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 In the early part of the nineteenth century Calvin's theology was long forgotten in Geneva and had been replaced by Unitarianism.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]

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