Category Archives: books

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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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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Reading 2011

This past year I used my blog to keep track of the books I read. I had a healthy competition with my friend Mark Nenadov, although my list only included real books, while his also had e-books and audio books (!). Mark read 40 actual books (I won’t tell you the number if you include the others), and I, sadly, only hit 39. I’ve posted the titles and date of completion below as a more permanent record of them. I didn’t include a book if I didn’t finish it, so I have a number that could possibly be on the list. For instance, I read Tom Sawyer by Twain, but I didn’t finish Huckleberry Finn, but they were both part of a single volume. Also, I read about 95% of Pelikan’s 5th volume in his The Christian Tradition series. Honesty is the policy!

What’s interesting to me is to see how many works of fiction I read. It hit me over a year ago that for the last ten or so years of my life I’d been reading theology, history, and philosophy to the neglect of literature. I finished my master’s thesis in September 2010, so I devoted my time afterwards to try and catch up on fiction. Noteworthy books of 2011 were those by or on Orwell, Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

What’s also interesting is that when I look back on the list, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I read those books, and I can often remember with some clarity where I was when I read a particular book. It’s strange to be able to mark our your year by the books that were read.

This coming year, with the hope of being in a doctoral program, means that the next list will have a lot more non-fiction. But with the good start I had last year with literature, I hope to keep it up—in fact, I want reading literature to maintain a life-long interest. I hope to read some more Dickens because it is the 200th anniversary of his birth this February. I’m also hoping to finish the Orwell corpus this year, as well as Taylor’s biography of him. I’ll keep a record of it here.

So, here’s the list of 2011:

1) Stephen R. Holmes, God of Grace and God of Glory: An Account of the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (completed Jan. 9, 2011).

2) Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (completed Jan. 17, 2011).

3) George Orwell, Why I Write (completed Jan. 29/30, 2011).

4) Carl R. Trueman, Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History (completed Jan. 31, 2011).

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The Local Theological Bookstore

Tim Challies has a post on his blog called “The Local Christian Bookstore,” spurred by an article at Slate on the recent Amazon.com marketing tactic that many decry as being anti-small-business. In the post, Tim talks about not agreeing with those who say there is an ought required in the argument for Christians to support local Christian bookstores. He says this especially because so many Christian bookstores sell junk–whether of the published, or trinket variety–and aren’t worth supporting in the first place. Why not support Westminster Books or even Amazon, when you can cut through the garbage, and get good bargains?

I agree with most of what Tim says on this. I’m hard pressed to find an ought involved in the discussion, and I also agree that so many Christian bookstores aren’t worth the time spent perusing their shelves.

But, I do want to add something to Tim’s post that gives shade of a different perspective; one that comes mostly from my own experience. I’m not writing this at all to force my experience on others, only with the hopes of adding a bit of nuance and perspective.

I work at Crux Books that is housed at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. While many may want to call us a Christian bookstore, I don’t look at what we do that way (Note: I am speaking solely for myself, and am not speaking officially for the store or the owners!); rather, I see us as a theological bookstore. It may sounds like semantics, but for me, it makes a world of difference. At Crux, you will find books that cut across a wide spectrum in terms of denominations and theological content. We carry books by John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem, alongside ones by Pope Benedict, John Meyendorff, and Gerd Thiessen. We have books on Reformed theology, Catholic theology, and eco-theology. You’re as likely to find a book by Daniel Dennett on our shelves as you are books by Alvin Plantinga. What you won’t find, is Jesus Junk, Testamints, or hokey books by the lowest-common denominator evangelicals or otherwise. The difference between Crux and Christian bookstores is that we trade primarily in quality books related to theology that represent the wide swathe of Christianity.

One of the reasons for the variety of theological perspectives at Crux has little to do with the store’s own theological bent. Rather, we sell textbooks to the theological colleges of Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, as well as some other departments in classics and philosophy. So, we do textbooks for the low-Anglican Wycliffe College, the high-Anglican Trinity College, the United Church Emmanuel College, the Department of Religious Studies at U of T, the Roman Catholic St. Michael’s College and Regis College, the Presbyterian Knox College, and interestingly, Toronto Baptist Seminary.

And I think what we do is a great service to the wider theological, and yes, church community. Although I am proudly a Reformed Baptist, I am glad that there is a place that I can go to buy books by theologians who differ vastly from my perspective. It is important for me, as an historical theologian (in training!) to be reading the Orthodox historian John Behr, as much as it is that I be reading Peter Leithart. I need a place to go where the staff are mostly trained in theology, some of whom are working on or have PhD’s, who can recommend all of the latest and most relevant books on whatever subject I’m looking for. I can talk to Ronnie about which Greek/Hebrew grammar to buy, to Heather about standard books on women’s studies, Cindy on spirituality, Alain on classics, etc. We are like a walking annotated bibliography that will only be a help to those wanting to know more about books in their field.

