Monthly Archives: April 2007

Reflecting on Fuller’s Letters

The following is a reflection paper that I wrote for Dr. Haykin’s Baptist History and Heritage class this past semester at TBS. It is a meditation on Armies of the Lamb, a collection of Andrew Fuller’s letters edited by Dr. Haykin.
The Particular Baptists have a spiritual heritage that is as rich as any in the Christian tradition. Although they might not have such spiritual writers in their fold as St. John of the Cross or Thomas à Kempis the Baptists are not lacking in terms of devotional literature. One collection of writings that stand out as an example of classic Christian spirituality are the letters of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) now immortalized in Michael Haykin’s The Armies of the Lamb: The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller.[1] The following is a brief reflection upon a number of these letters and the spiritual impact that they have had on the life of this reader.
Of the various ways that Fuller’s letters have shaped my affections or changed my thoughts, three things stand out. The first is the humility that typically characterizes godly men and women, exemplified by Fuller. Not infrequently does the reader find letters of self-abasement in this collection. The second is the need for friendship in the Christian life. There can be no doubt that the accomplishments of Fuller and the men of the Baptist Missionary Society would not have been what they were had it not been for the uncommon bond of friendship between them. The third and final point noted in this paper is the great need for regular spiritual discipline. It was encouraging to see that Fuller shared in the same struggles as myself both when it came to personal devotion and the desire to become more devoted to Christ. Let us now turn to each one more specifically.

Humility
What struck me the most when reading Fuller’s letters was the humility displayed in their pages. Fuller was a theologian of tremendous insight, whose nickname “the Elephant of Kettering” fit him both in terms of physical stature and intellectual carriage. Fuller’s writings covered a vast array of controversial subjects including hyper-Calvinism, Sandemanianism, Socinianism, Unitarianism and a host of others. Alongside all of this highbrow theologizing, Fuller always maintained the proper balance between doctrine and praxis. This is evident in the energy he exerted as the secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society. Considering both his literary accomplishments and his work at bringing the gospel to “the heathen,” one could understand if he took the opportunity to proverbially pat himself on the back every now and again. But this is not the case, at least if his letters prove to be a good example.
One example of Fuller’s humility is seen in a letter to Archibald McLean (1733-1812) dated April 20, 1796. Instead of stealing moments of self-congratulation, Fuller was keen to point out his mean upbringing and lack of theological education. Having highlighted his disdain for such titles as “Doctor of Divinity,” Fuller commented on the lack of theological education amongst many of the Baptists. “As to academic education, the far greater part of our ministers have it not. Carey was a shoemaker years after he engaged in the ministry and I was a farmer.”[2] Instead of glorying in the title of “doctor,” Fuller displayed humility by pointing to his previous “common” vocation.
What characterised Fuller’s humble disposition also marked out the members of his church in Kettering. In a letter to some Scottish Baptists dated February 25, 1804, Fuller compares his church with those in Scotland. The Scotch were in constant disarray, frequently dividing “on almost every difference.” Using the Kettering church as an example, Fuller proved that such divisions could be avoided. He says, “I have been now nearly 22 years pastor of the Church at K and though we have excluded many for misconduct, there has not been a single separation, on account of such things as divide you.”
[3] This unity was possible according to Fuller because of the humility that characterised his church. When issues arose between members, Fuller says, “They are heard patiently and candidly, and frequently by conversing we come to be of one mind.” Those in the church who were of the “lesser number” on an issue submitted to the “greater number” and “they agree to forbear with each other.”[4] This could not be done without humility.
Both of these examples (more could be cited) show the necessity for Christ-like humility in both personal and community life. It was encouraging to observe Fuller’s meekness as he frequently lifted up of other Christians. Even when dealing with those who disagreed with him, he maintained a modest spirit. Such humility is desperately needed in the church today. May God grant us all the humility of Andrew Fuller.

Friendship
Much could be written about the depth of friendship shared between Fuller and others of his Baptist connection. It is clearly one of the most significant legacies left by these men to the universal church. One envisions an almost tangible spirituality that hung in the air when they gathered for fellowship.
The obvious example of this kind of friendship is his writings to or about Samuel Pearce. The letter that Fuller wrote to the dying Pearce on August 30, 1799 has a subtle power to it that lingers in one’s thoughts. He writes with an apparent calmness, knowing full well that the young minister will “reach the goal before us.” Yet there are hints of great emotion underlying that calm. Fuller makes note of the May 6 meeting in Olney where he read a letter by Pearce to the gathering. Fuller claims, “I think I never witnessed so many tears at once as were shed at the…meeting.”[5] Such was the impact of Pearce on his friends.
In response to the love he had for Pearce, Fuller wanted to honour his young friend by immortalizing him in publication. Anticipating Pearce’s protestations against publishing his diaries, Fuller sought to divert him with practical wisdom. He argued that it would be of great help to Pearce’s family if the diaries were published, because they would be a source of money. This again was a display of the love and care that Fuller had for his friend.
I am thankful to God for the friends that he has blessed me with on my pilgrimage to the “eternal city.” As I read of Ryland, Carey, Pearce and Sutcliff and think of how thankful Fuller must have been for them, faces appear in my mind’s eye of those who have deeply impacted my life. What would we do if God had not given us friends? Thank God for them, and thank God for the friendship that we have with the Lord Jesus Christ whose friendship knows no bounds.

Spiritual Discipline
It can sound cliché to hear a Christian bemoan their lack of spiritual discipline. But often things become cliché because they are so regularly attested to in common experience. The constant battle of the Christian life, for every believer, is that of maintaining habitual devotion. How hard I find it to have regular, meaningful prayer. How hard I find it to be in God’s Word on a daily basis for the sake of my own soul. How hard I find it to think of Christ not merely for theological insight, but because He is a beautiful Saviour who should delight all of my thoughts. When the struggle seems almost unbearable, God steps in and provides encouragement for the fight. Fuller has proven such an encouragement for me. It is tempting to think that I am the only one who struggles with personal devotion. When I read that Fuller shared in similar struggles, my guilt began to fade being replaced with resolve to do as Fuller and strive for Christ-likeness.
An example of Fuller’s own recognition that he lacked spiritually is seen in a very honest letter. It was to Benjamin Francis, himself a noteworthy Baptist, dated July 13, 1788. Midway through the letter Fuller exclaims, “Oh that my own soul was more leavened!” and then proceeds to explain why he felt that he was “not what a servant of Christ should be.”
[6] For him, this realisation came through the experiences of preaching ordination sermons. He wrote, “I have lately preached an ordination sermon or two…in which I have endeavoured to come as home to the heart and conscience of my brethren as I knew how.” Here Fuller expresses the desire of any good preacher, to affect the heart with the preaching of the Word so that action may result. As it would happen, the heart affected and the conscience pricked was Fuller’s. “But, oh, what shame covers my face when I turn my attention inward! I am the man who am too, too guilty of many of those things which I have cautioned them to avoid.”[7] When he preached, he was confronted with his own hypocrisy in expecting obedience from his hearers for things that he himself struggled with. I too have had this experience and have wondered whether a hypocrite such as myself should ever preach God’s Word. It was very encouraging, if not relieving, to read of Fuller’s personal struggles. I can relate wholly with Fuller’s lamentation: “I find a perpetual proneness to read and study rather as a minister than as a Christian; more to find out something to say to the people than to edify my own soul.”[8] How insightful and horrible! Not only does a minister of the gospel feel such pangs of guilt, so too the seminary student. Often my readings, be they of the Bible or theology, serve only to stimulate the mind. With Fuller, I hope to make my soul the priority.
The one-time farmer offers excellent advice on how to remedy this situation in a letter to John Ryland, Jr. dated April 2, 1795. Concluding this third section, I quote him in full,
…Sin is to be overcome, not so much by maintaining a direct opposition to it, as by cultivating opposite principles. Would you kill the weeds in your garden, plant it with good seed; if the ground be well occupied, there will be less need of the labour of the hoe. If a man wished to quench fire, he might fight it with his hands till he was burnt to death; the only way is to apply an opposite element.
[9]

