Monthly Archives: January 2011

Carson on Two Kingdoms

In light of the so-called “Two-Kingdoms” debate going on in some Reformed circles, this quote from the preface of Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) Reasons for Separating from the General Synod of Ulster caught my eye:

Every Christian is a member of two kingdoms perfectly distinct, but perfectly compatible in their interests. In each of these he has peculiar duties, in the discharge of which he is to pursue a very different conduct. As a subject of civil government, he is called to unreserved, unequivocal obedience, without waiting to inquire into its nature and quality, or even the legitimacy of the title of those in power. If he understands his Bible, he knows that the ‘powers that be, are ordained of God,’ and that he must ‘submit to every ordinance of man, not merely for wrath, but also for conscience sake.’ In Britain he will submit to monarchy; in America to a republic; and in France he will obey, without puzzling himself in determining whether Buonaparte be a legal governor or usurper. But it is not so in the kingdom of Christ. Here is is his duty in everything to judge for himself, and in no instance to be the disciple of man. He is commanded to examine, not blindly adopt the dogmas of his spiritual guides. He is nowhere required to conform and submit to that form of church government, under which he has been educated, or to which he may at any time have thought it his duty to attach himself. He is enjoined to ‘prove all things, and to hold fast only that which is good.’ He is Christ’s freedman, and should not suffer himself to become the servant of man, nor to be fettered by human systems. (Emphasis his)

Alexander Carson, “Reasons for Separating from the General Synod of Ulster” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1856), 4:xi-xii.

I chuckle a little to myself at the thought that Carson is using the two kingdoms model as a justification for criticizing the Ulster synod of the Presbyterian church in Ireland. The debate as it rages today largely involves Presbyterians.

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The Believer’s Jointure – Chapter One

This poem is a part of Ralph Erskine’s (1685-1752) Gospel Sonnets, it is the first chapter of “The Believer’s Jointure” and it is powerful:

O Happy soul, Jehovah’s bride,
The Lamb’s beloved spouse;
Strong consolation’s flowing tide,
Thy Husband thee allows.

In thee, though like thy father’s race,
By nature black as hell;
Yet now so beautify’d by grace,
Thy Husband loves to dwell.

Fair as the moon thy robes appear,
While graces are in dress:
Clear as the sun, while found to wear
Thy Husband’s righteousness.

Thy moon-like graces, changing much,
Have here and there a spot;
Thy sun-like glory is not such,
Thy Husband changes not.

Thy white and ruddy vesture fair
Outvies the rosy leaf;
For ‘mong ten thousand beauties rare
Thy Husband is the chief.

Cloth’d with the sun, thy robes of light
The morning rays outshine:
The lamps of heav’n are not so bright,
Thy Husband decks thee fine.

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The Responsibility of Doing Good Theology

The following is from the preface of Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) book Characteristics of the Style of Scripture Evidential of its Inspiration. It serves as a good reminder to any of us who embark upon any theological endeavour, that what we are doing is no mere abstract trifle:

In reasoning from Scripture on the subject of inspiration, and on every other, it is of great importance that we never lose sight of the tremendous responsibility which we incur. It is no light matter to attempt to influence the belief of the people of God, with respect to subjects on which he has expressed his mind. It is a fearful thing to labour to misrepresent the divine testimony on any matter. It is bad to err, but it is worse to exert ourselves to pervert others. On the other hand, it is a delightful idea to be in any measure instrumental in leading forward the minds of the Lord’s people to a more full understanding of his word. Nothing but the conviction that I am pleading the cause of God and truth could console me in opposing so many distinguished writers on the nature of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture Evidential of its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:x.

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O Worship the King

The hymn, “O Worship the King,” by Robert Grant (1778-1838), is one of my favourites, not the least because of its vivid imagery and use of nature (Haydn doesn’t hurt either):

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, Thy power hath founded of old;
Established it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

O measureless might! Ineffable love!
While angels delight to worship Thee above,
The humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
With true adoration shall all sing Thy praise.

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Cross and the Jukebox

Anyone who knows me knows that I love music of all kinds; from Zeppelin to Zao, from the Dead to the Dead Kennedys, from the Chieftains to Creedence (I could go on and bore you to tears, I know). I grew up, however, listening to and loving country music. I don’t mean the Shania Twain/Tim McGraw knock-off country, I’m talking about Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, real country. Two country artists whose shadows loom over my upbringing and are still favourites of mine: Johnny Cash (who in my opinion transcends all genres) and Hank Williams.