And probably most relevant to the whole Amazon discussion (Amazon is a curse-word in our store!), is that we offer our books at an awesome price! First-time customers come in the store and see our price-tags that have two prices listed on them. They always ask, “Am I paying the higher or lower price?” We delight to explain to them that the higher price on the tag is the regular retail price that they would have to pay at most stores (including Amazon), and that the lower price is our own, discounted price. Typically (though not always), Crux sells their books at a cost of 20% less than the typical retail store. We also will have crazy discounts on certain items, sales that range from 50% to 90% off, and we have a phenomenal used section upstairs where great bargains are found. Most often, we undercut our competition. If a customer needs to order a book, we can typically get it in 3-5 business days. We ship all across the world (sometimes we’ve shipped to missionaries on remote islands), and will do conference book-tables anywhere we’re needed. We also have great coffee, hot chocolate, tea and cappuccino! So if price is an issue, which I think is legitimate (especially for starving theology students), then Crux is still the place to go.

So, with this shameless appeal, I want to make sure that Crux is distinguished from the kitschy bookstores that Tim is talking about. And I want advocate for a differentiation in language between “Christian” bookstores and “theological” bookstores, because the latter has a broad range of subject matter reflecting a broad range of theological orthodoxy, that serves the church as well as the academy.

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Resources on Creation and the Framework View

“By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine” (ESV Study Bible note for Genesis 1:3-5).

History

Robert Letham: “In the Space of Six Days”: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly – Reformed theologian Robert Letham’s, who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, article for the Westminster Theological Journal that deals with the history of interpretation of the creation days in Genesis from the church fathers to the Westminster Assembly. Letham concludes there there is no consensus in church history as to what the days mean. This is must reading for anyone studying the issue of creation days.

William S. Barker: “The Westminster Assembly On the Days of Creation: A Reply to David W. Hall.” Barker is a published expert on the Westminster Assembly and taught church history at Westminster Seminary (PA) until his retirement. This essay was published in the Westminster Theological Journal in 2000 and is an historical response to young earth creationist David Hall. Barker argues that there was no uniform view of the creation days among the Westminster Divines and thus the statement about “in the space of six days” was primarily a refutation of the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation held in the middle ages. Ministerial candidates should not have to declare an exception to the Standards’ teaching on six days because of the ambiguity of the language. Unfortunately a subscription is required to view this essay, but I have it in its entirety as a PDF.

Max Rogland, “Ad Litteram: Some Dutch Reformed Theologians on the Creation Days.” This essay, from Westminster Theological Journal (Fall 2001), written by a presbyterian minister, and professor of OT at Erskine College, and who has a PhD in OT from Leiden, argues that it is erroneous to say that late-twentieth century and early twenty-first century Dutch Reformed theologians held to the 24 hour, six day creation. He evaluates Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, Schilder, and some synods to demonstrate this. The only Dutch theologian who possibly held the 24 hour view was Vos, but it is hard to tell from his writings. This link requires a subscription, but I have it in PDF if anyone wants it.

Confessional Subscription

None of the sixteenth-century Reformed confessions mention the days of creation, because to this point in church history there was no consensus on them, thus it was not a confessional issue.

Westminster Seminary and the Days of Creation – Westminster Theological Seminary’s (PA) statement on the days of creation and how their faculty have historically understood them in light of inerrancy. WTS upholds inerrancy and allows for various young-earth and old-earth interpretations. They argue that “in the space of” as a qualifier for the “six days” is a refutation of Augustine’s view of instantaneous creation, not a reflection of the Standards’ view of the creation days themselves. Westminster Confession subscriptionists such as Hodge, Warfield, Machen, Young did not see their “day age” views as contradictory of the Standards.

Creation Report of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church – Study Committee on Creation’s report to the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The report concludes that the major evangelical views (days of ordinary length, day age, days of unspecified length, the framework view, the analogical day view) square with the statements about creation in the Westminster Standards. Subscription to “six days” can be preserved through different permissible understandings of the word “day.” Note: The OPC is a conservative and Reformed denomination in the US and Canada that was founded by Machen and requires subscription to the Westminster Standards by their ministers.