Conclusion
I have said in recent conversations that having read Fuller’s letters my appreciation for the man has deepened. Though I have long understood why Fuller has been regarded as one of the greats of Baptist history, it was not until I thoughtfully considered his letters that he became one of my favourites. This is so not least because of the three points outlined above. If I could cultivate in my life humility that truly put others before me, if I continue to be impacted because of the friends the Lord provides, and if I harvest greater personal devotion in my life, I know that I could be a powerful weapon for the glory of God. Of course, all of this can only happen by the grace of God, and so I implore Him now, as he did with Fuller, to do so with me. Whether I become the church’s greatest theologian, or whether I minister in an unknown town to a handful of people, may God be glorified by my continual conformity into the image of His Son.

[1] Michael A. G. Haykin, The Armies of the Lamb: The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller (Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, Inc., 2001).
[2] Armies of the Lamb, 151.
[3] Armies of the Lamb, 189-190.
[4] Armies of the Lamb, 190.
[5] Armies of the Lamb, 172.
[6] Armies of the Lamb, 112.
[7] Armies of the Lamb, 112.
[8] Armies of the Lamb, 113.
[9] Armies of the Lamb, 133.
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History Ain’t Phony

Alright! Dr. Haykin has another article up at Reformation 21. This one is on why we should study the Church Fathers. This is timely considering I’m doing a patristics reading seminar with him this summer, which should be amazing. He is also going to supervise my thesis on Augustine and the later Pelagian controversy next year. I took an intro course in patristics last year with Dr. Haykin and it was absolutely outstanding.
So, all that is to say – READ THIS ARTICLE!!!!

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Ignite the Tinder

I am currently studying for my New Testament Theology exam that I will write tomorrow morning. One of the questions that will likely be on it will have to do with the “Jesus of History” and “Christ of Faith.” My notes were inadequate on it, and the books on my shelf didn’t really help – so it took to the internet. In my heavy research (ie. Google), I came across this excellent little article in the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry by Richard Longenecker entitled “The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith: Some Contemporary Reflections.” In it he explains the differences scholars have had on the relation between the two. Beginning with Schleiermacher, he highlights the various views of Schweitzer, Kasemann, Cullman, Davies, Borg and the Jesus Seminar. He then follows up with his own excellent seven point reflection.
Near the end of his reflection he has a really cool quote that I thought I would post:
Real conviction, Jesus is presented as saying, comes only by revelation from the Father in heaven – or, to say it more prosaically: History and reason may pile up the dry wood, but it takes the heavenly fire of revelation from God to ignite the tinder.”

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Carson on Wright on Evil

D.A. Carson has reviewed N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God. His isn’t as positive as Sproul’s was. I’ll have to read it myself I suppose.

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Letter from a Christian Citizen

Doug Wilson’s Letter From a Christian Citizen is a tit-for-tat response to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. I followed Wilson’s review of Harris on his blog and thoroughly enjoyed it. If the book is anything like the blog, it will prove to be a very important read. Go to the book’s website and listen to the interview Wilson had with Gary DeMar – it is very good. Atheists beware.

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Review – Ivor Davidson’s Birth of the Church

