Friday, July 27, 2007

Holidays

We're off on our summer hols tomorrow, so I won't be blogging for a little while. We'll be spending some time in Devon, England then heading off to Carmarthenshire in Wales before ending up at the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aberystwyth Conference. I'm looking forward to relaxing on the beach (weather permitting) and doing stuff with the family. I've got a Grisham novel and a John Donne biog to finish and I'll be reading up on Barth with his Evangelical Theology: An Introduction and Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, Convergances and Divergances, edited by Sung Wook Chung. Our holiday soundtrack will be music by Snow Patrol, Feeder, The Fray etc. When I get back home, I'll post a report of the Aber Confrence. See ya!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bloggers at the Aberystwyth Conference

We hope to attend the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aber Conference in August. The event is always an excellent time of ministry and fellowship, attended by over 1000 people. See here for details of the conference. I know that a couple of blogging friends will be there. Perhaps we bloggers could meet up for a coffee and chat. If this seems like a good idea, leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The drama of creation

In a previous post, I considered the wonder of creation (here). Now I would like to reflect on the drama of creation.
Creation
Because the biblical doctrine is apparently threatened by evolution, we seem to spend much of our time defending the Bible's account of creation rather than appreciating its theological significance. The biblical doctrine is announced in the most startling way right at the start of God's Word, "In the beginning God created". No apologetics, no arguments - just an assertion that God created. This reminds us that we understand creation by faith, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." (Hebrews 11:3). We should believe in intelligent design because God has revealed himself as an intelligent designer. Starting with design and then reasoning up to God is not the biblical method. Only when we begin with God does the universe make sense.

The Bible is God's dramatic self-revelation. God himself is the primary actor in this drama. His first act was to speak the universe into being. The universe then becomes, as Calvin put it, "the theatre in which God displays his glory" (Institutes 1:6:2, 2:6:1. Vanhoozer was not the first theodramatist!). If creation is abstracted from the Bible's story for the sake of apologetics, then it is dedramatised, cut off from the great drama of creation, redemption and re-creation.

Ruin

God's good creation was ruined and cursed as a result of the fall of man into sin (Genesis 3:17-19). The effect of the fall upon creation has to be borne in mind. Man no longer lives in harmony with his Maker. In fact, he is a rebel, dead in trespasses and sins. In his fallenness, he would rather worship anything other than the Creator. A sense of God has not been lost altogether, but that sense is suppressed, and ignored. God still addresses man through creation, but man in sin cannot and will not listen. The created environment has been deeply affected by the fall. Creation is subject to entropy and decay on a universal scale (Romans 8:20). As far as earth is concerned, this present evil age is characterised by natural disaster, disease and death. A vivid example of this can be seen in the floods that have devastated parts of England in recent days. Given all this, the arguments from design can only take us so far. Nature is now "red in tooth and claw". The world is not as it was originally made by God. If we argue from creation in its present state up to a Creator, then we have to say that he made the wasp to sting children at play and the cancer cells that rob people of their lives. There is still enough of God's goodness in creation to testify to his existence, power and care, but that is not the whole story. Even Psalm 104 recognises that creation, resplendent as it is with the glory of God, is marred by the presence of sin, "May sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more." (vs. 34). An apologetic that wrests God's creative activity from the drama of the biblical story of creation, fall and redemption is deeply flawed. In terms of Paley's "watch", the timepiece was perfectly designed and constructed, but now it is broken. It still ticks away, but the face has been smashed and the casing is badly damaged. How it was broken and how it can be fixed is a matter not for arguments from design, but the biblical revelation of God's saving purposes in Christ.

Redemption

God's gracious response to the fall was to announce that a "seed of the woman" will bruise the "serpent's head" (Genesis 3:15). The Creator proclaimed the good news of redemption from sin and its devastating effects. This "seed promise" is central to the Old Testament plot-line. This is made especially clear in the covenant that God made with Abraham, that in his "seed" all nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 22:18 cf Galatians 3:16). The covenant is God's dramatic solution to the problem of a sin-cursed creation. The promise of a "seed" from Abraham's line is further narrowed down to a descendant of king David (2 Samuel 7:12&13).

These covenant promises were dramatically fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He was the "seed" of the woman, the "seed" of Abraham and the "seed" of David (Galatians 4:4, 3:16, Romans 1:3 & 4). He is also the One through whom all things were made. In him, the Creator took a created human nature that he might redeem his creation. He bore the curse of a broken law on the cross so that the blessing promised to Abraham might be experienced by all who believe in him (Galatians 3:13 & 14). The themes of creation, ruin, redemption and re-creation are tightly linked together in Paul's Epistle to the Colossians. Notice that the creation, not just individual human beings are the subject of Christ's redemptive activity,
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross". (Colossians 1:15-20).
Jesus' resurrection from the dead was the pledge of a new creation. He will transform the bodies of believers that they may be conformed to his glorious body, "according to the working by which he is able to subdue all things to himself." (Philippians 3:21).
Re-creation

The God who created the universe at the beginning has acted to restore his creation through Christ. Note that Paul deliberately echoes Genesis 1,

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Those who are united to Christ by faith are part of God's new creation,
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This gives the Christian life an eschatological aspect. Believers have already began to experience God's re-creative work. This anticipates the final renewal of creation (Romans 8:18-23). The universe will be liberated from entropy and decay. All vestiges of the fall will be purged and the creation will be restored to its pristine glory. But creation will not simply be rewound to its pre-fall state. In Christ, the glories of the new creation will excel the glories of Eden. The resurrection bodies of believers will not conform to the body of Adam before the fall. We shall be made like the Last Adam, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). In the new creation, the distinction between heaven as God's dwelling place and the earth as man's abode will be rendered void,
"Then I saw new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)
Conclusion
This is the drama of creation. The creation is not primarily to be viewed as an apologetic device, or as the basis for arguments from design, but as the theatre of God's redemptive speech and action. A truly evangelical doctrine of creation will not simply be concerned to refute Darwinism. A theodramatic account of creation will listen carefully to what the whole of Scripture has to say on God's creative activity. Yes, Genesis 1 will form an important part of that account, but we will also sing with the psalmists, and look forward with the prophets and apostles to the resurrection of the body and the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness is at home.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The wonder of creation

