Friday, February 27, 2009

Some books take a long time to arrive

Tomorrow, my copy of Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession should finally arrive


Wales are playing France in Paris this evening. Here's another post as part of the warm up to the rugby.

Great Welsh tries from the 1970s

More classic Welsh rugby. Start watching it and you will be hooked.

A little rugby education

The legendary Gareth Edwards scoring the greatest try in the history of rugby union.

Ivor the Engine

Enjoy this vintage Welsh cartoon.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An angry prophet and a compassionate God (1)

Tomorrow morning I will be preaching on Jonah 4. I was struck by Hugh Martin's comment on Jonah's behaviour and state of heart.

Martin says these are "amazing instances of what the corruption of a believer may attain to, in its opposition to the will and work of God."

Even so he says of Jonah, that:
He made God his counsellor; honestly and unreservedly he unbosomed himself to God; his whole case and his whole heart he laid open, even as they were, to Him...Even those sinful emotions over which he had not yet obtained the mastery, he explains before the Lord.
Jonah is out of sync with the Lord:
His danger formerly was in fleeing from the Lord. Agitated and alarmed, he fled from the Lord. Agitated and alarmed now again, he flees to the Lord. This is the safety of his position now. He does not seek a refuge from God. He makes God his refuge.
And just as he had been with Nineveh, and just as he had been with Jonah not so long before that, he continues to show himself to be the LORD, full of grace and compassion, abounding in steadfast love.

As Richard Sibbes once wrote "there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us." And that is something that every minister needs to remember last thing on a Saturday night and first thing on a Sunday morning.

The foundations of holiness are counter-intuitive

The foundations of holiness are counter-intuitive. There are biblical doctrines that seem, to some at least, to reduce the need for a holy life, or to excuse and justify unholy behaviour. It ought to be clear to us, however, that a life of holiness can only be lived as the fruit and consequence of God's sovereign grace in the gospel.

John Owen points us in the right direction:
The Socinians contend that the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ doth overthrow the necessity of a holy life; the Papists say the same concerning the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto our justification; the same charge is laid by others against the doctrine of the gratuitous election of God, the almighty efficacy of his grace in the conversion of sinners, and his faithfulness in the preservation of true believers in their state of grace unto the end.

On the other hand, the Scripture doth so place the foundations of all true and real holiness in these things, that without the faith of them, and an influence on our minds from them, it will not allow any thing to be so called.
The Works of John Owen Vol. 3, p. 566-7

Friday, February 20, 2009

If a holy God is dealing with our sin we shall be holy

I have the privilege this evening of speaking at Aberystwyth University Christian Union. They have asked me to speak on "Knowing God: Holy One."

In my preparation I came across this helpful comment by R. A. Finlayson:
The great implication of holiness in the personal life is sin-consciousness, and where there is little sin-consciousness there is little conception of the holiness of God. The holiness of God becomes significant to us only when it reveals our own sinfulness in relation to God.

Sin is a wilful act of trespass on a holy God, and penitence results in self-loathing before God and a desire, not to escape from the holiness of God, but to accept it, to open up the life to its scrutiny, and receive its just judgment. Thus comes the repentance that leads, not to despair and death, but to hope and life.

If God is holy, there is still hope that the sinner may be holy; if a holy God is dealing with our sin we shall be holy.

Interview with Iain D. Campbell

Guy Davies is into his sixth season of Blogging in the Name of the Lord interviews. His latest one is with Iain D. Campbell and you can read it here.

Spent part of yesterday at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool (what a feast for the eyes). The painting is by Daguerre, the ruins of Holyrood chapel (1834)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ETS fits into WESTMINSTER easily

ETS fits into WESTMINSTER easily, but of course, speaking confessionally, Westminster is bigger and better. A "Minster" of course is "a large or important church," so its fitting perhaps for a large and important churchly confession that says a whole lot more than the brief ETS statement.

Clear as mud? Check out Iain D. Campbell's post "On the Making of Creeds."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

Well, out of the mouth of my seven year old daughter. She picked up my copy of Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision and said:

"Tom Wright?...he isn't right at all"

I may post something on the book, I'm just about halfway through. I'm planning to preach through Galatians on Sunday mornings in the Autumn.

A truly God-ward ministry

The source of all doctrinal disputes is that clever men wish to show off their abilities before the world, and Paul here lays down the best and most fitting remedy for this by telling Timothy to keep his eyes fixed on God.

It is as if he had said, 'Some men seek popular applause, but let it be your aim to approve yourself and your ministry to God.' There is indeed nothing more likely to check a foolish desire for display than to remember that it is God we have to deal with.

