Friday, January 29, 2010

Knowing God

I wasn't raised on Reformed theology. I didn't start out with a rugby ball in one hand and the Heidelberg Catechism in the other.

In fact I'm not sure that had read any serious theology until, aged sixteen, I had a knock on the door from the Jehovah's Witnesses and a conversation that triggered some serious research. My roots were in the right place regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, but they weren't down deep enough.

But, looking back on those mid to late teen years, I'm grateful for those first books that informed me about the exegetical basis for the two natures and one person of the Lord Jesus Christ, books that I read late into the night.

My point is that we need books to help us grow in grace and knowledge, to help us think deep thoughts about a great God, and to set us on a path of further reading and reflection on the riches of the Christian faith. Truth has edges and boundaries. Step outside of these, or behave as if they don't matter, and you will walk into a spiritual minefield.

A non-doctrinal faith is impossible. A faith wrongly informed because it has been fed on false doctrine is disastrous. A faith rooted in an experiential, subjective moralism, can easily pose as Christian faith, but it is no substitute for faith in a gracious Saviour, who is both God and man, a faith rooted and grounded in the Word of God. And not to care about these matters is really not to care about God.

On these points this is a helpful video:

(HT: Jonathan Thomas)

I love the Westminster Standards

In 1855 James Henley Thornwell became a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary. He was asked if he accepted the Westminster Confession. "Accept it?" he said "I love it."

I heartily agree, and I am grateful for all the available theological and historical tools to help me understand the Westminster Standards. Those available resources are being added to in a significant way. Iain D. Campbell points us to some news about this:

The Westminster Assembly Project and Reformation Heritage Books

The Westminster Assembly Project, best known for the edition of Assembly minutes and papers to be published by Oxford University Press, has now entered an extensive publishing agreement with Reformation Heritage Books.

John Bower has joined historian Chad Van Dixhoorn in launching three new series of books by the Westminster Assembly, and one series of new and classic studies on the Assembly, all being published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is hoped that both texts and studies will stimulate further research in the Assembly and the religious dimension of English civil war politics. Certainly future publications on British post-Reformation theology and Puritanism will be enriched by these publications, briefly described here.

The first volume on the
Larger Catechism, and prepared by John Bower, will be out in March 2010.

You can order this volume here

Here's the blurb:

The Larger Catechism stands as one of the three major doctrinal standards produced by the Westminster Assembly. Often overshadowed by the Shorter Catechism and the Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism exhibits the Assembly’s most mature theological reflection and insight.

In this remarkable volume, John Bower provides extensive historical background for the making of this colossal catechism. He traces the history of the Assembly’s efforts from the initial call for a catechism, through deliberations on its form and content, and down to the intricate process of monitoring its printing.

The centerpiece of the volume is Bower’s critical text of the catechism. Painstakingly checked and indexed, the critical text is supported by a four-column comparison of the authoritative manuscripts and printings. Graced with a glossary and a catalogue of corrected proof-texts, Bower’s text is sure to be the benchmark for future study, modern editions, and foreign translations for years to come.
And here is the recommendation from Carl Trueman:
The Westminster Standards are today of interest both to the confessional tradition of Reformed Christianity and to a growing number of scholars who see the Westminster Assembly as an important factor in understanding British politics and religion in the seventeenth century.

Thus, the arrival of this new series, dedicated to the production of scholarly editions of documents associated with the Assembly, will be greeted with pleasure by both groups. This first volume, a critical edition of the Larger Catechism, will no doubt rapidly establish itself—and the series as a whole—as a standard starting-point for anyone wishing to learn more about Reformed life and thought as articulated by the Westminster Divines.
Here are some more details about the series:

Principal Documents of the Westminster Assembly. This series will produce the six chief works authored by the Assembly for covenanted uniformity of religion in England: the Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism, Directory for Public Worship, Directory for Church Government, and The Psalter. Each volume will contain a historical introduction, a critical text, and multi-column comparisons of original manuscripts and early editions.

Writings of the Westminster Divines. The aim of this series is to provide scholarly editions of texts by Westminster Assembly members and commissioners. Volumes will include previously unpublished manuscripts as well as republications of rare editions. Carefully determined editorial standards will be used to ensure an authoritative product that is accessible to modern readers, while remaining reliable for students and scholars.

Westminster Assembly Facsimiles
. With this new series, Reformation Heritage Books and the Westminster Assembly Project are providing electronic and print access to publications by Assembly members in their original form. Free PDF downloads will be made available through the Westminster Assembly Project website. The same text can be purchased for your collection in paperback and hard cover from Reformation Heritage Books.

Studies of the Westminster Assembly
. Complementing the primary source material in the other series, the Assembly studies will provide access to classic studies that have not been reprinted and to new studies, providing some of the best existing research on the Assembly and its members.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sinclair Ferguson: Thy Word is Truth

Thanks to Nick Batzig at Feeding on Christ for drawing my attention to Sinclair Ferguson's sermon at the 2009 Ligonier Leadership Conference.

You can watch and listen to it here

The dying words of Daniel Rowland

As he was dying, the great Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher Daniel Rowland told his family:
I have no more to say by way of evidence of my acceptance with God than I have always stated. I die as a poor sinner depending fully and entirely on the merits of a crucified Saviour for my acceptance with God.

A word means just what I choose it to mean

The word "evangelical" if often held up as word once clear in its meaning, but now subject to a bewildering number of defintions and uses, many of them empty of historic theological categories.

To illustrate the point here is an extract from Rob Bell's interview with The Boston Globe, 26th September 2009:

Q: OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A: I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That's a beautiful sort of thing.

Q: Is religion a part of that?