I sometimes get the impression from fellow evangelicals, that God gave us the doctrine of creation to equip us to oppose Darwinian evolution. Also, I often reflect on whether our creation apologetics is too narrowly focused. Creationist literature seems to be aimed at convincing sceptical atheists or hard nosed scientists that God created the universe in six days. Much time is spent discussing the fossil record, the speed of light etc. in a highly intellectualised way. Of course this kind of thing needs to be done, but there is a danger of reducing the biblical doctrine of creation to an argument over dead lizards. We seem to have forgotten that human beings are not simply data processing machines. We have emotions and imaginations. Our presentation of the doctrine of creation should appeal to the human sense of wonder at the beauty and complexity of the universe. We need to address the heart that is inexplicably moved by a sunset as well as the mind with its capacity for reason and empirical investigation. If we simply appear to be clever clogs who can score points against old Darwin, then we have lost the battle before we have begun.
Richard Dawkins is aware of this. He thinks that religion gives us an impoverished view of the universe,
"The universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe-inspiring. The kinds of view of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is. The universe presented by organised religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited."
This needs to be challenged. Christians appreciate the wonder universe on an intellectual level in terms of grand scientific description. We can do this because God has given us the capacity for rational thought and empirical investigation. The universe is capable of being understood on that level because it is the product of a wise and good God. But beyond that, we stand before the vastness of space and are forced to contemplate the meaning of our own existence in relation to our Creator,

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a
little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
(Psalm 8:3-5)
Much of the Bible's doctrine of creation is written in song rather than in narrative prose. The psalmists consider the universe in all its vast complexity of stars and planets. They joyfully describe the earth with its mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, teeming with all kinds of life. Theirs is not a "poky little universe". Has Dawkins never read Psalms 19, 104 or 148? In these songs, the universe in all its wondrous diversity and splendour declares the glory of God. All created things exist to praise the name of the Lord whose glory is above earth and heaven. Christians have a capacity for awe but we will not limit ourselves to wondering at the mysteries of time and space. Ultimately we stand astounded before our infinitely wonderful God. Creationist literature, in limiting itself to the scientific arguments often fails to convey the sheer, uninhibited joy of the creation Psalms. These biblical songs should inform our apologetic. We need to allow not just Genesis 1, but the whole rich variety of biblical witnesses to testify of God's creative work. We don't simply want to win arguments, but invite people to experience the wonder of having a God entranced vision of creation. The alternative is not a universe of which we may stand in reverential awe, but a terrifyingly pitiless prospect. Here is Dawkins on life in a godless universe,
"Such a universe would be neither good or bad in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties that we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, but blind, pitiless indifference." (Cited in "Does God believe in Atheists" by John Blanchard, from an article by Dawkins in the UK Daily Telegraph 10 May 1995)
The Christian vision is far different,
Heaven above is softer blue,
earth below is sweeter green,
something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen.
(From the hymn Loved with everlasting love by George Wade Robinson (1838-77)
Let's discuss the fossil record and exegete Genesis 1 accurately. But let us also invite people to consider the Bible's alluringly beautiful, rich and deeply moving account of creation. May all that breathe join in the great chorus of praise that echoes through the universe singing, "the heavens declare the glory of God".
Sticking with this theme, in the next day or so, I plan to post on the drama of creation, where I hope to reflect on creation, redemption and new the creation.

What I'm reading at the moment

I usually have a variety books that I'm reading at the same time (not simultaneously of course), but I think you get my drift. I have not included commentaries used for sermon prep.

Confessions by Augustine of Hippo, translated by Rex Warner, Signet Classics, repr 2001. I have a nice, small sized edition of this classic, which I leave in the car. I tend to read it when waiting to pick the kids up from an after school activity. Also, if I have an appointment with the Doctor or Dentist, I read it in the waiting room rather than old copies of Hello Magazine. With Augustine, waiting time is never wasted time.
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge, Eerdmans, repr 1983. I'm a couple of chapters into Book III. It is interesting to read his doctrine of the church. The first chapter (of III) was quite a challenge to my separatist beliefs, as Calvin seems to be dead against separating from any church where the Word is preached and the sacraments rightly administered. But his treatment is balanced by chapter two where the reformer compares the false church with the true. It is OK to leave a false church.
John Calvin's Ideas by Paul Helm, Oxford, 2006 paperback edition. I always like to have a substantial work of theology on the go. This work looks at Calvin's ideas from a philosophical point of view. It took me a chapter or two to get up to speed with the philosophical analysis. But I'm about half way through and I'm enjoying it so far.
Princeton Seminary Volume 1: Faith & Learning 1812-1868 by David Callhoon, Banner of Truth Trust, 1994. I bought this (with Vol 2) at a knock-down price at the UK Banner Conference in April. It really is an excellent read. Great history with lots of illuminating biographical sketches thrown in. Not too demanding if you a feeling a little "all studied out".
Donne, The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs, Viking/Penguin, 2006. This was a Christmas present. Although I love Donne's poetry and Stubbs writes exceptionally well, I have read this book in fits and starts. So far, I'm just under half way through (p. 241 of 565). I will have try to finish it off while on holiday.

