Saturday, May 30, 2009

Jeremy Walker reviews Risking the Truth

Have a read here. Jeremy is an astute and prolific book reviewer. And let it be noted he has read and reviewed the book before I have even had a chance to see it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Out Now: Risking the Truth

Risking the Truth: Interviews on Handling Error in the Church (256 pages) is out now.

Available directly from CFP here and of course here. The US release date is July 13th. The Westminster Bookstore has it at a really good price here.

Foreword by Sinclair B Ferguson. 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 "Clear and Present Danger: Timothy and the False Teachers."

Contributors include: Carl R. Trueman, Tom Schreiner, Michael Horton, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Derek Thomas, R. Scott Clark, Tom Ascol, Guy Waters, Kim Riddlebarger, Ron Gleason, Sean Michael Lucas, Iain D Campbell, Gary L. W. Johnson, Conrad Mbewe, Geoffrey Thomas, Joel Beeke, Robert Peterson, Michael Ovey

You can read the foreword here


"Serious. Thoughtful. Humble. Godly. Loving. Bracing. Encouraging. These interviews will be a blessing to anyone seeking to be faithful in Christian ministry."

James M. Hamilton Jr., ~ Associate Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

"This is a book that promotes reflection. By introducing you to a number of leading Christian thinkers, it gives you a read that is interesting, informative and stimulating. It provides you with a treasure-chest of historical, theological and practical insights as it airs issues that are confronting the worldwide church and its leaders at the present time. Christian pastors, leaders and academics who neglect this book will be very much the poorer intellectually, spiritually and practically."

Stuart Olyott ~ Pastoral Director, Evangelical Movement of Wales

"This collection is fascinating, sobering and encouraging. It presents an impressive range of experience and wisdom on the challenges facing the church and its ministry in dealing with false teaching while being sensitive to those affected by it."

Robert Letham ~ Wales Evangelical School of Theology

"What a novel way to approach this most vital of subjects! Given that theological reflection is human thought about the Scriptural revelation of a tri-personal God, I have always believed that the personal element has a place in all of our theologizing. The subjective should not-indeed cannot-be removed from theology. And here we see the way that some of the most important theological minds of our day personally grapple with how truth is to be defended. This mesh of subjectivity and Christian apologetics-in which objectivity is so vital-makes for both compelling and profoundly instructive reading."

Michael A. G. Haykin ~ Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

A heart for gospel unity

The following is from Iain D. Campbell, on the contemporary situation facing the Church in Scotland and broader issues of unity:
There is no Scriptural warrant for our current divisions. They are an offence to God, and fly in the face of the Bible’s directives for Christian character and behaviour. We are called to repent of them, and to seek to honour Christ under one banner of truth.

Our factionalism, on the other hand, has led us to duplicate our work, waste our resources, and splinter our witness. How can this glorify Christ or reach the unsaved world with a message of hope?
Read more here

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Machen! Thou shouldst be living at this hour!

With apologies to Wordsworth:

Machen! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
The Kirk hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient Presbyterian dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Here are some thought provoking links on the recent events affecting the Church of Scotland:

David Meredith writes about the future for a bible centred, grace proclaiming, contemporary, church planting, socially responsible Presbyterian Church in Scotland – perhaps even the UK! here

John Ross, in an extensive and very thoughtful post, writes about a new church for Scotland here (HT: Creideamh)

And Carl Trueman weighs in with some thoughts on how these issues should be handled effectively by evangelicals within the presbyterian Church of Scotland here

Friday, May 22, 2009

An agnostic in shepherd's clothing

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said,
in a rather scornful tone,
"it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

The following is from Al Mohler's blog:
Richard Holloway is a Bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church. There seems to be on obvious problem -- he doesn't believe in God. In the Scottish Episcopal Church, that must not be a problem.

Bishop Holloway served for years as Bishop of Edinburgh and primate of the Scottish church. The Scottish Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion -- the Scottish sister church of the Church of England. During his years as Bishop of Edinburgh Holloway regularly offended the faithful, promoting one heresy or scandalous teaching after another.

