Category Archives: church history

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

The Reformed Consensus

In my previous post I asked the question: “How could Charles Spurgeon maintain views on creation like an old earth, death of animals before the fall, etc. in light of his Puritan theology?” I answered it by looking through the history of interpretation on the Genesis days, using Robert Letham and William Barker’s essays as guides. We saw that from Origen through to the Westminster Assembly, the major orthodox thinkers held no consensus on how to interpret Genesis 1. I concluded that Spurgeon did not stand outside of the Puritan and Reformed mainstream of history past, and could therefore happily claim adherence to that tradition.

In that post I also noted that Spurgeon was not out of step with his Reformed contemporaries, and provided a quote by historian R. Scott Clark to make the point. Clark says: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (Recovering the Reformed Confession, p. 49). This is quite a sweeping statement that I figured warranted some explaining. So this post will highlight the conclusions of Max Rogland in his essay “Ad Litteram: Some Dutch Reformed Theologians On the Creation Days” from Westminster Theological Journal 63:2 (Fall 2001): 211-233 (this link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF of the essay if anyone wants it). Rogland, a PCA minister, is assistant professor of Old Testament at Erskine College, the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, and did his PhD at Leiden University.

This essay surveys five major Dutch theologians: Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Anton Honig, Gerhard Aalders, and Klaas Schilder; he also includes discussion of the Synod of Assen. In the second section of the essay he turns to Dutch-American theologians Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Louis Berkhof, and Cornelius Van Til. This is a well-written piece that goes into some detail respecting each theologian. Of the Dutch, Rogland concludes that none of them held to the six, twenty-four-hour days view. While early on Bavinck held to  the “Day Age” view, he later moved from that to what is now called the “Analogical Days” view; at the time he referred to them as “extraordinary days.”* Rogland says that there was a surprising amount of agreement between the five theologians, all of whom saw the first three days as extraordinary because of the lack of sun, and generally applied that to the full creation week. Yet, in spite of their taking the days as other than twenty-four hour, it is surprising to find that they initially referred to them as “literal.” Later they turned from that language because of the rise of Barthianism that spoke of “literal” days but did not mean by that “historical.” Others like the famed New Testament theologian F. W. Grosheide, and Jan Ridderbos, also held to this idea of extraordinary days.

Regarding the three Dutch-American theologians, it becomes harder to discern their views. Rogland surmises that Vos held to the twenty-four-hour view, though it is hard to prove, because his statements are generally in rejection of the Day Age view, and not the idea of extraordinary days. Van Til wrote little on the subject, so it is hard to determine his view, though he freely associated with those who were not of the 6/24 school–one thinks of his role as a founding professor at Westminster Seminary, that consisted of J. Gresham Machen, and O. T. Allis, neither of whom held to the 6/24 interpretation. Van Til was also an heir of the Old Princeton tradition of the Hodges and Warfield, and they didn’t hold to the 6/24 position either. Berkhof, on the other hand, was squarely in the six, twenty-four-hour day camp; Rogland is quick to correct Berkhof’s misreading of Kuyper and Bavinck.

So, when one combines the Old Princeton school, that did not hold to a twenty-four-hour day approach, and the majority of the Dutch Reformed on both sides of the Atlantic, R. Scott Clark’s statement is indeed true: “virtually none” really means almost none of the leading Reformed theologians held to the young earth model.

My next question, then, is probably obvious. Why is the young earth view so prevalent in popular evangelicalism today? I’ll take that one up in my next post (DV).


* Herman Bavinck says this about the days in his Our Reasonable Faith: “Scripture itself contains data which oblige us to think of these days of Genesis as different from our ordinary units as determined by the revolutions of the earth. In the first place we cannot be sure whether what is told us in Genesis 1:1-2 precedes the first day or is included within that day. In favor of the first supposition is the fact that according to verse 5 the first day begins with the creation of light and that after the evening and the night it ends on the following morning. But even though one reckons the events of Genesis 1:1-2 with the first day, what one gets from that assumption is a very unusual day which for a while consisted in darkness. And the duration of that darkness which preceded the creation of light is nowhere indicated. In the second place, the first three days (Gen. 1:3-13) must have been very unlike ours. For our twenty-four hour days are effected by the revolutions of the earth on its axis, and by the correspondingly different relationship to the sun which accompanies the revolutions. But those first three days could not have been constituted in that way. It is true that the distinction between them was marked by the appearance and disappearance of light. But the book of genesis itself tells us that the sun and moon and stars were not formed until the fourth day” (pp. 172-173).