The King of Torts by John Grisham, Arrow Books, 2003. I read Grisham's Testament while on holiday last summer and enjoyed it. This one was lent to me by a church member and I've read it intermittently over the last six months or so. Looks like I'll have to finish this one during our holiday too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Reforming Reformed Theology

Andrew McGowan
One of the books that I have just purchased is Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology, edited by A.T.B. McGowan, IVP Apollos, 2006. This multi-author work seeks to chart the way ahead for Reformed systematics. Scholars such as Gerald Bray, Richard Gaffin and Kevin Vanhoozer discuss key biblical doctrines in the light of contemporary developments and give attention to matters of theological methodolody. I hope to post a review when I've finished reading it, but these introductory words by the editor reveal something of the book's agenda,
"Although the Reformation took place in the sixteenth century, it is important to understand that this was the beginning of something and not the end. The Reformed churches affirmed the need to be semper reformanda (always reforming). Unfortunately, this commitment to continuing reformation has not been faithfully and consistently maintained over the centuries. At the one end of the theological spectrum, some have invoked semper reformanda in order to justify abandoning the core of Reformation theology and departing from received orthodoxy. At the other end of the spectrum, some have forgotten about semper reformanda in their progress toward a rigid confessionalism, giving the impression that the final codification of truth has already taken place and that there is no need for further reformation. Between these two extremes, there is a vital task to be performed by the church in every generation namely to subject its beliefs and practices to renewed scrutiny of Holy Scripture. In doing so, the church must restate the truth of Scripture in ways that faithfully communicate the gospel, advance the mission of the church and address the issues that men, women and children are facing day by day as they seek to follow Christ and witness to him." (p. 13)
That got me interested!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on reading and the preacher

Here is some advice on reading for preachers,

"Time must be found for reading, and we turn now to the more intellectual type of reading. The first is theology. There is no greater mistake than to think that you finish with theology when you leave a seminary. The preacher should continue to read theology as long as he is alive. The more he reads the better and there are many authors and systems to be studied. I have known men in the ministry, and men in various other walks of life who stop reading when they finish their training. They think they have acquired all they need; they have their lecture notes, and nothing further is necessary. The result is that they vegetate and become quite useless. Keep on reading; and read the big works."
From Preaching and Preachers by D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985, p. 177.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ten things on reading

As my LibraryThing panel testifies, thanks to a generous gift from a church, I've recently bought some new books. Here are some thoughts on reading (with pastors especially, but not exclusively in mind):
1. Read the Scriptures. With the M'Cheyne scheme, you can read the whole Bible in a year, Psalms and the New Testament twice.
2. Read widely, with a variety of biblical studies, theology, Church history, biography, apologetics, fiction poetry and other interests.
3. Read critically, test what you have learned by the Scriptures.
4. Read the theological classics such as Calvin's Institutes and Augustine's Confessions.
5. Read cutting edge works like Kevin Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine.
6. Read passionately to be built up and challenged not professionally for information.
7. Read meditatively, give yourself time to think about and reflect on your reading.
8. Read books that will stretch you beyond your 'comfort zone'.
9. Read with discrimination, go for quality over quantity.
10. Read a list of things about reading on this blog.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

John Calvin on the resurrection of the body (3)