Creation Report of the Presbyterian Church in America – This is a report that is similar to the OPC’s noted above, and came out before the OPC’s. Like the OPC, the PCA requires their ministers to subscribe to the Westminster Standards. The report concludes with the recommendation (that was accepted by the General Assembly): “That since historically in Reformed theology there has been a diversity of views of the creation days among highly resected (sic) theologicans, and, since the PCA has from its inception allowed a diversity, that the Assembly affirm that such diversity as covered in this report is acceptable as long as the full historicity of the creation account is accepted.”

Hermeneutics and the Creation Wars by R. Scott Clark. This essay is written to relate the hermeneutical principles of the Reformation, including the principle of sola scriptura, to the recent “creation wars.” Clark is a historical theologian who specializes in the Reformation and post-Reformation periods; he teaches at Westminster in California. Clark is concerned with showing that to hold a Framework reading of Genesis is in line with a Reformed hermeneutic.

Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance by William B. Evans. This is a response to G. I. Williamson who argued that a plain reading of Genesis 1, read as if a non-trained Christian were reading it, will lead one to a young earth, six day creation view. Evans is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister, a professor at Erskine College, was an editor of the New Geneva Study Bible, has written for Banner of Truth, and is a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals where he blogs at Reformation 21 (edited by Derek Thomas). This essay argues against “exegetical populism,” and in favour of tolerance for all evangelical views of creation including the Framework, Day Age and Analogical Day views.

Framework View

The Framework Interpretation: An Exegetical Summary by Lee Irons. A very readable introduction to the framework view. This was originally published in the Ordained Servant, a magazine for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Irons co-wrote a chapter with Meredith Kline in The Genesis Debate book that I read and found very convincing, and this essay (though more popular) has the same exegetical rigour. Especially good is the discussion of “temporal recapitulation.” This is a great place to start for an understanding of this view.

Framework Interpretation by various authors. This article is a combination of lengthy selections from other written material on the framework view. It is quite introductory and easy to read; the charts give a visual picture of what is going on in Genesis 1. The second excerpt is quite helpful in its discussion of how the “formless and void” is being filled by the two triads of days.

Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony by Meredith Kline – This was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith journal in 1996. At the time of writing, Kline taught at Westminster Seminary in California, before that he taught at Westminster in PA, Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon Conwell. Kline was a major Old Testament scholar and was one of the principal teachers of the framework view. This essay is very influential.

Because It Had Not Rained by Meredith Kline. From the Westminster Theological Journal written in 1958. This was Kline’s earlier contribution to the development of the “framework” view. He argues for the use of “ordinary providence” in the creation narrative, based upon Gen. 2:5.

Because It Had Rained: A Study of Genesis 2:5-7 With Implications for Gen. 2:4-25 and Gen. 1:1-2:3 by Mark Futato – This was written for Westminster Theological Journal as a compliment to the previously linked article by Kline. Futato is currently Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, though at the time of writing he taught at Westminster Seminary (California).

Origins by Justin Taylor. This is a blogpost that summarizes the Futato article linked above, written from the “analogical day” perspective. Taylor is the editor of the ESV Stuby Bible and is VP of the editorial board of Crossway Publishers. Before going to Crossway, he worked for John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries. Taylor’s blog, Between Two Worlds, is one of the most widely read evangelical blogs.

God Created the Heavens and the Earth by Kim Riddlebarger. This is a sermon preached by Riddlebarger at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, of which he is pastor with Mike Horton. This sermon is from a Framework perspective and shows how naturally this view springs from the text of scripture. Riddlebarger is one of the hosts of the White Horse Inn radio program.

Thoughts on Those Genesis Days by Rowland S. Ward. The author is a very conservative Australian Presbyterian minister who is an expert in Reformed theology. This article defends the Framework Interpretation from a biblical, theological, and historical position, and shows that it does not break with the “Three Forms of Unity” (Dort, Belgic, Heidelberg). He also deals with criticisms that a non-24hr 6-day view is not in keeping with a plain reading of the text and is on a slippery slope.

Review of Douglas Kelly’s Creation and Change by Lee Irons. Douglas Kelly wrote a defense of young-earth creation that is critical of old earth views. He devotes a chapter to critiquing the Framework view. Lee Irons writes a pretty thorough response.

Sermon on Genesis 1:1 by J. V. Fesko. This sermon was preached by Fesko, prof. of systematic and historical theology at Westminster California, at Geneva OPC in Woodstock, GA. He makes the interesting point that the creationist movement has its roots in Seventh Day Adventism and dispensationalism.

Animal Death Before the Fall by Lee Irons. Evaluates the four key texts used to argue that there was no animal death before the Fall, and two texts that support the idea.

Books 

Bill T. Arnold, Encountering the Book of Genesis: A Study of Its Content and Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 24, argues for the framework view of creation days (see Table 1.1).

Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVaristy Press, 1984). When I first read this book I was deeply impressed by how well-rounded it was in terms of exegesis, theology and philosophy. Blocher taught at Wheaton, and his other book Original Sin is the lead book in Don Carson’s “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series.

David Hagopian (ed.) The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (Mission Viejo: Crux Press, 2001). Contributors: Ligon Duncan and David Hall (24 hour view); Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer (day age); Lee Irons and Meredith Kline (Framework). I believe this was the first book I read on the subject, rather innocently. I was surprised by how poorly the 24 hour perspective was argued, because I highly respect Duncan and Hall and love their work. Their chapter was full of generalizations and dismissals, and I didn’t feel that it really had much of an argument. The Ross and Archer chapter seemed to be too influenced by science and had little in the way of exegesis. The Framework view by Irons and Kline is strong exegetically, very well argued, and deals decisively with criticisms. It’s worth the price of the book just for their chapter.

James M. Houston, I Believe in the Creator (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, ). Houston is the founder and first chancellor of Regent College in Vancouver. Before that he taught engineering at Oxford University, where he also did his PhD. He has written a number of books on theology and spirituality, including a reprint of John Owen’s work on sin. In I Believe in the Creator, he argues for the framework reading of Genesis 1, based on the “forming and filling” triad.

Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2006). This is the reprint of his important book on Genesis that became a standard exposition of the Framework interpretation. Here is a PDF of the first forty pages.

Peter Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, ). Leithart, a noted Reformed theologian who did his PhD at Cambridge and teaches at New St. Andrews College, argues for the framework reading of Genesis 1 on page 45 of this book.

Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006). Numbers, is a former Seventh Day Adventist; he is also an historian of Adventism and an expert on the history of science. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin, and in this book demonstrates that the young earth creationist movement has its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition,  American fundamentalism, and is a recent view in the history of the church. The book is endorsed by George Marsden.

Ronald L. Numbers, “The Creationists” in Zygon 22.2 (June 1987): 133-164. This article contains the substance of his arguments in the book noted above. I have it as a PDF if anyone wants it.

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009). This entire book is an exegesis of Genesis 1, and demonstrates in detail the framework structure of the chapter. John Walton is a respected OT scholar who teaches at Wheaton, before that he taught for 20 years at Moody.

John H. Walton, Genesis The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).  He argues for the framework pattern in his comments on Genesis 1.

Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary 1 (Waco, TX: Word, ). In the section dealing with the days of creation, Wenham argues for the framework pattern of two triads of filling.

The article in the New Bible Dictionary (co-edited by Packer) by Gordon Wenham speaks of the poetic nature and the literary framework of Genesis 1-2. So does the article in The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theoloby (ed. by Walter Elwell).

Age of the Earth

PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth in Modern Reformation magazine. The authors are geologists who are also members of PCA churches. They give evidence from their field that the earth is old.

Apparent Age & Theology: Appearance of Age in a False History? by Craig Rusbult. This article gives helpful distinctions between categories (like essential and non-essential apparent age). He argues that non-essential apparent age, like the left-over light from a super-nova, has no intrinsic need or value for creation, and would make God out to be open to creating falsehoods if a young earth with “mature creation.”


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Bloodlines Documentary

Bloodlines is a documentary based upon a book by John Piper dealing with the subject of race. In both, Piper recounts his growing up in the South, how his mother helped him see the evils of segregation, and how he was confronted by the real evils of racism when he did doctoral studies in Germany. This is a short documentary, but a powerful one. It serves as a reminder of why a proper understanding of the gospel should shatter any racist tendencies in us all:

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Newton on Luke 14:12-14

As you can tell, I’ve been doing some study on Christianity and “social justice.” Tim Keller’s Generous Justice is very helpful. What I find really great are the quotes from some of my Reformed heroes like Edwards on helping the poor etc. This one is from John Newton (1725-1807),* the great Calvinist hymn-writer who gave us Amazing Grace. Newton is commenting on Luke 14:12-14 (click here to read), about inviting the poor and not your friends to a banquet:

One would almost think that Luke 14:12-14 was not considered part of God’s word, nor has any part of Jesus’s teaching been more neglected by his own people. I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us that it is in some respects or duty to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them (John Newton, The Works of John Newton [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 1:136.).

Those are some pretty strong words.

 

* For more on John Newton check out Michael Haykin’s lecture.