In 2000 he took early retirement, but did not resign his ordination or consecration. He remains a bishop, even as he has become an agnostic.

Bishop Holloway claims a right to interpret Christianity as he sees fit. This is a claim commonly offered in some churches. The truth of the Christian faith, the great doctrines of the Bible, the creeds and confessions of the church -- all these are instantly relativized by a claimed right to private interpretation.

The case of Bishop Holloway serves to demonstrate that this right of private interpretation is destructive of the very concept of truth and doctrine. Here we meet a bishop who has "interpreted" the faith all the way down to agnosticism. Many others have interpreted the faith down to something that is not recognizably Christian.
Read the rest here

Liberalism: A warning from history (3)

Pray for the seminaries

We ought to pray for the preservation of the gospel in the seminaries. "Holding fast to sound words" is an apostolic command, as the Paul makes clear to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:13-14). Seminaries are for churches, and not for the sake of the academic world.

We ought to pray specifically that men would not be ashamed of Jesus and his words (Mark 8:38).

We ought to pray for clarity to think through the consequences of compromise, and courage to fight the right battles.

The older Liberalism is all but dead. It could never produce offspring. But the same tendency to make the Word of God subservient to the ruling ideas of the age is still with us. If we get this wrong in the coming generation, with the battles that we are facing today, the effect on the churches will be devastating.

We need to remember that errors that come from the professors, to the pulpits, and into the pews can travel very quickly, as Galatians 1 makes clear.

Martin Luther saw the issues clearly in his own day, his oft quoted words are still as relevant as ever at the start of the twenty-first century:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
In the nineteenth century many Liberals started out as evangelicals, men who affirmed their belief in the Reformation doctrines of the Westminster Confession. Many sought to reach a modern culture that they knew was departing from previous Christian influences. They tried to hold together new views that were destructive of historic Christian doctrine, a fervent spirituality, and an evangelistic concern. But when they lost their grip on the truth their spirituality and evangelistic concerns merely masked the presence of another gospel, which was really no gospel at all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Larger Catechism on Christ's ascension and heavenly session

Q. 53. How was Christ exalted in his ascension?

A. Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having after his resurrection often appeared unto and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations, forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither, and to prepare a place for us, where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world.

Q. 54. How is Christ exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God?

A. Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God, in that as God-man he is advanced to the highest favor with God the Father, with all fullness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth; and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, and maketh intercession for them.

Q. 55. How doth Christ make intercession?

A. Christ maketh intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.

Q. 56. How is Christ to be exalted in his coming again to judge the world?

A. Christ is to be exalted in his coming again to judge the world, in that he, who was unjustly judged and condemned by wicked men, shall come again at the last day in great power, and in the full manifestation of his own glory, and of his Father's, with all his holy angels, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, to judge the world in righteousness.

The Heidelberg Catechism on the ascension of Christ

[With thanks to Dan Hames for the picture]
Lord’s Day 18
46. What do you understand by the words “He ascended into heaven?”

That Christ, in the sight of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven,1 and continues there in our behalf 2 until He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.3

1 Mt 26:64; Lk 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; 2 Rom 8:34; Eph 4:10; Heb 4:14, 7:23-25, 9:11, 24; 3 Mt 24:30; Acts 1:11, 3:20-21

47. But is not Christ with us even unto the end of the world,1 as He has promised?

Christ is true man and true God. According to His human nature He is now not on earth,2 but according to His Godhead, majesty, grace, and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us.3

1 Mt 28:20; 2 Mt 26:11; Jn 16:28, 17:11; Acts 3:19-21; Heb 8:4; 3 Mt 28:18-20; Jn 14:16-19, 16:13; Eph 4:8; Heb 8:4

48. But are not, in this way, the two natures in Christ separated from one another, if the manhood is not wherever the Godhead is?