Christ as the model and dynamic of the resurrection

As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, Calvin gives two main "proofs" for belief in the resurrection of the body - the example of Christ and the power of God. It is in this context (Institutes Book III:XXV) that we have Calvin's most sustained reflection on the resurrection of Christ in relation to the resurrection of the believer. But I also want to draw upon what Calvin says about the resurrection of Christ elsewhere in the Institutes (II:XVI:13 & 14).
1. The theological significance of Jesus' resurrection
According to Calvin, "Paul justly contends, that if Christ rise not the whole gospel is delusive and vain (1 Corinthians 15:13-17)" (III:XXV:3). He spells out just why this is in his earlier discussion of the resurrection of Christ. This is set in a chapter on the redeeming work of Christ. After focusing on on the atonement Calvin says, "Next follows the resurrection of the dead, without which all that has hitherto been said would be defective." (II:XVI:13). He makes it clear that we are not saved by the death of Christ alone. His resurrection from the dead is essential for our salvation,
"Hence, although in his death we have an effectual completion of salvation, because by it we are reconciled to God, satisfaction is given to his justice, the curse removed and the penalty paid; still it is not by his death, but by his resurrection that we are said to be begotten again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3); because, as he, by rising again became victorious over death, so the victory of our faith consists only in his resurrection." (II:XVI:13).
It is also by Christ's resurrection from the dead that we are justified. Calvin quotes from Romans 4:25, "Who [Christ] was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification" and comments,
"By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored. For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? How could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest? Our salvation may thus be divided between the death and resurrection of Christ: by the former, sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter, righteousness was restored and life revived, the power and efficacy of the former [the cross] being still bestowed upon us by the latter [the resurrection]." (II:XVI:13).
This inseparable link between the death and resurrection of Christ enables Calvin to say,
"Let us remember, therefore, that when death only is mentioned [in Scripture], everything peculiar to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synechdote in the term resurrection, as often as it is used apart from death, everything peculiar to death also being included." (II:XVI:3).
In this same section, Calvin quotes from Romans 6:4 and Colossians 3:1 to show that believers are able to mortify the flesh and set their minds on heavenly things only because they have been united to the risen Christ.
In addition, the Reformer notes that the resurrection of Christ disclosed his divine identity,
"Paul accordingly affirms, that he was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection (Romans 1:4), because he then fully displayed that heavenly power which is both a bright mirror and of his divinity , and a sure support of our faith; as he also elsewhere teaches, that 'though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God' (2 Corinthians 13:4)." (II:XVI:13).
Reformed scholars such as Richard Gaffin have given fresh attention to salvific value of Christ's resurrection. Gaffin writes,
"We have found that the resurrection is Christ is the pivotal factor in the whole of the apostle's soteriological teaching. Not only is the resurrection (as it is constitutive of the ascension and heavenly session) the climax of the redemptive history of Christ; it is also that from which the individual believer's experience of redemption derives in its specific and distinguishing character and in all aspects of its inexhaustible fullness". (Resurrection and Redemption, P&R, 1987 second edition, p. 135.)
This emphasis has perhaps been downplayed in traditional Reformed systematic theologies (see here). In such works the tendency is to progress from the cross of Christ to the application of salvation without taking the resurrection into account. It may be true that when we speak of the cross we also include the resurrection. But the New Testament insists that we should explicitly recognise the distinctive contribution of Christ's resurrection to the process of salvation. Calvin's insights on this matter help to redress the biblical balance. The resurrection of Jesus, was of great theological importance for Calvin. We cannot be saved apart from the the resurrection of Christ. His resurrection power is a bright mirror that reflects his divinity as the Son of God. It is the risen Christ who ascended to claim his throne as the world's true Lord,
"For although Christ, by rising again, began fully to display his glory and virtue. having laid aside the abject and ignoble condition of a mortal life, and the ignominy of the cross, yet it was only by his ascension to heaven that his reign truly commenced." (II:XVI:14).
2. Union with Christ and the future resurrection of the believer
Believers are already raised with Christ to the new life of holiness. This union with him also guarantees the future bodily resurrection of the faithful. Calvin writes with deep insight into Paul's teaching on resurrection and union with Christ,
"Therefore, whenever the subject of the resurrection is considered, let us think of the case of our Saviour, who, having completed his mortal course in our nature which he had assumed obtained immortality, and is now the pledge of our future resurrection...It is not lawful, it is not even possible, to separate him from us, without dividing him. Hence Paul's argument, 'If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen' (1 Corinthians 15:13); for he assumes it as an acknowledged principle, that when Christ was subjected to death and by rising gained a victory over death, it was not on his own account, but in the Head was begun what must necessarily be fulfilled in the members, according to the degree and order of each." (II:XXV:3).
Christ is presented as the model and guarantee of the believer's resurrection in order to encourage the faithful in the midst of the trials and difficulties of this life. We need to consider that,
"God did not raise up his Son from death to give an isolated specimen of his mighty power, but that the Spirit exerts the same efficacy in regard to them that believe; and accordingly Paul says, that the Spirit when he dwells in us is life, because the end for which he was given is to quicken our mortal body (Romans 8:10, 11, Colossians 3:4)." (III:XXV:3).
Calvin was aware that he had simply glanced at subjects that could have been treated at greater length. But his concern was to say just enough to build up the faith of his readers. He wants to assure us that,
"Christ rose again, that he might have us as partakers with him of the future life. He was raised up by the Father, inasmuch as he was Head of the Church, from which he cannot possibly be dissevered. He was raised up by the power of the Spirit, who also in us performs the office of quickening. In fine, he was raised up to be the resurrection and the life. But as we have said, that in this mirror we behold a living image of the resurrection, so it furnishes a sure evidence to support our minds, provided we faint not, nor grow weary at the long delay, because it is not ours to measure the periods of time at our pleasure; but to rest patiently till God in his own time renew the kingdom." (II:XXV:3).
3 Conclusion
So, for Calvin the resurrection of Christ was a key event in redemption history, without which there could be no salvation from sin and death. The Reformer was deeply aware of the trinitarian structure of the resurrection hope. The Father raised up his Son by the work of the Spirit. The same Father will raise up believers by his Spirit, that we may share in the resurrection glory of the Son. Calvin clearly grasped the importance of union with Christ in relation to the resurrection of believers. By virtue of their union with Christ, Christians have been raised with him to newness of life. Also, believers have been justified by Jesus' resurrection. The atoning work of Christ is made effective by his risen power. As far as the future is concerned, our bodily resurrection is an absolute certainty. We, as members of Christ's body will inevitably share in the risen glory of our Lord.
In the next post, I hope to discuss Calvin's teaching on the historicity of Christ's resurrection. Also we will look at Calvin's second "proof" for believing in bodily resurrection - the power of God.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ten books on revival

According to Don Carson, Western Europe is the only place on earth where the gospel is not advancing. No doubt there are many reasons for this and revival cannot be seen as a panacea. But a mighty outpouring of the Spirit would breathe new life and power into the churches. Here are ten titles that will simulate us to pray for revival. Some look at the subject historically, others biblically and theologically. Publication dates are based on the editions in my library.
1. Revival: Can we make it happen? D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Pickering and Inglis, 1986.
2. Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 1994.
3. Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 1988.
4. Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England, Jonathan Edwards, Works Volume 1, repr Banner of Truth Trust, 1984.
5. Revival: A People saturated with God, Brian H. Edwards, Evangelical Press, 1990.
6. Revival Comes to Wales: The Story of the 1859 Revival in Wales, Eifion Evans, Evangelical Press of Wales, 1986.
7. The Welsh Revival of 1904, Eifion Evans, Evangelical Press of Wales, 1984.
8. Fire on the Altar: A history and evaluation of the 1904-05 Welsh Revival, Noel Gibbard, Bryntirion Press, 2005.
9. Fire in the Thatch, Eifion Evans, Evangelical Press of Wales, 1996.
10. Historical Collections of Accounts of Revivals, John Gillies, repr Banner of Truth Trust, 1981.

O Lord, revive your work
in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years
make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
(Habakkuk 3:2)

Friday, July 13, 2007

What is the measure of my days?