John Calvin's Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:15

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Risking The Truth: Robert Peterson on Hell

I recently interviewed Robert Peterson of Covenant Seminary (St. Louis) on the doctrine of hell for the book Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church.

Here's a short extract from what is a powerful, sobering, and thought provoking interview:

1Why has there been a willingness by some evangelicals in the last one hundred years or so to accept and embrace annihilationalism?

Though some annihilationists insist that the Bible alone has motivated their rejection of the historic doctrine, others admit that emotional considerations have played a part. Without judging the motives of individuals, my opinion is that the intellectual and emotional climate of our times has more to do with the move away from some historic doctrines, including that of hell, than many realize.

In an increasingly pluralistic culture, it is politically incorrect to hold that people who do not trust Christ as Lord and Savior, will suffer everlasting torment in body and soul. But that is exactly what the Bible teaches. (For a recent defense of exclusivism, the view that one must hear and believe the gospel of Christ in this life to be saved, see, C. W. Morgan and R. A. Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (InterVarsity, 2008.)

Perhaps the candid response of one employee of an Evangelical publisher, when asked what she thought of a book featuring a debate between traditionalism and annihilationism, reflects the default mode of many: “I certainly hope that annihilationism is true!” It is not our place to hope that certain things are true with reference to the things of God. It is our place to humbly receive the Word that God has given. That means restraining our curiosity where the Word is silent. And that means believing and obeying God’s truth even if we don’t like it.

Two orthodox doctrines that became immediate targets for “liberated” human reason in the Enlightenment—original sin and eternal conscious punishment for the lost—are not my favorites. But the Word of God teaches them and so I am obligated to receive them as true and to live accordingly.

I am afraid that too many people today reach conclusions as to what they believe concerning the Christian faith on the basis of their feelings and desires rather than the teaching of Scripture. As J. I. Packer remarked some years ago, “If you want to see folk damned something is wrong with you!” Of course this is true, but Packer went on to say that some of God’s truth is hard and one such truth is the Bible’s teaching concerning eternal hell.

It seems to me that the hard words of D. A. Carson are correct: “Despite the sincerity of their motives, one wonders more than a little to what extent the growing popularity of various forms of annihilationism and conditional immortality are a reflection of this age of pluralism. It is getting harder and harder to be faithful to the ‘hard lines’ of Scripture” (The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism [Zondervan, 1996], 536.). But the Lord requires nothing less of us than, by his grace, to be faithful.

11In your experience what has been the status of the doctrine of hell among church members and in the thinking of those training to be pastors?

I have been active in local evangelical churches for forty years and in the training of pastors for thirty. Unfortunately, in my experience, the doctrine of hell has been neglected among church members and even in the thinking of those training to be pastors.

The words of Lesslie Newbigin are truer today than when he penned them in 1994: “It is one of the weaknesses of a great deal of contemporary Christianity that we do not speak of the last judgment and of the possibility of being finally lost” (“Confessing Christ in a Multi-Religion Society,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 12 [1994]: 130–31, quoted in Carson, The Gagging of God, 536).

Part of the blame should be placed at the feet of evangelical pastors, whom surveys show have been slow to teach and preach what the Bible says about hell. My study of hell in the mid-1990’s brought me to repentance because I was personally guilty of such neglect.

My experience has been that if we can bring hell to evangelicals’ minds and hearts, if we can move it from being a passive to an active doctrine, then they will begin to pray about their lost friends and loved ones as never before. That in turn motivates them to share the gospel as the Holy Spirit leads. And that produces fruit in terms of spiritual growth in the lives of the evangelists and salvation for some of those evangelized.

1How should the doctrine of hell be preached?

It should be preached by pastors who have a deep sense of Christ’s redeeming them from hell (see Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” in Hell under Fire, 219–37). Such pastors must prayerfully, lovingly, and faithfully share the message of Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, and his apostles that those who die in their sins will suffer “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), even “the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9).

At times I have found it impossible not to weep as I speak of Christ suffering the pains of hell, of drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us, so that we do not have to do so. The Bible’s message of hell is a topic worthy of study, but in addition, it has to be something that moves us to action—to repentance, when we consider what our sins deserve; to prayer, out of compassion for the lost; to worship, when we consider what Christ endured to redeem us; and certainly, to witness, when we desire for others to know our great God and Savior.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wales 23-15 England

Time to take my annual break from posting about heresies in order to celebrate another great Welsh victory over England. It is like being back in the 1970s.

Expect plenty of crowing about this from the Taffia, and maybe a bitter post or two over at Ref 21.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What the serpent is saying to the churches

I've been meaning for some time now to write an article with the title "What the serpent is saying to the churches." The article will contain reflections on Paul's use of Genesis 3 in 2 Corinthians 11, a brief biblical theology of the relationship between false prophets and teachers and the activity of Satan, and some applications of this underemphasized theme for churches and pastors.