A: At the heart of the Christian story is resurrection, the belief that this word [sic] is good, and that, as a follower of Jesus, a belief that God hasn’t abandoned the world, but is actively at work in the world. Even in the midst of what can look like despair and destruction there is a new creation present.

However, in his address at Miller Chapel, Princeton Seminary, 17th September 1915, B. B. Warfield said:

...good words are still dying all around us. There is that good word "Evangelical." It is certainly moribund, if not already dead. Nobody any longer seems to know what it means.

Does anybody in the world know what "Evangelical" means, in our current religious speech?

The other day, a professedly evangelical pastor, serving a church which is certainly committed by its formularies to an evangelical confession, having occasion to report in one of our newspapers on a religious meeting composed practically entirely of Unitarians and Jews, remarked with enthusiasm upon the deeply evangelical character of its spirit and utterances.

So, confusion over the meaning and use of the word "evangelical" is not exactly something that has crept in during the last thirty years.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trinity Day Conference in Swansea (update)

Conference update: The starting time is 10 am, not 10.30 am. My apologies.

Here are the details for the next Trinity Day Conference hosted by Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Swansea. The church building is just a short walk from the train station and a slightly longer one from the bus station.

Trinity Day
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Swansea

Saturday 30th January


Cost: £10

Crèche facilities and lunch provided

Speakers and subjects:

Stuart Olyott "Why doctrine matters"

Mike Reeves "The Trinity in the writings" and "The Trinity in the gospels"

Martin Downes "Fighting to keep the Trinity clear"

Please book with Jo Smallacoombe by calling the church office: 01792 412128

Earlier this week the pastor Steve Levy caught up with Mike Reeves and asked him a few questions about the Trinity:

Levy: How important is the Trinity?

Reeves: I’m not sure what could be more important. Right from creation, the one true God has taught that he exists as three persons – so absolutely one being, but three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. Now not only does that absolutely distinguish the true God from all idols, it also provides the only logic for true good news. Only so can I be filled with the Spirit and find myself brought before the Father by the Son. In other words, it is only because God is Triune that I can be adopted as a son of God in the Son; only so can I have any assurance; only so can I approach the heavenly throne with boldness.

And that’s why historically Christians have been so eager to uphold the doctrine of the Trinity. Look at the creeds: they’re shaped around the Triune nature of God. ‘We believe in one God, the Father’ and ‘in one Lord Jesus Christ’ who is ‘of one substance with the Father’ and in the Spirit who proceeds from them both. One essence, three persons: it’s what makes our gospel Christian; it’s what makes our gospel good news.

So I’m really looking forward to Martin’s talk on the history of Trinitarianism, because it’s the most stirring story of bold fighting for true good news.

Levy: How, briefly, would you define the Trinity?

Reeves: The God of the Bible is not a solitary person like Allah; if he were, he would not be intrinsically loving (all on his own for eternity, who could he love?). But God the Father eternally begets the Son, a distinct person from the Father. And from them both eternally proceeds the Spirit. So, while Allah must remain eternally distant from his creatures, we can truly know this God: the Son is the express image of the Father. More, we can have God the Spirit in our hearts and so cry ‘Abba’!

Levy: So why are you excited about speaking on the Trinity?

Reeves: John Calvin said that our human nature is like a perpetual factory of idols, and what that means for the Christian is that everyday our sinful minds warp and obscure the happy truth about the living God. Quickly we replace it with dreary, unattractive and offensive images of him, and thus our hearts grow cold towards him. But when we hold up the revelation of who this God really is, then hearts are set on fire and religious drudgery gives way to awe, love and joy. I can’t wait!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just Love? A Day Conference with Dr. Garry Williams

If you are a pastor and live in North or Mid Wales, Liverpool, Cheshire, Manchester, Shrewsbury etc. then this is for you (if you are prepared to travel from further afield then don't let me stop you).

The Evangelical Movement of Wales has a day conference on the atonement on Tuesday 2nd March at the Bryn-y-Groes Conference Centre in Bala.

Here are the current details:

Just love?

The atoning work of Christ and the attributes of God

Speaker: Dr. Garry Williams, Director of the John Owen Centre at London Theological Seminary.

Coffee will be served at 10.30am and the first session will be at 11am. Lunch is available at the venue, or you can bring sandwiches or buy locally. There will be a cost for the day which I will update you on just as soon as I can.

There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion at the end of each of the two main sessions.

Here's the blurb:

The sessions will explore the relationship between the attributes of God and the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Should we still speak of God’s attributes? Given who God is, was the atonement necessary? Was it necessary because God is just, or merciful, or both? Is he more loving than he is just, or more just than he is loving, or neither?

Having explored these theological questions we will then consider their consequences for preaching and teaching the cross today.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jesus shall reign

A delightful anecdote, even if the language is a bit quaint:

On June 23rd 1833 Princeton Seminary graduate James Eckard was about to set sail for Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He took with him a letter written by ten year old Archibald Alexander Hodge and his sister Mary Elizabeth. The letter was addressed to the “heathen.” It said:

Dear Heathen,

The Lord Jesus Christ has promised that the time shall come when all the ends of the earth shall be his kingdom. And God is not a man that he should lie nor the son of man that he should repent.

And if this was promised by a Being who cannot lie, why do you not help it to come sooner by reading the Bible, and attending to the words of your teachers, and loving God, and, renouncing your idols, take Christianity into your temples?

And soon there will be not a Nation, no, not a space of ground a large as a footstep, that will want a missionary. My sister and myself, by small self-denials, procured two dollars which are enclosed in this letter to buy Bibles and tracts to teach you.