Needless to say, I am thrilled that Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary, has started a new podcast called “The Cross and the Jukebox.” And I’m even more thrilled that his first two episodes deal with–you guessed it–Hank Williams and Johnny Cash! I’ve listened to the one on Williams, where Moore takes listeners through a fascinating exegesis of the country legend’s “I Saw The Light.” I had no idea that the background to the composing of the lyrics was so non-spiritual, the song has always given me chills, but now there is a sad gravitas that accompanies my listening of it. I’m about to listen to the one on Cash and “Ring of Fire.”

I’ve long appreciated Moore’s weaving in his love of country music with his discussions of theology and culture; in particular his piece on Johnny Cash for Touchstone entitled, “Real Hard Cash.” So this podcast should be good (to prove to you my love of Cash, the decision to name our son Jackson was in large part influenced by our love of the song by Cash of the same name). What I like about the podcasts is Moore’s decision to tackle a particular song rather than an artist. This gives him time to go deep into important artifacts of our culture (i.e. the music) and he can return to particular artists again and again. I hope he devotes some time in later podcasts to a number of Cash’s “American Recordings” albums.

So, if you have any taste (meaning, you love real country music), then check out what Moore has to say. Thoughtful stuff thus far! I hope he does an episode on Hazel Dickens in the near future!

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Ehrman Project

The Ehrman Project is a website run by Myles O’Neill of UNC Chapel Hill dedicated to answering the scholarship of famed New Testament scholar, and critic of Christianity, Bart Ehrman. Below is a video of O’Neill explaining the purpose of the project:

This looks to be a good resource not only for dealing with the challenges Ehrman brings to the bible, but to also deal with other related issues like gnostic gospels, textual criticism, canonics, apparent contradictions, early Christian devotion to Jesus, etc. It includes videos with D. A. Carson, Ben Witherington, Alvin Plantinga, Daniel Wallace and other such scholars answering questions on such subjects. {HT: Euangelion}

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Midweek Prayer – An Evangelical Tradition

“Corporate prayer was felt to be barely less essential to a congregation. ‘The weekly prayer-meeting’ it was said, ‘is the pulse of the church.’ If the prayer meeting was enthusiastic and well attended, the vitality of the congregation could be guaranteed. Normally held on a weeknight evening, it offered an opportunity for lay members to offer spontaneous prayers.”

David W. Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody A History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 84.

I’m especially appalled when I hear of Christians who do not attend prayer meeting at their church, especially if they’re members. They expect all of the privileges of membership without any commitment. I am acquainted with one church of over two-hundred where almost no one attends the midweek prayer meeting. The response? Cancel prayer meeting. I know another church that makes prayer meeting a requirement for membership, that is orally affirmed in the church covenant, and a person who does not have a reasonable excuse for their absence, can be removed from the membership.

What is especially despicable is when church leaders themselves don’t attend prayer meeting. This, in my mind, is disqualification for eldership. I know I write harshly, but prayer meeting is ballast both for the individual Christian and for the church. While it is not as important as Lord’s Day worship, it is nonetheless indispensable. As demonstrated from the quote above, this is an evangelical tradition–one that I hope does not get lost.

***UPDATE***

Many thanks to Bob T. who commented on this. He rightly points out that there are some who cannot make prayer meeting for legitimate reasons, he cites work as an example. We could add to that list seniors and young mothers who may also have reasonable excuses for missing prayer meeting. I should have been clearer in my original post and qualified my concern for those who have no good reason not to attend.

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Shai Linne – William Tyndale

Here’s some rhymes by Shai Linne about the English Reformer William Tyndale, famous for translating the Bible into English for the common person, who was martyred:

 

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More on Bonhoeffer and Metaxas

Further on my earlier post (scroll down), Tim Challies links to Richard Weikart’s excellent article critiquing Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer. This goes into much further detail than the one I linked to in my post and comes from an evangelical perspective. Check out “Metaxas’ Counterfeit Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Critique.”

***UPDATE*** Carl Trueman offers his thoughts, making a useful comparison between the reception of Bonhoeffer in evangelical circles with that of C. S. Lewis: “Bonhoeffer and Anonymous Christians.”

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The Cost of Messiahship

John Bell, pastor of New City Baptist Church in Toronto, preached a great sermon this morning entitled “Messiahship and Discipleship” from Mark 8:22-38 – the famous passage where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” John’s intro is worth considering:

On the 9th of April, 1940, Adolf Hitler launched his Blitzkrieg attack across Europe. In less thanthree months, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France were all under the Nazi yoke. The Allied troops had been pushed to the English Channel, waiting what looked like certain annihilation on the beaches of Dunkirk. But English fishermen and tugboat captains crossed the channel in their vessels and evacuated 338,000 troops while the RAF kept the Luftwaffe at bay in the skies overhead.