The following is a book review that I wrote as a class assignment for Dr. Haykin’s Patristic and Medieval Church History class last year.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village.”
[1] In spite of this wisdom Christians often remain within their “native village” failing to travel the old and winding roads of times past. Yet, by neglecting history, the deception of “local errors” is inevitable. Christians need to visit lands of days gone by so as to gain understanding for life in the village of today.
That is why it is imperative to have good books stocking the shelves of Christian bookstores that function as trustworthy guides to the “many places” of church history. Opening and turning the pages of such books lead Christians to lands dripping with the golden honey of biblical wisdom. They are introduced to people who have triumphed through the darkest ages, who have struggled victoriously with issues that beset the church even today. Ivor J. Davidson has provided contemporary travellers with just such a guide in his book The Birth of the Church: From Jesus to Constantine AD 30-312 – Volume One.
For those wishing to traverse the lands of the Roman Empire, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his early followers, to witness the testimony of the early Christian martyrs, to defend the church against paganism and heresy, to witness the rise of Constantine and his Christian empire, The Birth of the Church will prove a fruitful guide. And Davidson is a qualified tour-guide to the early church, both in terms of its theology and history. He is senior lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
One of the strengths of Davidson’s approach is demonstrated in the first half of the book. The introduction and the first five chapters deal primarily with Bible times, focusing on the life of Christ, the first disciples, the life of Paul, what it meant to be a Christian and a comparison between Old and New Israel. By providing both an historical and biblical-theological analysis, Davidson has equipped his readers with ample knowledge of the nature of Christianity and New Testament backgrounds. The progression from Biblical to post-Biblical history is logical and smooth, nestling the Biblical and patristic periods comfortably next to one another.
The final half of the book is devoted to the growth of the church after the time of the apostles, focusing on the persecution from both the hands of the Jews and the Romans, the development of theology in light of pagan errors and heresy, the nature of the Christian church in terms of structure and worship and the relationship between church and state culminating in the rise of the emperor Constantine.
Davidson does an excellent job summarising the key people and events of early church history. It is a big task as there is much to pay attention to, yet Davidson provides useful information without getting bogged down with unnecessary details. The author admits in the preface to keeping the amount of footnotes low “in order to leave the text as unencumbered as possible by technical matters.”
[2] Although he does provide further resources that are listed at the back of the book and are organised according to his chapter headings. This is helpful for those who want to go beyond just this one textbook in patristic history.
In the following pages, this reviewer will provide brief summaries of the key themes of the book. A brief analysis of each theme will follow including commendations and reservations about the overall monograph.
Beginnings
In the introduction as well as the first and second chapter, Davidson pays specific attention to the first followers of Jesus Christ. He compares and contrasts them with the surrounding culture, weighing their beliefs with the Jewish religion that they sprouted from, and the Roman paganism that they stood against. He notes both the Jewishness of the Christian religion, as well as the uniqueness of it. By pointing out that Jesus and his followers were Jewish, he then briefly explains the various Jewish groups that existed in their day focusing on four groups.
The first are the Pharisees, the primary religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were concerned with the maintenance of Jewish identity by the keeping of the Torah and the Jewish traditions. The second group are the Sadducees, the aristocratic temple-keepers whose primary concern was acceptance by their Roman rulers. The third group are the separatist Essenes who were closely related to the community at Qumran on the Dead Sea. The fourth and final group Davidson focuses on were the Zealots, who were willing to maintain Jewish identity by the use of force. He provides a look at the four groups’ Messianic expectations and evaluates the similarities and dissimilarities that Jesus shared with them. He also explains how Jesus mystified the expectations of even his disciples by his death and resurrection.
After this brief reconnaissance of Palestinian Judaism, which he returns to in more detail further on in the first chapter, Davidson then provides a description of the Roman culture of Jesus’ day. He explains the rise of Rome and its transition from a republic to an empire. He mentions how they were deeply united on a number of levels, including language, the military, Roman law, economic structure, roads and seaways as well as their reverence for the emperor. A look at the social structure of Rome is given with its various class distinctions. Status was determined based upon land, with the elite upper class making up only a fraction of the population compared to the lower slave class.
Roman religion was highly pluralistic, with a god for every city, every institution and every household. At times the emperor was treated as though he were divine and emperor worship eventually became a staple of Roman life. As often happens within a pluralistic society, religious syncretism was commonplace. When Rome conquered a foreign nation, the gods of that nation were subsumed in the pantheon of Roman worship. Everything from Egyptian religion, to the Mithraism of Persia, to the mystery religions were fair game.
Davidson explains that the church, existing within this culture, was ostracised for not adhering to societal norms. The fact that Christians refused to worship the pagan gods placed them out of step with surrounding society. Every aspect of Roman life involved idolatry and by refusing to follow suit, the Christians were often left out of Roman life. This contributed to the various misconceptions about Christianity, including the suspicion that Christians were atheistic, incestuous cannibals. Throughout the rest of the book, Davidson highlights this suspicion and the responses it received from the various early church apologists.
In the latter part of the second chapter and all of chapter three focuses on the apostle Paul and his various missionary journeys throughout the empire. Following closely to the Biblical texts, especially the Book of Acts, Davidson proves the great influence that Paul had on subsequent Christianity. There is not much that Davidson adds to what is already known about Paul, therefore one with a rudimentary knowledge of the apostle could skip over this section and not miss the thrust of Davidson’s overall history. The chapter closes with Paul’s martyrdom and a brief evaluation of his life and ministry. Davidson laments the over-emphasis on Paul’s influence to the neglect of other early missionaries who have remained anonymous to history. Recounting Paul’s execution is a good segue into what this reviewer sees as Davidson’s next theme – persecution.
Persecution
Although the topic of persecution is dealt with in the early chapters of the book, it is specifically focused on in the middle chapters. In the fourth, Davidson explains the distinctives of Christian belief, including forms of worship, the stress on conversion, the institutionalizing of the church, etc. He catalogues the growth of the Christian population within the empire as well as their status socially. In doing so he lays the foundation to understand the opposition that Christians faced from the pagan culture that he explains in detail in later chapters.
Similarly, chapter five deals with the differences (as well as similarities) that Christianity had with Judaism. As much as Christians such as James announced the similarities between Christianity and Judaism at the so-called “Jerusalem council,” these same Christians also explained the vast dissimilarities. If James had stressed a Christianity that was virtually indistinguishable from Judaism, why then was he martyred?
After the fall of the temple in AD 70, Judaism lost much of its power in Jerusalem. Roman authorities strengthened their grip and Jewish identity was greatly decreased. Many Jews left in the “Dispersion” and with them, many Christians were ejected. But this did not hinder nor minimalise the animosity felt by the Jewish authorities towards Christianity. Davidson does a good job in providing a balanced expose of those differences, and as in chapter four, he plants the seed to help his readers understand the persecution the Christians were to endure from the Jews.
Chapter six delves a little deeper into an understanding of the internal struggles that beset the church. Davidson gives attention to the role of heresy, defining it over and against Christian orthodoxy. In the early church an ad hoc statement was developed called “the rule of faith” that Christians used to distinguish orthodox teaching from heresy. Many groups that claimed to be Christian, such as the Gnostics and the Marcionites, did not live up to the standard of the rule of faith, and were thus rendered heretical. Davidson outlines the basic teachings of Gnosticism and of Marcion and explains why they were considered heterodox.
A curious group that developed out of Christianity were those who held to the New Prophecy, known as the Montanists. This group, which bore a strong resemblance to modern charismatic evangelicals, over-emphasised the gifts of the Spirit for the church. They were ecstatic, often taken to trances and visions, and eventually proved to be a significant problem for the catholic church. Of this group was a well-known and influential church father named Tertullian, whom Davidson explains in a subsequent chapter. Yet, it was through the rise of these various false-teachings that biblical doctrine was developed, such as the divinity of Christ in reaction to the Gnostics, or the fullness of the canon in reaction to the Marcionites.
Alongside the difficulties Christianity faced within the church, there were just as many problems coming from outside. Typically the persecution that had been experienced from the hands of the surrounding culture involved physical punishment and death. Davidson highlights the lives and deaths of men such as Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp. As well, there are the glowing testimonies of women such as Perpetua and Felicitas who suffered a terrible death, yet whose faith spurred their brethren on in the faith. These were men and women, who gladly ascended the gallows pole for the sake of Christ and his church.
Eventually intellectual persecution was to be added to the list of attacks. Pagan leaders realised that to rid the empire of the Christians, more was needed than jailing and executing them. In fact, this seemed to spur the Christians on in their faith! Instead, a systematic and logical attack on the very foundations of Christian teaching was needed. As Davidson states it, these critics were “[o]ffering implicit intellectual validation for the kinds of resentment directed at Christians at a popular level.”
[3]
In response to this, as outlined in chapter seven, a movement arose within Christianity and a group of men known as the apologists defended the faith on intellectual grounds. Such men included the first known apologist, Quadratus. As well, there were men like Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras and others who wrote various tracts and treatises answering the attacks against the faith.
One of the most significant intellectual critics was a Platonist philosopher named Celsus, who had become intimately acquainted with Christian theology. He wrote a detailed attack on Christianity in a work entitled The True Discourse. It marks the oldest known critique of Christianity and proves how well informed Celsus was. The True Discourse also set the precedent for later works critical of Christianity. It really was not until the writings of Origen a generation later that Celsus was answered in a detailed way.
Growth
Chapter eight deals with the movement of Christianity to the Latin speaking part of the empire. As Christianity moved further west, other problems arose including the tertiary issue of when to date Easter, and more significant issues such as the Monarchian heresy of Callistus, Zephyrinus and Sabellius. Although an apologist named Hippolytus in the late second century proved a formidable opponent to this aberrant view of the Godhead, it was not until Tertullian came on the scholarly scene that a more full-fledged understanding of the Trinity was explained.
Tertullian was a Montanist who held to some strange views regarding the New Prophecy, but he was also a brilliant expositor of biblical doctrine. It is to Tertullian that later Christianity owes the term Trinity (trinitas). He was one of the first Latin-speaking theologians of any influence, and though we know little about his early life, over thirty of his works are extant.
Another scholar in the west whom Davidson pays attention to is the church planting, missionary scholar Irenaeus. This bishop of Lyons is a model of well-rounded Christian theology and praxis. He wrote a devastating five-book attack on the Gnosticism of his time called Against Heresies; he was very much a missionary who went to great lengths learning not only Latin (he was from the east) but also the barbaric language of Lyons. In Irenaeus’ writings doctrines such as the unity of the canon, the incarnation, the Trinity, etc., are strongly advocated and defended. It is to men like Irenaeus and Tertullian that church history owes a great debt, in terms of their theological influences that have stood the test of time.
The ninth chapter continues to look at the spread of Christianity into the west, paying particular attention to the church in Alexandria. One of the most significant branches of the church at this time, Alexandria saw many great theologians arise within its ranks including Pantaenus, his student Clement and the controversial Origen. All three brought intellectual validation to the Christianity of their time. Of the three, Davidson pays the most attention to Origen, looking at him first as a biblical scholar, and then evaluating a number of his works including On First Principles, a massive work that appears to be an early systematic theology. The Alexandrian school was known for its emphasis of an allegorical interpretation of the text, and it is in Origen that this emphasis is clearly seen. Origen’s views became a major source of division between the east and west. The final theologian addressed by Davidson in this section is Paul of Samosata, one of the key writers who from the east who opposed Origen. Yet it was not over allegorical hermeneutics that Paul and the followers of Origen disputed, rather it was the Alexandrians’ teaching on the hypostatic union.
Ethics
The final theme that appears on Davidson’s book is that of Christian ethics. Namely the nature of worship and practice within the church (chapter ten), morality (chapter eleven) and the relationship between church and state culminating in the ascension of Constantine to the emperors throne (chapter twelve).
Here Davidson provides a look into the every day life of the church, evaluating how it worked out the faith that had been delivered to it. Of particular interest are the sacramental practices of the early church, specifically the approach to baptism. Davidson points to the early recognition of infant baptism, but also notes that Tertullian was not in favour of it, preferring that adult believers were to be baptised. He also quotes from the Apostolic Tradition that explains that babies were baptised as well as adults. But it is Davidson’s belief that it is very hard to determine which form of baptism the church sanctioned, as evidence and interpretation are vague.
Davidson also explains the history of the Eucharistic ritual, relating it to the agape feast in the earliest times, and then as a separate ceremony that eventually took over from the love feasts. He also makes an interesting observation that “it was considered inappropriate to hold more than one Eucharist in a town on the same Sunday on the grounds that the communion meal symbolized the unity of believers.”
[4]
Other aspects of Christian practice are dealt with such as the day of worship (Sunday), the notion of “sacred time,” Christian art, the ordination of ministers (chapter eleven), women’s roles, discipline and the growth of Christian asceticism.
The final chapter concerns the relationship between Christian faith and its relation to politics. As time progressed the Roman Empire began to fall into problems politically and economically. Davidson notes that “from the 230s onward, the pressure would be more or less constant.” One after another, emperors came and went, bringing much confusion into political life. With the Persian Empire gaining strength and barbarian invasions in the north, many were becoming concerned with the future.
Christianity too continued to face troubles with the various philosophies that challenged it and the compromise Christians were experiencing within their ranks, offering allegiance to Caesar rather than Christ. The church was beginning to divide, especially over issues of whether to accept back into fellowship one who fled persecution. During this period, the Lord raised up Cyprian of Carthage to battle controversy such as that wrought by the Novatians, and to maintain unity in the catholic church.
At this time persecution heightened under Valerian, who placed many legal sanctions against the church. As Davidson comments, “Valerian’s measures…were generated by political and fiscal realities.” The Romans specifically sought to oppress the church by arresting Church leaders. After a brief respite after Valerian, the emperor Diocletian became emperor and thus the beginnings of what has become known as “The Great Persecution.” The pressure of persecution rose slowly but surely, and by the end of it, Diocletian had imprisoned so many Christians that there was no more room in the jails for them. When Diocletian became ill, his advisor Galerius added further hostilities to the church demanding that sacrifices to Roman gods must be made publicly.
After the death of Diocletian, Constantius became emperor. When Constantius died, the Roman legion declared his son Constantine as emperor, bypassing Severus much to the chagrin of Galerius.
A battle ensued, what has become known as The Battle of the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine triumphed over Maxentius, a pro-pagan soldier and son of Maximin who held control over the eastern provinces of the empire. It was here that Constantine claimed to have had a vision of Jesus telling him to fight under the cross of Christ. His “divine” victory ensured for Constantine the powers of the west.
At the Edict of Milan, Constantine issued a policy of tolerance to Christianity. This marked the beginning of Constantine’s official endorsement of Christianity, making it the official religion of the empire.
Reservations
The key reservation that this reviewer has with Davidson’s book is a statement that he makes on pages 173-174 regarding the authorship of 2 Timothy 3:16. In the statement he brings to question whether Paul was in fact the author. Although he affirms the possibility of Pauline authorship, he does not expressly endorse it. This is a great cause for concern for obvious reasons.
Secondly, the sections dealing with women’s roles in ministry (pp. 301-309) seem to go beyond a complimentarian understanding. In attempting to stress the equality of women that wasn’t always apparent in the early church, Davidson at times makes statements that are too egalitarian for this reviewer’s tastes.
Conclusion
In spite of the two criticisms noted above, this reviewer believes that Davidson’s work is highly beneficial to the church and would make an excellent resource for students of early church history. It is highly recommended.
[1] C.S. Lewis, Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 28, 29. Cited in Mark A. Noll, “‘The Clean Sea-breeze of the Centuries’: Leaning to Think Historically,” in Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch and George M. Marsden, The Search for Christian America (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1983).
[2] Ivor J. Davidson, The Birth of the Church: From Jesus to Constantine AD 30-312 – Volume One (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 7.
[3] Davidson, Birth of the Church, 212.
[4] Davidson, Birth of the Church, 287.