Archibald Alexander Hodge and Mary Elizabeth Hodge,

Friends of the Heathen

Friday, January 22, 2010

An interview on the doctrine of Scripture with Greg Beale (3)

The following interview with Professor Greg Beale is taken from Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church

In February 2011 Greg Beale will be one of the speakers at the Affinity Theological Study Conference on the doctrine of Scripture. Other speakers include Carl Trueman, Daniel Strange, Martin Downes and Hywel Jones.

Part 1: The exegetical foundations of inerrancy

Part2: Dealing with denials and criticisms of the doctrine of inerrancy

Part 3: The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism

What have been some of the contributing factors to what you have called the 'erosion' of inerrancy in evangelicalism?

There are a number of factors. One has to do with the well-known term ‘postmodernism’. What I mean by that term is the essential notion that truth is relative, and as that has come to be baptized within evangelicalism, especially in the United States, there is a focus away from the notion that the Scriptures are the inerrant Word of God and a focus on the Spirit coming to give every person a particular message through the Scriptures that may not have been originally intended. Hence, original inspiration is not that necessary or, at least, it comes to be seen as not so important.

Indeed, for the evangelical postmodernist, we no longer live in the former apologetic age. We live now in an age of experience where we want to meet the living God. We must not be so concerned about the inerrant propositions of Scripture. ‘Propositions’ almost has become a naughty hermeneutical word. We are told we should be concerned only with the God we meet who reveals His presence in Scripture. That is the kind of ethos that I think has worn away at the idea of inerrancy in evangelicalism.

Together with that there is another angle of the postmodern influence, and that is the notion that we moderns should not judge ancient peoples, i.e. the peoples who wrote the Bible, by our standards of what we believe is true and what is false. They may have had different standards. We should not impose our modern standards on these ancient peoples. For example, it is claimed that the synoptic gospels may indeed contain historical contradictions. That does not mean that the synoptic writers, and their readers, would have thought that they were contradictions and that they were false.

It is this kind of argument that you hear again and again, and this begins to touch even closer to the notion that truth is relative, especially from one age to another. That is one factor in the erosion of inerrancy in evangelicalism, even at some of our traditional evangelical institutions.

Secondly, there is a sociological phenomenon. Beginning at least thirty years ago, and increasingly today, evangelicals have been doing doctoral work in Old and New Testament and theology. One reason for that in Biblical Studies is that evangelical seminaries are rigorous in requiring Greek and Hebrew, whereas the other seminaries typically are not. There are more competent students potentially qualified to do doctoral work coming out of our seminaries (who know Greek and Hebrew well), and they are going on to do doctorates at non-evangelical institutions.

In the United States when one enters into a doctoral program that is not evangelical it is like entering a new world, a world that does not have the values that the student had back at their Christian college. When you go into that world as an evangelical you are made to feel like an ignorant fundamentalist if you really believe in the inspiration, indeed the inerrancy of Scripture. And if that were made known, you are then made to feel odd. No one wants to be made to feel odd by their professors and scholarly student peers. So it is very easy to downplay one’s view, and it becomes very easy to want to fit in. In other words a student wants to be considered normal; no one wants to be seen as abnormal, and so there is tremendous pressure not to reveal one’s belief in inerrancy, when particular occasions may call for it.

There is this huge sociological pressure placed on students, and if they are not tremendously founded on the Word of God and in a strong Reformed epistemology, then I have seen that it is easy for them to become conformed to that environment in which they are around. So students come out and maybe they are still evangelical, they believe in the gospel, but some of their other beliefs have been eroded, such as the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, which they also begin to think is the fundamentalist view.

Those are two reasons for the erosion of inerrancy in evangelical: postmodern theological reasons and the sociological factors. I must say there are some students who go through these programs, and they do fine, but there is a significant percentage who come out still considering themselves as evangelical but not with the same set of beliefs on Scripture.

How do you assess the status of inerrancy today among evangelical theologians and biblical scholars? Is the doctrine in good health?

Part of my answer goes back to the rise of postmodernism and its baptism into evangelicalism. You see this with some of our theologians at evangelical schools that do not want to be called systematic theologians. Systematic theology of some of these theologians is a matter of the past, a matter of Church history. Some contemporary theologians do not consider systematic theology to be a viable approach for the doing of theology today. These theologians sometimes like to refer to themselves as constructive theologians.

For them systematic theology focuses too much on reason, and the notion that you can organize Scripture into categories. They would also say that it focuses too much on propositions. So there is a de-emphasis on the inspiration of the propositions and an emphasis on the presence of God in Scripture. Of course that is a wonderful emphasis. Karl Barth had that emphasis. But you do not downplay one for the other. The propositions are true because they are living oracles of God and God is there speaking through them. The way He speaks to us existentially through the Scriptures is going to be consistent with the way they were originally penned under inspiration. There are not going to be different or contradictory meanings given by the Spirit.

I published a book in the mid 1990s called The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? There is a debate still among evangelicals that the New Testament writers used the Old Testament but gave it completely new meanings, and yet what they wrote was inspired. I have to say ‘no’ to that. I have argued against that in a number of my writings and I think that is the opening of the door toward a dilution of inerrancy. Peter Enns, most recently of course, argued for this position in his book Incarnation and Inspiration.

Another symptom of the dilution of the authority of Scripture among evangelicals is the popularity of the Barthian view of Scripture. Of course, I don’t want to paint everyone with this brush; there are some fine evangelicals upholding the doctrine of inerrancy, (and I’m not going to go school by school!), but some schools are mixed in this regard. I do think that the theology of Karl Barth’s view of Scripture continues to live on, and in fact is becoming very, very much more influential, even more than it has been in the past, much more influential among evangelicals.