Not at all, for since the Godhead is incomprehensible and everywhere present,1 it must follow that it is indeed beyond the bounds of the manhood which it has assumed, but is yet nonetheless in the same also, and remains personally united to it.2

1 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 7:48-49; 2 Mt 28:6; Jn 1:14, 48, 3:13, 11:15; Col 2:9

49. What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven?

First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in heaven.1 Second, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge, that He as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.2 Third, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest,3 by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not things on the earth.4

1 Rom 8:34; 1 Jn 2:1; 2 Jn 14:2, 17:24, 20:17; Eph 2:4-6; 3 Jn 14:16; Acts 2:33; 2 Cor 1:21-22, 5:5; 4 Jn 14:3; Col 3:1-4; Heb 9:24

Out in July

The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century Vol. 3 (ed. Ligon Duncan)

Check out the details here and here

Here's the blurb:

THIS IMPORTANT COLLECTION of essays seeks to place the work of the Westminster Assembly in its historical, theological, political and social setting and challenge inaccurate historical assertions that have since become commonplace. It places Westminster in its relation to earlier and later Reformed theology and provides a fresh evaluation of its contribution to the Calvinist tradition. It commends it to us as a faithful expression of clear-headed Christian thinking.

Topics include: The Thirty Nine Articles at the Confession; Karl Barth and the Westminster Confession of Faith; The New Perspective, Paul, Luther & Judaism; Objections to the Covenant Theology of the Confession; The Nature of the Lord’s Supper according to Calvin and the Westminster Assembly.

Liberalism: A warning from history (2)

The Cost of Compromise

A. B. Davidson, who was appointed in 1863 to the Chair of Hebrew Old Testament Literature in the New College, Edinburgh, had drunk deeply at the wells of German Liberal theology. He subtly began to introduce the new theology in his classroom. Finlayson notes that Davidson gave this counsel to his students:

"Be careful to give this to your congregations in small doses." (p.196)

A. B. Bruce, professor at the Glasgow College, is a further tragic example of the effects of Liberal theology:

Of some others in the forefront of the movement, it can only be said that there was a breakdown in character as well as in faith, over which the veil of charity must be drawn. As sad a case as any was, perhaps, that of A. B. Bruce, because of the early promise of his work on the teaching of Christ: and yet at the end of the day one of his closest friends commented sorrowfully: 'Sandy Bruce died without a single Christian conviction.' (p. 198)

From the vantage point of the 21st century as we survey the wreckage of Liberalism, the emptying of the churches, we rightly wonder why this was not seen to be the logical outcome of the new theology. Finlayson touched on that very point:

The fact so difficult to understand is that this barren rationalism captured so many of the Reformed Colleges within a few decades, and Church leaders, professing to be evangelical, could not see that it could produce only bankruptcy in the realm of faith, and complete sterility in the life of the Church. (p. 195)

As deluded as this marriage of evangelical convictions to biblical criticism now appears, at the time it was considered necessary for the survival of Christian faith in the modern world. This was the "New Apologetic." But it was a compromise with the spirit of the age. Tragically when it was preached it was to sound the death knell of authentic Christian faith. The damage done was unspeakable. Considered in the light of the Day of Judgement it is deeply traumatic to contemplate. The consequences of this kind of error are eternal.

Marcus Dods, who was to become Principal of New College, Edinburgh, in 1907 wrote in a letter to a friend:

"The churches won't know themselves fifty years hence. It is hoped some little rag of faith may be left when all's done."

The story in Scotland of what I have called "Liberalism: A Warning from History" is poignantly told by R. A Finlayson. Iain Murray gives a much fuller account, from which I have also drawn, in his chapter "The Tragedy of the Free Church of Scotland" (in A Scottish Christian Heritage, Banner of Truth). It is a chapter that should be read by every theological student, every minister, and every seminary professor. It is a sobering warning to our own generation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Alec Motyer on The Angel of the Lord (1)

Exodus 3:2-6:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, "I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned." 4When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5Then he said, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Alec Motyer makes the following remarks in his commentary on Exodus 3:
Exodus describes Moses' encounter with God as the angel of the LORD appearing to him. When we look at the other references to 'the Angel of the LORD' or 'the Angel of God', we find that he is someone very special indeed. A. B. Davidson put it this way: 'This Angel is not a created angel--He is Jehovah Himself in manifestation...identical with Jehovah, although also different.'

