ. Believers do strive after good, but don’t do it as often as desired due to this inner struggle. It is the Spirit that leads us toward righteousness. Apart from the Spirit, apart from Christ, people do not seek good (Rom. 3). They do not experience such inner conflict (though there is often the outer conflict of consequences- fear of man).

“Now we are all sinners by nature, so it follows that we are under sin’s yoke. Furthermore, if everyone is held fast by slavery to sin, the will, which is the chief agency of sin, must be tightly restrained and shackled by sin’s bonds.”

As we see in Romans 8, the unregenerate mind is hostile to God and His law. This indicates the bondage of the will to sin. It is in bondage to its inclinations. What people want to do is wrong, but that is what they do.

Thankfully, God, in His grace, limits our capacity for evil. He restrains our sin. While our corruption is changed, and ultimately cured, in the elect, it is merely curbed in the non-elect and non-converted. People are not as bad as they could be. But people sin because they want to, not because God makes them sin. They live within the bondage to sin, so there is an element of necessity. But it is also a joyful necessity. The sinner has not been “stripped of his will but of the soundness of will.” Calvin also brings us back to the character of God, to understand freedom and necessity.

“So if nothing stops God’s will from being free when he does good, even though he does good of necessity, and if the devil always sins voluntarily, even though evil is all he can do, who will argue that man does not sin voluntarily simply because he is subject to the necessity of sinning?”

Here is how Calvin sums it up: “This, then, is the distinction we must observe: man, corrupted by his fall, sins willingly, not despite himself or by compulsion. He sins, I say again, through inclination and not because he is forcibly constrained; he sins because he is prompted by his own appetites, not by external force.”

I’ll resume Calvin’s discussion of this matter in the near future.

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

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

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

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

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

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

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture Problem?

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

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

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

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

Time for a little Double Cure.

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My last full week of vacation didn’t start well. No, no one got hurt or sick.

I went to worship. Normally this is a good, even great thing. But I forgot the experience from last year and was reminded (again) why I love the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). For those who don’t know what it is, it means that God regulates our worship of Him thru the Scriptures. We are told who to worship and how. There are many things left up to common sense and wisdom, like what time to meet, how long, the precise content of prayers, etc.

One of my convictions, based on the RPW, is that the worship service is not the place to sing patriotic songs. A worship service has songs of worship to our great God, Father, Creator and Redeemer. We are instructed to pray for our government as part of worship, but singing songs (and pledging allegiance) to the State would be a violation of my conscience. We (actually they) ended up singing more songs about our country than our Savior.

There was a time to commission a large portion of our extended family for a mission trip to Costa Rica. That is a good thing. It is appropriate. My only concern is that it took the place of the sermon and as a result we celebrated the Lord’s Table without the preaching of the Word. My Presbyterian self was frustrated. Perhaps you wouldn’t be, but perhaps I should have stayed at the house listened to some songs of worship and watched my free Sinclair Ferguson DVD on the Holy Spirit. I need to remember this for next year.

When we got back to the farmhouse, I was surprised to learn that the aforementioned commissioning service was the cause of a luncheon at the Farm. Always the last to know these things. I needed some down time (aka I as in introvert time) after all the festivities of the night before. After people left, I took a nap. Then I enjoyed a cigar, a beer and a novel on the back porch. For dinner we decided on take out Chinese, a mere 20-30 minutes away.

Monday morning was another early morning. I tried to walk before the bugs come out. I failed. I forgot to bring the thick walking stick and was stalked by some dogs. I started to carry it after being harassed by a German Shepherd last summer. But the bugs were worse, and I ended up shortening my walk. But I was still a sweaty, stinky mess.

While I was reading, Uncle Dan helped the kids fill up 15 water balloons to throw at Evan for his 15th birthday. Uncle Dan reports that all the balloons hit Evan, bounced off and exploded on the ground.