In that regard I came across the following relevant quotation in O. Palmer Robertson's The Christ of the Prophets:
But immediately upon man's creation in innocency, the serpent introduced the first lie that contradicted the truth of God (Gen. 3:1, 4-5). From that point on, the voice of the speaking serpent resonated in the utterances of the false prophets.

If the intent of Satan is to oppose the purposes of God with respect to the redemption of his people, then it is understandable that he would seek to misrepresent the truth in a way that would contradict the revelation given through the Lord's prophets.

By this method he would strike at the root of the means by which God had determined to direct the faith and life of his people. (p. 92)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Special Offer on John Calvin: Tracts and Letters

Banner of Truth are giving a special offer on the seven volume set of Calvin's tracts and letters. Until 31st December 2009 you can buy the set for £45 or $80. More details can be found here.

Risking The Truth

More here

A collection of interviews on handling truth and error in the church. Contributors reflect on this issue in relation to the minister's own life, pulpit ministry, local church leadership, seminary training, denominations, the impact of the academy, Evangelicalism, contemporary trends, history, creeds and confessions, and doctrines that are currently under attack. There is also personal reflection on these matters, lessons drawn from experience, and practical advice. The interviews are introduced by a primer on heresy and false teaching, and concluded with a chapters on why “Being Against Heresies is not enough” and “What really matters in ministry: directives for church leaders in Acts 20.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Westminster Standards and the NCT view of the Law

One of the intriguing aspects of last week's Affinity conference was the way in which the Westminster Standards were the foil for the New Covenant Theology view of the role of the law in the Christian life.

Permit me to declare my interest here. I am a member of the Affinity theological team and therefore had a hand in the planning of the conference. I am glad the conference exists, glad of the quality of contributions given by the speakers, deeply appreciative of the fellowship in the gospel that the conference provides, and quite aware of the limitations that a mere 48 hours of conference gives you on such an important cluster of subjects.

Let me begin by saying something about the misdirected accusation heard at the conference that the Standards underplay the relationship of Christ and the Spirit to the law as a "rule of life" in Christian obedience. The upshot of this is that the Westminster Standards do not sufficiently safeguard believers from legalism and self-reliance in obeying God's commandments.

This accusation was in a pre-conference paper and not merely something said in the heat of the moment. As the papers are able to be revised by the speakers [and as I am only interested in the point being made here, and not the personalities involved] there is nothing to be gained [and I'm not sure it is even appropriate] by quoting from that particular paper.

The Westminster Confession, in chapter 9 (Of Free Will) tells us that God frees us from our natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables us to freely will and to do that which is spiritually good (9:4). This point is reiterated in the following chapter (Of Effectual Calling, 10:1). The power and motivation to holiness is understood to be by virtue of regeneration, union with Christ and the work of the Spirit in chapter 13:1, 3 (Of Sanctification).

The Westminster Standards present the view that the ability to do good works comes not from ourselves but the Spirit of Christ, and in addition to the graces already received, the actual influence of the same Holy Spirit is needed to work in believers to will and to do of his good pleasure (16:3, Of Good Works). The proof texts (a form of theological short-hand) for WCF 16:3 include Ezekiel 36:26-27, that glorious new covenant promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Without him there can be no ability to do good works.

The summary of this position can be found in the Larger Catechism's teaching on sanctification (which was helpfully read out during one of the plenary sessions):
Q. 75. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.
I was left with the impression that the teaching of the Westminster Standards was not well understood. I didn't think that they were fairly represented. And although such misrepresentation makes the NCT view seem more Christ-centred and Spirit-focussed, the reality is quite different.

Nothing is gained by setting out an alternative, allegedly superior, view to the Westminster Standards when the description of the Westminster position offered by NCT proponents is either vague or deficient. We are free to reject it, but no one is helped when it is unfairly represented. Perhaps this is a straw in the wind concerning evangelical historical awareness. It is important that those who hold the NCT view properly converse with the Westminster view and not a caricature of it.

Which leads me to a second point. Who cares what the Westminster view is anyway? I heard that too at the conference (although not from the platform). People who make that comment want their own views to be heard, but they are quite prepared to be dismissive not only of a document with historic pedigree, but also one that has achieved the respect, consent and agreement of Bible believing, gospel preaching, churches across the centuries and in our own day across the globe. That contrast does have a bearing on the matter.

Gary Benfold on "The End of the Law?" conference

Have a read of Gary Benfold's succinct and helpful report from last week's conference here

Gary's contributions during the plenary discussions were insightful, and certainly helped the discussion to move in the right direction.