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Edwards on the Poor

I’m reading Tim Keller’s convicting book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just and am learning a lot about a balanced view of what is today called “social justice.” I’m finding that my experience with this book is a little similar to when I first became a Calvinist; now I can see helping the poor “on every page” of the bible, just like how I first saw (and still see) election. It’s amazing to see how consistently both testaments are equally concerned with issues of poverty.

A key source that Keller uses is not Dorothy Day or Gustavo Gutierrez, but the eighteenth-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards. In particular, Keller quotes from Edwards’ 1703 sermon “The Duty of Charity to the Poor” (you can find it here, at Yale’s Edwards Center site). I’m amazed at how strong Edwards is on helping the poor, in almost any circumstance. Many of the arguments and justifications I’ve had for not helping the poor have been soundly challenged by Keller and Edwards–I’m quite thankful for this.

Here’s a sample quote from Edwards, that Keller cites:

Speaking against the argument that we shouldn’t help those who continually “bite the hand that feeds them” (my words), Edwards says,

If they are come to want by a vicious idleness or prodigality, yet we ben’t thereby excused from all obligation to relieve ’em unless they continue in it. If they don’t continue in it, the rules of the gospel direct us to forgive ’em; and if their fault be forgiven ’em, then it won’t remain to be any bar in the way of our charitably relieving of ’em. If we do otherwise, we shall act very contrary to that rule of loving {one another} as Christ hath {loved us}: as we observed, not in degree, but [in the] manner of our expressing {love}. Now, Christ has loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery that we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. We foolishly and perversely threw away those riches that we were provided with, upon which we might have lived and been happy to all eternity. (Jonathan Edwards, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor” in Mark Valeri ed., Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume 17: Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999], 401-402.)

Note how gospel centered this is, and how personally it is directed to the hearer (or reader) of the sermon. It really leaves Christians with no excuse. Here we have one of the greatest minds in Christian and American history, whose writings on the Trinity, the Freedom of the Will and Original Sin explode all our categories, and yet he is profoundly concerned to make sure that his theology “comes out the tips of his fingers” (to paraphrase Doug Wilson). This is a great example of how theology in all its depth is also deeply practical, and how God is concerned for the poor.

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A Sheep-Cropped Knoll

I began Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited last night and am now in the second chapter. I’ve only read Waugh’s Scoop, but enjoyed it and am looking forward to becoming ensconced in this one. Also, a friend whose literary tastes I trust said Brideshead is his favourite novel–that’s weighty coming from him.

I came across a striking sentence that I read a number of times for the sheer joy of it’s imagery and the smooth glide of its words–what a long sentence too! It comes from the scene where Charles and Sebastian travel to Brideshead for the first time and take a rest near a “clump” trees to enjoy a glass of wine and strawberries. Here it is, Charles is the narrator:

On a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms we ate the strawberries and drank the wine – as Sebastian promised, they were delicious together – and we lit fat, Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs, Sebastian’s eyes on the`leaves above him, mine on his profile, while the blue-grey smoke rose, untroubled by any wind, to the blue-green shadows of foliage, and the sweet scent of the tobacco merged with the sweet summer scents around us and the fumes of the sweet, golden wine seemed to lift us a finger’s breadth above the turf and hold us suspended.

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), 32-33.

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Rob Bell Resources

Tonight I had the pleasure of giving a lecture called “Rob Bell and the Cultured Despisers: The Liberalism of Love Wins” for Chinese Gospel Church in Chinatown, Toronto. As you can tell by the title, it is a critique of Rob Bell’s recent book Love Wins, where I locate him in the history of theology, particular theological liberalism.

I reference a number of helpful sources in the paper, so I thought I’d link them here for further information if anyone who attended the lecture wanted to check them out.

Kevin DeYoung: God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School is Still True

Carl Trueman: Easy Virtues and Cruel Mistresses (on Martin Luther)

Michael Wittmer: Christ Alone site (first book length critique of Love Wins)

J. Gresham Machen: Christianity & Liberalism (foreward by Trueman and opening chapter)

Francis Chan and Preson Sprinkle: Erasing Hell 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Through Western Eyes (Letham)

Here’s my review of Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Fern, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2007). It is in the new issue of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics.

Christians in the West have little understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy. Though at odds, Roman Catholics and Protestants have a fairly good take on each others’ faith and practice. Both, however, are largely ignorant of their Eastern brethren. All three Christian expressions share in the rich theological tradition of the patristic period and look back to fathers like Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and the early creeds for their Christology and doctrine of God. After the split between East and West, precipitated by differences in Greek and Latin, the two streams diverged with little confluence. While the West underwent theological growth influenced by medieval and Reformation cultures, and had to undergo the challenges of the Enlightenment, the East was largely untouched by these cultural shifts. As a result, the two sides of the split look very different and often have different ways of expressing their Christian faith.

Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes goes a long way to helping Protestants, especially those conscious of their Reformation heritage, understand the theological development and appearance of the East. Letham was a Presbyterian minister in the U.S. A., and has held teaching positions at Westminster Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. Currently he teaches at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He has authored important works on the Trinity and Christology that deal well with patristics and is an expert in post-Reformation history. He is more than qualified to write a book of this nature.

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New Hope’s Reason Journal

Here’s the latest issue of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. It is both an online and print journal, this is the online bit. The print will be available some time soon.

Articles

“An Apologetic Church”
Stephen Bedard

“Apologetic Testimony from an Unlikely Source”
Mark Eckel

“The Witness of the Spirit: Developing a Pentecostal Approach to World Religions”
Jeffrey K. Clarke

“The Christian Doctrine of God Explained and Defended for Muslims”
Luis Dizon

“The Resurrection, Two Scholars, and Historical Method”
J. Steve Lee

Reviews

Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Stephen J. Bedard

Carl R. Trueman, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Fred G. Zaspel

Tom Wells, The Priority of Jesus Christ by Fred G. Zaspel

Andreas J. Kostenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel by Fred. G. Zaspel

Paul R. Williamson, Sealed With An Oath: Covenant In God’s Unfolding Purpose by Fred G. Zaspel

Norman L. Geisler, If God, Why Evil? A New Way to Think About the Question by Stephen J. Bedard

Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? by Fred G. Zaspel

Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Stephen J. Bedard

Daniel C. Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? by Josiah J. Batten

Drew Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith by Jeffrey K. Clarke

Paul Hughes (ed.), Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe by Stephen J. Bedard

James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by David Rodriguez Jr.

Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Ian Clary

Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion by Michael Plato

William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, Christian Apologetics: Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader: Volume 1: To 1500 by Ian Clary

Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective by Ian Clary

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Innocent Smith’s Modern Proposal

If you haven’t read G. K. Chesterton’s brilliant Manalive you need to stop everything, go out and buy it (if you live in Toronto, Crux Books has it in stock!). You’ll be in for a hilarious, but incredibly insightful read. If you know anything about this book, it is likely the story of the character–in a flashback scene–when he was in university. This character, Innocent Smith, was a philosophy student who sat through a class taught by a professor who declared that there was no meaning in the world (or something to that effect). The not-so-innocent Smith meets this professor in his room one night and produces a pistol with the aim of pushing the limits of this professors philosophy. You must read the scene for yourself to soak in all its brilliance.

As it turns out, screenwriter and theologian Briand Godawa has redone this Chestertonian scene for a modern audience. While it may not have the wit of the great writer, it paints the meaning of a meaningless worldview in crystal clarity. Check out “Cruel Logic” here {HT: Steve Bedard}:

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The Bible and Diverse Interpretations

Should the matter of diverse interpretation concern evangelicals when they think through the issue of biblical authority? Is it naïve to hold to sola scriptura when evangelicals can’t agree on interpretive decisions on even the most generally agreed upon texts? These are questions that Christians have struggled with since the early days of the church; recently Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has asked them in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not A Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Brazos, 2011). For Smith, a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, the “biblicism” of evangelicalism is challenged by what he calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (PIP). I have not read the book and this post is not intended as a comment on Smith per se. Rather, in response to reviews of it by Robert Gundry, Peter Leithart and Kevin DeYoung, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has lamented that they have missed the point of Smith’s argument. McKnight questions whether evangelicals believe PIP is a serious enough challenge or if it has been adequately met. He asks: “does not our claim that the Bible is revelation and clear get a massive shock when we examine who (sic) pluralistic our interpretations are? Shouldn’t a clear Bible yield clearer interpretations? Or have we fallen so much for diversity that we don’t even see this as a problem.”

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Pelikan on the Pedigree of Baptism

At a time when Baptists were contending for immersion as the only authentic form of baptism which “has its origin from God,” Eastern theologians also insisted on it, in opposition to the Latins, who were obliged to admit that immersion had been standard practice throughout most of the history of the church.

Jaroslav Pelikan, Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700) The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine 5 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), 46.

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Baptists and Reformed Orthodoxy

Continuity between Baptist theologians and the Reformed confessional tradition is clear in the use of the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists as the basis for large portions of their Second London Confession of 1677 and 1688. The point can also easily be illustrated from the thought of major English Particular Baptist theologians, whose thought apart from the question of baptism, remained in continuity with Reformed orthodoxy. The internal Baptism debates over open or closed communion and over the singing of hymns in worship also had clear parallels among the Reformed.

