Piper on Calvin: After Darkness, Light

Yesterday was Reformation Day, and Desiring God made available a video of John Piper discussing the impact of John Calvin’s ministry on the city of Geneva.  Check out the video below…

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(Introduction from desiringGod.org, posted 10/31/12)

Today is Reformation Day. Martin Luther posted his explosive 95 theses October 31, 1517. In the wake of Luther’s life, an army of Reformers soon emerged. Foremost among them was John Calvin. Together they recovered for the church the supreme authority and clarity of the Scriptures. Grace-erasing tradition had buried the glory of the gospel. But now light was breaking out. So the Reformers took up a Latin phrase to describe the wonder: “Post Tenebras Lux”—“After Darkness… Light.”

In honor of Calvin’s ministry and, even more, in celebration of the God who restored the gospel to his church, we are making this video available today. My prayer is that it would stir in your heart a fresh passion for the majesty of the word of God.  (Continue reading…)

Beeke on Propaganda and the Puritans

Propaganda’s new album Excellent was what it took to finally draw me into the recent swell of Christian hip-hop and rap.  After my Motownphilly days ended in late elementary school, I never really enjoyed hip-hop or rap thereafter.  However, I can honestly say that I enjoy listening to Propaganda’s latest offering.

There is one track on the album that has generated quite a stir.  “Precious Puritans”, a song that has been interpreted in a myriad of ways, is largely about the connection of the Puritans with North American slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Propaganda cites how many pastors seem to quote and revere the Puritans without an understanding of their sinful actions, especially without reference to how they may be received by those of African-American decent.  You can read the lyrics to “Precious Puritans” in their entirety here.

In the blogosphere, there have been many reactions to the song.  Joe Thorn and Owen Strachen, in particular, have weighed in with posts that are worth reading.  This morning, Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, posted his reaction to the song on his blog.  I found the post extremely helpful and desired to repost it here in its entirety.

Beeke writes:

A new rap song by Propaganda has caught the attention of a number of Christians in the blogosphere (lyrics here). It styles itself as a series of questions to a pastor who loves to quote the Puritans, criticizing them for their culpability in the slavery of African-Americans. The rap repeatedly uses the phrase “your precious puritans” in a way that is ironic, to say the least. It is sad that “precious” becomes a piece of sarcasm, for the Lord Himself said to His people that we are “precious in my sight” and “I have loved thee” (Isa. 43:4).

To his credit, Propaganda promotes the gospel of Christ in other raps, and says that he has learned a lot from reading the Puritans. But his rap song forcefully portrays them as deeply flawed men, profoundly guilty for their participation in the Atlantic slave trade and slave economy.

What should we make of this? The subjects of slavery and racism are huge, difficult, and beyond the scope of a single blog post. However, I would like to offer some perspective on Propaganda’s rap song. There are three dimensions to Propaganda’s song: emotional, historical, and theological. While these are intertwined, I think it will help to look at them one at a time. Continue reading

Was Equality Self-Evident to Our Founding Fathers?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote a short piece for an essay contest called The Voice of Democracy.  The contest was run through our school’s English department, and sponsored by the local VFW.  As a Christian student in the public school system, I thought I would use the opportunity to voice my concern that the future of our nation depended upon a return to the “’biblical’ values of our Founding Fathers.”  Apparently I did sufficient work in the opinion of my readers because I won a $250 savings bond for my efforts, and my essay was broadcast over the local radio station as I read it from the pulpit of the local Evangelical Lutheran Church during one of their Sunday services.   It really is no surprise that the subject of the essay was so well received.  The same sentiment and sermon are often shared from many a pulpit around Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Veterans’ Day, and 9/11 in countless conservative Evangelical churches.

In the years that followed, as I actually studied the history of our nation’s inception and the beliefs of its founders more deeply, I would discover that a good majority of my notions, stated in that essay, were grossly incorrect.  Though many pastors continue to rally the cry to return to the religious values and convictions of our Founding Fathers, we may be wise to consider what, in fact, they actually valued and believed.