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Luther the Augustinian

The following is the final paper that I submitted to Dr. Dennis Ngien’s Theology of Luther class that I took at Toronto Baptist Seminary in January 2007. I fared quite well in terms of a mark, which was relieving, considering that Dr. Ngien is a published Luther scholar. He has an article in the current issue of Christianity Today called “Picture Christ” about Luther giving counsel on death.
Introduction
On July 2, 1505 Martin Luther (1483-1546) uttered five words that would change his personal and academic life forever. During a terrible rainstorm, the young Luther was nearly killed by a bolt of lightning. In fear he cried out to St. Anne for help and vowed, “I will become a monk.”
[1] Keeping this promise, much to his father’s chagrin, Luther did become a monk and entered the Order of Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt on July 17, 1505. As a Black Augustinian, Luther was introduced to the writings of Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel. “However, Augustine was the figure who became of utmost importance to Luther.”[2] The purpose of this paper will be to roughly explore Luther’s interpretation of Augustine of Hippo (354-430)[3] in his dispute against late medieval scholasticism. In it the influence of Augustine on Luther in his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517)[4] will be evaluated. It is hoped that this exercise will show that the change in Luther’s early theology that lead to his “Reformation breakthrough,” from that of medieval scholasticism to early Reformer, was greatly due to the influence of Augustine’s later thought. The selection of Augustine’s later writings is intentional. To obtain a grasp of Augustine’s theology of grace, one must appreciate the pattern of growth in his thought. Scholars have long believed that Augustine did not fully develop his understanding of predestination and free will until his controversy with the Pelagians.[5] For the sake of this paper, then, it will be the latter Augustine with whom Luther will be compared. As well, this endeavour takes into account David Steinmetz’s observation, “The relationship of Luther to St. Augustine is a far more complicated question to resolve than one might anticipate.”[6]