What that means is that the key issue is the presence of God confronting one in Scripture, and not so much the focus on propositions. Barth himself believed that there were actual errors in the inscripturated form of the Bible, but that God can reveal Himself even through those errors. This is a kind of strange hyper-Calvinist view. Some of these theologians would think that it is antiquated to try to defend inerrancy as an apologetic because of what they consider to be an appropriate lack of stress on propositions.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An interview on the doctrine of Scripture with Greg Beale (2)

The following interview with Professor Greg Beale is taken from Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church

In February 2011 Greg Beale will be one of the speakers at the Affinity Theological Study Conference on the doctrine of Scripture. Other speakers include Carl Trueman, Daniel Strange, Martin Downes and Hywel Jones.

Part 2: Dealing with denials and criticisms of the doctrine of inerrancy

What are some of the consequences of denying inerrancy?

Ultimately, if you hold just to limited infallibility (for example, just the theological and soteric doctrines are inspired, not the other parts of the Bible), what can happen is that one ends up choosing what is inspired and trustworthy. What is infallible is different for different interpreters, and so one can end up making a Bible within the Bible for oneself. That is problematic. Someone might say that there are not a lot of errors, just a few. Well that is up to the ‘error’ decider. For some it may be more, for others less, but that way you don’t end up with a fully inspired Bible.

I should address the typical objection that it is irrelevant to hold that the Scriptures were inspired in the original autographs, since we no longer have them. However, if we didn’t have originally inspired autographs who knows how many errors we could have? And when did the Bible become inspired if they were not inspired in the originals? We are left with even more problems if we don’t affirm a view of the inspiration of the original manuscripts. Furthermore, why do textual criticism if there was not an inspired original? Textual criticism is based on the fact that there was an original and that we are trying to get back to it.

Some people are concerned about the New Testament because there are corruptions in the manuscripts, which of course there are. But, in terms of the textual problems that we have, the really serious ones probably equal only one percent of the whole New Testament. Someone has compared this to the department of weights and measures in Washington D. C. Apparently, they have the perfect ruler there and the perfect foot. Carpenters around the country have rulers also. They are not as perfect as the one in Washington but they are very near it. To all intents and purposes we can say ‘thus saith the Lord’.

If we are preaching from a text of which there is serious doubt about what the original said, then we have to acknowledge that, just as we have to acknowledge that there may be interpretative problems with some texts that maybe Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Hodge disagreed over. In fact, if we had the original autographs it wouldn’t solve most of our problems. Most of our problems are theological and interpretive, not textual.

The doctrine of inerrancy has been criticized as “‘practically worthless’ because it requires so much qualifying. Andrew McGowan has recently questioned it on those grounds. Is it a fair criticism?

You may be referring to his comments about the Chicago Statement on inerrancy. I do think it is important to make qualifications. All that is to say is that the Scripture is inerrant from the angle of God’s intention through the human authors. If numbers are given in one text, and in parallel texts they are not exactly the same, is that an error? Well it depends on the intention of each particular author. One may be approximating and the other may not be. Some will say that is a qualification and that this qualification is a good example of inerrancy dying the death of a thousand qualifications. I don’t think so.

Even those who hold to a broad view of inspiration, for example the infallibilists, will point to intention, even though they limit that intention to soteric issues or theological issues and not historical ones. I feel very happy with the qualifications that the Chicago Statement makes and I don’t think that those qualifications qualify inerrancy in a way that it ‘dies the death of a thousand qualifications’! In this connection, intriguingly, it is very striking, astonishing really, that Andrew McGowan’s book has hardly any exegesis in it.

Another objection to inerrancy is that it is really a nineteenth-century invention that was forged in the conflict with liberal theology and higher criticism. How do you respond to that claim?

What tells the tale on that are some of the articles and books that have been written that deal with the doctrine of Scripture in the apostolic fathers, the church fathers, the medieval period, the Reformation, and on up to the 1700s. The language used of Scripture throughout the history of the Church is the language of perfection, of not making mistakes, of not making errors and other synonymous terms. John Hannah has edited the book Inerrancy and the Church, in which there are several articles, beginning with the church fathers, that show that the doctrine of inerrancy is traceable long before the nineteenth century.

It is also a typical response to say that inerrancy arose from the Enlightenment, especially as this pertains to the use of reason in understanding Scripture. The response to this has to be the same as with the above discussion of the view of inspiration held throughout Church history.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An interview on the doctrine of Scripture with Greg Beale (1)

The following interview with Professor Greg Beale is taken from Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church

In February 2011 Greg Beale will be one of the speakers at the Affinity Theological Study Conference on the doctrine of Scripture. Other speakers include Carl Trueman, Daniel Strange, Martin Downes and Hywel Jones. For details on the last conference "The End of the Law?" go here.

Part 1: The Exegetical Foundations of Inerrancy

Why do you believe the Bible, as originally given, is not only inspired but also inerrant?

It is intriguing that some people don’t like the term ‘inerrancy’ because it sounds too negative. They also say the word cannot be found in Scripture. But you do find the concept. For example in John 10:35 Christ says that Scripture cannot be broken. And of course there are the well-known texts like 2 Timothy 3:16, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ and 2 Peter 1:21 ‘prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

The traditional syllogism of classic orthodox evangelicalism is that since God is true and without error, His oral Word is true and without error, and when His oral Word becomes inscripturated it is therefore true and without error. This syllogism has been challenged most recently by Andrew McGowan in his book The Divine Spiration of Scripture. McGowan argues that this syllogism is not biblical. I’m prepared to argue that it is not only biblical but that it is also exegetical (on which see further below).

What are some of the principal exegetical foundations of inerrancy?