In his important Reformed Dogmatics he says: “It is nevertheless remarkable that not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum, and that in theology as well a variety of interpretations were allowed to exist side by side.  Augustine already urged believers not too quickly to consider a theory to be in conflict with Scripture, to enter into discussion on these difficult subjects only after serious study, and not to make themselves ridiculous by their ignorance in the eyes of unbelieving science.  This warning has not always been faithfully taken to heart by theologians” (Vol. 2; pp. 495-496).


Filed under church history, cornelius van til, creation, geerhardus vos, herman bavinck, reformed theology

The Puritan Consensus

Earlier I posted some quotes by the Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon about the age of the earth and related issues. I noted some surprise when I first read the quotes and asked a question about how it could be that Spurgeon, one well-versed in the Puritan and Reformed tradition, and one living in the midst of great scientific strides, would advocate for things like an old earth, animal death before the Fall, and a large amount of time between creation and Adam. It’s likely a safe assumption that most people would assume Spurgeon, a staunch defender against liberalism, to be a young earth creationist; I know that was my assumption.

So what are the reasons behind why he would hold the view he does? What sources did he read, theological or scientific, that led to the conclusions he drew? It could be that he held to the “Ruin-Reconstruction Theory” of creation, a view made popular by the Reformed theologian Thomas Chalmers. This view states that there is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that allowed for things like dinosaurs. While out of vogue today, it was something more common in Spurgeon’s. Ultimately, at least from the two quotes I posted, we can’t be sure. Another view at that time was the “Day Age” view, one that another noteworthy Reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, held. Was Spurgeon reading Chalmers or Hodge? There’s a good chance he was, but I haven’t done the research to find out. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want to answer the question, “Did Spurgeon break with his theological tradition by espousing these views?”

It is well-known that as a young boy Spurgeon stumbled upon his preacher-grandfather’s book collection in a shuttered attic. At an early age he devoured the works of the sixteenth-century Reformers, the seventeenth-century Puritans, and eighteenth-century Evangelicals. He was reading Calvin, Bunyan, Henry, Whitefield. Likely Spurgeon had a photographic memory, and read voluminously. There can be no doubt that he imbibed the best theology the Puritan and Reformed tradition had to offer. As a Baptist, he demonstrated his Calvinistic stripes by publishing an edition of the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). His wife, Susanna, was responsible for distributing Reformed literature to pastors as she lived a life mainly as a shut-in. Wouldn’t one think that for a man was firmly entrenched in this older, orthodox literature, that he would have felt behooved to adopt another, more conservative view on creation?

The answer to this question requires a foray into times past to first of all see what the Puritan and Reformed tradition said about creation and the ensuing doctrines. A helpful resource is a recent essay by Robert Letham in the Westminster Theological Journal [69 (1999):149-174] called “‘In the Space of Six Days’: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly.” Letham is a well-known Reformed theologian who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and is the author of a number of important books, in particular The Work of Christ is a personal favourite. In his article Letham surveys major thinkers in church history from the patristic period, beginning with Origen of Alexandria, and concluding with the period just before the Westminster Assembly in the mid-seventeenth century. Some church fathers, like Basil of Caesarea, held to what we call the “6/24 hour” view, while others like Augustine posited an “instantaneous creation”; Augustine also argued for what may be called a “literary” reading of Genesis 1. In the Middle Ages, Augustine’s view dominated and thus it is seen in the writings of Robert Grossteste and Thomas Aquinas. During the Reformation, Letham notes that not one Reformed confession (i.e. French Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.) has a statement about the creation days. Letham’s conclusion as to why the silence: “It was not a matter of definition since it was not a matter of controversy or even a point for discussion, despite the varying views in exegetical history” (p. 170). Great Reformed theologians like John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger don’t mention the creation days in particular—which Letham thinks is telling—and Calvin seems primarily concerned with refuting the Augustinian “instantaneous creation” view in his commentary on Genesis, though there is some indication that he may take the 6/24 hour view on the days. While that may be the case, Letham points out that Calvin saw the language of Moses in Genesis 1 as “accommodated,” so that the reader might be able to understand. Peter Martyr Vermigli, another important Reformed theologian, read the opening of Genesis with hints of allegory, and did not mention the six days of creation. All of this, it is significant to remember, during the period noteworthy for the science of Copernicus and Galileo.