Angels in general, writes Davidson, can represent one aspect or another of the divine nature but 'in the Angel of the Lord He is fully present.' Malachi 3:1 is a case in point, where 'The Lord (
adon, the Sovereign)' and 'The messenger/Angel of the covenant' are in apposition: literally, 'Suddenly, the Lord whom you seek, the Angel of the covenant whom you desire, will come to his temple. Behold! He is coming! The LORD (yhwh) of hosts has said it!'

The coming of the Angel is the coming of Yahweh in all his sovereignty, yet Yahweh announces the coming of the Angel as though speaking of someone else. All this is amply borne out in the references to 'the Angel of the LORD' throughout the Old Testament.

Liberalism: A warning from history (1)

The following is an edited version of an article that appeared here almost a year ago:

How is it possible for sound evangelical churches to move so quickly from the truth into error? And how is it possible for a church blessed with many eminent preachers and scholars to be succeeded by men who lose the gospel? These questions are not theoretical. We will consider them in the light history.

Wrong Priorities

R. A. Finlayson the late professor of Systematic Theology in the Free Church College in Edinburgh, wrote a helpful short article on "How Liberal Theology Infected Scotland." Finlayson thought that the infiltration of Liberal theology into the Church was due to wrong priorities by the leaders. He wrote:

Not content with opening three colleges, in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen...her theological students would not deem their course complete, or their standing in the Church assured, without a postgraduate course of one or more years in one of the more famous Colleges in Germany.

From that folly, the product of spiritual pride, the Free Church was to reap a bitter harvest. Germany then was the nursery of Liberal theology, which was spreading like prairie fire through the Protestant Churches of Europe. (Reformed Theological Writings, p. 195)

Reading this assessment reminded me of the words of Archibald Alexander to the young Charles Hodge earlier in the nineteenth century. Hodge has been given leave by Princeton Seminary to spend two years studying in Europe. As well as developing his language skills, Hodge would become acquainted with biblical criticism. Alexander cautioned him:

Remember that you breathe a poisoned atmosphere. If you lose the lively and deep impression of Divine truth, if you fall into scepticism or even into coldness - you will lose more than you gain from all the German professors and libraries.

At the start of the twentieth century a similar situation was faced by the young Gresham Machen, who later founded Westminster Seminary. As he studied in Marburg, Germany, under the renowned Liberal scholar Wilhelm Herrman, Machen said that Herrman believed hardly anything essential to Christianity. Yet here was a man who at the same time exuded an incredibly impressive piety. Although he rarely spoke of the profound spiritual struggle that he went through in Germany, years late,r one of Machen's students recalled him saying that:

The great Dr. Herrman presented his position with such power I would sometimes leave his presence wondering how I could ever retain my confidence in the historical accuracy of the Gospel narratives. The I would go to my room, take out the Gospel of Mark and read it from beginning to end in one sitting--and my doubts would fade. I realized that the document could not possibly be the invention of the mind of a mere man. (Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony, p. 230)

It was a remarkable act of mercy that kept the young Charles Hodge, and the young Gresham Machen, from caving in to the errors of their teachers. Embracing the truth, and remaining sound in the faith, cannot ultimately be attributed to our own powers. How different, would the history of Princeton Seminary been if the poison of Liberalism had infected the thinking of Charles Hodge. Perhaps we can see what it would have looked like by observing, in the next post, the influence of some notable Hebrew scholars in Scotland.