As I mentioned, I believe that the concept of inerrancy is in Scripture. The syllogism that I referred to is found in some parts of the Bible, even though McGowan says that there is no evidence of such an exegetical syllogism but that it is an assumption imposed on the Scriptures.

You can, however, see this syllogism in the book of Revelation. I began to reflect on this when McGowan issued this challenge. Part of what I am now going to summarize can also be found partly in my commentary on Revelation. The key texts are Revelation 3:14 , 21:5, and 22:6.

In Revelation 3:14 Christ introduces Himself and says He is ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’. Now, it is acknowledged by most commentators that the Amen comes from Isaiah 65:16. This is the only place in Scripture where ‘Amen’ is a name. And it is a name for God. He is the ‘Amen’, and He is called the ‘Amen’ twice there in Isaiah 65:16. Christ expands that into ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’. That extension by the way is found in different LXX versions of Isaiah 65:16 and so there is already a precedent for expanding ‘Amen’ in the way Jesus Himself does in Revelation 3:14.

We have here an identification Christology. Christ is Yahweh. It is a wonderful Christological text. He says ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God’ (the latter phrase probably coming out of Isaiah 65:17 which says, ‘Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.’ Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of that new creation).

So now Christ is speaking, and He is ‘faithful and true’. Therefore He can be depended upon in His oral Word. But this oral Word is inscripturated here, and so it too can be depended upon. Especially since it ends with, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ in 3:22. These are the words of Christ and they are the words of the Spirit, which John has been commanded to ‘write’. But at this point let us be satisfied merely to say that Christ’s oral Word here is faithful because He is seen as a faithful witness.

His character is faithful and true, therefore as God was called the ‘Amen, the faithful and true’ (putting the different Septuagintal traditions of Isaiah 65:16 together), Christ identifies Himself as ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’. His witness is faithful and true, and what He says is faithful and true. Very intriguingly, in Revelation 21:5 we have this statement: ‘He who sits on the throne says, “Behold, I’m making all things new.”’ Here we have the new creation again, and He says, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’

Here we have a development from 3:14, but it still has in mind Isaiah 65:16. But now, notice, this is not Christ who is faithful and true. What is happening here is that, what was true of Yahweh and Jesus – that their character is faithful and true – is now being taken and applied to written scriptural form in the same way as it was to their oral Word. That is, God (or Christ) is saying that His ‘faithful and true’ oral Word is extended to the written Word. ‘Behold, I’m making all things new’, and He said ‘write this down for these words are faithful and true’.

So we see the extension of God’s character, Christ’s character, to His witness and oral Word in chapter 3. And now John is commanded to write this word down in scriptural form in chapter 21. The faithful and true character of the oral Word is extended to the written form.

In 22:6 we see the same thing. We read, ‘These words are faithful and true.’ He is probably not just referring to the Revelation 21:1–22:5 vision but to the whole book. ‘These words are faithful and true.’ Again the whole book is categorized in this way. This is found in one other place. In 19:9 we read ‘Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”And he added, “These are true words of God.”’He is commanded to write. Why? Because what has been spoken as true has been extended to the written form. Only two verses later, Christ is again referred to as ‘faithful and true’.

Now some might say, as they have in fact said to me, ‘well there is a little room for slippage here. Yes, God is telling John to write these things down because the oral Word is “faithful and true,” but maybe he could have slipped a little bit and just a bit of inaccuracy could have crept in when he tried to record it.’ But, in fact, we know that John was a prophet, and we know that God views the whole book in its written form as prophetic. This is apparent from the well-known verses of Revelation 22:18-19, ‘I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life.’ And, likewise, remember that in chapter three, in the letters, at the end they are seen as the words of the Spirit, yet John was commanded to write.

So with this extension what we have here in Revelation is the syllogism. God and Christ are seen as faithful and true, therefore their oral Word is faithful and true, and because of this their Word is to be put down in written form, and this too is faithful and true. The word ‘inerrant’ is not used but certainly the notion is that God and Christ being ‘faithful and true’ includes that their witness not contain any untruth or error. Thus, the concept of inerrancy is likely expressed here.

Setting the record straight about Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A friend pointed out to me the following grave error in an sentence in Al Mohler's recent blog post "How will they hear without a preacher?":
England, of course, is the nation that once gave us preachers the likes of Charles Simeon, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Now, let us be clear, Martyn Lloyd-Jones was Welsh. Welsh was the language of the family home. He was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Wales and he is buried in Wales.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The One and the many

"He stood where no one but Adam ever stood,
acting as one for many;
offering a ransom as one for many (Matt. 20:28);
shedding his blood as one for many (Matt. 26:28)."

George Smeaton
Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement
, p. 53

In my opinion every minister of the gospel should read Smeaton's two volumes on the atonement which were first published in the early 1870s and have been republished by the Banner of Truth.

You don't need to get much beyond the first fifty pages of Christ's doctrine of the atonement to realise that the twenty-first century "evangelical" alternatives to penal substitution, and the related reworking of the attributes of God as the lens through which we view the atonement, were well known in the Victorian era, were well weighed by this judicious Scottish theologian, and were well refuted by his able pen.

Beyond the polemic value of the work, which is considerable, lies its worth as a example of the marriage of the best exegetical theology and the warmth of genuine Christian piety.

If you want to get a better grasp of the biblical categories, terminology, and texts about the atonement, and if you want that survey to present the truth about Christ in such a way as to magnify him as the Saviour you need, you can do no better than to pick up and read the volumes of George Smeaton.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A bad, bad review of Risking the Truth

On the whole reviews of the book have been very good. Until now...

On Saturday I was cleaning out the rabbit hutch and asked my eldest daughter Lowri, aged ten, to fetch the newspaper to line the bottom of the hutch.