The first Reformed confession to actually speak of the days of creation and such things is James Ussher’s Irish Articles (1615); Ussher is of course notorious for dating the creation at 4004 BC. As for the Puritans, like the Reformers before them, there was no consensus on the creation days. Richard Greenham doesn’t mention them, and William Perkins gives them scant attention. While the latter takes the days chronologically, he says that the first three days are not “solar days” because of the lack of sun. William Ames is important for understanding the view of the Westminster Divines, because he, like Calvin, is concerned to refute the Augustinian reading of creation as instantaneous. He does so with the language of “in the space of six days,” that was picked up by the Assembly. Ames likely did not believe that the days were solar days.

That takes us up to the time of the Westminster Assembly, but what of the Westminster Divines themselves? Letham gives a short space to the question and says: “The single most astonishing and noteworthy feature of English Puritan theology before 1647, and the Westminster divines in particular, is the virtually complete absence of interest in creation” (p. 173). Yet this was the time of the founding of the Royal Society, that was largely made up of Protestants, and it was a time of great scientific advance. Letham says that in his research he hadn’t found a single Puritan work on creation up until the time of 1647. Letham further adds: “One obvious conclusion is that the days of creation were not a matter of contention, although divergent views existed” (p. 173).

William S. Barker, now Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and a published expert on the Puritans, continued Letham’s project by examining the writings of the Westminster Divines on creation in more detail. He did so in an essay called “The Westminster Assembly on the Days of CreationWestminster Theological Journal 62.1 (Spring 2000): 113-120 (the link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF if anyone wants it. Or, for the sum of the argument, see this statement by Westminster’s faculty here). Barker is concerned to show that the Westminster Confession of Faith’s language of “in the space of six days” not be construed to mean that only a 6/24 hour view of Scripture is confessionally sound (the PCA creation report as well as the OPC’s agree with him). Rather, following Calvin and Ames, the language directly refutes the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation. This view was taught at this time by the Anglican physician Sir Thomas Browne in 1643, the year when the Assembly first began to meet. The language of “in the space of” doesn’t describe what a day was at the time of creation—some held it to be longer than twenty-four hours like John Lightfoot—but rather that it took longer than an instant for God to create. Barker notes that some Divines merely spoke of “six days” but did not get into the nature of what those days were, namely, Stephen Marshall, John Wallis, Thomas Vincent, and John Ball, who don’t go beyond that statement.

When turning back to Spurgeon, who bled Puritan theology as much as he did “bibline,” it is not at all inconsistent for him to argue for long ages or a gap theory, and still rightfully claim a Reformed heritage. The Second London Confession that Spurgeon reprinted uses the same language as the WCF about “in the space of six days,” and so the argument that the WCF was written to refute Augustinian instantaneous creation is just as applicable. Just like a minister in a Presbyterian church wouldn’t have to make an exception at this point in his confessional commitments, neither would Spurgeon. Nor was Spurgeon out of step with the Reformed theology of his own day. As historian R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster California, says in his recent book Recovering the Reformed Confession: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (p. 49).

This may not answer the question of source material, which is something I’d really like to get into with Spurgeon, it does answer the question that he stands firmly in line with the Puritan and Reformed tradition—because there was no consensus on creation in this tradition, and to hold a different view on creation is not to break with it.