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Luther on Translation

“You’ve got to go out and ask the mother in her house, the children in the street, the ordinary man at the market. Watch their mouths move when they talk, and translate that way. Then they’ll understand you and realise that you are speaking German to them.”

“In Mark 14:4 the traitor Judas says Ut quid perditio ista unguenti facta est? If I followed those lemmings and literalists, I’d have to render that ‘Why was this waste of ointment made?’ What kind of talk is that? Whoever talks about ‘making a waste of ointment’? You make a mess not a waste, and anybody who heard you talking about making a waste would naturally think you are actually making something, when it fact you were unmaking it — though that still sounds pretty vague (nobody unmakes a waste either). What a real person would say, of course, is ‘What a waste!'”

Both quotations cited in Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 185, 195.

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Reading Bonhoeffer

I do not pretend to be an expert on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but the little I know of him gives me both cause for admiration and concern. Of course I, like most people, admire his courageous stand against Adolf Hitler that ultimately resulted in Bonhoeffer’s execution. I also admire him as a powerful thinker whose writings have served to greatly influence twenty- and twenty-first-century theology. His popular books such as Cost of Discipleship and Life Together have long been sources of encouragement for Christians as works of devotion. But my concern lies in the fact that Bonhoeffer was not an evangelical (in the North American sense of the term) and his theology does not square with evangelical theology. Yet, in spite of this, evangelicals have adopted Bonhoeffer as one of their (our) own and have thus read him both uncritically and uncharitably.

Lately I have had some discussions about this with a friend who knows Bonhoeffer much better than I do (this friend, also, does not profess to be an expert) and the conclusion is that many evangelical works on Bonhoeffer, including the recent biography by Eric Metaxas, do not seem to understand their subject. This has bothered me, even more-so as I have read through a large number of reviews of Metaxas’ work by evangelicals–including many scholars who should know better–to find very little in the way of criticism both of Bonhoeffer or Metaxas.

Now, I am all for reading someone with whom I have severe disagreements in order to glean some good from their writings (see my “Reading and Error“). So this is not a screed against reading anything outside of our tradition. But I am saying that it is patently wrong to read someone with whom we differ so vastly as if they held to our view to serve an agenda. We must read Bonhoeffer with the goggles of his own day and context–namely dialectical theology, liberalism and continental philosophy–rather than with the goggles of conservative evangelicalism.

Clifford Green writes on this trend to misinterpret Bonhoeffer in Christian Century, an essay aptly titled “Hijacking Bonhoeffer.” I recommend it to any evangelical who wants to see in Bonhoeffer a super-hero who supports their own theology (alongside dispelling the myths, Green notes the numerous factual errors in Metaxas’ book that also go unnoticed in reviews). Read Bonhoeffer, yes; but do so sympathetic to his own situation and thought. To do any less is to actually do harm to the legacy of this Christian hero.

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Filed under articles, books, church history, dietrich bonhoeffer, history, hitler

Abortion from the Inside

 

Nine Weeks Gestation

Abby Johnson worked for Planned Parenthood for eight-years counselling women to have abortions. Her worldview changed, however, when she actually had to take part in an abortion where she witnessed the death of the baby on an ultrasound machine. She has written a book about her experience, Unplanned, an excerpt of which is found here. I quote one tear-provoking section:

At first, the baby didn’t seem aware of the cannula. It gently probed the baby’s side, and for a quick second I felt relief. Of course, I thought. The fetus doesn’t feel pain. I had reassured countless women of this as I’d been taught by Planned Parenthood. The fetal tissue feels nothing as it is removed. Get a grip, Abby. This is a simple, quick medical procedure. My head was working hard to control my responses, but I couldn’t shake an inner disquiet that was quickly mounting to horror as I watched the screen.

The next movement was the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if it were trying to move away from the probing invader. As the cannula pressed its side, the baby began struggling to turn and twist away. It seemed clear to me that it could feel the cannula, and it did not like what it was feeling. And then the doctor’s voice broke through, startling me.

“Beam me up, Scotty,” he said lightheartedly to the nurse. He was telling her to turn on the suction — in an abortion the suction isn’t turned on until the doctor feels he has the cannula in exactly the right place.

I had a sudden urge to yell, “Stop!” To shake the woman and say, “Look at what is happening to your baby! Wake up! Hurry! Stop them!”