Yesterday we attended a parent's evening at our son's secondary school (for ages 11-18). We got to meet most of his teachers and were encouraged to find out that he has been doing well in his first year. One thing that I could not help noticing is that all the teachers were younger than me! This was a good reminder that life is hurtling by at a rapid pace. It doesn't seem like too long ago that I regarded teachers as a bunch of oldies. A couple of Scriptures came to mind:
O LORD, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!
(Psalm 39:4&5)
So teach us to number our days
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

John Calvin on the resurrection of the body (2)

Unknown to the Philosophers
(John Calvin, portrait by Titian)
Calvin was willing to make use of the insights of the philosophers in developing his doctrine of the human soul. He was especially willing to draw upon Plato's teaching on the soul's immortality. (See John Calvin's Ideas by Paul Helm, Oxford, 2006 paperback edition. Helm devotes a chapter to The Soul and discusses Calvin's use of philosophy in his doctrine of man). Plato may even have speculated that man's chief good is to be united with God. But he did not expect that this would involve being united to God as resurrected human beings. Calvin says,
"It is difficult to believe that after our bodies have been consumed with rottenness, they will rise again at their appointed time. And hence, while many of the philosophers maintained the immortality of the soul, few of them assented to the resurrection of the body." (III:XXV:3).
N. T. Wright devotes a lot of attention to pagan views of the afterlife in his The Resurrection of the Son of God and concludes,
"The great majority of the ancients believed in life after death; many of them developed complex and fascinating beliefs about it and practices in relation to it; but, other than within Judaism and Christianity, they did not believe in resurrection. 'Resurrection' denoted new embodied life which would follow whatever 'life after death' there might be. 'Resurrection' was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied 'heavenly' life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death's reversal." (SPCK, 2003, p. 82 & 83).
No philosopher entertained that possibility. The resurrection hope is not the product of human reason, but divine revelation. However, the fact that bodily resurrection is a revealed truth does not mean that it is at all unreasonable. The philosophers were "inexcusable" for denying the resurrection hope (III:XXV:3). The problem is not that resurrection is an unlikely or foolish belief, but that human understanding has been darkened by sin. Calvin suggests that the burial of human remains is a testimony to a long lost belief in the resurrection of the body,
"But that this gross ignorance might be no excuse, unbelievers have always by natural instinct had an image of the resurrection before their eyes. For why the sacred and inviolable custom of burying, but that it might be the earnest of new life...But although that ceremony was without profit, yet it is useful to us if we prudently consider its end; because it is no feeble refutation of infidelity that all men agreed in professing what none of them believed." (III:XXV:5).
Calvin suggests two main grounds for believing in the resurrection of the body. First that the resurrection of Jesus is the model and dynamic of the believer's resurrection. Second the power of God (III:XXV:3). But a third reason is hinted at in III:XXV:2 - that by the the resurrection, God will restore what was lost in Adam due to the fall,
"For since Adam by his fall destroyed the proper order of nature, the creatures groan under the servitude to which they have been subjected through their sin; not that they are all endued with sense, but that they naturally long for the state of perfection to which they have fallen."
Calvin cites Romans 8:19 at this point and then draws upon the language of Romans 8:23 to describe the final advent of Christ as the believer's redemption "we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body".
Salvation will not be complete unless the body is redeemed. The philosophers, like Plato may have tended to view the physical side of human life as inherently evil and irredeemable, but the Bible teaches that God made man as a union of body and soul. Calvin reflects on this on Book I:XV. He can sound rather Platonic in his emphasis on the soul as "an immortal, though created essence" and the body as a "prison house" for the soul (I:XV:2). He thinks that God made the human body out of the dust of the ground to curb our pride "nothing being more absurd than that those should glory in their excellence who not only dwell in tabernacles of clay, but are themselves in part dust and ashes." (I:XV:1). The Reformer insists that the soul rather than the body is the seat of the image of God (I:XV:3). But he does not exclude the body altogether from man's identity as God's unique image bearer,
"An though the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and the heart, or the soul and its powers, there was not part even of the body in which some rays of glory did not shine" (I:XV:4).
The human body, then is an essential and important aspect of our God-given humanity. The philosophers were mistaken in their estimation of the origin and destiny of man as a union of body and soul. For Calvin, God has acted in Christ to redeem created, yet fallen human life in its totality.
One feature of Calvin's teaching needs to be qualified and corrected. The Reformer's tendency to use the word "immortality" of the soul is regrettable. This gives his teaching a slightly Platonic flavour. It is true to say that the soul exists beyond death, but in Scripture "immortality" is used only of resurrected humanity (1 Corinthians 15:50-55). Calvin cites 2 Timothy 1:10 in a footnote to III:XXV:1,
"Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel"
It is through the gospel, not Plato that the true, Christ-defined meaning of immortality is brought to light. It is a pity that Calvin, who was usually so careful to put the Bible's teaching ahead of philosophical speculation did not pay more careful attention to Scripture at this point.
To sum up, Calvin argues that the resurrection hope was unknown to the philosophers because the fall has darkened human reason. The resurrection hope flows from the Bible's account of man's constitution as a psycho-physical being, the resurrection of Christ and the omnipotence of God.
In the next post in this series I hope to reflect on Calvin's teaching regarding Christ as the model and dynamic of the believer's resurrection.

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Series 2 "Box Set"

The latest series of seven interviews has now concluded. I've spoken to a few pastors, a biblical scholar, a theologian, a philosopher and a church historian. I hope that you have enjoyed these conversations as much as I have. Thanks to all who were willing to stop by for a blog chat. Blogging in the name of the Lord will hopefully return in early 2008. If you would like to nominate yourself for a place in the hot seat, sending me a couple of books from my Amazon Wishlist may help to persuade me that you are a worthy subject.* Here are links to the individual interviews in order of appearance:

* The wishlist suggestion isn't meant to be taken too seriously - but it may help!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sidebar Geekery

I've been messing around with my sidebar, especially the links section. In place of one list of jumbled up links, I have now created several different categories. I hope that this will make the blog a little more user friendly. Note especially the new list of Theological Resources links. Well, that's quite enough geekery for now.