Filed under calvin, church history, creation, genesis, puritans

Irish Providential Serendipity

Vicky and I did some Christmas shopping yesterday, and ended up at the Toys R Us in Dufferin Mall. So, there I am, standing in line with an arm-full of toys, Vicky’s taken the kids to the car, and I hear an Irish lilt behind me. Ever the sucker for an Irish accent, I make a comment to the couple standing in line after me about the chaos of the store. After the exasperated agreement from the man, I say, “Is that an Irish accent?” That started us on a very serendipitous encounter.

We got on talking about Ireland. The man explained that they are originally from Limerick, and have been in Canada for a couple of years. They ask if I’ve ever been, to which I delightedly answer, “Yes. To Belfast and Dublin, and I toured around the North a bit, saw the Giant’s Causeway and all that.” They asked why I was there, and I reply: “On a research trip…”

Now, only the Irish do this, but they kept asking questions. Most people don’t care about others, what they do, why they do it, whether it was a good time or not. But there must be something about the Irish that makes them actually care about people; so they asked, “What were you researching?”

I often chuckle to myself when I explain that I’m a pastor, or that I’m studying church history. Most times the response from the other person is a glazed over expression that says, “I wish I hadn’t asked.” Not this time. Laughingly I said, “I’m studying church history.” The look on my face was sort’ve of the can you believe it? variety.

“Get out,” says the guy, his wife standing beside him with a wide-eyed expression, “We’re church historians!” I nearly fell over.

It turns out that I was speaking with Patrick and Stephanie Healy (well, Hayes-Healy). Both received PhD’s from Trinity College Dublin in medieval history, and Stephanie is currently at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Both were Mellon Fellows at the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies. They’ve each taught history at Oxford as well. Patrick wrote his dissertation on Hugh of Flavigny and Stephanie wrote hers on pilgrimages in early medieval Ireland. As I’ve done a bit of Googling, I see Stephanie’s also edited some pretty substantial volumes on the medieval period with Palgrave, and I see she’s written on St. Patrick’s Confessio. They knew about James Ussher, the subject of my master’s thesis, and knew or knew of some of the same people I know or know of.

There were so many little things that could have spun us on a different path from one another, so it’s so strange that I should meet two people with interests in Irish church history, as well as medieval and patristic studies. It really was an encouragement and delight to chat with them. I couldn’t believe it. When would I ever meet two historians who are interested in topics somewhat related to my own?

Of course, I told them to go to Crux, as they are so close by. Hopefully they’ll drop in the store when I’m working, and I’ll spring for a free coffee on the house.


Filed under church history, crux books, ireland, medieval

Four Questions

Tyler Horton runs the Me and Brooks blog, dedicated to things Puritan (generally) and Thomas Brooks (specifically). Tyler is wont to interview various he’s-and-she’s about Puritan-related topics, and I got held up with four questions dealing with how to define Puritanism; the subject of an essay I published in Puritan Reformed Journal. I’m thankful to Tyler for asking good questions and for posting my mediocre responses. The questions are:

1) I absolutely have always held “the notion that Puritanism was a monolithic movement distinguished by its piety, Calvinism, and anti-Anglican posture.”  What parts of that definition are misleading?

2) What is the danger in holding that previously mentioned definition of Puritanism?

3) Calling the Puritans “hot Protestants” or the “hotter sort of Protestant” appears to be a comment not just about their passion but also quality.  Were the Puritans simply the best Protestants of their day?  Are they the ‘hottest Protestants’ in Church history?

4) Can you break down your lengthy definition of a “Puritan” from the article into its essential elements?  What are the essential distinguishing features that need to be included in a good definition of the term?

You’ll have to click here to read my answers.

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Filed under articles, church history, interviews, me and brooks, puritan reformed journal, puritans

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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Filed under baptism, baptists, books, church history, quotes

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.


