Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jules on Genesis 1

My good friend Julian Freeman is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Don Mills. He and I went to bible college and seminary together, and for a long while he was one of my pastors. Julian is one of those preachers who makes me feel like I should never ascend a pulpit again—he’s an incredibly clear, logical, affective, theological, practical preacher (and he never looks at his notes!). He recently preached from 1 Peter 5 at New City, and it was excellent. I’m so thankful for him.

Jules is preaching through Genesis at his church. Not long ago he preached on Genesis 1, and I must say, it is an excellent sermon. I highly, highly recommend it. He wisely sets God as the foundation of Genesis 1 and shows why we can’t approach the text by asking it scientifically-driven questions that are determined by our pagan, scientific culture. The text is about the who of creation, not the how. He and I hold the same view on this text, but though I’ve read much on it lately, I learned some good stuff from Julian. There is much wisdom in this sermon. I also wonder if he footnoted this blog in his sermon manuscript? :)

God, His World, His People (Part 1)

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Filed under audio, creation, genesis, grace fellowship church don mills, sermons

Calvin Documentary

This is from Faith Matters and is called “John Calvin: Reformer and Man of Controversy”:

Part 1

Part 2

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Filed under calvin, church history, video

Augustine the Mentor

I’ve been finding Edward Smither’s book Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders to be quite useful. As I was searching about for a quote, I came across Smither’s doctoral thesis “Principles of Mentoring Spiritual Leaders in the Pastoral Ministry of Augustine of Hippo,” (Here) completed at the University of Wales Lampeter. I must say, I’m a bit bummed out that I bought the book first, knowing the the thesis is online for free! Anyways, I thought I’d share the wealth. Here’s the abstract:

Though Augustine is highly regarded for his contribution to philosophy and theology, his primary occupation for the last forty years of his life was serving as the bishop of Hippo Regius. A highly personal man with a natural inclination to friendship, Augustine was a bishop monk who served the church while living in a monastic community with other clergy. Hence, he made monks out of his clergy and regarded the monastery as a group that existed to serve the church. Through intimate contact with the clergy of Hippo as well as spiritual leaders of the fourth and fifth century African church, Augustine emerged as a mentor to these leaders influencing them in their spiritual lives while practically resourcing them in their ministries. After proposing an early Christian model of mentoring spiritual leaders and discussing the background of mentoring in the third and fourth century church prior to Augustine’s episcopate, this study treats the primary forms and principles which characterized Augustine’s mentoring toward supporting the claim that he was both deliberate and effective at mentoring spiritual leaders.

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Filed under augustine, books, church history, mentoring, patristics

Wedgeworth Reviews Wright on Luther

Steven Wedgeworth, who blogs at Wedgewords, posted a thoughtful series of reviews on William J. Wright’s book Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms: A Response to the Challenge of Skepticism from the excellent series edited by Richard Muller called “Texts & Studies in Reformation & Post-Reformation Thought” {HT: Fulford}:

Introduction

Chapter 1- Interpretations of Luther’s Idea of the Two Kingdoms during the Last Two Centuries

Chapter 2- The Skeptical Challenge of the Early Italian Renaissance

Chapter 3- Northern Humanism: The Context of Luther’s Two Kingdoms

Chapter 4- The Two-Kingdoms Worldview: How Luther Used the Concept in Diverse Contexts

Chapter 5- The Reformer Applies the Two Kingdoms to the Christian Life

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Filed under books, martin luther, reviews

Orwell the Libertarian?

In 2011 I committed to work my way through the Orwell corpus, both books by and on him. I’ve read Selden’s biography, Hitch’s Why Orwell Matters, and then a slew of books by the man himself like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Homage to CataloniaThe Clergyman’s Daughter, Coming Up for Air, a pile of collected essays, and more. As one with libertarian leanings, there is a lot that I find congruent in Orwell’s writings. Of course, he was a socialist, so there are areas where I have strong disagreements with him. But his strong anti-totalitarianism makes any libertarian smile; that’s why he tends to be well-received in such circles.