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Danny Foulkes

This is the last in a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello and welcome, Danny. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DF: Hello Guy! I was born and raised in Liverpool, England, and am an only child. I have been married for the last twenty years, have four children (two of each), and have been in full time pastoral ministry for the last 12 years. Prior to that I spent ten years working in staff management, training, and operating counselling services in Jobcentres in Liverpool, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Manchester, and back again in Liverpool. I first pastored down in Port Talbot in South Wales, at Bethlehem Sandfields for just under six years, and have now been here in South Cheshire at Wheelock Heath Baptist Church for the last six. I am an FIEC Associate, and a convinced Reformed Baptist. I read, listen to music, and support a fine football team.

GD: Your blog is called "Iconoblog". Please explain.

DF: I can’t remember to be honest. I have been saddled with the name for a long time and wish I could easily change it. Unfortunately, people remember it. I would prefer to title it Coram Deo, but someone has that already… I am open to suggestions!

GD: Why did you start blogging?

DF: I sometimes wonder. Originally I began blogging anonymously as an exercise in diary keeping, but that has evolved through several stages over the last couple of years. My blog content has swung between simply being a news vehicle for friends and family to keep in touch, a jotter for theological thinking and practical theological application, some cultural commentary, and in recent times, a Pastor’s Blog attached to our church website. I think it is probably still all of those things.

GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?

DF: The surprising value it has in keeping people in touch with our situation, developing new friendships, and the way that it allows immediate and direct commentary on all sorts of items. When I do write posts that are intended to stimulate and encourage discussion, I have enjoyed the subsequent interaction around God’s word. Some of my postings on Children and Preaching, Harry Potter, and The Passion of the Christ for example have allowed me some very useful conversations.

GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?

DF: Apart from the obvious potential for self-centeredness, time wasting, posting without adequate thought and then regretting it, unhelpful polemics…? I think one of the dangers I hadn’t anticipated is that you allow people to see you as a person with interests and opinions. Not every reader understands that their pastor is almost as normal as they are – and that can lead to interesting conversations…

GD: Tell us how you became aware of a call to the Ministry of the Word.

DF: I was saved from dead religion when I was just 15. Having been an Anglican choir boy with extreme double standards, I knew lots of religious terminology but had no understanding of the saving work of Christ at the cross. Once I had been born again, I had an almost immediate desire for Christian ministry. At 16 I approached my pastor with that conviction, and he wisely encouraged and counselled me, and in the course of the next 4 years or so, buddied me with several elders who helped define my theological reading and thinking, devotional habits, and channelling of gifts into Christian service. I valued that mentoring process, as it allowed my meaningful contact with men who gave me time, feedback and guidance both in areas of belief and behaviour. In due course, I was encouraged to speak at meetings in my home church, preach at times there, and begin some itinerant preaching opportunity with their recommendation.

GD: Where did you train for the Christian Ministry?

DF: At the age of 23, the elders recommended me to the Evangelical Movement of Wales Theological Training Course. Although learning and studying alongside a full-time job, responsibilities as a church officer in a growing church, and being a young husband and father was difficult, it allowed me to continue to work to support my family while exploring the potential of a call to ministry. I appreciated that, although with hindsight, would have much preferred to study full time. I commenced an MA in Pastoral Theology with ETCW (now WEST) a few years ago that I am now, God willing, about to finally and properly get my teeth into.

GD: Best wishes with your studies. What is the most important lesson that you learned from your ministerial training?

DF: Study full time if you can. I guess that studying in the way that I did was a preparation for the fact that the majority of ministers – particularly in the UK perhaps - have to juggle numerous balls for most of their ministerial lives, with the constant feeling that one is a Jack of All Trades, but Master of very few. I wish I were a better visitor, counsellor, preacher, prayer warrior, church historian, developer of young men, theologian, evangelist, team leader, manager of other pastoral staff, creative thinker and strategist… Doubtless those desires reside in all of us and none would have been solved by my studying full time.

GD: What does your family think of your blogging habit?

DF: Although I do try to blog as often as I can, I’m not sure that my frequency allows such an appellation. I tried for some time to encourage them to develop an interest in posting to our family blog, but to no avail. They accept it as another of my many idiosyncrasies.

GD: You were pastor at Sandfileds Aberavon, where Lloyd-Jones' was the minister in the 1920's & 30's. That must have been interesting. What was it like, being an Englishmen in the heart of Welsh evangelicalism?

DF: When I was in Wales, I would occasionally hear it said that English pastors are not accepted as readily as their Welsh brothers. I have to say that was never my experience. I was welcomed with open arms and with a generous spirit by my ministerial colleagues and by their churches. Despite being an English Reformed Baptist in his first pastoral charge, with firm cessationist convictions and some abiding questions regarding the phenomenon of revival, I was very blessed by the love I was shown. Speaking culturally and theologically, the emphasis in some quarters of Welsh reformed evangelicalism upon tradition, the suspicion of some regarding certain bible translations & movements in hymnody, and the occasional unwillingness to give ground on secondary matters was at times frustrating. I greatly valued my ministry at Sandfields, and also the opportunities I was afforded for much wider involvement.

GD: How do you evaluate Lloyd-Jones' continuing influence over evangelicalism?