Filed under baptists, books, church history, puritans, quotes, richard muller

Baptist Origins in Ireland

Crawford Gribben of Trinity College Dublin has posted a two-part article on Baptist origins in Ireland at his blog here and here. He argues that the Baptists there, although existent in small numbers, did not experience any revitalisation until men like Samuel Pearce and Andrew Fuller went on preaching expeditions there. The result of their efforts was what Gribben calls a “mini-revival.”

Of course, my interests are with the Baptist from Northern Ireland, Alexander Carson. Gribben says that in the beginning of the nineteenth-century, when Carson was pastoring in Tobermore, there were few churches in the North. By the end of the century, however, there was growth. Is this the result of the Pearce-Fuller excursions? Or is it Carson? Maybe it’s both? I’m interested to find out.

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Filed under alexander carson, andrew fuller, baptists, church history, crawford gribben, ireland

Ignatius and Papal Succession

I wrote on the problem that Ignatius of Anthioch’s letter to Rome poses for the doctrine of papal succession. Check it out at the SSMI blog: “Ignatius and Papal Succession.” I actually brought this up to Michael Coren when I met him a few weeks ago; he transparently admitted that he hadn’t an answer–I didn’t expect him to off the top of his head–but that he knew someone who would. It’d be great, from a purely historical perspective, to see an answer.

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Filed under apologetics, catholicism, church history, patristics, ssmi

More Whitefield on Slavery

I finished Mark Noll’s fabulous The Rise of Evangelicalism about a week ago. For a book that deals in “boring” historical details like facts, figures and dates, it was quite an enjoyable read. Anyone hoping to learn about the early days of evangelicalism should begin with it.

In a couple of earlier posts I quoted Noll on the subject of the revivalist George Whitefield and his purchase of slaves to work in his Georgian orphanage. I compared Whitefield with the Southern theologian R. L. Dabney and noted that Whitefield’s foray into slavery was pragmatic and not based on a view of ethnic superiority as Dabney’s was. As Noll explains, “First generation evangelicals either held slaves themselves (Edwards, Whitefield, Samuel Davies) or simply accepted the slave system as a given in the British empire” (p. 247). Noll points out that Whitefield was an “effective preacher to slaves” and early-on attacked the slave-system (though Noll does not reference any primary sources). John Wesley, one of the c0-founders of Methodism with Whitefield, wrote scathingly against the trade and dutifully evangelized slaves. Noll says of John and his brother Charles: “The Wesleys’ eagerness to preach to blacks, their disregard for questions of social standing and their open welcome for fellowship in Christ to all who believed also marked the Methodism that emerged strongly in Antigua” (174). By the end of the book, Noll rounds out the picture of early evangelicals and slavery by highlighting the strong reaction against it by Samuel Hopkins (mentored by Edwards) and of course William Wilberforce.

Upon finishing Noll’s book, I have turned to Arnold Dallimore’s “mini-Whitefield”; the single-volume condensing of his magnum opus double-volume biography of the great preacher. Dallimore gives more detail, even in this shorter work, to Whitefield’s view of African slaves that I think is helpful:

Whitefield’s inherent kindness is manifest also in an action he now undertook to assist the black men and women in America. Having witnessed the cruelty practiced on many slaves, he now wrote and published A Letter to the Inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina Concerning Their Negroes.  It read, in part,

“Your dogs are caressed and fondled at your tables, but your slaves, who are frequently styled dogs or beasts, have not an equal privilege. They are scarce permitted to pick up the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables. Nay, some…have been, upon the most trifling provocation, cut with knives, and have had forks thrown into their flesh; not to mention what numbers have been given up to the inhuman usage of cruel task-masters, who, by their unrelenting scourges, have ploughed upon their backs, and made long furrows, and at length brought them even to death itself. I hope there are few such monsters of barbarity suffered to subsist among you.