Ian J. Shaw, in his recent book, Churches, Revolutions, and Empires: 1789-1914 (Christian Focus, 2012), briefly and helpfully expounds on “the religious view at the time of the Founding Fathers”:

The birth certificate of the new nation, the 1776 Declaration of Independence, announced in ringing tones that: ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. The full implications of the declaration seem to have eluded the Founding Fathers. For many decades those who were black, female, or Roman Catholic, would have genuine cause to doubt just how seriously such profound assertions were to be taken. Exactly what some of the Declaration’s authors, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, intended by using the word ‘Creator’ remains a topic of much debate. Both stressed virtue and morality as being essential for the well-being of society, and in the promotion of morality the role of the churches was seen as important, but Jefferson believed that common moral philosophy rooted in human reason rather than a God-centred life, could provide the foundation for public morality. George Washington, first President of the United States, similarly emphasised the duty of life and disinterested service, and preferred to speak of God using names derived from Nature rather than the Bible—such as Supreme Being, Grand Architect, Great Ruler of Events, and Great Creator. The influence of Deism on the Founding Fathers and early political leaders of the nation cannot be ignored. Of these, Thomas Jefferson was the pre-eminent representative. To him religion was more about having a moral code than believing in divine revelation, and he argued that much of the Bible was unclear, in which case he preferred ignorance to error. Nonetheless, the teaching of Jesus remained important to him, although he couched it within the framework of Deism. He argued that true religion was the ‘sublime doctrines of philosophy and deism, taught by Jesus Christ’. Without this, life would ‘indeed be a hell’.[1]

The quote above only scratches the surface in terms of demonstrating the full extent to which many of the Founding Fathers truly did not consider everyone essentially equal.  Additionally, many of them did not hold to orthodox Christian doctrine, but would more accurately be identified as deists.  Thus, as pastors and Christians, it would be wise to discern the extent to which we sometimes call people back to the religious convictions and values of our Founding Fathers.

Check back on Friday for my full review of Shaw’s volume as a part of the Churches, Revolutions, and Empires blog tour, sponsored by Christian Focus Publishers and Cross Focused Reviews.


[1] Ian J. Shaw (2012-04-12T13:51:14+00:00). Churches, Revolutions, & Empires: 1789-1914 (Kindle Locations 260-275). Christian Focus. Kindle Edition.

GOOD NEWS: Having nothing. Possessing everything.

“Known—yet regarded as unknown; dying—and yet we live on; beaten—and yet not killed; sorrowful—yet always rejoicing; poor—yet making many rich; having nothing—and yet possessing everything.” 

2 Corinthians 6:9-10 
 


The Christian is a paradox. Because he has Christ, he
has the unsearchable riches of Christ. Believers . . .

have full and free forgiveness of all their sins;

are fully accepted in the Beloved;

are clothed in Christ’s spotless righteousness;

are adopted into the family of God;

have a perfect title to heaven through Christ;

have God for their Father,

have Christ for their Savior,

have the Holy Spirit for their Comforter,

have heaven for their home;

shall be like Christ and with Christ forever;

shall inherit all things;

are sure of ultimate victory over . . .

sins,

the world,

the flesh,

the devil,

all sorrow,

death,

hell.

-William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

 

*For more gospel-soaked goodness from Plumer, consider The Grace of Christ: Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness (eBook).  ON SALE at MonergismBooks.com for only $1.75!

(HT: Grace Gems)

Finding Fragments…Fueling Fact or Fantasy?

Earlier this week, various news and media outlets buzzed with the reports of the discovery of what appears to be a fragment from a 4th-century codex, written in Coptic (Sahidic).  What is the reason this 4cm x 8cm sampling of antiquity is gaining so much air time?  Well, at one point, it appears to read, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . . she will be able to be my disciple.'”  Of course, this is red meat for another media blitz that claims, once again, that there is a possibility Christians have never had the full story about the person of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012), has written an excellent piece over at The Gospel Coalition’s site that is well worth reading in its entirety. When it’s all said and done, Kruger points out one simple and often overlooked fact in the discussion of authentic and apocryphal manuscript studies, saying:

…of all the gospels in early Christianity, only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are dated to the first century.  Sure, there are minority attempts to put books like the Gospel of Thomas in the first century—but such attempts have not been well received by biblical scholars. Thus, if we really want to know what Jesus was like, our best bet is to rely on books that were at least written during the time period when eyewitnesses were still alive. And only four gospels meet that standard. (emphasis original)

**You may also want to check out Al Mohler’s article, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? When Sensationalism Masquerades as Scholarship”.