May this book have a wide reading {HT: Denny Burk}.

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Leland Ryken on the KJV

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the bible Crossway is publishing a book by Leland Ryken called The Legacy of the King James Bible. Here Dr. Ryken is interviewed by Justin Taylor:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/17415077

Justin Taylor Interview: Leland Ryken, “The History of the King James Bible” from Crossway on Vimeo.

 

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Haykin’s Two Questions

Michael Haykin asks “Two Simple Questions” that I think are important enough to be reprinted here in their entirety {HT: Trevin Wax}:

Here is a simple question: If a Christian community is regularly speaking of reconciliation to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, and that by sovereign grace alone, but is rent by divisions with little or no actual reconciliation between the various groups within this community, what should we say about this community?

Here is another: If a Christian community is passionate about truth but has no obvious relish for unity with others who preach the same fundamental truths, and if they never speak about these others, let alone pray for them, what does this say about this community?

I know what I think, what about you?

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Ussher Thesis Abstract

The Gospel Witness published a copy of my master of theology thesis abstract in their October edition, I reprint it here:

Whenever I have a conversation about James Ussher (1581-1656), the subject of my recent master of theology thesis, the question about his view of the earth’s age comes up. Ussher is famous for nominating October 23, 4004 BC as the date that God created the heavens and earth. While biblical genealogy was an important aspect of Ussher’s studies, it would be an over-simplification to think that his Annals of the World is his most important work. In the nineteenth-century Ussher’s Works were compiled into seventeen volumes that ranged across a large territory of scholarship including church government, Pelagianism, the Septuagint, and the veracity of the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. Ussher was a biblical-theologian as well as a master text-critic, philologist and patrologist.

It is this last aspect of Ussher studies that I worked on for my thesis. In particular, I studied a document that he published entitled Immanuel, or, The Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God (1638). This short tract is a clear exposition of the person and work of Christ that is well-situated within the western theological tradition. My purpose was to trace the patristic language of Immanuel, evaluating how Ussher used key terminology that was crystallized at the Council of Chalcedon (451). In addition to this I also produced a critical edition of Immanuel comparing the eleven editions that had been published in Ussher’s lifetime.

This work was completed under the supervision of Michael Haykin, to whom I am profoundly thankful for all of the help that he offered. My readers were Dennis Ngien of Tyndale Seminary and Crawford Gribben of Trinity College Dublin. My experience both in terms of the research/writing and the defence was exceptional. I experienced great love and care from my brothers in Christ as I was challenged and encouraged in terms of the work I had done and the future course of continued education that I should take. Thank are also due to TBS for providing an environment where learning and piety are wed that makes academic studies profitable for both the academy and the church.

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Guido de Bres

Here is a neat cartoon advertising a children’s book about Guido de Bres (1522-1567), the man behind the Belgic Confession:

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Baptists, Signs and Rationalism

I have a further thought regarding R. Scott Clark’s recent series on baptism that he posted on his Heidelblog. In the fifth part, near the end, he says, “Baptists know that they, like Reformed congregations, have unregenerate members but by administering baptism only to those who make a profession of faith they are doing what they can to ensure a regenerate membership. From a Reformed view of covenant theology it is quite difficult to see how this is not, at bottom, a form of rationalism. If it is rationalism that would not be surprising since an over-realized eschatology, which Luther called a theology of glory (theologia gloriae (sic) is just another form of rationalism.”

Knowing that Dr. Clark would disagree with paedocommunion, is he not open to the same charge? If the church only administers this sacrament to those who have been confirmed (or whatever the URC does in light of confirmation), is that also not a form of rationalism? Only in this instance the minister is making a decision to withhold the cup from someone who has actually been baptised and for all intents and purposes is “received into God’s church” (Belgic Confession, Article 34). If the minister can withhold this sacrament from a church member and not the other sacrament, this would appear, on Dr. Clark’s part, to be an even more insipid form of rationalism.