She went off and returned with a copy of Risking the Truth and promptly handed it to me.

I still can't think of a decent response.

On the other hand I'm grateful to Lane Keister for his review over at his stellar Green Baggins blog.

I'm also grateful that Risking the Truth was one of three Christian Focus titles that made it into Phil Johnson's top seven books of 2009 (for the whole list go here).

Phil kindly said:
This is a refreshing compilation of articles on dealing with heresy and heterodoxy in the church...I'm not always a big fan of symposium-style books (even though I have contributed to a few). But this one really hangs together. Keep it by your bedside and read a chapter a night. Good stuff.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Links of various sizes

The world's tallest and shortest men have met. Sulten Kosen and He Pingping expected it to be a friendly meeting, but in the end didn't really see eye to eye.

Cranmer posts the full script of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's 1988 address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Paul Helm offers some critique and reflections on Carl Trueman's recent essay on J. I. Packer here. Carl in turn will be responding. There is the promise of more to come over at Ref 21 here.

One of my deacons has been raving about a recent Modern Reformation article on funerals. The WHI blog has made this "exceptional article" available online, "Funerals from Hell: Where have all the graveyards gone?"

Guy Davies is taking a look at Stuart Olyott's article Where Luther Got It Wrong - and Why We need To Know about It (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Liberalism never dies

Not just in the19th and 20th centuries but today. Liberalism is a mood, a mindset, a set of presuppositions about how to relate the content of the gospel to the clamouring voices of the culture. There is this general disposition and particular manifestations of it over time.

As Gandalf said to Frodo Baggins "Always after a defeat and a respite,the Shadow takes another shape and grows again."

The latest edition of the 9 Marks journal focusses on these issues. There are articles by Carl Trueman, Phil Johnson, Al Mohler, Mike Ovey and several others. Well worth reading. You can download the whole journal here.

(HT: Monergism)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who is really doing "biblical theology"?

Sometimes, it is alleged, Bible readers read into the text of Scripture ideas that developed at a much later stage, and which, therefore, could not have been known or understood at the time when the text was first written.

The discipline of biblical theology safeguards against this danger by noting the unfolding nature of redemption and revelation, and by tracing the various strands of revelation across the epochs of Scripture.

This discipline liberates us from the myopic approach that obscures the sense of the organic unity of Scripture and its genuine historic focus. Above all it directs our focus upon the Christotelic nature of Old Testament Scripture as the kingdom of God advances and as it is administrated through the covenants.

Some of the richest fields of this Biblical-theological approach that need to be harvested in expository preaching concern the theology of the temple (read G. K. Beale on this).

So far so good.

Sometimes the phrase "biblical theology" is used not only to describe a method of interpretation, but to signify a specific, limited, dogmatic content in Old Testament Scripture. Not that this limited dogmatic content is somehow synonymous with the term or method of "biblical theology." The two should not be treated in this way in an uncritical manner.

However, when it is used in this way biblical theology can actually shut down our interpretative options and restrict our abilities to read the text properly.

In fact, instead of being a helpful method, designed to help us become more sensitive in reading a text in its context (literary unit, book, genre, stage of redemptive history) it too can act as a dogmatic system that imposes itself upon the text. Did we really think that we had become totally free from this error and had become completely emancipated from being myopic?

We think that we are doing "biblical theology" but we have stopped doing exegesis at all. Our method has become every bit as much of a dogmatic framework as the "systematic theology" approach of Bible reading that we have been seeking to avoid.

A good example of this can be found in Meredith Kline's biblical-theological reading of Zechariah's Night Visions (Glory in Our Midst) which Mike Horton describes as bringing a "renewed appreciation for the organic unity and development of redemptive revelation."

Kline cannot be faulted for his sensitivity to the cultivation of a biblical-theological approach to the text of Zechariah. He overtly sets out to see the significance of the night visions "in the light of their identity as part of the overall eschatalogical drama of the kingdom of God from creation to consummation."

Within that approach Kline says that Zechariah's night visions are "a remarkably rich revelation of the Messiah" and that "also conspicuous is the role of the Spirit in relation to the Messianic mission." Furthermore he says:
This Glory of the heavenly Presence of the triune God is indeed the dominant reality in Zechariah's visionary world. And central in the message of the night vision is the gospel promise that this Glory-Presence is vouchsafed to God's people, at last in eschatological fulness.
Consider Kline's assessment of some interpretations of the third night vision recorded in Zechariah 2:

Unable to accept the high mystery of the Angel who describes himself as sent by Yahweh of Hosts (v. 11) and yet speaks as Yahweh of hosts (v. 8) or the reality of the presence and participation of the pre-incarnate Christ in these visionary proceedings, many commentators treat the claims to be sent by God (vv. 8, 9, 11) as parenthetical interjections by Zechariah.

It is alleged that the prophet repeatedly interrupts the divine oracle he is supposedly voicing in order to boast of the future authentication of his prophetic call (cf. Deut. 18:21, 22). But the claims to be sent are thus severed from the attached statements of the purposes of this sending (viz., judgment of the nations and dwelling in Zion) which do not fit Zechariah's role.

Kline's reading of Zechariah 2:8-11 is the same as that of Calvin who wrote of Christ speaking here as God the redeemer (which would of course make it the Calvin-Kline view).

His point? An interpretation that diminishes the Christological and Trinitarian language of the text (the LORD dwelling in the midst of his people sent by the LORD of Hosts) has not exegeted the text in a sufficiently nuanced way.

Curiously Barry Webb's fine commentary (in the IVP Bible Speaks Today series) ignores even the possibility that the second person of the Trinity is the speaker and merely treats the confirmation of sending as Zechariah's interjection about his prophetic office. Calvin on the other hand wrote that "this address cannot be applied without perversion to the Prophet."