DF: I love Lloyd-Jones. I own pretty much all that has been printed and have read a great deal of it. Pastoring the congregation where he began his ministry was quite daunting, as his memory in many ways could still be strongly felt – I asked the church to remove all the photographs of him and his deacons from the vestry when it became my study as it was a little difficult to have him watching me every day! His influence has been very extensive, hasn’t it? He epitomised expository preaching, lifted God before men’s eyes, and modelled a serious and thinking Christianity that was in fellowship with the church of the ages. He was God’s man to raise a significant rallying cry amongst evangelicals. It strikes me that we currently lack a man of his stature in the UK. If you go to the States, there are several men who could fill that role – John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler – but we are without such a figure I think.

I do think that the ongoing ripples from the events at Keele in 1967 have not all been helpful. I love my Anglican friends – I cannot understand why they remain Anglican, but I value them and learn much from them. We must be careful not to be smug or ghettoised (is that a word?) in our independency. Surely Lloyd Jones would never have wanted that. My other concern is that he is at times quoted with undue reverence and imbued by some with excessive weight. Our brother taught us much and we ought to give thanks. He is now in the glory and fresh challenges face us – he was so gifted, but is not our final authority. John Brencher’s little book ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Twentieth Century Evangelicalism’ was not as unhelpful as some have suggested, and brings some balance to our understanding of this tremendous man of God.

GD: I have heard of, but not read the Brencher book. Like you, I owe a huge debt to "The Doctor". But I find it a bit depressing that sometimes when his opinions are cited, all discussion is brought to an end. We need to face the issues of our day is in a way that is faithful to Scripture just as he did in his day. But talking of Lloyd-Jones' infulence, how do you view the Welsh emphasis on revival?

DF: I believe we have a sovereign God who is in complete control. He is the only one who can revive the church of Christ and awaken godless societies to life. We cannot work up revival, and I believe we must reject Finneyism out of hand. I observe in my reading of history that the extraordinary work of God by his Holy Spirit is at times greater than others, and that currently we are in leaner days in the West. I pray and long for God to stir his church and sovereignly send a greater and more manifest expression of his blessing upon us. I think I would share all of those convictions with my Welsh brothers. However, I am sometimes concerned that there is an excessive emphasis upon revival in some circles. If our belief in revival and our anticipation of a greater move of God stirs us to love him more, work for him harder, pray with greater fervour, and evangelise with greater urgency, then I am right behind it! If, however, its absence discourages us to inactivity, leans us toward hyper-calvinism and instils in us an unhealthy historical nostalgia that lauds the past and despises the present, then I am less helped.

GD: Yes, should long and pray for revival and be active for the gospel in our present situation. You are now pastor of Wheelock Heath Baptist Church. What encouragements have you known and what challenges are you facing?

DF: We have known some growth in recent years, for which we are very thankful. Some of that has been through conversions, and some through the arrival of new friends from other parts of the country and believers leaving more Charismatic or liberal causes seeking a Reformed expository ministry that seeks to disciple folk in the Word and creatively reach the communities in which we live. Due to space constraints and other strategic reasons, 18 months ago we left our church building on Sunday mornings and began meeting in a local Secondary School. Since then we have continued to grow – but with growth comes challenges! Maintaining, discipling and mobilising a congregation that is theologically diverse can be a real challenge. We value your prayers. In particular, we would value prayer for our current Asst Pastor Ben Griffin who leaves us for missionary service with UFM in August, and the arrival of our new Asst Pastor Gary Aston who begins in September. We hope to appoint additional elders by the end of the year also.

GD: That's encouraging. What have you found to be most effective in evangelistic outreach?

DF: Having an Evangelistic Action Team that creatively promotes and spearheads our evangelistic outreach! Committed people who love souls and stimulate us to do the same. We have particularly been encouraged by running Men’s Breakfasts and Ladies’ Outreach evenings.

GD: Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?

DF: In person? Stuart Olyott taught me to love the Bible, and my pastor in Liverpool, Bill Bygroves taught me to love people. In print? Hendriksen’s commentaries, and almost everything put out by Banner or Evangelical Press. The first book I ever read was The Sovereignty of God by A W Pink. What a classic!

GD: Who has taught you most about preaching?

DF: In my developmental years, Stuart Olyott and Bill Bygroves. More recently, I have listened a great deal to John Piper, Art Azurdia, and John MacArthur.

GD: Some good role models there. I notice from your blog that you are a John Frame fan. I've just read his Salvation Belongs to the Lord and appreciated it very much. I hope to get into Theology of Lordship series, when I've got enough pocket money. What is it about Frame that you find so helpful.

DF: He writes well, is really incisive, and warms my heart as he fills my mind! He leaves me with a sense of God.

GD: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?

DF: I am sure there are many far more qualified than I am to answer that. Some are obvious – the crumbling of so-called evangelicals in the face of challenges over the atonement is troubling. The rush at all costs to adopt seeker-sensitivity or emergent themes bothers me. The retreat of some evangelicals into disputes over secondary matters and the mutual labelling and libelling of Reformed ministers saddens me. The apathy of many Christians in the UK while paganism and secularism are rampant is appalling. I think the UK is faced by the need to express a robustly reformed and confessional Christianity in terms that people can understand, and for us to grasp the nettle of appropriate fellowship and co-operation with those who share almost all of our distinctives, yet who differ in secondary concerns. Reaching lost people – what a challenge that is! The encroachment of Islam, the influx of post-Soviet bloc immigrants… the list is endless.

GD: We do face some huge challenges. How we need God's grace and wisdom to deal with them effectively. Right, what is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....

DF: Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics – because he is simply outstanding.

GD: Tell us your top three songs or pieces of music

DF: Far too difficult! I can tell you my top three from this week if you like…

Symphony 6 by Vagn Holmboe
Freedom Fields by Seth Lakeman
Through the Window Pane by The Guillemots

GD: Interesting. My top three would change from week to week too. Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?

DF: Tim Challies and Green Baggins because they are so clear and insightful. Oh, and this one.