Augustinian Background
As M.W.F. Stone observes, “During the Reformation the philosophical and theological theories of Augustine loomed large.”
[7] The Reformation erupted while Europe was illuminated with the light of the Renaissance.[8] One of the hallmarks of Renaissance thought was the slogan ad fontes, the principle of going “back to the sources.” The Bible in its original languages was one of the founts to which theologians returned for nourishment, and so were the writings of St. Augustine. The first critical edition of Augustine’s writings were published by Johannes Amerbach in 1506. Because of this, “the Reformers had direct access to the Augustinian corpus.”[9]
Johannes von Staupitz (c. 1465-1524) was the vicar general of the monasteries of the Augustinian Hermits and was the dean of theology in Wittenberg.[10] One of the responsibilities assumed by Staupitz while at Wittenberg was that of confessor to Luther. As the young man with troubled soul wrestled with his status before a holy God, Staupitz offered wise counsel. He referred Luther to the passage in Romans where the apostle proclaimed the “righteousness of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.”[11] Staupitz rightly believed that this referred not merely to God’s righteousness in judging sinners, but primarily God’s gift of righteousness bestowed upon sinners through faith in Christ. Although very little is known about his theology, there is every indication that Staupitz “was highly influenced by Augustine.”[12] And it is likely through him that Luther came to an Augustinian understanding of grace.
Speaking of the whole university in Wittenberg, Luther could triumphantly pronounce in a letter to Johann Lang on May 18, 1517,
Our theology and St Augustine proceed apace and are dominant in our university, by the grace of God. Aristotle declines steadily and is heading for total oblivion. All object to hearing lectures on the text-books of the Sentences, and no one can expect an audience who does not advance this theology – that is, the Bible or St Augustine, or some other doctor with ecclesiastical authority.
[13]

Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517)
Martin Luther is likely best known for his disputation entitled The Ninety-Five Theses
[14] that he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. In doing so many believe that the Protestant Reformation in Europe thus commenced. Luther wrote them in protest against the abuses he observed within the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the selling of indulgences. What is often overlooked is the fact that previous to the Ninety-Five Theses, Luther had published an earlier disputation, this time in ninety-seven theses, written in a more academic and polemical fashion. These earlier theses, now referred to as the Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, were just as its title indicates, a critique of the thought of the schoolmen, in particular Ockham and Biel. In terms of their importance, David Bagchi suggests, “There is a case to be made for dating the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation not to the ninety-five theses on indulgences…but to Luther’s ninety-seven theses against scholastic theology of a month earlier.”[15]
The medieval scholasticism that Luther critiqued was an inheritor of the realism of Aquinas and Scotus but found its crystallization in Luther’s day with the nominalism of Ockham and Biel.
[16] The former school of thought understood God in terms of the essence of his existence. An example of such thinking may be seen in the so-called ontological argument for the existence of God posited originally by Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109), and taken up by Thomas in his so-called “five ways.” The nominalists, on the other hand viewed God in terms of his power and will. They distinguished between the being of God and his acts; his commands were rooted in his will, not in his nature. It is in the writings of Gabriel Biel that a fuller expression of this understanding can be found.[17]
This via moderna, as it was then known, was criticized from all quarters during the Renaissance and Reformation, by both Protestant and Catholic alike. But perhaps one of its most significant critics was Martin Luther in his disputation. It goes beyond the scope of this paper to give a full evaluation of Luther’s critique of scholasticism. It will only serve the purpose to point to Luther’s recruiting of Augustine against his scholastic opponents.
Students must remember that at this point in Luther’s life he had not yet broken with the Roman Church, nor had there been any idea in his mind that he would. His critique was very much from the inside, and his only concern was to bring about reform in terms of the Church’s theological direction.
[18] In fact, Luther concludes his disputation against scholasticism by saying, “In these statements we wanted to say and believe we have said nothing that is not in agreement with the Catholic church and the teachers of the church.”[19] Luther’s education had been scholastic, specifically Ockhamist and his critique of scholasticism was therefore “emphatically that of a scholastic, and not that of a humanist or of an anti-intellectual champion of the ‘modern devotion.’”[20]
It must also be remembered that from its earliest stages, scholasticism viewed itself as theologically Augustinian, though philosophically it was dependent upon Aristotle.
[21] Therefore, Luther did not see himself as breaking the theological mold when he leveled the bishop of Hippo against his scholastic forebears. Instead, Luther was maintaining an important aspect of the scholastic tradition, all the while using this tradition in a critique against itself. In essence, Luther’s fundamental approach was to show that the scholastic theologians were not the thoroughgoing Augustinians that they had thought. Wriedt says,
In his line of argument Luther is exemplary in proving that the theologians of his time have neither worked methodically and cleanly within their system of assumed categories nor proven a solid reference base of appropriate Scripture interpretation, but instead base their conclusions on unproven axiomata.
[22]