Is it not the highest ingratitude as well as cruelty, not to let your poor slaves enjoy some fruits of their labour? Whilst I have viewed your plantations cleared and cultivated, and have seen many spacious houses, and the owners of them faring sumptuously every day, my blood has almost run cold within me, when I have considered how many of your slaves have neither convenient food to eat, nor proper raiment to put on, notwithstanding most of the comforts you enjoy were solely owing to their indefatigable labours…’Go to, ye rich men, weep and how, for your miseries shall come upon you!’ Behold the provision of the poor negroes, which have reaped your fields, which is by you denied them, crieth, and the cries of them which have reaped have come into the ears of the Lord of Saboth!”

This letter, which sounded as though it were a declaration by an Old Testament prophet, received a speedy circulation. Whitefield gave it to [Benjamin] Franklin to be published in pamphlet form, but it was also reprinted in newspapers in almost all the Colonies (Dallimore, George Whitefield, 78-79).

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Filed under arnold dallimore, church history, dabney, quotes, racism, slavery, whitefield

MacLeod on Christian Biography

Carl Trueman, in a post on hagiography, mentioned A. Donald MacLeod’s paper on Christian biography recently presented at Westminster Seminary’s commencement. Dr. MacLeod has kindly posted the paper, “The Joys and Frustrations of a Christian Biographer,” on his website. MacLeod is the author of a number of books; the most note-worthy is his fantastic W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy (McGill-Queens, 2004). I have had the privilege of meeting him on a couple of occasions, although I doubt he remembers me. He has always come across as a very kind and gracious man.

Here is a great paragraph from the linked paper:

When one sets out to the research on a person you never know where it will lead. I was reminded forcibly of that when I set out to write the biography of C. Stacey Woods, the founder of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States and the first general secretary of its international counterpart, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. It was in Sydney Australia that I first discovered the reason why Stacy emigrated to North America: his great mentor and inspiration in camps ministry to young men, it turned out, had to return to England suddenly on charges that are today all too familiar. My next shock came when I learned, while in Lausanne (Stacey’s home for the last twenty years of his life) that his death at the age of 73 was due to his alcoholism. These facts posed me a serious problem, and sponsors and publishers even more of a threat. We eventually, at their insistence, managed to express the truth in carefully chosen language that preserved my integrity as a professional. Truth-telling can be costly but I shall forever be grateful to Stacey’s family for their courtesy and willingness to go along with Stacy’s professed desire to have his story told “warts and all.” And it is a wonderful story, one that needed to be told as InterVarsity strives to find its identity in the Twenty-first Century. Stacey shines out of it as a man who struggled and prevailed.

He says, “Truth-telling can be costly.” Indeed.

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Filed under a donald macleod, biography, church history

Defining Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism is hard to define. Is it a movement? An institution? Can it be described by a set of necessary beliefs? Historians are of many opinions; some even going so far as to deny that evangelical, as it is commonly used, is a valid term. Mark Noll of Notre Dame, in his The Rise of Evangelicalism, has some helpful thoughts:

“Evangelicalism” is too loose a designation ever to have produced a tidy historical record. To be sure, some thoroughly evangelical denominations possess well-organized and conveniently available archives. But many evangelicals have been active in mixed denominations where evangelical emphases exist alongside other convictions. Evangelicals have also established many stand-alone churches of the sort that are always difficult to document. And still more evangelicals have devoted much of their energy to multidenominational voluntary societies. Difficulties in controlling the subject notwithstanding, it is still possible to present a coherent history of evangelicalism as defined by genealogy and by principle.

By the same token, however, it is important to realize that the emphases of evangelicalism have shifted as they came to expression in different times and places. The late Canadian historian, George Rawlyk, who did so much to promote study of evangelical churches and movements in his native land, shrewdly observed on several occasions that evangelicalism has constituted a fluid subject.

The four main principles identified by David Bebbington do not exist in the same proportions or exert the same effects in all times and places. Sometimes the experience of conversion takes precedence, at others the concentration on Scripture as ultimate religious authority and at still others the importance of missionary or social action. The evangelical traditions consistently maintain the major evangelical traits, but they have done so with a tremendously diverse array of emphases, relationships and special concerns.

Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys A History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2003), 20.