Richard A. Muller, “Diversity in the Reformed Tradition: A Historical Introduction” in Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones eds., Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism RHT 17 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Reprecht, 2011), 28.

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Review of Love Wins by Rob Bell

Here is my review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Much has already been said about the book, so I tried to take a bit of a different track with it. As you can imagine, I’m not favourable to it. Thanks to Credo Magazine for posting the review.

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Dead Wives in Switzerland

On August 6 I finished reading Graham Greene’s Doctor Fischer of Geneva, or The Bomb Party where the main character’s wife died in a skiing accident in Switzerland. Today I finished Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms where of course Catherine Barkely dies in labour in Switzerland. I find it a bit odd that I read two books that have similar endings like this in the span of less than two weeks.

While Hemingway’s is by far the better book — his narrative and description is outstanding — Greene’s Anna-Luis is the better of the late wives. Barkely’s dialogue is downright annoying (I admit to feeling bad saying that as she’s “dead” [the book’s realness still lingers in my mind]).

Anyways, just thought I’d share a thought.

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Review: “The Rage Against God” by Peter Hitchens

We’ve updated the articles and reviews at Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. My review of Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith is there. I reprint it below:

Atheism in the twenty-first-century is a facile form of its counterpart from a previous generation. The abandonment of atheism by Antony Flew before his death in some respects marks the closing of an age of disbelief that at the least offered well-framed arguments against the Christian faith. With the ascendancy of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others who follow in their procession, arguments against Christianity are often superficial and presented with a force that is unwarranted in light of the weakness of the proposition.

Admittedly, there are aspects of recent arguments that have popular appeal. In the case of Christopher Hitchens, his rhetorically-gifted appeals to throw off the shackles of a totalitarian God; to free the mind from the limitations of religious thought and to reclaim the right to make autonomous moral decisions have a certain ring to them in the opinions of many. The attraction to him amongst the sixties generation and their progeny can be accounted for because Christopher embodies the spirit of that movement—indeed, he was and remains a key figure in that lingering cultural revolution.

Hence why The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by his brother Peter Hitchens is so utile; it strikes at the heart of Christopher’s arguments from a common perspective. The two Hitchens’, though often at odds with one another, share similar experiences: each went to a respected Cambridge boarding school; both are former Trotskyists who made loud breaks with the Left; are journalists who have reported from conflict zones around the globe; are masters of English prose; are trenchently forthright with their views and are committed to independent thinking. In a sense, The Rage Against God is like Hitchens battling Hitchens; not in the sense of brother against brother, rather of Christopher against himself.

While Christopher has garnered significant attention with God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Peter Hitchens remains relatively unknown outside of Britain. He is somewhat notorious as a conservative thinker in England where he writes a column for the Mail on Sunday and is a frequent contributor to politically-oriented talk-shows. As a journalist Peter has reported from Communist Russia and was a correspondent in Washington for the Daily Express. He has written a number of  books, including The Abolition of Britain, a sociological look at the rapid changes taking place in British society due to the replacement of a Tory worldview with that of New Labour. As well, he has famously taken on high-level British politicians including Labour’s Tony Blair and the Conservative’s David Cameron, the current English Prime Minister. While a Conservative, Peter is just as scathing in critique of his own party as he is of those of the Left.

The Rage Against God is a refreshing and accessible alternative to the dismissable arguments of God is Not Great. As well, it shares reflective similarities with Christopher’s recent Hitch-22: A Memoir. There is overlap between books as they recount stories of life in middle-class twentieth-century England. One could learn a lot about the decline of religion in Britain and the resultant change in culture from reading the three together. They are also an introduction of sorts to twentieth-century literature; the writings of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell and other recent additions to the western canon loom large in the lives of the Hitchens’.

Peter’s book is divided into three sections. The first is autobiographical where he reflects on his upbringing; the failings of a theologically liberal Christian education; the demise of traditional English values; and his embrace of atheism and Trotskyism. In some ways this reads like a summary of The Abolition of Britain and one sees that the British subtitle, “Why Faith Is the Foundation of Civilisation,” is appropriate. Hitchens excoriates the Left for leading England away from its traditional cultural milieu that once made it a great nation and he chides the Right for its withering and useless class-structured governance. Both are to blame for the relativist mess that has changed Britain, according to Hitchens, for the worse. In the midst of this, Peter explains how he lost his faith, memorably demonstrated in the burning of a bible when he was fifteen years old. The chapter on his rediscovery of faith is an especially good part of the book. Peter’s conversion involves him being awakened to the reality of his own immanent judgment by God as he contemplated the painting The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden in the Musee de l’Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, France.