Monday night was the beginning of VBS, which means the beginning of “Date Night” for us. The last few years, the local church has started VBS on Sunday. This year it is only Monday – Friday. It is the one about the Kingdom that seems omnipresent this year. This time it was Mega-Date Night, as Dan & Jeannine, Mima & PopPop and Kelli joined us. But since it was Monday, and nearly everything was closed, we ended up at Stewarts’ for some ice cream. The women didn’t seem to want to sit with Dan and me. Not sure why, but the black raspberry ice cream in my facial hair might have contributed to it. As you can tell, PopPop doesn’t really dress up for Date Night.

We then ran some errands at Tops, so I got to do some power lifting with the bags of potatoes and apples I was carrying. Redeem that time!

After picking up the kids and putting them to bed, we hung out by the fire for awhile. Eventually, the beds were calling our names.

Tuesday morning we went to Minerva Beach again. No rain this time. It waited until we were on the way home. Yes, the rain continues to come a few times a day. I think it has rained everyday we’ve been up here.

But that didn’t stop VBS, nor Date Night. MiMa & PopPop did not join us due to errands down in Glens Falls. But Bar Vino was open so it was time for mussels, frites and bread. Delicious food. CavWife had to settle for some peach tort kind of thing since she is allergic to shellfish. And then we took a walk down what passes for Main Street. I was surprised by how much the businesses of North Creek have changed in the last year. Too many “for sale” and “for lease” signs. One of the restaurants we’ve enjoyed for dessert the last few years is now closed. I am reminded of 2008-10 when so many businesses closed up here. There seems to be another downturn, irrespective of what DC says.

When putting the kids to bed, our younger daughter mentioned she wanted to go to the “good kingdom” where Jesus is. So we talked about faith & repentance. CavWife thinks it may have been a bit advanced for her since she has only been speaking English for a year. But there was a profession of faith- I am a sinner and Jesus saves by taking the punishment those sins deserve. I think she got it. What really matters is if the Spirit has given her a heart of flesh. If so, all the rest will fall into place in the proper time.

Wednesday was another rainy morning. As a result, it was a lazy kind of day as I read and blogged. CavGirl #1 went into town to get her hair cut along with her Aunt Jeannine. It remained hot and humid, with the obligatory condensation dripping off the toilet tanks. But the one in our bathroom had bigger problems. It was actually leaking water from where the bolts anchor the tank to the bowl. It leaked so much water that the suspended ceiling in the family room below had big wet spots. Off to the hardware store again, before it closed at 5 to buy the proper repair kit. I spent the next chunk of my life removing the old bolts and what little was left of the washer. Seriously, not much was left.

After dinner, we dropped the kids off at VBS and went over to Basil & Wick’s for dessert. This time “we” included MiMa & PopPop but not Kelli. Dan considered the frog legs, but decided the Cajun season might be a bit much, and there were 6 of them. This was a big risk if he didn’t like them (but smaller than the stuff calamari risk I took years ago in Atlanta- horrendous). As a result, he settled for the mozzarella sticks. I tried the Panko Shrimp. They were quite big, and tasted ok, but there were only 3 of them. I was disappointed. I think I’ve decided that B&W’s is not the place for appetizers or dessert. Thursday Pasta Night is another story, however.

Thursday morning was the morning of departures. Early in the morning Rich left for IL so he could serve in his role as Chaplain that weekend. Around 7 Dan & Jeannine left so Jeannine could work later in the day. And the CavFamily packed up the Envoy and headed east to NH to visit with some family and friends. This trip reminded me why we don’t often do such trips with the kids (sorry to all those who want us to visit with them). Some of them really struggled with the long drive. I struggled with listening to the VBS music ad infinitum.

(more…)

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I have a growing number of books on humility. I have already read Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness, Mack’s Humility: the forgotten virtue, and Henry’s The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit. But like books on love, I feel compelled to have more books on the subject. That is probably a reflection of my weakness and sin- I struggle with pride and loving others well. They pretty much go together. Humility is no small thing, according to Jonathan Edwards.

In Charity and Its Fruits he usually points to pride as the root cause of the sin we commit that is contrary to love. Love, he says, promotes humility which moves us to love others well.