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Filed under bebbington, books, church history, evangelicalism, history, mark noll, quotes

Cynicism and the Church Historian

Historian Carl Trueman, author of the recent Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, has a piece at Ref21 about the importance of cynical historians (sounds like he’s trying to justify his own existence!). His point is that for all of the hype and hyperbole about every new intellectual or cultural fad, most of the biggies (he even includes September 11 [I’ve stopped calling it 9/11, a la Martin Amis]) in history tend to have little impact on average people. Thus, historians are needed to put a proverbial fork “in it.” Here’s a couple of doozies:

We live in a Warhol world where everybody wants their fifteen minutes of fame, preferably while still here to enjoy it.  You can see this even in writing style.  Too many theologians think that the first person singular pronoun is like a main verb: no English sentence is properly complete without one.   It derives from overestimating the importance of the here and now; or, to put it more pointedly, the importance of ourselves and our contributions.

And this one:

And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon.  Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before.  Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.

For the entire thing see “The Price of Everything.”

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Heresy, What Is It?

My friend Alex emailed a bunch of us asking the question, How does one define heresy? I’d been meaning to respond with a quote from Michael Haykin’s book on early church apologetics called Defence of the Truth. Because the definition he gives in the book is a good clarification on a confused issue, I thought I’d post it here for more general consumption:

What exactly is heresy? In the ancient church, that is the church up until the sixth century, the term “heresy” became a technical term to describe aberrant teaching that undermined the fundamental truth of the Christian faith. It was deemed so serious that those who were described as heretics were considered to be beyond the bounds of salvation.

Our English word “heresy” comes from a Greek word hairesis, which, in classical Greek meant “choice.” This use of this term does not occur in the New Testament. Six out of nine occurrences of the word in the New Testament are best translated by the words “sect” or “party.” Thus, for instance, in Acts 26:5, the apostle Paul claimed that “according to the strictest party [hairesin] of our religion I lived as a Pharisee.” And in Acts 24:5, Paul is described by the Roman lawyer Tertullus as a “ringleader of the sect [haireses] of the Nazarenes.” Hairesis, though, can also have a decidedly negative meaning. Paul lists it as one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20, where he has in mind factionalism, not heretical teaching.

In only one New Testament verse, however, does the word carry the full meaning of our word “heresy.” That occurs in 2 Peter 2:1 where Peter says that false teachers will “secretly bring in destructive heresies [haireseis], even denying the Master who bought them.” But even a cursory reading of the New Testament letters will reveal that although the term “heresy” is not used, this is indeed what a number of the letters are seeking to protect God’s people against. Paul, for example, had to stand against those who denied the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15 and repudiate those in Galatia who would compromise the cardinal truth of justification by faith alone. And Jude, referred to earlier, is clearly dealing with aberrant theology that we could call “heresy.”

Michael A. G. Haykin, Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 10.

A couple of helpful resources on the issue of heresy are, of course, G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics, Harold O. J. Brown’s Heresies which are now both considered to be classic treatments of the subject. More recently, Alister McGrath has written Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010).


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Starr Bibliography Online

SCORE! I just found Edward Starr’s A Baptist Bibliography online at the Baptist Heritage site. I love stumbling upon resources online. Starr is a classic reference for Baptist historians, but typically it requires finding it in a library and working through the massive mint green set. I am extremely happy to find it (PDF).

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Shedd on Coleridge

I find it amazing that the Works of the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge were collected in the nineteenth-century by none other than the Calvinist dogmatician William G. T. Shedd. While Shedd maintained a robust Calvinism based on the Westminster Standards, he was none-the-less very interested in the writings of what we would call the Romantic period. Another Shed, David Shedden to be precise, has written a series of blogposts about Shedd’s take on Coleridge. Dave is a friend, though strangely we’ve never met (he being a Scottish expat in Ireland [can you be a Scottish expat in Ireland?], and me being a Canuck), but I have come to appreciate his writing over the years. He is serving in a Reformed Baptist Church in Clonmel, Ireland. Dave did his ThM at Princeton Seminary a few years ago where he studied evangelicalism.