Here are some of his reflections:
[Iain D.] Campbell’s paper presented the best argument for the three-fold division of the law that I have seen, but Moo’s paper seemed to rely almost completely on the repeated assertion that the three-fold division is not valid. Yet at no point (unless in the last session, which I had to miss) did he deal with Campbell’s arguments.

And when pushed, the two main New Covenant advocates (Moo, and Chris Bennett) said things such as ‘of course the Mosaic law is not irrelevant for the Christian, but it has to be seen from this side of Calvary, through the lens of Christ.’ Well, yes – but whoever doubted it? I was left asking ‘Is that all that the fuss is about?’

And the Sabbath, of course. In practical terms it’s about the Sabbath, said Moo; New Covenant theology leaves us with nine (or nine and a half) commandments. In fact New Covenant theology seemed to be little more than an attempt to justify theologically what used to be called ‘the Continental Sunday’ and should now, perhaps, be called ‘the American Sunday.’ And as justification, it seemed (at least to this mild-mannered moderate Sabbatarian) to be rather thin, rather sloppy.

One brother present complained to me that the whole conference was too cerebral. That can hardly be a valid criticism of something billed as a ‘theological study conference’. But to attempt to close on a constructive point, I come back to what I said earlier: some people seem to love theology for its own sake. They love to debate the relative merits of Bavinck and Hoeksema. Frankly, I could hardly care less: the point of theology is to glorify God by building up saints and reaching sinners – isn’t it? So, some more practical emphasis – even in a study conference – could be helpful.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The end of the conference on the end of the law

Next week I will be posting some reflections on the recent Affinity Conference on The End of the Law? These reflections will later appear in the Evangelical Magazine. I will also post some notes on our excellent day conference on covenant theology with Iain D. Campbell.

You can read some posts on the conference sessions over at Adrian Reynolds' blog (it was a pleasure to finally meet the man himself) and at Gary Brady's blog (I always enjoy spending time with Gary). The Welsh Taffia were out in force at the conference, it reminded me of what fine men we have serving churches in Wales.

There were lots of good contributions to the conference. Paul Helm made several judicious and wise comments during discussions, as well as giving a stimulating paper. It was also great to meet Mike Horton. Mike's paper covered much of the material from the early chapters of his stimulating book Covenant & Salvation. We were also generously given a free CD of the White Horse Inn and a copy of Modern Reformation.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thomas Boston: Christ the mediator in the Old Testament

I will post something soon from Thomas Boston's notes on The Marrow of Modern Divinity, particularly his understanding of the relationship between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace at Sinai. His comment below touches on it, but shouldn't be taken as indicating all that he has to say. He also says "But that the covenant of works was also, for special ends, repeated and delivered to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, I cannot refuse."

What struck me was his clear understanding that it was the Son of God who was dealing with Israel at Sinai. On of his proof texts for establishing that the Son has the same sovereign authority as the Father is Exodus 23:21.

The paucity of recognition, let alone emphasis of this fact, in the contemporary church, is lamentable:

The preface to the ten commandments deserves a particular notice in the matter of the Sinai transaction, Exod. 20:2, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."

Hence it is evident to me, that the covenant of grace was delivered to the Israelites on
Mount Sinai. For the Son of God, the messenger of the covenant of grace, spoke these words to a select people, the natural seed of Abraham, typical of his whole spiritual seed.

Soon to be Back in Print: The Marrow of Modern Divinity

The folks at Christian Focus tell me that The Marrow of Modern Divinity (with Thomas Boston's notes) will be back in print, in a reset handsome edition, later this year. This is great news. Phil Ryken has done the introduction.

If you don't know anything about the Marrow controversy, have a listen to these three brilliant lectures by Sinclair Ferguson. Ferguson says that the controversy is little known but is actually one of the pastorally important controversies that the Church has faced. The issue was the nature of the grace of God in the gospel, and the proper relationship between law and grace.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

To Affinity and beyond

From Wednesday toFriday this week I will be at the Affinity Theological Study Conference. The theme this year is The End of the Law? Examining the role of the law in the Bible, the Church and Society. The speakers are Paul Helm, Mike Horton, Bob Letham, Iain D. Campbell, Douglas Moo and Chris Bennett.

Adrian Reynolds will be live blogging the conference here

I will be leading one of the discussion groups and writing up some reflections on the issues raised by the conference in the Evangelical Magazine

Next Sunday it will be my privilege to preach at Capel Fron in Penrhyndeudraeth, in beautiful Snowdonia. It will be my third year going there to preach, and they are always an encouraging church to spend the day with.

My apologies that the whole Calvin 365 thing had died a death. I spent the best part of two weeks being ill in January and, having fallen that far behind, it would just have taken too much to catch up.