“Humility disposes men to be of a yielding spirit to others, ready, for the sake of peace, and to gratify others, to comply in many things with their inclinations, and to yield to their judgments wherein they are not inconsistent with truth and holiness. A truly humble man is inflexible in nothing but the cause of his Lord and Master, which is the cause of truth and virtue.”

So, the latest book I’ve read on humility is William Farley’s Gospel-Powered Humility. His book is different from Mack and Mahaney’s books. He notices our society’s aversion to humility. He notices the lack of humility producing messages in our churches. His conviction is that the gospel produces humility in those who hear in faith.

“When we assume the gospel and pursue its fruits, the fruits eventually displace the gospel and all that remains is ‘moralism.'”

I agree with him. We have no hope for humility apart from the gospel. He is essentially seeking to correct an imbalance in contemporary preaching which tends to avoid the ugly truth about our sinfulness and God’s judgment. These, he says, should be part of what humbles us.

“Humility is the fertilizer that nourishes our soul and makes us fruitful.”

Since it is a counter-balance it does seem to err on the opposite end. Keep in mind I’ll be preaching on Colossians 1:21-23 this Sunday which points to our utterly sinful condition which necessitated Christ’s atonement. I’m not saying we don’t preach the hard and ugly truths (though I would say that God’s justice is beautiful to a redeemed and sanctified mind). Farley focuses on those hard truths with chapters on the wrath of God, the final judgment and the sinfulness of sin. His chapter on the history of preaching also focuses on how these hard truths helped break up the hard soil of the heart so gospel seed could grow.

“Here is the great paradox: the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud.”

I wanted to read more chapters like his chapter on faith alone. I wanted to see how the positive aspects of the gospel also humble us. That’s because I believe they do. So, what Farley presents us is not wrong. I’d just say it was a bit incomplete.

“Jesus received the humbling that our constant and unremitting self-exaltation merits.”

He does include chapters on the fear of man and the power of a humble leader. Those help round out the book, showing some of the practical results of pride and humility.

“God designed salvation to deeply humble me, to crush my pride, and to transfer my grounds for positive self-image from self to God.”

Farley is highly dependent upon the Puritans (not a bad thing). His theology is solid. I just found it hard reading at times because of the emphasis on wrath, judgement and our sinfulness. Let me explain.

While not yet a pastor, I heard a sermon on Romans 3. The pastor was seeking to “reform” the church and was making his way through Romans. I had high anticipations as he’d lay out total, or radical, depravity to the people. It was about 1/3 our sinfulness and it seemed to me like he rushed to the good news too quickly. The people needed to wrestle with the reality of the bad news. He seemed to move too quickly.

“Sin shrouds our thoughts in mental darkness, rendering true belief in God humanly impossible.”

It can sound like Farley is wanting us to move too slowly. I admit that is completely subjective. But when I see the 4 main chapters and 3 of them are on the “bad news” …. Like I said, I wish there was a greater focus on how the doctrine of sanctification, in addition to justification, continues to humble us.

But Farley is right- too often this part of the gospel is greatly neglected today. Many “pastors” on TV completely ignore this. It is the result of the fear of man, liberalism, bad theology and a host of other reasons (though Farley argues that liberal theology is the result of the fear of man). Most people don’t need more self-esteem. They need a good dose of gospel humility. As I tell my kids & congregation:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5

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About a year ago I realized I had no books on the subject of our union with Christ. I decided to go on a buying binge. It didn’t last long because there are not many books on that subject. Since then I read Robert Letham’s excellent book on the subject. Since I was on study leave, I decided to take J. Todd Billings’ book Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church.

The phrase reframing theology can often be a bad sign, sort of like ‘repainting the faith”. But here it is not. Billings is a Reformation scholar, with particular emphasis on Calvin. This book oozes Calvin, along with others. He utilizes “retrieval theology”, which was a new term for me. You look to the theology of the past to address problems of the present, and to renew our vision. We tend to be culturally captive, and see theology in light of the problems of our day. This looks to the past to gain a theological foothold to examine the problems of our day, sometimes to even see them. I hope that makes sense, and that I did it justice (I suspect some Ph.D. candidate out there could take me to task). Billings wants to reframe our thinking, so we look at things like salvation, justice, communion and ministry in light of our union with Christ.