During the Halfway Covenant controversy it is well-known that Jonathan Edwards was removed from his charge in Northampton, Mass. This removal was instanced by Edwards’ refusal to allow members of a “halfway covenant” to the table. In his Distinguishing Marks of the Spirit of God he developed what he called “negative” and “positive signs” that demonstrated, for the sake of the church, whether or not the Spirit had converted someone. While Edwards recognised that the signs in and of themselves proved nothing in terms of whether a person was truly converted (i.e. it was not a sure sign for assurance), it did serve an ecclesiological function: namely, whether a person has given a credible profession of faith that would admit him or her to the privileges of the church. He delineates this in An Humble Inquiry where he says, “The question is not, whether Christ has made converting grace or piety itself the condition or rule of his people’s admitting any to the privileges of members in full communion with them: there is no one qualification of mind, whatsoever, that Christ has properly made the term of this; not so much as a common belief that Jesus is the Messiah, or a belief of the being of a God. ‘Tis the credible profession and visibility of these things, that is the church’s rule in this case. Christian piety or godliness may be a qualification requisite to communion in the Christian sacraments, just in the same manner as a belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Scriptures the Word of God, are requisite qualifications, and in the same manner as some kind of repentance is a qualification” (Works 12:176, emphasis mine).

Is Edwards here guilty of rationalism by seeking to “inquire” (pardon the pun) into the condition of a person’s heart in order to admit them to the privileges of the church? Worse, is Edwards not guilty of falling prey to the theology of glory as Luther would understand it in the Heidelberg Disputation? There Luther said, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” Is Edwards a “theologian” or not? Are Baptists theologians or not? Is R. Scott Clark a theologian or not? If we peer into the “invisible things” such as whether a child is converted and can take the eucharist, are we not undeserving of the title “theologian”? In regard to Edwards, Stephen Holmes would argue the opposite, that rather Edwards actually pushed Reformed orthodoxy further away from the theology of glory into a more (but not totally) consistent theologia crucis–Edwards’ overall theological enterprise views God’s glory through the cross, which is the burden of Holme’s work to demonstrate (Holmes, God of Grace, 76, 122-123).

It would be a stretch to accuse Baptists of rationalism when baptising only those who have given a credible profession of faith. I bring this up not to single out Dr. Clark, but as a sincere request to have this matter cleared for my own convictions. The last thing I want, as a Baptist, is to be guilty of rationalism or theologia gloriae. At this point, admittedly, I’m not convinced that I am.

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The New Covenant Community

R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster Seminary California, has recently posted a series on the differences between paedobaptists and credobaptists on the New Covenant. I appreciate the series for its clearness in expressing his views–while not the standard interpretation from a paedo view (one thinks of Richard Pratt’s take)–it is nonetheless extremely clear. I’m also thankful that the rhetoric that can be so common to such debates is toned down to a dull roar. That often masks the argument to such a degree that I rarely continue to the end. In this case, I read all five points with profit.

Dr. Clark is right to point out that the issue between the two groups really centers on the question, “In what sense is the New Covenant new?” I’ve had a number of discussions over the years with good friends who are paedobaptists and I’ve found that our disagreements almost always find their root at this point.

In Clark’s understanding, the New Covenant is entirely new in relation to the Mosaic Covenant, but is not entirely new in relation to the Abrahamic. In fact, the blessings of the New Covenant, that were first announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 are all found substantively in the Abrahamic Covenant. He says in Part 4: “In Jeremiah 31 the prophet anticipates five great blessings of the new covenant,” although he goes on to list only four: 1) an immutable covenant; 2) an interior piety; 3) an immediate knowledge; 4) an iniquity forgiven.

While I do not disagree that such blessings were indeed found in the Abrahamic Covenant–I would argue that they were found even before in the over-arching covenant of grace beginning at Genesis 3:15–the question is, “Are these blessings constitutive of the entire covenant community, or just those within the community who were ‘saved’ (for lack of a better term)?” For the believer, pre or post-Abrahamic Covenant, indeed they received such blessings. But what of the Jew who performed all of the ceremonies in a perfunctory manner, yet whose heart was not circumcised–an “unbelieving Jew” if you will–is he a recipient of these four blessings outlined by Jeremiah?

The argument for the credobaptist is that the blessings of Jeremiah 31 are for all of the members of the New Covenant. I don’t have to turn to fellow covenant members and tell them to know the Lord, because they already do. I don’t have to tell them to repent because they already have forgiveness of sins. This is so because they are members of an immutable covenant, have the law written on their hearts and have their sins forgiven in Christ.

So, while the issue between us is indeed the New Covenant, to be more specific, it is this: “Are the blessings of the New Covenant, promised by Jeremiah, for the covenant community as a whole?” If yes, then the difference between the Abrahamic is apparent, because this is not the case for that covenant. If the answer is no (to preserve the absolute correspondence with Abraham), then explain the language of law written on hearts, forgiveness of sins, etc.

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SSMI Blog – Books, Books, Books

My recent post at the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog is a wish-list of sorts, detailing good books that will be published in 2011: Books, Books, Books.

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