Shedd on Coleridge Part 1

Shedd on Coleridge Part 2

Shedd on Coleridge Part Three – Trinity

Also be sure to check out Dave’s series on Shedd and the atonement which is worth the read.

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Athenagoras and the Trinity

Athenagoras (d. ca. 185) was another early apologist whose work A Plea for the Christians is a beautifully written defense of the faith against accusations of atheism (among other things) leveled at Christians by their society. The text itself was likely written around AD 177 and shares similarities with those of Aristides and Justin Martyr; both in terms of its use of Greek philosophy and in addressing like charges. It was addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus and appeals to their learning as philosophers.

What I’d like to highlight is a statement found in chapter 12, “Consequent Absurdity of the Charge of Atheism,” where Athenagoras gives us a very clear statement about the Trinity. This is a particularly useful quote against those who would argue that trinitarian doctrine is a later construct.

Are, then, those who consider life to be comprised in this, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” and who regard death as a deep sleep and forgetfulness (“sleep and death, twin brothers”), to be accounted pious; while men who reckon the present life of very small worth indeed, and who are conducted to the future life by this one thing alone, that they know God and His Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what the communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son, the Father, and their distinction in unity; and who know that the life for which we look is far better than can be described in words, provided we arrive at it pure from all wrong-doing; who, moreover, carry our benevolence to such an extent, that we not only love our friends (“for if ye love them,” He says, “that love you, and lend to them that lend to you, what reward will ye have? “), shall we, I say, when such is our character, and when we live such a life as this, that we may escape condemnation at last, not be accounted pious?

Athenagoras, “A Plea for the Christians” in Ante-Nicene Christian Library, eds., Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1867), 2:388.

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Aristides on God

Aristides was an early Christian apologist, sometimes known as Aristides the Philosopher. He wrote The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher probably around AD 125, the English of which is translated from Syriac by D. M. Kay of the University of Edinburgh’s semitics department. The Apology had only been known to us in quotations by other fathers. For instance, Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that the text was presented to the emperor Hadrian at Athens. In the late nineteenth-century, however, an Armenian fragment was found and in 1889 the full-text was discovered in the library of St. Catherine’s in Sinai. The purpose of the document is to argue against Barbarian, Pagan and Jewish views of God–although Aristides writes using Greek categories of thought and is of course influenced by certain parts of the Old Testament.

Here is a sample from Aristides’ discussion of God that I thought was good:

I say, then, that God is not born, not made, an ever-abiding nature without beginning and without end, immortal, perfect, and incomprehensible. Now when I say that he is “perfect,” this means that there is not in him any defect, and he is not in need of anything but all things are in need of him. And when I say that he is “without beginning,” this means that everything which has beginning has also an end, and that which has an end may be brought to an end. He has no name, for everything which has a name is kindred to things created. Form he has non, nor yet any union of members; for whatsoever possesses these is kindred to things fashioned. He is neither male nor female. The heavens do not limit him, but the heavens and all things, visible and invisible, receive their bounds from him. Adversary he has none, for there exists not any stronger than he. Wrath and indignation he possesses not, for there is nothing which is able to stand against him. Ignorance and forgetfulness are not in his nature, for is altogether wisdom and understanding; and in his stands fast all that exists. He requires not sacrifice and libation, nor even one of things visible; he requires not aught from any, but all living creatures stand in need of him.

The full-text can be found in volume ten of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, 259-279.

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Muller on Surveys of Scripture

There are, of course, a large number of historical surveys of the doctrine and interpretation of Scripture and monographs emphasizing eras important to the development and alteration of the doctrine. Many of these treatises, from the older works of Pesch, Holzhey, Rohnert, and Farrar, to more recent efforts like the essays by Preus, Gerstner, or Rogers and McKim, fall into the category of theological treatises that offer a particular construction of the history as a basis for the formulation of doctrine in the present. None of these works ought to be overlooked–but all must be examined in the realization that they frequently miss the issues and problems of the past in their quest for or advocacy of present-day doctrinal and interpretive positions.

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725: Volume 2: Holy Scripture The Cognitive Foundation 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 27.

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