When I taught a Sunday School class, one congregant took issue with Packer’s assertion that one only understands Christianity to the degree that they understand adoption. His assertion was that union with Christ as the most important unifying principle or doctrine that we must understand. So, I found it ironic that the first chapter is entitled Salvation as Adopted in Christ. The point is, that they are connected to one another. You can’t have one without the other. But one way we can better understand union is thru understanding adoption. Much of the book keeps our current context in mind, and explores how Christianity really differs from MTD, or moralistic, therapeutic, deism. Odd in that some of the other books I’ve been reading have dealt with that as well. Salvation as adoption is so different than MTD. God, who is transcendent (great & glorious) draws near to us in salvation. He draws near to us to save us.

“The prospect of adoption in this sense is an offense. It is too much closeness– it is the sort of closeness that requires giving up one’s own identity.”

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Thankfully Out of Print

James Montgomery Boice has written a number of solid and edifying books.  I think it is safe to say that The Last and Future World is not one of them.  This 1974 book was his entry into the eschatalogical frenzy of the early 1970’s by those who tried to “read the times” and had suspect exegetical methods.  At some point James Montgomery Boice was an historical premillennialist.  I read the book hoping to better understand this (currently) obscure position.  The book reads rather like a Hal Lindsey book, or Billy Graham’s Approaching Hoof Beats.  That could be because he often quotes from and refers to Hal Lindsey.  Frankly I was shocked.  This book advocated the dispensational premillennial position, not the historic premillennial position.  Yes, there is a difference.

The Last and Future World is mis-titled.  It is about the end of this world, and never mentions the future (re)new(ed) heavens and earth that will come about at the cosmic renewal at Jesus’ return.    It puts for the view of a 2 stage return of Jesus- first for the church at the Rapture, and then to set up an earthly millennial kingdom which will see yet another rebellious and great battle.  Boice, and dispensationalists, because of their literalistic & chronological understanding of Revelation don’t see the book as recapitulating the same events from a different angle.  So, you have 3 great battles instead of 3 accounts of 1 great battle.  You end up with 7 judgments (with Christians experiencing at least 2 times before the judgment seat) instead of 1 time in which all people are standing before Christ.  His hermeneutic is flawed, and he rarely if ever examines different view points.  He assumes many things like an earthly millennium (there are brief, inaccurate descriptions of other views of the millennium), a future plan for Israel (distinct from the Gentiles) which is based on one word in Romans which could refer the manner or time of fulfillment.  He says that Paul stressed this, but only wrote of it in Romans 11:26-33.  That’s not a whole lot of emphasis.

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A funny thing happens when someone denies the reality of depravity.  Sin becomes something “out there” rather than in my heart.

Case in point.  I was reading part of Richard Foster’s Money, Sex & Power.  I bought this some time ago.  Today I was leafing through the book since my sermon is on the immoral and righteous use of wealth from James 5.  Foster’s theological roots include the denial of total depravity.  Jesus makes some difficult statements about the wealthy.  Foster takes these to mean that money is not morally neutral.  Instead is had a dark power.  For him all money is unrighteous though we may use it for righteous purposes.

You’d think he was basing his theology on Trivial Pursuit.  They erroneously answer that money is the root of all evil.  Sorry, the Bible says the love of money is.  The problem is not out there- money.  The problem is in my heart which seeks life from money instead of from Jesus.  My heart is a factory of idols- and it is prone to make money an idol.  Money does not make me worship it- it is an inanimate object.  The problem is my adulterous heart.

As long as we continue to objectify sin we will be on crusades against all manner of things: alcohol, TV, books etc.  When we do that we never put the earthly, sinful desires of our hearts to death in the power of the Spirit.  We fight the wrong war and wonder why we don’t make any progress.  Where you think sin is makes a world of difference.

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