Against the Scholastics
Luther begins his disputation strongly in the first three theses arguing that the scholastics have deeply misread Augustine. In the first Luther argues, “To say that Augustine exaggerates in speaking against heretics is to say that Augustine tells lies almost everywhere.”
[23] In fact, by contradicting Augustine, the scholastics were “making sport of the authority of all doctors of theology” (Thesis 3). In Luther’s opinion, to deny Augustine was to deny theology itself. In this, Luther rightly saw it was to grant victory to Augustine’s theological opponents, the Pelagians, if one was to argue that Augustine’s soteriology was mistaken (Thesis 2). For Luther, if the Pelagians were right, the whole of Western theology since the fourth century was a waste.
Regarding Pelagianism, it is interesting to note is that Luther believed that it was more dangerous to follow the scholastic line of thinking than the Pelagian. In his later debate with Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466/9-1536), Luther could say that the humanist adopted a scholastic semi-Pelagianism
[24] that made the grace of God less valuable than in the Pelagian view. “The latter assert that it is not by a feeble something within us that we obtain grace, but by efforts and works that are complete, entire, perfect, many and mighty; but our friends here [Erasmus and the scholastics] tell us that it is by something very small, almost nothing, that we merit grace.”[25] At least the Pelagians made grace important by striving for perfection to earn it, the semi-Pelagian model only served to denigrate the value of grace. Of course Luther believed that both views were erroneous.
Luther makes a number of soteriological points in the first sixteen theses against the scholastics that resound with the tones of Augustine. They are involved primarily with the issue of the freedom of the will and human depravity. In Thesis 4 Luther argued that man is totally depraved. He alludes to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, by saying, “It is therefore true that man, being a bad tree, can only will and do evil [Cf. Matt. 7:17-18].” Continuing the argument in Thesis 5 he said, “It is false to state that man’s inclination is free to choose between either of two opposites. Indeed, the inclination is not free, but captive.” This understanding of the will echoes the thought of Augustine who could say, “For if the natural power through free will is sufficient for us not only to know how we ought to live, but actually to live well, ‘then Christ died in vain,’ ‘then is the scandal of the cross made void.’”
[26] Luther would later elaborate on this Augustinian view of the captivity of the will in greater detail against Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will.[27]
In direct opposition to Scotus and Biel (as well as Thomas), Luther “attacks the proposition that it is possible to do what is morally good or avoid sin without the help of grace.”
[28] Thesis 6 argues, “It is false to state that the will can by nature conform to correct precept.” This point follows logically from Thesis 5 because if the will is captive it can only perform acts according to its captive nature, in this case its sinful nature. “There is no moral virtue without either pride or sorrow, that is, without sin” (Thesis 38). Luther believed that the root of sin was egocentrism,[29] the placing of oneself above God. He found support in Augustine for this quoting the church father as saying, “The beginning of all sin is the love of one’s own self.”[30] Therefore, for the will to do anything good, it is in need of the grace of God (Thesis 7), which is also a major theme found in Augustine.[31] Paul Althaus says of Luther’s theology of sin, “One of the decisive concerns of Luther’s theology is to avoid minimizing the greatness and seriousness of sin as though it did not matter. At no other point has he fought against his opponents, the scholastic theologians, with such passionate seriousness.”[32]
One of the arguments that Augustine’s opponents directed towards him was the accusation that his former Manichaeism influenced his understanding of free will and human depravity.
[33] What his critics failed to understand was that in contrast to Augustine, the Manichees believed that the will was ontologically evil. This evil in the will was not due to original sin as Augustine believed, but was rooted in Manichaean dualism that argued that the material world was evil. In Theses 8 and 9 Luther shows himself in line with Augustine where he argues, contra the Manichees, that the will is bound not because it is naturally or essentially evil (by creation), but because of an innate evil that lies within it (sin). Therefore, “One must concede that the will is not free to strive toward whatever is declared good” (Thesis 10), “Nor is it able to will or not to will whatever is prescribed” (Thesis 11; cf. Thesis 88). Luther does not believe that any of what he has argued is in contradiction to Augustine, nor “when one says that nothing is so much in the power of the will as the will itself” (Thesis 12). Again, making the point that the will can only conform to erroneous precept (Theses 14 and 15), Luther then concludes that “since erring man is able to love the creature it is impossible for him to love God” (Thesis 16).
In theses twenty-eight to thirty Luther asserts that God can only be found by grace, and to assert otherwise is to follow the Pelagians. The only “infallible preparation for grace” is the “eternal election and predestination of God” (Thesis 29).
[34] Essentially, the preparation for grace is grace. “On the part of man, however, nothing precedes grace except indisposition and even rebellion against grace” (Thesis 30). Scholastic theologians like Biel believed that by virtue of an inherent good within man, one can do all that one is able to remove obstacles to grace. Luther declares this teaching to be “false” in Thesis 33. Rather, “Man by nature has neither correct precept nor good will” (Thesis 34.) For man to be able to receive grace he must have his nature changed by God; therefore God is the causative agency for man’s reception of grace. “The grace of God is given for the purpose of directing the will, lest it err even in loving God” (Thesis 90).

For Grace
After spending all of this time contradicting the theology of the scholastics, Luther develops his own view in the last third of the disputation “by formulating theses without that philosophic-theological burden of scholastic traditions, but rich with his own understanding of grace and God.”
[35] Of course, this understanding of grace was greatly informed by Augustine.
In this final section of theses Luther’s terminology becomes biblically rooted in the Pauline language of Galatians and Romans. Here Luther takes up the issue of the relationship between the law and grace and argues emphatically, “it is impossible to fulfill the law in any way without the grace of God” (Thesis 68). In fact, “The grace of God…makes justice abound through Jesus Christ because it causes one to be pleased with the law” (Thesis 75). This is compatible with the argument of Augustine who said, “For the knowledge of the law, without the grace of the Spirit, produces all concupiscence in man.”
[36] Indeed, Luther references Augustine in his dispute with Latomus saying, “Yet Paul, and Augustine after him, thundered unceasingly that a man without grace only grows worse through the law.”[37]
Echoing Paul in Galatians 3:2 Luther said, “Condemned are all those who do the works of the law” (Thesis 79), yet “blessed are all those who do the works of the grace of God” (Thesis 80). In Theses 81 to 83 he explains what is not good law (ceremonial law, Decalogue, etc) and concludes in Thesis 84 that “The good law and that in which one lives is the love of God, spread abroad in our hears by the Holy Spirit.” But to reconcile the law with the will, grace is needed as a mediator (Thesis 89). Augustine too recognized a good aspect to the law and said, “In your sweetness teach me your righteousness…so that I am not forced to be under the law as a slave out of fear of punishment but might have delight in a free love in the law.”[38]
Luther then concludes his disputation by explaining the necessity of love, contrasting it with the egocentrism that both he and Augustine believed to be the root of all sin. “To love God is at the same time to hate oneself and to know nothing but God” (Thesis 95). He said this in contradiction to Ockham and Biel whom Luther said believed that “the love of God may continue alongside an intense love of the creature” (Thesis 94).

Conclusion
Speaking of Augustine’s influence on the Protestant Reformation, the great Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield once wrote,

It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church. The doctrine of grace came from Augustine’s hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends for his recovery to good and to God entirely on the free grace of God.[39]

This doctrine of grace that came from Augustine’s hands was in turn picked up by Martin Luther not long after his “Reformation breakthrough” and is evident in one of his earliest writings that we have considered here. It is hoped by providing this brief examination of Luther’s disputation against the scholastics, coupled with statements from Augustine’s later writings, that it has been shown that Luther’s doctrine of grace are congruous with Augustine’s. As inheritors of the Protestant Reformation, evangelicals today are deeply indebted to Reformers like Martin Luther who took a stand for Biblical orthodoxy over against medieval Aristotelianism. But we are also indebted to the one whose shadow Luther and Calvin and the rest of Western Christianity looms, Augustine, the “doctor of grace.”