(HT: Carlton Wynne)

Solid Ground Christian Books

Yesterday, I made a note of my appreciation for Westminster Theological Bookstore (WTSbooks.com), and keeping with the theme of online booksellers, I thought I’d pass along some info on another great publisher/seller…

Solid Ground Christian Books, based in Alabama, is a great little publisher and online bookseller with several offerings of which you’ll definitely want to be aware.

SOLID GROUND BOOKS TO NOTE…

Reading “Religious Affections” by Jonathan Edwards Scholar, Craig Biehl (not to be confused with Greg Beale), is a supplemental study guide to assist readers as they work through Edwards’s Religious Affections, one of the most important theological works ever written.  Joel Beeke offers glowing praise of the book stating:

“Have you ever put abook down and thought, ‘Wow, that’s deep. I wish I had a friend who could walk me through this book and explain it point by point’? Craig Biehl has done precisely that. Furthermore, he has done it for one of the most important books ever written: ‘Religious Affections’. No one since the apostles had more insight into authentic godliness than Jonathan Edwards. But his books can be difficult to read. Biehl’s study guide helps you to understand the historical situation of Edwards’s day. It walks you through Edwards’s teachings in easy-to-follow outlines mingled with choice quotes from Edwards. After each section he presents several questions for personal meditation or small group discussion. I regularly assign ‘Religious Affections’ to my students and heartily recommend Biehl’s book as a companion to all who would read,understand, and apply Edwards’s masterpiece.”

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Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, by Greg Nichols, is a seminal study on the covenantal framework of Scripture from the perspective of one convinced of disciple’s baptism.  Below are just a couple of the endorsements of Nichols’s work:

“Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more. As a devotee of the Westminster tradition (including its chapter, ‘On God’s Covenant with Man’), I differ here and there; sometimes significantly so. But there is so much to applaud in this volume and Baptists will do well to read this volume carefully and with much gratitude. A splendid achievement. I, for one, will insist that my Presbyterian students read it.” – Derek W. H. Thomas, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, RTS, Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC, Editorial Director, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

“There has been an urgent need for Reformed Baptist to produce a work on the covenants. I am so thankful that Greg Nichols has engaged this very weighty work. It is a very timely addition on a vitally important topic and adds much to a growing Reformed Baptist literary body.” – James R. White, Alpha and Omega Ministry, author of numerous books, including ‘Pulpit Crimes’, published by Solid Ground

384 Page Smyth-Sewn Hardcover Volume – CLICK HERE TO ORDER
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Notes on Galatians, by J. Gresham Machen (ed. J.H. Skilton) features the exegesis of Machen upon the glorious gospel-saturated text of Galatians.  This is an oft-consulted source by scholars and pastors working their way through the text of Galatians, but remains accessible to any student of Scripture.

“Notes on Galatians is one of the hidden jewels of J Gresham Machen’s outstanding contributions to Christian literature. As Galatians has again become a battleground for theological controversy over the nature of the gospel, Dr Machen’s exegetical insight and theological sturdiness provide wise and careful guidance for a new generation of Bible students. Written for a previous generation it continues to speak to the contemporary one.” – Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

“J. Gresham Machen is perhaps best known for his defense of Christianity and especially for his articulate advocacy of confessional Reformed theology. By training, however, he was a New Testament scholar and by practice he was a biblical exegete of the first order. This little work on Galatians is still useful as a witness to Machen’s clear-headed insight into the nature and message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This witness seems particularly relevant in the midst of the current confusion surrounding Paul and the doctrine of justification.” – Dr. R. Scott Clark

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The Most Affecting Manner of the Gospel

Jonathan Edwards, in his masterpiece, Religious Affections, writes of the manner in which the gospel holds out to us, “in the most affecting manner”, the things which are “declared most worthy to affect us”.