Further reading

The full text of Machen's classic book Christianity & Liberalism is available for free online

A print version of Carl Trueman's 2001 Evangelical Library (West) lecture, Christianity, Liberalism and the New Evangelicalism, is available here

O to grace how great a debtor

Vintage Warfield:
The point of insistence in Calvinistic particularism is not that God saves out of the sinful mass of men only one here and there, a few brands snatched from the burning, but that God's method of saving men is to set upon them his almighty grace, to purchase them to himself by the precious blood of his Son, to visit them in the inmost core of their being by the creative operations of his Spirit, and himself, the Lord God Almighty, to save them.
The Plan of Salvation, p. 98

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Turretin on the Trinity in the OT (1)

The following is an extract from Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology vol. 1 and is related to a discussion going on over here.

With regard to the revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament Turretin puts forward the following (Third Topic: Question 26):
Can the mystery of the Trinity be proved from the Old Testament, and was it known under it? We affirm against the Socinians
Turretin argues that the Trinity is a fundamental article. The Socinians claimed that it was invented it as a new doctrine after the time of Christ. It is therefore incumbent on the orthodox to establish the "truth of this mystery not only from the New, but also from the Old Testament."

Here are some highlights:
Indeed, we confess that it was not revealed under the Old Testament with the same clearness as it is now taught in the New...Yet this is no objection to its having been made known even to the patriarchs sufficiently for salvation."

"...there is not one Old Testament and another New Testament God...but one and the same revealed in both as the sole object of faith and worship. Under the New Testament, he has revealed himself as one in essence and three in persons.

Therefore he must necessarily have been revealed to the Jews as such and known and worshipped by them. Otherwise they would not have worshipped the true God who is no other then the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (because he who has not the Son has not the Father either, 1 Jn. 2:23)."

Finally, if the Trinity was not revealed in the Old Testament, the orthodox thus far (ancient as well as the more modern) have labored falsely to prove it from the Old Testament (which cannot without grievous injustice be charged upon so many great men and faithful servants of God). Nor ought it to be said that we can now indeed gather this from the Old Testament assisted by the light of the gospel; but that it could not be done equally by the fathers [patriarchs].

For although we confess that the light of the New Testament serves in a great measure to illuminate for us the obscurity of the ancient oracles, yet it cannot be denied that God, who condescended to reveal them to the fathers for their instruction and consolation, adapted them to their comprehension so that they might from them be instructed in this mystery (as far as was necessary for their salvation). Otherwise to no purpose were these things revealed to them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Calvinism: dead and buried?

Every Christian should read (or listen to) some historical theology. Knowing our church history is good, but we also need to be acquainted with the great theologians and their works, and the great controversies and their outcomes. I'm quite persuaded that this will enable us to look upon the present scene with refreshed vision and a clearer perspective, and we will be better placed to see the durability of truth and the changing shadows of error.

In the opening chapter of Living for God's Glory: an introduction to Calvinism Joel Beeke quotes the following words from William Ellery Channing, the nineteenth century unitarian preacher:
Calvinism, we are persuaded, is giving place to better views. It has passed its meridian, and is sinking to rise no more. It has to contend with foes more powerful than theologians; with foes from whom it cannot shield itself in mystery and metaphysical subtleties--we mean the progress of the human mind, and the progress of the spirit of the gospel. Society is going forward in intelligence and charity, and of course is leaving the theology of the sixteenth century behind it. (p. 12)
From the vantage point of 2009, 167 years since William Ellery Channing died, it has become all too clear to us that technolgical progress and moral progress were not woven indelibly together. The heart has remained deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

Contrast his words with those of C.H. Spurgeon written in 1874:

Those who labour to smother "Calvinism" will find that it dies hard, and, it may be, they will come, after many defeats, to perceive the certain fact that it will outlive its opponents. Its funeral oration has been pronounced many times before now, but the performance has been premature. It will live when the present phase of religious misbelief has gone down to eternal execration amid the groans of those whom it has undone.

To-day it may be sneered at; nonetheless, it is but yesterday that it numbered among its adherents the ablest men of the age; and to-morrow, it may be, when once again there shall be giants in theology, it will come to the front, and ask in vain for its adversaries.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Angel of the Lord

If you are interested I am trying to generate a little discussion about the identity of the Angel of the Lord in the OT, and the implications of this for our Christology over at the Coffee Bible Club blog. There was a bit of discussion going on here, but the comments got out of hand and out of order, which was a shame.