Who do heresies persist?

"Always after a defeat and a respite,

the Shadow takes another shape and grows again"

Gandalf the Grey

Why do heresies persist?

Church history tells the story of the battle between truth and error. Heresies arise, gain a following, are opposed and refuted from Scripture, and then the Church moves on and advances in the truth. Because of this we have great statements like the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon.

But if these errors have been dealt with in the past why do they come back again and again? Why do people today believe old heresies? There are three reasons.

1. The devil still deceives people into believing heresies by using human instruments to promote attractive and plausible teaching. He will continue to do this until Christ returns in glory.

2. The warnings and lessons from history are ignored or unknown. If we are ignorant of the past we will fail to see that heresies that today appear new, innovative and interesting are as old as dirt. Many of the errors finding a home in evangelicalism today were tried and found wanting by our great-great-grandfathers in the faith at the bar of Scripture.

3. Throughout history those who deny the truth and choose a different gospel are limited in the options available to them.

In his study of heresies Harold Brown concluded that “over and over again, in widely separated cultures, in different centuries, the same basic misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the person and work of Christ and his message reappear. The persistence of the same stimulus, so to speak, repeatedly produces the same or similar reactions.”

Friday, January 08, 2010

A biblical, theological, and pastoral assessment of heresy

I want to offer some selective comments on a seminal New Testament passage concerning false teaching. That passage is 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 (ESV):
1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!

2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Several things should grab our attention:

1. The goal of the false teachers is to sever the intimate relationship between the true Christ and his bride, and not merely to exchange one set of ideas about God for another. It is vital that we view what is really at stake from Paul's perspective.

The loss is not merely intellectual but affectional, they have been led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. This is the burden of verses 2 and 3.

2. Both the origin of doctrinal error and the modus operandi of its preachers can be traced to the deception in the garden. We may speak of the original deception and all actual deceptions that proceed from it. This is the burden of verse 3, and verses 13-15.

3. The form that doctrinal error takes is to retain the right theological language but to substitute its content with alternative meanings. This is the burden of verse 4.

If we listen without discernement, we will assume that preachers who speak of Jesus, the Spirit and the gospel, are to be considered orthodox. But which Jesus, which Spirit, which gospel are they speaking of? That is Paul's concern

4. But there is also in these verses a damaging assessment made of the spiritual condition of the Corinthians. Paul's heart as a pastor is grieved by their tolerance of heresy:
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Did they really not know the difference between truth and serious theological error, between orthodoxy and heresy? It is a terrible thing to knowingly tolerate serious theological error. It is a reprehensible breaking of the first commandment. It is a sign of real spiritual trouble.

Wherever this is repeated, any pastor who shares some measure of Paul's concern for the truth of the gospel and for the good of souls cannot but feel great sadness and indignation at such a state of affairs.

He who has ears to hear, let him not listen to what the serpent is saying to the churches

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Reading with M'Cheyne at Ref 21

As well as Matthew Henry's A Method for Prayer over at Ref 21 you can find some more helpful reading to fuel your devotions. Look out for the MDB (M'Cheyne Daily Blog) entries in the left hand sidebar.

Jeremy Smith explains:
...each weekday should bring a brief devotional reflecting on one of the four daily readings from Robert Murray M'Cheyne's famous Bible reading plan.

Contributors to this daily devotional include the usual suspects (Derek, Carl, Phil, Steve, and Iain D) and other ref21 friends (Gerald Bray, Burk Parsons, Chris Larson, Chris Donato, Martin Downes and Mark Johnston) and a few others.

A great way to begin 2010 on your knees

I currently live five miles away from the city of Chester where the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was a minister of the gospel. And I am very grateful for the labours of another minister of the gospel, Ligon Duncan, on the other side of the pond, for the provision of the online text of Matthew Henry book A Method For Prayer.

The book, newly re-released, published by Christian Focus and edited by Ligon, is available (with sample chapters) here.

However, this is so much more than another ebook to download and peruse. You need to take a good look at the site to see how helpfully this has been done. Just click here.

Ligon makes the folowing helpful comments about prayer, and how Matthew Henry's book can help us:

The aim of the online publication of this “old-made-new” monograph is to assist and encourage modern Christians in both public and private prayer. Surely we all recognize that the Church of our day, at least in the West, is weak in the way of prayer.

Few of us, perhaps, understand what prayer really is. We do not pray often. We do not pray with scriptural proportion, nor does our prayer much reflect the language and thought of the Bible. We do not pray fervently. Although we claim otherwise, maybe we really do not believe in prayer!

For those who are called upon to lead the Church in public prayer, or who simply desire to be more faithful and competent in their own private petitions, a scriptural manner of praying provides the order, proportion, and variety which should characterize all our prayers.

We have aimed to provide users with a number of helps to assist in achieving this end. The core of the website is the entire text of Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer. Reading and re-reading through it will train the Christian in the use of biblical truth and language in prayer.

You can even sign up for daily email updates of the book:
Work your way through Matthew Henry's "6 parts of prayer" and his elaboration of the Lord's Prayer by signing up to receive daily devotional emails. Each day you'll receive a self-contained unit of a particular chapter of Henry's book, about 1 to 1.5 book pages long.

Instead of moving you through the book consecutively, the emails will cycle you through the different parts of prayer nearly every week: Adoration, Confession, Petition, Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Conclusion (coupled with the chapter on the Lord's Prayer). These emails will take you through the heart of the book (Chapters 1-7) twice in a single year.
To do that go here.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Losing perspective

I love those photographs of people with famous landmarks behind them, where instead of looking into the camera with a cheesy grin they hold out their forefinger and thumb so that it looks like they are holding the Eiffel Tower. Something so great is made to look so small.