I recently listened to a podcast by the Ludwig von Mises Institute on Orwell by Jeff Riggenbach that gave Orwell a decent placement in the libertarian tradition. Riggenbach claims that Orwell’s posthumously published “Such, Such Were the Joys,” forms the basis for his anti-totalitarian writings like Nineteen Eighty-Four. I tend to disagree. Orwell famously lambasted his teachers from St. Cyprian’s where he attended public school. But recent biographers have indicated that Orwell’s fellow students, like Cyril Connolly didn’t share in Orwell’s distaste. My theory is that Orwell wrote “Such, Such Were the Joys” as a partly fictionalized story of totalitarianism, using the genres of memoir and historical fiction. It’s probably why the essay was never published by Orwell himself–it was likely something he toyed with, but never took seriously. So instead of “Such, Such Were the Joys” forming the basis of later writings, it was his experiences of totalitarianism in places like Burma and Spain that had Orwell re-evaluate his public school days, if only to communicate his fears in a medium that may have interested his society; it is worth remembering that Orwell wrote about the popularity of “boys’ weeklies,” and may have wanted to tap into that market as well.

Just a thought…

Here’s the podcast:

http://mises.org/Services/MediaEmbed.aspx?MediaId=5072

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Filed under audio, libertarianism, ludwig von mises, orwell

Augustine and Charitable Authority

These are wise words:

Where charity is not present, the command of the authority is bitter. But where charity exists, the one who commands does so with sweetness and the charity makes the very work to be almost no work at all for the one who is commanded, even though in truth the subject is bound to some task.

Augustine, Commentary on the Letter of John to the Parthians, 9.1.

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Exegetical Populism

A number of years ago I was in a church where the pastor constantly spoke of the need to “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” What this meant was that preachers and teachers should make truth accessible to everyone in the church; to follow the metaphor, the baby Christians in the church should be able to reach the cookies. This is commendable—no pastor should preach in a way that opaque, technical terms are so loaded into a sermon that only specialists can understand. Implicit in the statement, though, is that the church should all remain eating cookies taken from the bottom shelf. It was definitely the case that this pastor did not want his congregation to grow beyond his sloganeering of theology; he came across as intelligent and profound, but I believe that there was an element of fear on his part that to have congregants surpass him in knowledge put him on the defensive.

While this scenario doesn’t work itself out in every church, there is a sense where Christians are kept from progressing in their knowledge of the faith. Whether from fear, or the lack of desire to do the grunt work of theological learning and teaching, churches leave their members gurgling on the milk of theology, when they could all be dining on grade A steak.

William B. Evans makes a similar observation in his essay hosted at the Reformation21 site called, “Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance: A Reply to G. I. Williamson.” Evans, who is Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, discusses the common misappropriation of the perspicuity of scripture among Reformed Christians. Continue reading

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Filed under exegesis, hermeneutics, scripture

Mark Jones on Tullian

Mark Jones freaks me out. No, not because he’s scary looking, however that may be the case, but because the guy is proving himself to be a prolific writer. Not a hack, mind you, his works are serious. Take for instance his doctoral dissertation on Thomas Goodwin from the University of Leiden (I love the look of terror in his eyes in the above picture of his thesis defense), or the work he co-edited on Reformed controversies with Michael Haykin published by the venerable Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. This is not to mention the beast of a book co-authored with Joel Beeke: A Puritan Theology. Generally when Dr. Jones writes something, I try and pay attention–even if he’s writing on paedobaptism or some other such Pelagianism…I mean Presbyterianism.

Recently Mark wrote a review of Tullian Tchividjian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything at the Meet the Puritans blog that he contributes to. In it he draws a comparison between the book and seventeenth-century antinomianism–not that Mark would call Tullian an outright antinomian, but that there are some dangers in Tullian’s approach that would fit in that general category. One of the key problems with the book, according to Jones, is Tullian’s version of the law/gospel distinction. He says: “The section on the law and the gospel in the book evinces a problem with certain versions of the law-gospel antithesis, especially when this antithesis is read into the Christian life and not just simply justification…In essence, my concern has to do with the fact that a number of biblical passages are read in a manner where people automatically assume that the text is driving us to Christ for justification when in fact the text is saying nothing of the sort.” The whole review, though long, is well-worth digesting.