The painting, by Caravaggio, is of that test case of one's biblical theology.

And, by the way, Bob Godfrey's biography of Calvin (John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor available here and here [with sample pages] and here) is a cracking read. Accessible, moving, brisk, informative. Gives you a great handle on the man, his times, his rich theological reflections, and the controversies he faced.

Let us hold fast our confession

What do you think about evangelical doctrinal statements? How do you feel about them?

Some people regard them with suspicion because of their intellectual heaviness. Others view them as luxury items, or as impediments to fellowship and unity. They are looked upon as optional extras to the life and practice of the church. Of course there are those who cannot help but view them as precious because they convey in clear, precise, pastoral terms, the great indispensible articles of the Christian faith.

One way to measure our own thoughts and feelings on the matter is to compare them with assessments from previous centuries. The result will either be to strengthen our convictions in degree, or to expose them as of a different kind altogether.

Consider the story of Guido de Brès (1522-67), chief author of the Belgic Confession (you can get hold of Danny Hyde's exposition of it here) I came across the following anecdote in Joel Beeke's book Living for God's Glory. Concerning the Confession Beeke writes:
Though it follows an objective order, the confession has a warm, experiential, personal spirit, which is helped by its repeated use of the pronoun we.
As an example, consider these words from the chapter on the intercession of Christ:
We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor: Jesus Christ the Righteous.

He therefore was made man, uniting together the divine and human natures, so that we human beings might have access to the divine Majesty. Otherwise we would have no access.

But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.
On de Brès, Beeke writes:
During the sixteenth century, the Reformed churches in the Netherlands experienced severe persecution at the hands of King Philip II of Spain, an ally of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1561, de Brès, likely assisted by fellow pastors, wrote the confession to prove that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels but law abiding citizens who professed biblical doctrines.

The year after it was written, a copy of the confession was sent to Philip II, along with a statement that the petitioners were ready to obey the government in all things lawful, but would:

"offer their backs to stripes,
their tongues to knives,
their mouths to gags,
and their whole bodies to the fire,
well knowing that those who follow Christ must take up His cross and deny themselves"
rather than deny the truth expressed in the confession...

In 1567, de Brès became one martyr among hundreds who sealed their faith with blood. (p. 21)
At the turn of the nineteenth century, what Arichbald Alexander wrote of the Westminster Standards could have just as well been written of the Three Forms of Unity, of which the Belgic Confession is a part:
We venerate these standards, partly because they embody the wisdom of an august Synod; because they come down to us associated with the memory and faith of saints and martyrs and embalmed with their blood; but we love them most of all because they contain the truth of God--that truth which forms the foundation of our hopes. As our fathers prized them, and we prize them, so may our children and our children's children love and preserve them.
Quoted by David Calhoun, "Old Princeton Seminary and the Westminster Standards" in Ligon Duncan [ed], The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century Vol. 2, p.34

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Proof-texting: A form of theological shorthand

I am currently working on a version of the Shorter Catechism with the proof-texts taken from the ESV. The process is slow and detailed and wonderful. I hope that the result will be of use to individuals and churches.

Allow me to make three points about proof-texts:

1. We should never assume that the use of proof-texts implies a cavalier attitude toward those texts in their contexts (unit of thought, chapter, genre, redemptive-historical location etc.)

2. We should never assume that the use of a proof-text implies a method divorced from responsible exegesis. We should never assume that we have no need to reach for the best commentaries on those texts, that grammatico-historical exegesis is irrelevant, that linguistic study is to be suspended. They should be offered and received in full knowledge and responsible use of all available interpretative tools.

3. We should assume the fundamental unity of Scripture, the "consent of all the parts," because of the superintending work of the Holy Spirit.