[1] Martin Marty, Martin Luther (New York: Penguin, 2004), 7. See also Roland H Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor Books, 1950), 15; Albrecht Beutel, “Luther’s Life” in Donald K. McKim, The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 4.
[2] Beutel, “Luther’s Life,” 5.
[3] For an introduction to the life and thought of Augustine see Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1967).
[4] Martin Luther, “Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517)” in Timothy F. Lull ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 2nd edition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2005), 34-39.
[5] Eleonore Stump, “Augustine on free will” in Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzman eds., The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 130.
[6] David C. Steinmetz, Luther in Context (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 12.
[7] M.W.F. Stone, “Augustine and Medieval Philosophy” in Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzman eds., The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 262.
[8] Paul Johnson, The Renaissance (London: Phoenix Press, 2002).
[9] Stone, “Augustine and Medieval Philosophy,” 262.
[10] Helmar Junghans, “Luther’s Wittenberg” in Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzman eds., The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 24.
[11] Romans 1:17.
[12] Beutel, “Luther’s Life,” 6.
[13] Letter to Lang, May 18, 1517 cited in D.V.N. Bagchi, “Sic Et Non: Luther and Scholasticism” in Carl R. Trueman and R. Scott Clark eds., Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 1999), 7.
[14] Martin Luther, “The Ninety-Five Theses (1517)” in Timothy F. Lull ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 2nd edition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2005), 40-46.
[15] Bagchi, “Sic Et Non,” 3.
[16] This paper takes for granted that Luther was critiquing the whole of scholastic theology, not just the nominalist tradition, for a defence of this position see Heiko A. Oberman, “Luther and the Scholastic Doctrines of Justification” in Heiko A. Oberman, The Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), 104-108. See also Steinmetz, Luther in Context, 56-57.
[17] Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 36-38.
[18] For instance, see his letter to Jodocus Trutfetter on May 9, 1518 where he writes “I simply believe that it is impossible to reform the Church, unless the canons, decretals, scholastic theology, philosophy, logic, as we now have them, be eradicated completely…and the purest study of the Bible and the holy fathers be recalled.” Cited in Bagchi, “Sic Et Non,” 8-9.
[19] Luther, “Disputation,” 39.
[20] Bagchi, “Sic Et Non,” 4.
[21] Atkinson can say, “As a philosopher Thomas was an Aristotelian realist, and as a theologian he had the evangelicalism of Augustinianism with its stress on sin, predestination and grace.” James Atkinson, “Scholastic Theology,” in James Atkinson ed., Luther: Early Theological Works (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 253.
[22] Markus Wriedt, “Luther’s Theology” in Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzman eds., The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 92.
[23] Martin Luther, “Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517)” in Timothy F. Lull ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 2nd edition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2005), 34. From hereon the thesis number will be cited within the body of the text.
[24] That scholasticism was semi-Pelagian see, Atkinson, “Scholastic Theology, 264.
[25] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will: A New Translation of De Servo Arbitrio (1525) Martin Luther’s Reply to Erasmus of Rotterdam eds., J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 294.
[26] Augustine, Four Anti-Pelagian Writings: On Nature and Grace on the Proceedings of Pelagius on the Predestination of the Saints on the Gift of Perseverance trans. John A. Mourant and William J. Collinge (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), 58.
[27] Luther, Bondage of the Will, 239-320.
[28] Steinmetz, Luther in Context, 57.
[29] Althaus, Theology of Martin Luther, 144-145. See also Wriedt, “Luther’s theology,” 93.
[30] Martin Luther, “A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments” in Works of Martin Luther: With Introductions and Notes Volume 1 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1943), 364.
[31] Augustine, Four Anti-Pelagian Writings, 146-154.
[32] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1966), 142.
[33] Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 269-271. Cf. James Wetzel, “Predestination, Pelagianism, foreknowledge” in Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzman eds., The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 52.
[34] Cf. Augustine, “On the Predestination of the Saints” in Four Anti-Pelagian Writings, 218-270.
[35] Wriedt, “Luther’s Theology,” 93.
[36] Augustine, “Proceedings of Pelagius” in Four Anti-Pelagian Writings, 131.
[37] Martin Luther, “Answer to Latomus” in James Atkinson ed., Luther: Early Theological Works (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 314.
[38] Augustine, De gratia Christi et de peccato orginali 13.14 cited in Stump, “Augustine on free will,” 134.
[39] Benjamin B. Warfield, “Augustine” in Calvin and Augustine ed. Samuel C. Craig (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1956), 322.

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No Justice?

This past St. Paddy’s Day I went out and rented myself a good ole Irish movie (directed by an Italian), The Departed. While I don’t recommend it to the faint of heart, I more or less enjoyed it. Pretty violent and lots of creative swearing (a la Marky Mark), but in all it was good. Save for the ending. Now, I know that it was based upon a kung-fu movie called Infernal Affairs and that it sought to honour the ending of its Chinese counterpart, but the ending of The Departed was anti-climactic and disappointing.
I suppose that this was so because everyone has within them a sense of justice rooted in our very souls. When the bad-guy gets away, or everyone gets shot, or whatever, I feel in my heart that justice wasn’t served and it bothers me. That’s why I didn’t like the ending of The Departed. No closure.
After yesterday’s horrible shooting at Virginia Tech, that same feeling in my heart appeared. Specifically when I read that the shooter committed suicide. What a rip. After wreaking cargnage on unsuspecting schoolmates Cho Seung-Hui decides to off himself in a cop-out suicide, leaving a nation in agony. Where’s the justice??? The story would have fared better if the police nabbed him and he was sent to the electric chair (of course, it would be better if the story wasn’t written at all). Then there would have been closure. Then that feeling in my heart would be appeased.
Then I remember who it is that I worship. The Triune God who created me with that sense of justice in my heart is the One who renders just judgments to those who violate His law. Cho will get his, and coming from the hand of the Living God, no electric chair could compare. What Cho is suffering right now, and what he will suffer at the Judgment is something that I care not to think about, because it is beyond my finite comprehension.
When thoughts of the justice of God come to mind, I am further reminded of His mercy. God’s justice is not violated by His great mercy that He displayed in sending His Son to this earth in the human Jesus of Nazareth. The justice of God was meted out to Christ on behalf of His people so that they might receive, by faith alone, the mercy of God.
May incidents like the one at Viriginia Tech remind us all that God is just, and that no crime goes unpunished. If you fear your own crimes (sin) will find you out, flee to Christ for salvation – there at the cross will you find mercy. Mercy, that likely did not reach Cho Seung-Hui.

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Cere on Same-Sex Marriage

In the excellent book edited by Daniel Cere and Douglas Farrow entitled Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada’s New Social Experiment (McGill/Queens, 2004), Canadians are given an opportunity to evaluate the issue of same-sex marriage from an objective and scholarly perspective. Eleven academics come together in this one volume to offer their analysis from their respective areas of specialization.

Of particular interest is the essay written by one of the editors, Daniel Cere, entitled “War of the Ring.” Cere provides a historical survey of recent Canadian politics related to same-sex marriage, going back only a few years to 1999 when the federal parliament reaffirmed the traditional definition of marriage. How far we have come in so short a time! Cere catalogues the main events that took place explaining how Canada has got to where it is today. It has been a frightening ride, especially for one like myself who is horrified by the over-reaching arm of the state and government interventionism. I enjoy my democratic freedom as a Canadian, and to read the events that brought same-sex marriage in Canada to a legal status is nothing short of scary. Canadian rights and opinions have been left in a lurch in favour of the opinions of elitist politicians and judges who act as though they were a law unto themselves. Cere also offers a philosophical analysis of this change in marriage, poking at the presuppositions that lie behind this burning desire to push same-sex legislation through the courts at the cost of Canadian freedom.

Historical Analysis

As noted, the Canadian parliament reaffirmed the traditional definition of marriage in 1999 as between one man and one woman with the final vote of 216 to 55. In 2001 however, the British Columbia Supreme Court was faced with the first same-sex marriage case to be adjudicated on in Canada. They rejected it claiming that a change to the Canadian Constitution was needed before they could rule in the favour of the complainants. Of course, the impetus for change came in 2002 when the Ontario Supreme Court challenged the traditional definition of marriage in Halpern vs. Canada. After Halpern both the Quebec and B.C. Superior Courts followed suit. In the Ontario ruling, although not a specific redefinition of remarriage was offered, the court did rule that the existing definition was discriminatory.

