Sunday, January 29, 2006

On Reading The Puritans

By way of Introduction
Today's fluffy and lightweight Evangelicalism needs the Puritans. The 16th & 17th Century Puritans were deeply godly men and women. Puritan preachers cultivated a radically Biblical, Christ exalting spirituality, rooted in the revelation of God by Word & Spirit. If reading the Puritans seems about as attractive as eating cardboard, then whet your appetite by reading:
1. J. I. Packer, Among God's Giants, Kingsway.
2. Peter Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism, Carey Publications.
3. D.M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors, Banner of Truth Trust.
4. Puritan Resources Online: Fire & Ice
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Suggested Reading
My list focuses on some of the key works of four representative Puritans. I have tried to limit my selection to works that are currently in print.
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John Bunyan
For popular puritanism The Pilgrim's Progress., The World's Classics, OUP - you know you should have read it by now!
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John Owen
Introduction: Robert W. Oliver (ed) John Owen, The Man and His Theology, P&R Publishing.
Online resource: JohnOwen.org
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1. For Christ-centred spirituality: Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, Works Vol 1, Banner of Truth Trust
2. For the cultivation of a meditative spirit: On Spiritual Mindedness, Works Vol 7
3. For a searing treatment of Christian holiness: On the Mortification of Son, Works Vol 6
4. For a Biblical doctrine of the Church: The True Nature of the Gospel Church, Works Vol 16
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Thomas Goodwin
.Introduction: My online biography:
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Goodwin is best known for his teaching on assurance:
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1. Exposition of Ephesians [especially sermons 15-17] Sovereign Grace Book Club
2. A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, Works Vol 3
3. Justifying Faith [especially Part II, Book II], Works Vol 8, Banner of Truth.
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Richard Sibbes
Spiritual remedies from the "Heavenly Doctor"
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1. The Bruised Reed
2. The Soul's Conflict
Both Vol 1 of Banner of Truth edition of Works.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

3. Resurrection and the Life of Holiness

The Christian’s union with the risen Christ has profound implications for the life holiness. Paul commands believers to: “reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:11.) The human body is to be used as an instrument of righteousness (6:13). “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of righteousness, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (6:22.)
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The law is not the means by which God makes his people holy. The law is “weak through the flesh” (8:3). It is union with the risen Christ that enables believers to bring forth fruit to God.
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Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. (Romans 7:4.)
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The “old man” united to Adam in death and condemnation has been crucified with Christ (6:6). The believer is now to live as a “new man”, united to the Last Adam, in the power of his resurrection, “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24.)
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The body is not to regarded as inherently evil, as taught by Greek philosophy. If the body is inherently evil, why bother struggling against sinful impulses? The only way out is to be rid of the body in death. But the apostle understood that the body of the believer belongs to God. He warned the Corinthians against sleeping with prostitutes on this basis:
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Now the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. And God raised up the Lord and will raise us up by his power. (1 Corinthians 6:13 & 14.)
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The believer belongs to the Lord both soul and body. “For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (6:20.) The body has been redeemed by Christ’s blood and will be raised up by the power of God.
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As new men in Christ, Christians are to live out life in the body in holiness and righteousness, awaiting the final day of resurrection glory.
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Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us,because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

2. Resurrection and New Life in Christ

We rightly teach that regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5 & John 3:8). But the Spirit’s task is to apply the redemption wrought by Christ to the sinner. We find that the resurrection of Christ is vitally important for bringing sinful human beings to new life in God.
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The natural state of man in sin is described graphically in Ephesians 2:1-3. There, fallen humanity is described as being “dead in trespasses and sins”, subject to the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind. But God, because of his great love, “even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ (2:5). There is no regeneration apart from Christ’s resurrection.
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Raised with Christ, believers are no longer subject to the “prince of the power of the air [the devil]”, (2:2), rather God “has raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6).
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Peter also relates Christ’s resurrection to the believer’s regeneration:
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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3.)
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It is clear, then, that being raised with Christ is fundamental to the new life in Christians now enjoy. Believers are begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. From its inception, the Christian life is forward looking. The believer awaits the consummation of what God has begun to do in and through the risen Christ.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

1. Resurrection & Union with Christ

Evangelicals often think of the resurrection of Christ as a doctrine to be defended rather than the empowering dynamic of the Christian life. We must argue for the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. But we fail to do justice to the rich resurrection teaching of the New Testament if that is all we do. We need to grasp that those who believe in Christ are raised with him. I plan to explore this theme in posts over the next few days. A search through my archives will reveal other articles exploring the meaning and significance of the resurrection of Christ (type "resurrection" into Search this Blog above).
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It is a fundamental axiom of New Testament Theology that believers are united to Christ. By virtue of their union with him that believers receive all the blessings of salvation. This is true in general terms (Ephesians 1:3-7) it is also true with regard to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
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Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of his death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of his resurrection. (Romans 6:4 & 5.)
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Christians should not “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1) because they have died with Christ and have been raised to new life in him.
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buried with him in baptism, in which you were raised with him through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12.)
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When Jesus died, his people died with him to sin and condemnation. When he was raised from the dead, his people were raised with him to new resurrection life. This is the experience of believers now. The “newness of life” that Christians enjoy in the present is an anticipation of the full resurrection glory to come.
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The believer's union with Christ in his resurrection power makes the Christian life eschatologically oriented. The power of the age-to-come has already broken into the lives of those who are in Christ. It is in this light we should understand Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Word and the Spirit by C. H. Spurgeon