Edwards writes:

“[I]s there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ? In which not only are things declared most worthy to affect us, but they are exhibited in the most affecting manner. The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself, to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can he conceived of, as it appears, shining in all its luster, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer. All the virtues of the Lamb of God, his humility, patience, meekness, submission, obedience, love and compassion, are exhibited to our view, in a manner the most tending to move our affections, of any that can be imagined; as they all had their greatest trial, and their highest exercise, and so their brightest manifestation, when he was in the most affecting circumstances; even when he was under his last sufferings, those unutterable and unparalleled sufferings he endured, from his tender love and pity to us. There also the hateful nature of our sins is manifested in the most affecting manner possible: as we see the dreadful effects of them, in that our Redeemer, who undertook to answer for us, suffered for them. And there we have the most affecting manifestation of God’s hatred of sin, and his wrath and justice in punishing it; as we see his justice in the strictness and inflexibleness of it; and his wrath in its terribleness, in so dreadfully punishing our sins, in one who was infinitely dear to him, and loving to us. So has God disposed things, in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though everything were purposely contrived in such a manner, as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust, that we are no more affected!”

If you’re unacquainted with North America’s greatest theologian (…and perhaps most brilliant mind, period), consider reading George Marsden’s brief biography, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards.  

For more on Religious Affections, consider Craig Biehl’s newly released study guide, Reading “Religious Affections”, available from Solid Ground Books.

Clearing Up Confusion About Reformed Theology

Few topics have the ability to stir up as much “passionate” (often, acrimonious) discussion as the distinctives of Reformed theology.  Much of the criticism leveled against the doctrines of grace (Reformed/Calvinistic theology) is the result of a misunderstanding or a caricaturization of what Reformed theology really is.  I’m always appreciative when efforts are made to “clear the fog” surrounding these misunderstandings.  Recently, Dr. Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, wrote an excellent piece providing some correctives to a handful of myths about Reformed theology.  Below is his answer to one myth in particular, but you may read the entire post HERE.  Further down the page I offer some other available articles and resources that further address misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Reformed theology…be sure to check them out.

Michael Horton writes, concerning the myth cited below:

“Reformed Theology Makes Us Robots in God’s Plan”

First, this impression rests on a basic misunderstanding of Reformed teaching. Regardless of what individuals teach, our confessions teach that human beings are never forced to believe or do anything against their will. Unpacking that requires more space, so I can only refer folks to For Calvinism, where I treat this question at length.

Second, “the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1 NIV). God is not a supporting actor in our life movie. We exist for his purposes, not the other way around. Nor do we “make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior.” He is the Lord and Savior of the world; otherwise we would have no hope of salvation.

Third, the whole emphasis on God’s sovereign grace is on the work of the Triune God in freeing us—our mind, will, emotions, and bodies—from slavery to sin and death. Apart from this grace, we are indeed “robots” in a sense, slaves to our sinful rebellion, as Jesus said (John 8:34). “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 35). Regenerated by God’s grace through the gospel, we find ourselves loving the God who was our enemy, attracted to the law that once condemned us, drawn outside of ourselves to look up to Christ in faith and out to our neighbors in love and service.

FURTHER READING…

Zondervan published a dialogue between Dr. Horton and Arminian theologian, Dr. Roger Olson, in the form of a two-volume set, For Calvinism and Against Calvinism.  These volumes are extremely accessible and must-reads for those desiring a clearer understanding of both positions.  The books may be purchased as a set (at a great discount) through WTSBooks.

Last year, Dr. Ken Stewart, Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College, released a book through InterVarsity Academic entitled, Ten Myths About Calvinism.  In correlation with the book’s release, Dr. Stewart was kind enough to write a couple guest posts which I featured here on the blog.

  • MYTH: TULIP Has the Imprint of Antiquity – Did the famous TULIP acronym originate with Calvin himself?  Where did it “first bloom”?  Dr. Stewart gives a brief history of the origination of the acronym and provides helpful correctives to some common misunderstandings…
  • MYTH: Calvinism Promotes Antinomianism – If sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that salvation is secure, does that not lead to a life of lawlessness and a disregard for personal sin?  Dr. Stewart addresses the common misunderstandings that abound when the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is misconstrued.

FOR DISCUSSION…

What theological system do you think is more often misunderstood: Arminianism or Calvinism? Why?