The Halpern ruling “suggested three possible remedies: (a) redefine marriage as a union of two persons, or (b) establish a domestic partnership regime that would offer legal recognition for same-sex couples, or (c) abolish marriage as a category in law and set up some kind of neutral registry system” (Divorcing Marriage, 10).

In a move of Orwellian proportions, Halpern gave the government a two-year period to “consider legislative options” (Ibid). If the government failed to act quickly the courts would implement their change. For those who think that courts aren’t dangerous and don’t run the country, think again.

Responding to the Halpern request, the federal government set up a committee that travelled across Canada interviewing Canadians to find out their views on this issue. This appears to be the democratic thing to do and would have been if the courts had left it alone and let it play its course. The committee started their east to west tour of Canada in January and by June 10, 2003, the Ontario Court of Appeal stepped up and “declared that it would not bother to wait for the government, or for Canadians, to consider new legislative responses” (Ibid). Do we live in a free country where Canadians actually have a say? Or do we live in a court ruled by a totalitarian regime rendering the average citizen no meaning or opinion? When reading of this I realised that my opinion as a Canadian didn’t matter. It was the court’s way or the highway.

By June 12, 2003 the committee touring across Canada was called in and by June 17, 2003 “the federal cabinet announced that it would draft legislation changing the definition of marriage” (DM, 11). What happened to democracy? What happened to listening to the people? As can be seen from this ruling and parliamentary decision, Canada is not truly democratic. Socialism reigns supreme in Canada, and top-down decisions are the norm. The same-sex marriage issue is not the only one where Canadian values really aren’t considered.

Close Relationships

The change from the traditional definition of marriage is based upon the idea promulgated by the socialist elite in government and in the courts (not to mention the state-funded media) that marriage that is only heterosexual is discriminatory. Instead, a definition based upon “close relationships” was offered and accepted. This means that the traditional view with its definition of marriage based upon the ability to procreate and nurture is done away with in favour of a definition based upon “emotional, psychological, or sexual satisfaction” (DM, 12). As Cere defines close, or “pure,” relationships:

Pure relationships, unlike marriages, are the ever-changing product of private negotiation. In so far as marriage itself is drawn into this new culture of intimacy, it is placed on a level playing field with all other ‘long-term’ sexual partnerships. Severed from its historic roots in sex difference, permanence, and children, it becomes nothing other or more than a form of intimacy between consenting adults (Ibid).

As Cere rightly observes, this makes “marriage” malleable, open to change, easy to contract and easy to dissolve.

It has been noted that the actions of the court and the Liberal parliament at that time were anti-democratic in that they forced legislation without considering the values of Canadian citizens. But there is another, greater sense in which freedom is being robbed from Canadians, as Cere points out. By changing the definition of marriage to make room for homosexuals, heterosexual marriage by default becomes meaningless. Cere offers a quote by Ladelle McWhorter, a gay and lesbian theorist, who makes some striking statements about the ramifications that same-sex marriage will have on opposite-sex marriage. She says, “our presence will change those institutions…enough to undermine their preferred version of heterosexuality and, in turn, they themselves will not be the same” [McWhorter, Bodies and Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 125 cited in DM, 14]. Cere follows this quote with another like it from the Ontario Court of Appeal that argued that the meaning of marriage must meet “the needs, capacities and circumstances of same-sex couples, not…the needs, capacities and circumstances of opposite-sex couples.” It is incredible that for the sake of a minority, who statistically do not get married, an institution is drastically changed and denigrated so that those who do use it are left with practically nothing.

Russia

Another aspect of Cere’s essay that particularly enlightening was the connection that he drew between the redefinition of marriage and Marxism. For a while now I have been involved myself in the study of whether or not Marxism has left the west. It has occurred to me in this essay that Marxism is not gone, though it lies quietly under the surface of Canadian politics.

Cere draws the link between the “close-relationship paradigm” to Karl Marx’s comrade-in-arms, Friederich Engels. Teaming with famed “sexologists” such as Margaret Mead and Aldred Kinsey, the Soviet Marxists brought this paradigm into Russia. The resulting consequences were damaging to Russian society. Cere provides an example in the Soviet feminist Aleksandra Kollantai.

Kollantai was, as Cere says, “an enthusiastic proponent of this vision of marriage” (DM, 16). She advocated that a new marriage culture must be enacted based only upon “mutual love.” Kollantai was the Commissar of Social Welfare in Russia and had the authority to put this new version of watered-down marriage into practice. This was done in the 1920s and by the 1930s the society was in serious trouble. Cere notes that the average Russian family had become destabilized and divorce rates were on the rise. “Temporary cohabitation” was common, birth rates were in decline and children fell through the cracks of broken marriages and often ended up on the streets. By 1936 the Soviets began to reverse their policies on marriage recognising the negative effect it was having on the country. Unfortunately, Canadians don’t learn from history.

Canada

Even before same-sex marriage was on the books in Canada, policies were in place that slowly eroded society on family-lines. With abortion, no-fault divorce and now same-sex marriage, the statistics in Canada are akin to those of Russia in the twenties and thirties. It is even worse in Quebec where a postmodern, pluralistic mindset has gripped the people. The statistics that Cere provides are frightening. For instance, in Canada the marriage rate went from 7.1 in 1987 to 5.1 in 1998. The divorce rate is at 40% and the average age of marrying is 32 for women and 34 for men; it was much younger in the sixties. Cohabitation has “more than doubled” Cere says since 1981 and single-parent families have risen 50% since then. Cere sums up his findings by saying, “Canadians, in other words, are increasingly having difficulty in forming and maintaining families. They are also bringing fewer children into the world” (DM, 18).

In spite of the negative attitude that is directed to those of who advocate retaining the traditional definition of marriage, the majority of Canadians are statistically in favour of the traditional view; 67% in fact. As Cere insightfully observes, Canadian views are not based on prejudice, rather on the recognition that as marriage goes, so goes the country. In fact, most of those in favour of keeping the traditional definition are also in favour of giving benefits to homosexual couples.

Conclusion

There is much more to Cere’s essay that goes beyond the scope of this blogpost. Cere does well both in his evaluation of polygamy and polyamory. He also does well in evaluating the presuppositions that drive the push for same-sex marriage; for more on that you will have to read the rest of his article. He also brings up interesting discussions as to why Svend Robinson had declined to “marry” his partner even after same-sex marriage was made legal, and the statistics that demonstrate that most gay couples do not actually want to get married. Cere does a good job explaining why marriage necessitates commitment, which is something that many homosexuals, who are often promiscuous, do not always want. The point of this evaluation was to demonstrate, based on Cere’s work, that an agenda exists within government that vies for state control over Canadians. The prime example of this wanted to point out is found in the historical example of same-sex marriage. I hope that readers of this blog will pick up Divorcing Marriage and read Cere and the other authors for themselves. It will hopefully prove to be an eye-opener for Canadians and a catalyst for change in this country.

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Sproul on Wright on Evil

R.C. Sproul wrote a review of N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, which is staring me in the face as I work at Crux. Check it out.

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