This book contains ten well-chosen and sensitively edited sermons, prepared by Michael Daly. A stimulating and helpful foreword written by Michael Haykin, deals with Spurgeon’s teaching on the Holy Spirit.

As we might expect from “the prince of preachers”, these sermons are heart-stirring and captivating expositions of the word of God. Their message is as relevant now as when they were first preached. In the first sermon, Spurgeon speaks to “those who wait for signs and wonders” and concludes with these words, “Oh, that you would this very day end these follies and these sins, believing in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit!” It is as if the preacher set out to demolish the contemporary signs and wonder’s movement with its emphasis on the spectacular.

What shines through in each of the messages is the preacher’s boundless confidence in the Word of God and the Spirit of God. By Word and Spirit the kingdom of God is advanced, as sinners are convicted of sin and converted and saints built up in the faith.

In an age of quick fixes as churches lurch from programme to programme to find the secret of growth and success, Spurgeon speaks directly to us,

You all draw up your plans and say, ‘Now if the church were altered a little bit, it would go on better.’ You think if there were different ministers, or a different church order, or something different, then all would be well. No, dear friends, it is not there the mistake lies; it is that we need more of the Spirit of God.

All Christians, especially ministers should read this beautifully produced and encouraging selection of Spurgeon’s sermons. Publisher Evengelical Press 240 pages.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Paul: Fresh Perspectives by N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright is something of a controversial figure. He is lionised by some as the doyen of "New Perspective" scholarship. For precisely the same reason he is distrusted by others, especially because of his views on justification by faith alone. As an "old schooler" who appreciated Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK 2003), I approached this book with a mixture of expectation and caution. As may be expected from Wright, this book is very well written. The author writes with verve and originality and expresses his ideas in crystal clear prose.
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The introductory chapter attempts to set Paul within the context of 1st Century Judaism and Roman and Greek culture. Here, Wright also discusses the current state of Pauline studies in terms of perspectives old, new and different. The following chapters on Creation and Covenant, Messiah and Apocalyptic and Gospel and Empire show the way in which Paul took these traditional Jewish themes and reworked them around Jesus Christ over and against the paganism of his day. Each chapter brings fresh insight to these subjects. Next, Wright considers Rethinking God, starting from the roots of Paul's theology in Jewish monotheism and tracing the development of the apostle's trinitarian thinking. Paul rethinks the God of Israel in the light of the coming of Messiah and the work of the Spirit.
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Justification Redefined
In some ways, the next chapter, Reworking God's People is the most controversial. It is here that Wright's "new perspective" thinking, that informs the whole of the book comes to the fore. Not that Wright accepts Saunders' reading of Paul uncritically (p. 12). He insists rightly that,
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'justification' does not itself denote the process whereby, or the event in which, a person is brought by grace from unbelief, idolatry and sin into faith, true worship and renewal of life. Paul clearly and unambiguously, uses and different word for that, the word 'call'. (p. 121)
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According to Wright, justification is concerned with the question, 'Who belongs to the people of God?' Justification serves as a badge of membership for God's people both Jew and Gentile.
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Justification, for Paul is a subset of election, that is, it belongs as part of his doctrine of the people of God. (p.121)
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Justification certainly has implications for the question, 'Who belongs to the people of God?' Peter's refusal to have table fellowship with Gentiles in Galatians 2 was a denial of the fact that,
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a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; by by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16.)
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But, is Wright right to define justification primarily as a badge of covenant membership?
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Justification Defined
The verb, "to justify" means "to declare righteous",
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If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked... (Deuteronomy 25:1.)
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Paul works within the same legal framework when he says, "It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?" (Romans 8:33 & 34.)
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Wright tends to see Paul's argument in Galatians in terms of the themes of exodus and exile. The "curse of the law" that Christ bore in Galatians 3:13 is explained in terms of the curses of the covenant, especially exile, as set out in Deuteronomy 28. He says,
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The point about 'the curse' , and the Messiah's bearing it on behalf of others is not that there is a general abstract curse hanging over the whole human race....the curse is the curse of exile (p. 139).
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The curse which has come upon Israel has thus caused the promises made through Israel [for the Nations] to get stuck; and it is this curse from which...the Messiah has redeemed 'us'. (p. 140.)
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The problem here is that Wright has so stressed the important themes of exodus and exile that he has screened out the wider Biblical teaching. The "curse" is first mentioned in connection with the fall, where the ground is cursed for Adam's sake (Genesis 3:17.) This is a general concrete curse that affects man's life on earth. The curse described in Galatians 3:13 is that of Deuteronomy 21:22 & 23, where a transgressor of the law is hanged on a tree as one accursed by God. The context is that of the judicial punishment of a lawbreaker, not the curse of exile. Christ became a curse "for us" because he was condemned to die on behalf of those who had broken God's law, whether Jew or Gentile. To suggest that Christ became a curse simply to unblock the promises made through Israel is reductionistic.
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The people of God comprises of sinners who have been justified by faith in the Messiah. But justification is not a mere "badge of membership". It is God's declaration that a believing sinner is righteous on the basis of Jesus' death and resurrection.
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I wonder if Wright has really understood the traditional Reformed understanding of justification when he can say,
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It is ironic that some within the 'old perspective' on Paul, by continuing to promote the wrong view of justification as conversion, as the moment of personal salvation and coming to faith rather than God's declaration about faith, have reinforced as well a polarisation between Jesus and Paul... (p. 159 & 160).
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There is some real theological confusion in this sentence. No mainstream Reformed statement on justification regards justification as a synonym for conversion. Conversion is about faith and repentance. Justification is God's declaration that those who believe in Christ are right with him.
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Some Healthy Emphases
Throughout the book, Wright is very clear on Paul's teaching about the resurrection of Christ and the renewal creation. Chapters 2 and 7 are especially helpful on this theme. The concluding Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church includes a discussion of the relationship between Paul and Jesus and makes some very valuable practical points. Wright criticizes the arrogance of the Enlightenment that puts "I" at the centre with Descartes' "I think therefore I am." He also distances himself from postmodernism saying,
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Welcome to postmodernity where even Descartes last bastion turns out to be an unreliable kaleidoscopic mirror. (p. 172).
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The distinctive Christian position is "I am loved therefore I am".
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This challenging and thought-provoking book is well worth reading. It certainly gave me some fresh perspectives on important Pauline themes. But I am not convinced that Wright is right on justification by faith.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dawkins' God by Alister McGrath