The substance of the review is picked up in an interview that Mark did with the guys at Reformed Forum. I like the interview primarily for the opening bit where one of Mark’s kids is acting out in the background, and Mark is doing his darndest to get him to pipe down–even Presbyterians have to deal with kids disobeying it seems, we Baptists aren’t alone! Aside from that, however, Mark helps with the historical problems of antinomianism, and again points to related problems in Tullian’s book. Sadly, Christians today are imbibing the tendencies evident in the book under review, and so Mark brings us back to a healthy model of gospel-grounded obedience. We are free, yes indeed; but we are free to obey Christ. Hopefully the Reformed and Puritan vision of justification and sanctification can be grasped and grappled with for the sake of the holiness of Christ’s people. I think ole Jonesy does a good job at bringing us back to that grounding.

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Filed under antinomianism, justification, mark jones, reformed forum, sanctification, tullian tchividjian

Luther Dipped

I almost became a Presbyterian, it was years ago, and I still feel the swoosh of the cars under my feet as I hung off a ragged precipice ready to jump. Those were scary times. Now I’m quite a convinced, dyed-in-the-wool Baptist, and in my better days I think of baptizing babies with only minor horror. But with that all to say, when I consider the Presbyterian view of baptism, I can at least catch a glimmer of a rationale behind it, I can see a haze of a biblical argument. But when it comes to the Lutheran view, ach wo!

Westminster Confession 28.1 speaks of baptism as the admission into the church, and while it goes on to say that it is regeneration, remission of sins, etc., WCF 28.6 says that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time when it is administered–therefore baptismal regeneration is avoided, notwithstanding the head-scratching of many Baptists like myself.

However, when you read major Lutheran statements on baptism, one goes from head scratching to head pounding…on a brick wall. The denomination whose founder was so strong on justification by faith alone leaves all that negated; or at the very least, faith alone is “preserved” through a series of back-spasm-provoking exegetical back-flips that leaves you heaving in a whirl of pain waiting for the demerol to kick in.

The pain of course comes from baptismal regeneration. In his “Sermon on Baptism” from 1534, Luther says that baptism brings the new believer “out of sin into righteousness, out of guilt and condemnation to innocence and grace, out of death into eternal life” (WA, 37:645.17-18). Later he says that the Christian is drawn by Christ “out of unrighteousness, condemnation, wickedness, death. He draws us through baptism into righteousness, life, and goodness. Where does baptism get that kind of power? It has God as the one who is at work in it” (“Sermon on Baptism,” 1538, WA, 46.175.37). He believed that the power of Christ’s suffering was brought into baptism, and that the waters of baptism “make atonement.” In effect, Luther believed that baptism washes away original sin.

Now, if you are a Baptist with a high sacramentology, and you argue for a deep relationship, though a distinction, between the “sign” and the “thing signified,” you may not be a baptismal regenerationist, because faith can still be a predicate. But when you are Luther, or a Lutheran, you believe this happens to a child, and faith cannot be a predicate. Well, unless you think that a newborn child can have faith that is, but who would believe that? Oh…Luther does: “Baptism is true. If it is possible that children do not have faith–and that they cannot demonstrate it–nevertheless, we should piously believe that God himself baptizes children and gives them faith and the Holy Spirit. That follows from the text” (“Sermons on Baptism,” 1539, WA, 47.655.1). I love that last line, it’s as if he says it to reassure us in light of our incredulity that it is in the text at all.

What is more incredulity-rendering is this: “But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it” (Larger Catechism XIII.4). So, faith alone saves–check. That faith must have an object–check. This faith must cling to…the waters of baptism. Sure, it is not mere water, but a water that is “embodied in the Word,” but please tell me how this does not heave works or merit into the mix. I love Luther, I want to read Luther as charitably as possible, I don’t think he was a heretic…but this just doesn’t make sense!

While Luther says that baptism is a work of God, and not of us, he cannot get away from the fact that baptism is a command that must be submitted to, and is therefore rightly understood as a work. As D. Patrick Ramsey says, “Since justification does not occur apart from the reception of the sacrament of baptism, the doctrine of justification is compromised because we are not justified by faith alone but by faith and baptism. One must believe and be baptized. Luther’s qualifications notwithstanding, his view inevitably turns baptism into a work” (“Sola Fide Compromised? Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Baptism” in Themelios 34.2). Luther also stumbles on the rock of Christian perseverance, because in his theology a baptized (note: regenerated) person can fall away from faith. This explains why later Lutherans do not espouse a theology of perseverance of the saints.