The second section is apologetic where Peter takes on what he calls “the three failed arguments of atheism” against religion: conflicts fought in the name of religion; morality without God; and atheist states not actually being atheist. Each argument is dismantled using examples from history and common sense. For instance, it is demonstrably reductionist to claim that all religious conflicts are always about religion. In the case of Northern Ireland, says Hitchens, religion is less a factor than the ownership and control of territory.

The third section looks at some of the defenses of atheism, in particular those of Christopher in God Is Not Great. This is the part of the book that Peter sees as “the foundation of the answer to my brother’s position” (164). Christopher denies that the atrocities committed by atheist states are a result of atheism, even going so far to argue that Stalinist Russia was actually religious. Peter, again using history and common sense, clearly shows that such arguments fail. Not only is Christopher’s failure in view, but socialism’s as well. One of the final sections of the book highlights the “totalitarian intolerance” of the New Atheists, which is especially true of Christopher, and is an unfortunate and unnecessary correspondent to his critiques of religion.

There are many good things to say about The Rage Against God. It is very well-written. Both Peter and Christopher are wonderful writers and this makes reading their books delightful, even if one disagrees with their final conclusions. It has been said that both brothers are great respecters of the English language, and this is borne out in Peter’s writing. The tone of the book is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Peter observes the fundamentalist streak of the New Atheists that manifests itself in vitriolic screeds. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Peter writes circumspectly and never deteriorates into personal attacks, even though he makes good use of wit and satire. Second, Peter’s columns and television appearances are often devastating in terms of argument and tone; he brooks no quarter with those whom he disagrees. The tone of this book is noticeably different.

Peter also has an excellent grasp of the issues and explains them with clarity. He is not fooled by the rhetoric of the New Atheists and sees past the non sequitors, the ad hominems, the generalizations, the redundancies and the euphemism of their arguments. He demands honesty from atheists who critique his religion and offers it in turn, even if it hurts.

The book is also a helpful commentary on the role of beliefs in the shaping of national ideologies. Due to his experience in Russia, he can offer first-hand accounts of the devastation wrought by Communism and its atheist hand-maiden. His insights into the cultural changes in the West, that mirror certain aspects of Communist Russia, is a sound warning to those who want to pursue a similar agenda.

A drawback of the book is its lack of theological depth. Hitchens is a journalist, so it would not be fair to expect him to delve into intricate dogmatic issues. However, more interaction with Christian thought is not unreasonable. There is very little mention of Jesus Christ or the gospel message, which is the book’s biggest failing. If Hitchens has even the slightest hope that someone would be converted to Christianity as a result of reading the book, he has severely limited the possibilities.

Also, his method of critique follows tit-for-tat responses against popular atheism, but it would have been more effective if he had examined some of atheism’s—and his brother’s—philosophical underpinnings. For instance, Peter rightly points out that the problem of conflicts in the name of religion are actually problems of human nature. Instead of leaving his answer at this juncture, another step could be taken: what is the atheist’s standard for evaluating the value of religious conflict? Given atheism, objective, universal, immaterial moral standards are illusive. An even further step could be taken by pointing out that when an atheist makes a moral statement, he must abandon his precommitments in favour of another that makes sense of morality; in this case, Christianity. In almost every section of the book one wishes that Hitchens went further. While this does not lessen the force of his arguments, he could be more effective if he took this more thorough apologetic approach.

Be that as it may, Peter Hitchens has done a good job at giving answers to the puerile claims of his brother, and basically makes Christopher’s book on religion look foolish. It is a shame, because Christopher is an intelligent man and the open flaws of his book, so well pointed out by Peter (and others) is a blight on his otherwise commendable literary reputation. The Rage Against God is a good book to give to atheists who trumpet the arguments of Christopher Hitchens as though they posed a real problem to Christianity. It is also good for those who have doubts about their faith; Peter Hitchens demonstrates the importance of Christianity to a well-ordered society which, in a way, is a proof for its truthfulness.

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Review: Why Catholics Are Right by Coren

In an earlier post I mentioned that a number of us had the privilege of spending some time with Canadian television personality Michael Coren who discussed his book Why Catholics Are Right. I have written a fairly critical review of this book for the Credo Magazine website. I confess to a little fearfulness in publishing this review, because Michael Coren deserves much respect for the political work he has done over the years. But there are such important errors in the book that I thought it best to point them out.

Many thanks to Matthew Barrett, the editor of the excellent Credo Magazine for being willing to publish the review. I thoroughly enjoy this publication and am happy to be a part of it; even if notoriously!

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