Today, The Independent Newspaper carries an article by Richard Dawkins "Darwin's Rottweiler", entitled in large print, "GOD the root of all evil?". In this piece, Dawkins introduces his forthcoming TV series entitled, The Root of All Evil? He rehearses his old arguments about religion being the cause of untold suffering in the world and that Darwinism has made God an unnecessary construct. Dawkins repeats his claim that bringing up children in a religious context is tantamount to "mental child abuse."
It was interesting the read this article after just finishing McGrath's courteous yet systematic and devastating critique of Dawkins atheism. McGrath is well placed to write such a book as he holds a doctorate in biophysics and is an eminent theologian. McGrath shows that Darwinism has not eliminated God from the universe. Darwinian evolution cannot in itself adjudicate on the God question. He refutes Dawkins' assertion that natural selection must lead inevitably to atheism.
McGrath subjects Dawkins' theory of "memes" that enables him to label religion as a "virus of the mind" to sustained criticism at every level. The author demonstrates that "memes" have no empirical, scientific basis. He also points out that even given the validity of "meme" theory, atheism could just as well be a "virus of the mind", making Dawkins' argument self-defeating.
The author questions Dawkins' definition of faith as irrational blind trust and urges him to take a more evidence-based approach to the relationship between Christianity and science. He concludes by saying,
Scientists and Theologians have so much to learn from each other. Listening to each other, we might hear the galaxies sing. Or even the heavens declaring the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1).
McGrath does not utilise the arguments of Intelligent Design. He cautiously accepts the Darwinian account of the origin of species and takes an Augustinian view of the Genesis creation account. He notes that Theological conservatives such as B. B. Warfield reacted favourably to Darwinism. Six day creationists may disagree with McGrath on these points. But he has done us a great service in subjecting Dawkins' aggressive, but unfounded and irrational atheism to rigorous scholarly analysis. In the light of this book, perhaps "Darwin's Rottweiler" should scurry away with his tail between his legs, rather than continuing to bark out his atheism in the press and on TV.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Books are for life not just for Christmas

Books I had / bought with money given for Christmas:

Alister McGrath Dawkins' God Blackwell Publising. I'm into the 2nd chapter. Stimulating read so far, although McGrath seems to give too much ground to Darwinism.

N. T. Wright Paul: Fresh Perspectives SPCK. Not started yet. But should be a good read & helpful for keeping up-to-date with new perspective thinking.

John Piper Brothers We Are Not Professionals Mentor. For a radically Biblical ministry.

Brian Edgar The Message of the Trinity IVP. Book turned up at shop on Christmas Eve. Haven't been able to collect it yet.

I'll try to post reviews of these titles as I work through them in the coming days.