Monthly Archives: March 2010

Thoughts on Calvinism

As I have been going through the doctrines of grace (aka. Calvinism) in our church’s evening services, I find myself reminded again of their importance for the church. Rather than mere points of doctrine to be debated, the five points of Calvinism are to be lived and gloried in. Just this past Lord’s Day, in my discussion of election, I noted at least five points of application: it gives cause to worship; it grounds assurance; it spurs evangelism; it produces humility; and creates a means by which we understand the Christian life (ethics).

I’ve been a Calvinist for about seven or eight years now, and these were things that I thought long and hard about back then. But as I have grown in the faith and in my understanding of theology, the doctrines of grace have been assumed in my thinking, but not necessarily front and center. To be sure, Calvinism informs my thinking on everything — but when was the last time that I sat and meditated upon all five points? This sermon series has been a great exercise in going “back to the basics” for some meat and potatoes.

Charles Spurgeon, the “prince of preachers,” once said of Calvinism: “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” Those are bold words! But they are words that I quite frankly cannot deny. This is not to say that a non-Calvinist necessarily denies the gospel — there is such a thing as “glorious inconsistency” — but to have a full appreciation for the way that God’s salvation was accomplished and applied requires a robust understanding of depravity, election, atonement, grace and perseverance.

The great Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield once said that “Calvinism is (1) Theism come to its rights. Calvinism is (2) Religion at the height of its conception. Calvinism is (3) Evangelicalism in its purest and most stable expression.”

One’s understanding of doctrines like depravity, predestination, grace, etc., influences the way one interprets the bible. It impacts our understanding of God, Christ, salvation. In effect, an approach to the doctrines of grace amounts to an approach to Scripture as a whole. The Calvinist understanding of Christianity is, in many respects, a different understanding than the non-Calvinist. Of course, this is not to say that a non-Calvinist is a non-Christian. But it is to say that their overall methodology is different.

As the so-called “New Calvinism” spreads amongst a new generation of Christians, it’s my hope that the church will benefit by re-capturing the wonder of the gospel. And that the church’s witness to Christ will pay him the fullest homage he deserves: as the only Saviour whose grace and mercy is beyond compare.

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Communion with God Study Guide

Ryan McGraw, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Conway, South Carolina has recently posted a 49 page study guide to John Owen’s devotional work Communion with God. You can find the PDF file at Meet the Puritans, where McGraw blogs. Communion with God has rightly become a classic amongst lovers of all things Puritan, and now this study guide should prove a useful tool as one reads through it. McGraw explains why he spent the time and energy to make such a guide available:

I have no hesitation in saying that, apart from Holy Scripture, John Owen’s Communion with God is the most important book that I have ever read. For most Christians, the Trinity is a carefully defined doctrine that they must believe; yet it has little practical significance. In Communion with God, Owen presents the doctrine of the Trinity as the most intensely practical and personal doctrine in Scripture. This book has transformed my preaching, my prayers, my personal assurance of salvation, and its ideas have pervaded virtually every other aspect of practical holiness. For these reasons, I have put together this study guide for the use of our own congregation, and hope that it may be used of God to more widely promote the use of Owen’s work by many churches.

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Pondering Jehovah’s Witnesses

My buddy and fellow church-goer Matt Fenn is a former Jehovah’s Witness. He’s now a one-stop resource for all things Watchtower. Not too long ago he was interviewed at apologetics.com about his testimony and his thoughts on his former religion. If you know someone who is a Jehovah’s Witness, or are just interested in the subject, this is a good interview to listen to.

For more, you can check out Matt’s blog at Pondering Christ where he has some very useful posts on a broad range of theological issues that I’d recommend checking out.

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Lectures on Calvinism

I have been going through a series on the doctrines of grace, yesterday I dealt with “unconditional election.” Some helpful lecture series on Calvinism are:

Art Azurdia: The Doctrines of Grace

A short series dealing with the five points of Calvinism and Q&A, highly recommended.

Curt Daniel: The History and Theology of Calvinism

This is extremely in-depth. For the serious student.

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Review – “Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed” (Spence)

(The following review will appear in the next issue of Barnabas).

Alan Spence, Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2008); x + 174 pages; ISBN: 978-0-567-03195-2.

Christology is a daunting subject – its history and theology paint a complex picture. Thankfully, Alan Spence offers readers an able introduction. His work is a good contribution to the “Guide for the Perplexed” series.

Spence, the author of a study of John Owen’s Christology, is well qualified to introduce his subject. He traces Christology from the church’s response to gnosticism, through Arianism, to the issues surrounding Chalcedon. He studies Owen’s unique understanding of the Spirit and Christ’s humanity, liberalism’s extended Socinianism and modern discussions by Barth and Pannenburg.

There are, however, glaring omissions to Spence’s work. For instance, the towering figures of Augustine and Aquinas are absent. Nor is there mention of the “myth of God incarnate” debate of the late twentieth-century. Unfortunately, there are a number of typographical errors. In spite of such problems, Spence should be thanked for his treatment of Owen, whose Christology is often neglected. Christology will be useful for pastors, educated lay-people and undergraduate students. From this one should consult the work of Donald MacLeod and Oliver Crisp.

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Peter Hitchens Interview

Interview with Peter Hitchens about his return to Christianity, his relationship with his brother Christopher, his work as an international journalist and his book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Zondervan).

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Ask Doug

A neat feature that the folk at Canon Wired have been doing for a while now is “Ask Doug.” This is where people can email Doug Wilson and ask him questions on any subject related to theology or culture and he responds on video. Each response is short and to the point and very useful. I’ve profited from these greatly. The subjects are wide and various including pastoral issues, literature, philosophy, education, economics and systematic theology. Below are some of my favourites thus far.

In this one Doug is asked the question about whether people of different theological backgrounds should get married. I find his answer to be very careful and balanced, and I completely agree with him:

Theological Agreement and Marriage – Conversations with Doug Wilson from Daniel Foucachon on Vimeo.

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Crawford Gribben at Westminster Seminary

Crawford Gribben recently spoke at chapel at Westminster Seminary in PA. His discussion is on the state of evangelicalism in Ireland. Awesome!

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