There is an object lesson in all of this: we must be wary of uncritical adulation of heroes. Luther was a great man, and his contribution to the defense of the gospel should be respected. But Luther, as an early Reformer, had significant problems. Sadly, his problems have flowed into later Lutheranism that has picked up the inconsistencies that he sought (though failed) to avoid, and run with them. Luther was the man for the hour in the Magisterial Reformation, he was a good Reformer, but he was not an exegete. There is a reason why commentaries on Galatians, or Romans today quote Luther sparingly, but Calvin figures large–the latter was skilled with the text of Scripture, the former was not. Luther should be read, but he must be read with a critical eye, and the areas where he failed must be admitted, and the theology must be rejected.

I am, of course, much more comfortable with these words about baptism: “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance,” and “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance” (Second London Confession of Faith, 29.1 and 4). Ah, home sweet home.

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Filed under baptism, justification, martin luther

The Supper as Means of Grace

Richard Barcellos, a Reformed Baptist author and pastor in the States, posted his lecture given to an ARBCA meeting last year on the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace. I’ve linked them below because I think that they are quite instructive. Because they are his lecture notes, they are mostly point form. But he gives a good argument for understanding the “real presence” or “spiritual presence” in the Supper:

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 1

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 2

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 3

The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 4

You can also watch an interview with Barcellos on the subject:

Q&A with Dr. Barcellos and John Divito | ARBCA GA from MCTS on Vimeo.

 

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Filed under eucharist, richard barcellos

I Hate Rude Behaviour In A Man, Won’t Tolerate It

Speaking of Lonesome Dove, this is one of my favourite scenes from the film:

And this would be another – “to the sunny slopes of long ago”:

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That’ll Be The Day

Carl Trueman often finds himself in the thick of it when it comes to debates in evangelicalism, which of course should come natural to him as a middle-aged, white, Reformed guy. But unfortunately he’s not living up to the standards of MAWR, as displayed at the end of a recent interview he conducted on a very serious topic. Now, before I get into the true nitty-gritty of Trueman’s MAWR failure, it should be said that he made his faux pas fully aware of the ecclesial ramifications of his actions. I believe that he’s broken his confessional standard, and for this I am truly sorry. Whereas I was once a big fan of his writings, I fear that I must cease-and-desist from reading any and all that comes from his pen–I speak as an aspiring MAWR, a catechumen if you will, as I have yet to hit my fourth decade.

So, in what way did “Dr.” Trueman break his confessional vows? In the Solemn League and Covenant, a statement specifically adopted by an as-yet published revision of the Westminster Confession, it says plainly: “I solemnly covenant to league myself with those who rightly uphold the following: to read, watch, and admire Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove novel, and film, and cry when Gus dies; to defend the honour of John Wayne, even when he acted in a real stinker like The Conqueror.” Sadly, Trueman outed himself  as a “hater” (though thankfully he maintained his love for The Searchers), and didn’t list Lonesome Dove in his top-four westerns–while his top four was pretty impressive, I wouldn’t think that even ole Henry would admit to outdoing Bobby Duvall or Tommy Lee Jones. Sure John Wayne’s real name was Marion, but should that effect our exegesis of so many brilliant texts? Why wouldn’t our British friend at least have some sympathies for a man who could stand alongside Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man? It makes me want to spit my tobacky on my poor dog’s head.

And while we’re on the subject of heresy—and modalism ain’t got nothin’ on this—why no Magnificent Seven? Why no Jeremiah Johnson? Not even Rio Bravo? Oh, of course, he doesn’t like John Wayne! Not even for the crooning of Ricky Nelson?!

Finally, what amazes me even more than this—what can you expect from a Presbyterian?—is that there seemed to be a hushed acquiescence on the part of his interviewer, Clint Humfrey—shouldn’t he have lived up to his namesake and blasted the Tuco in his midst?—and the audience. Humfrey has preaching boots for pete’s sake! And here Trueman sits in front of a crowd in Calgary, Alberta, where movies like Open Range were filmed, where business execs wear cowboy hats to lunch, and he gets away with murder. Where is the Steve McQueen or Yul Brenner in their midst who would bury the slain? Is there no justice?

So, if Dr. Trueman wants a show-down on the great evangelical wasteland, and his posse chickens out and runs for the hills, who will he turn to for help? This gunslinger? In the words of a movie great, “That’ll be the day.”

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Filed under carl trueman, film, movies, westerns