When the Westminster Assembly presented the Confession of Faith to Parliament, December 3rd 1646, it was further required of them that the "Assembly should attach their marginal notes, to prove every part from Scripture." Warfield noted that the "proof-texts for both Catechisms occupied the Assembly from Novemeber 30, 1647, to April 12, 1648, and were presented to Parliament April 14, 1648."

A few years back a good friend pointed me to John Frame's short section on proof-texting in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. I found it helpful, I hope that you will too:
"Proof-texting" has become almost a term of reproach today, but that was not always the case...A proof-text is simply a Scripture reference that is intended to show the basis for a particular theological assertion.

The danger in proof-texting is well known: proof-texts are sometimes misused and their contextual meaning distorted in an attempt to use them to support teachings they do not really support.

But it has never been shown that texts are always or necessarily misinterpreted when they are used as proofs for doctrines. And after all has been said, theology really cannot do without proof-texts.

Any theology that seeks accord with Scripture (that is, any theology worthy of the name) has an obligation to show where it gets its scriptural warrant. It may not claim to be based on "general scriptural principles"; it must show where Scripture teaches the doctrine in question.

In some cases, the theologian will display this warrant by presenting his own contextual exegesis of the relevant passages. But often an extended exegetical treatement is unnecessary and would be counterproductive.

The relationship of doctrine to text might be an obvious one once the text is cited (e.g., Gen. 1:1 as proof of the creation of the earth), or it may simply require too much space to go over the exegetical issues in detail.

To forbid proof-texts would be to forbid an obviously useful form of theological shorthand.

Obviously, we should not cite proof-texts unless we have a pretty good idea of what they mean in their context. We do not, however, have an obligation always to cite the context with the text, and far less do we have an obligation always to present an exegetical argument supporting our usage of the text.
John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 197

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Confessional Liberty

Something to ponder over from W.G.T. Shedd's Calvinism: Pure & Mixed (p. 6-7). Speaking about the confessional stance of the Presbyterian Church he says:
...inside of the metes and bounds established by divine revelation, and to which it has voluntarily confined itself, it has a liberty that is as large as the kingdom of God. It cannot get outside of that kingdom, and should not desire to.

But within it, as free to career as a ship in the ocean, as an eagle in the air. Yet the ship cannot sail beyond the ocean, nor the eagle fly beyond the sky.

Liberty within the immeasurable bounds and limits of God's truth, is the only true liberty. All else is license. The Westminster Confession, exactly as it now reads, has been the creed of as free and enlarged intellects as ever lived on earth.
A rather different perspective don't you think from that which regards detailed confessions as a prison and an impediment to true freedom.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Another great deal on the Shorter Catechism

This time from Christian Focus. You can get here it for £1.50.

Here's the blurb:

Well known manual of doctrine for all those requiring an introduction to the Christian Faith.

This edition contains the addition of scripture proofs in full & notes by Roderick Lawson. The Westminster shorter catechism has been an effective tool for teaching the Christian faith to young and old for over 300 years and is still used in Presbyterian and other reformed churches to this day.

This is one of the most popular editions as it contains proof texts to aid a parent or teacher in their instruction.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Risking The Truth: Special Offer (Update)

Throughout May and June EMW bookstores (in Wales by the way) are selling Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church for just £6.99

Update: If you would like to order the book at this discount price and have it posted to you (in the UK and internationallly) then click on the EMW bookstores link below and email/phone the Bridgend store.

Details of the book are here

Bookstore details are here

You can read Sinclair Ferguson's foreword here

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A great deal on the Shorter Catechism

Banner of Truth have brought out a nicely done pocket sized copy of the Shorter Catechism priced at just $1 in the US and a mere £1.50 in the UK.

The Reformation not only placed a high emphasis on Scripture, and expository preaching, but also led to an explosion of confessional writings and catechisms.