But it reminds me that we can so lose perspective on the greatness of God and his Kingdom that everything else seems big and God and his kingdom appear small. Do you know what I mean? Does that describe you? Has that happened to you?

The book of Zechariah, it seems to me, is the perfect remedy for Christians who have lost perspective on God and his kingdom in a world where they can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the opposition and underwhelmed by the state of the Church as they look around.

This condition is encapsulated by the vivid wording in 4:10 about not despising the day of small things. The book of Zechariah is thick with descriptions of the expansive reign of the kingdom, the global reach of the mercies of God (2:11; 8:20-23), and the coming rule of the LORD as king over all the earth (14:9).

You can afford to rejoice in these things now. Consider how the people of God, the Church, the temple where he dwells, is multi-national. Consider the spread of the gospel throughout the world, far, far beyond anything known in the day of small things back in 520 BC.

You can also afford to rejoice in advance of the total fulfilment of Zechariah 14:9. Every word of God proves true. The Word of God is directing the course of history, as some have found to their bitter cost when they disregarded it (1:1-6).

Quite simply the book of Zechariah is intended to recalibrate our vision of the work of God.

The personal presence of the Lord of Glory

More from Meredith Kline on Zechariah 1 (The Rider of the Red Horse):

When the apostle John received his apocalyptic vision on Patmos, the opening revelation confronted him with the figure of the Son of Man in the transfigured brilliance of heaven's glory (Rev. 1:13-16).

Similarly, Zechariah in his opening vision beheld the commanding presence of a man riding a red horse, a man who was the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate revelation of the coming Christ.

That this man and the messianic Angel are in fact one and the same individual is brought out clearly by the pointed identification of the "the Angel of Yahweh" in verse 11 as "the one stationed among the myrtles," the phrase already used twice to describe the man-figure (vv. 8 and 10). Moreover, like this man, the Angel is the one with immediate authority over the other horsemen.

A second angel appears in this and subsequent visions, repeatedly described by Zechariah as "the angel who was talking with me" (1:9,13,14, etc.). Such an interpreting angel was also sent to other recipients of apocalyptic visions (cf., e.g., Dan. 8:16ff.; Rev. 22:8ff.).

But the Angel of the Lord is unique among the angels. He is the Lord of angels. In the course of Zechariah's visions we find the same evidence of this Angel's divine attributes and prerogatives that appears elsewhere in the Scriptures and has led to the general recognition of this figure as a form of theophany; more specifically, as a manifestation of the second person of the Trinity. One such indication of the divine identity of the Angel of Yahweh in the present context is the reference to him in verse 13 as simply "Yahweh".

In this man-Angel the coming Messiah-Lord was revealing at the very outset of these visions his immediate presence with his people. He was there with them in their historical struggle, exercising his sovereign power in their behalf (cf. Isa. 63:9 and 43:2).

That personal presence of the Lord of Glory in the midst of the covenant community on earth was the all-important reality. To make known the meaning of the presence and mission of this messianic Angel is what Zechariah's visions are all about. They are an unveiling of the secret of the covenant, an apocalypse of the mystery of the divine Presence.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The passionate love of the Saviour-Shepherd

Such helpful words from Meredith Kline about Jesus as the Angel of the Lord in Zechariah 1:12 (taken from article on "The Rider of the Red Horse"):
Whether answering or asking the "how long?" of eschatological hope, the messianic Angel could not but have in view those new covenant developments that would be set in motion by his own entrance into history as the Messiah, the son of David.

When he cries "how long?" he is expressing the eagerness of the Son for the arrival of the hour when the Father will send him to earth on his covenanted mission to make an atonement for his people, to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to anoint the eternal temple.

His cry of longing reveals the passionate love of the savior-shepherd for the flock he hastens in spirit to seek and find and bring home.
He goes on to this summary statement:

D. Christ—Judge and Advocate: In the opening night vision of Zechariah the messianic Angel is cast in the dual role of judge of the nations and advocate of the Israel of God.

Remarkably, this portraiture of Christ in his royal-priestly office is found again at each main juncture in the structure of Zechariah: in the central, fourth member (3:1-10) of the seven night visions; in the central hinge section (6:9-15) of the overall diptych form of the book; and in the central unit (11:1-17) of the burdens that comprise the second half of the prophecy.

Most like the first vision is Zechariah 3, where the Angel of the Lord is again present, presiding as judge, yet simultaneously advocating the cause of Joshua the high priest, Satan-accused but chosen of God.

The Christian readily recognizes his savior-shepherd as the subject of this priest-king portrait. Jesus is the Angel of the Lord, now come in the flesh. To him all authority in heaven and earth has been given and in the day of his parousia he will judge all the nations in righteousness.

Until that day he intercedes in the court of heaven for his afflicted flock in the wilderness. His claim before the ancient of days is that the "seventy years" curse of divine wrath has been fully accomplished for his redeemed. That eternal wrath of God against them was compressed into the hours of his once-for-all sufferings on the Cross.

Hence, the accuser of the brethren is rebuked (cf. Zech. 3:2). They overcome him because of the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11). Beyond his passive obedience in his enduring of the "seventy years," our advocate at the right hand of the Father presents in our behalf the claim of his active obedience, the fulfillment of the covenant probation, and that merit imputed to us is the ground of our inheritance of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The advocacy of our ever-living heavenly priest is not in vain. It prevails to bring the longed for response of favor and blessing from the Lord of hosts (cf. Zech. 1:13-17). He is the true Servant of the Lord, able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him (Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:28).