The publishers' blurb reads as follows:
In the opinion of B. B. Warfield, the Westminster divines left to posterity not only "the most thoroughly thought-out statement ever penned of the elements of evangelical religion" but also one which breathes "the finest fragrance of spiritual religion. Their most influential work, The Shorter Catechism, was intended as a teaching basis for an introduction to the Christian faith.
Memorizing, meditating upon, and studying the Westminster Shorter Catechism is a very good idea for the following reasons:

1. It lays a foundation of biblical truth because it begins with God, his Word, his glory, and that salvation belongs to the Lord.

2. It provides a comprehensive framework for thinking about doctrine and life (see Q. 3).

3. It doesn't divorce doctrine from piety or ethics but deals with all three in a thoroughgoing holistic manner.

4. It makes us think about the faith with clarity and precision, thereby distinguishing truth to be believed from errors that must be denied. I like my doctor to be precise when it comes to diagnosis, and the pharmacist to be precise when selecting medicines for me to use. Since there is much more at stake when it comes to doctrine I value precision!

5. It is memorable. There is an economy of words and a majestic style.

...and of course it is easier to learn than the Larger Catechism (but that is not a good reason).

David Calhoun has a heart warming lecture on "Why I love the Westminster Standards" available for free at the itunes store.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Deadly theology and the life-giving power of God

In the late 1990s I spent some time working with evangelical religious studies and theology students in British universities. Many of these students were somewhat naive about what would be involved in taking courses at secular institutions. Many were unprepared.

Instead of the hoped for "three year Bible study" they faced at times open ridicule, and much of the time subtle pressures that sought to erode their confidence in the truth of the Word of God, and the person and work of Jesus Christ. It was the seed of the woman being taught by the seed of the serpent. I still feel angry when I recall the blight of liberal theology on the lives of some undergraduates that I knew from those days.

One thinks of the double tragedy when this state of affairs has been true at theological seminaries. Instead of the dissemination of the truth there has been the flow of poison from the professors, to the pulpits, and into the pews. You can read more about that in Scotland here. The heart rejoices, and the number of times is sadly few, when institutions are recovered. One thinks of the pitchfork rebellion in the SBC and Al Mohler's faithful and courageous leadership at SBTS. It is worth taking the time to listen to an address given by Al Mohler that Sovereign Grace Ministries have made available. Part two, which tells the story of the early years of Mohler's presidency, is here.

In the nineteenth century a remarkable change took place in the lives of some theology students in, of all places, Geneva. It has been said that institutions tend to produce their opposite, and this has certainly been the case in many of the historic demoninations and in their seminaries in particular. In the early part of the nineteenth century Calvin's theology was long forgotten in Geneva and had been replaced by Unitarianism. A young student there by the name of Jean Henri Merle d'Aubigné, later to become a great historian of the Reformation, said that in his theology classes "not one hour was consecrated to the study of Holy Scripture."

In 1816 the Scotsman Robert Haldane began studying the Bible with some twenty or thirty of these theology students. Merle d'Aubigné recorded the response of their professor who "made it his business to pace up and down under the shady trees of the avenue at the time students were assembling, making clear his high displeasure at their attendance, and noting their names in his pocket book."

Take hold of what he goes on to write:
I met Robert Haldane and heard him read from an English Bible a chapter from Romans about the natural corruption of man, a doctrine of which I had never before heard. In fact I was quite astonished to hear of man being corrupt by nature.

I remember saying to Mr Haldane, "Now I see that doctrine in the Bible." "Yes," he replied, "but do you see it in your heart?" That was but a simple question, yet it came home to my conscience. It was the sword of the Spirit: and from that time I saw that my heart was corrupted, and knew from the Word of God that I can be saved by grace alone.
What had happened in Merle d'Aubigné's experience? In the words of Psalm 119:130 "the entrance of your words gives light." But more than that, he received these things because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 2:14).

No wonder he later wrote that Scripture is a "sword never blunted." And added:
Men vainly strive to rob it of its heavenly splendour; they could sooner strip the sun of its light.
[These extracts can be found in in Merle d'Aubigné, Let Christ Be Magnified: Calvin's Teaching for Today, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, and available here]