GD: Well, thanks very much for this conversation, Danny. It's been great talking to you.

This concludes the present set of interviews. Blogging in the name of the Lord will hopefully return for a new series in early 2008.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My top ten Christian biographies

I have counted two-volume biogs as one choice. The order reflects my personal preference.

1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1982) & The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1990) by Iain H. Murray.

2. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Banner of Truth Trust, 1987) by Iain H. Murray.
3. Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales (Banner of Truth Trust, 1985) by Eifion Evans.
4. George Whitefiled: The life and times of the great evangelist of the 18th century revival (Banner of Truth Trust, Volume 1 1970, Volume 2 1980) by Arnold Dallimore.
5. Here I Stand: Martin Luther (Lion, 1978) by Roland Bainton.
6. Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth Trust, 1984) by Arnold Dallimore.
7. John Calvin (Lion, 1975) by T.H.L. Parker.
8. William Grimshaw of Howarth (Banner of Truth Trust, 1997) by Faith Cook.
9. Howell Harris: From Conversion to Separation 1735-1750 (University Press of Wales, 2000) by Geraint Tudur.
10. Wilberforce (Lion, 1977) by John Pollock.
On compiling this list, I see that I'm especially partial to biographies of men who were prominent in the 18th century Evangelical Revival. Also, the Banner of Truth Trust is to be congratulated for publishing so many excellent works of Christian biography. Which Christian biographies have you most enjoyed?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Michael Haykin

This is part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
Michael Haykin

GD: Hello and welcome, Michael. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

MH: Born in England of Irish and Kurdish parents, I am currently the Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary, Toronto, Ontario. I have just accepted an offer to become Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in January of 2008.

I am the author of a number of books, including: The Spirit of God: The Exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians in the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the Fourth Century (E. J. Brill, 1994); One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends, and his times (Evangelical Press, 1994); ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Paternoster Press, 2004), and Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival (Evangelical Press, 2005). Most recently I have been writing some books on spirituality, one on the spirituality of Alexander Whyte, one on that of Edwards, and just recently one on Hercules Collins’ piety. These are published by Reformation Heritage Books in Grand Rapids.

I and my family attend Trinity Baptist Church, Burlington, Ontario, where I am also an elder.

GD: Congratulations on your appointment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. May the Lord bless you in this new sphere of service. Your blog is called "Historica Ecclesiastica", what made you start blogging?

MH: I read Hugh Hewitt’s Blog which convinced that as a Christian leader I needed to be blogging.

GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?

MH: Being able to share some reflections on church history with a larger audience than my books or speaking.

GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?

MH: Wasting time—it is so very easy for hours to pass before you know it. I try to be disciplined in my time in this regard.

GD: Why should Christians be interested in Church history?

MH: Our identity is bound up with the past. We cannot know where we are going if we do not know where we have come from.

GD: For evangelicals, it often seems that church history began in the first century and then disappeared for 1500 years, only to re-emerge at the Reformation. What are we missing when we neglect the patristic and medieval periods of church history?

MH: We are missing tons. The early Church Fathers did theology in a pagan environment which ours is increasingly approximating. We can learn much from them. They and those in the fourth century hammered out a theology of the Trinity and addressed canon issues that are so vital to us. And with regard to the Middle Ages, we cannot understand the Reformation if we do not know that era. And there are some gems in it: J Wycliffe, Anselm, Aelred of Rievaulx.

GD: You wrote a book on three key Calvinistic Baptists - Kiffin, Knollys and Keach. What is the main lesson that these Baptist pioneers have to teach us?

MH: Their passion for biblical truth even to the cost of their lives.

GD: What role should historic creeds and confessions play in contemporary theological reflection?

MH: In my mind much. Christianity is not Christianity if it is not confessional. And the creeds of the early church are central to who we are—they are not infallible, but they are normative under Scripture. No creed but the Bible is a failure to understand the doctrinal emphasis of the faith that needs to be encapsulated in a short compass for Christian witness and expression.

GD: I read somewhere that you had a portrait of John Wesley hung in the lobby of Toronto Baptist Seminary. What do you, a Calvinistic Baptist, so admire about Wesley?

MH: His zeal for evangelism, his determination to reach the poor (so much of our evangelicalism is comfortable middle-class religion—and I do not use the word religion as a bad word), his love for souls (even though he admitted he always needed more love). And his love for singing and his publishing his brother’s hymns.

GD: Could you recommend a few books that serve as an introduction to church history?

MH: Timothy Dowley’s Introduction to the History of Christianity is a great starter.

GD: Name your top three songs or pieces of music.

MH: Oh this is very difficult as I have so many I like. Maybe better are composers/musicians: Charles Wesley’s hymns, those of Joseph Hart and John Newton and Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount. Trevor Francis’ O the deep love of Jesus. I love the Baroque composers like Bach and Scarlatti and Pachelbel. But I also like blues! Interesting and very eclectic.

GD: Have you seen the Wilberforce biopic, Amazing Grace? If so, did you enjoy it?

MH: Yes. And yes and no. Yes, it was great to see Hollywood deal with such a theme. I was saddened Wilberforces’ Christian faith was not as explicit. But that is Hollywood. And there were some big historical bloopers—like the link of Amazing Grace and the slave trade, which did not exist.

GD: Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?

MH: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And then: men like Andrew Fuller and Samuel Pearce. And the Puritans and the fourth-century Fathers like Basil and Athanasius.
GD: Lloyd-Jones was a huge influence for me too. What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....

MH: Andrew Fuller, A Meditation on the Nature and the Progressiveness of the Heavenly Glory - a powerful tonic to this-worldly evangelicalism

GD: That sounds interesting. Now, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?

MH: Building genuine Christian communities of light and love.

GD: Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?

MH: Another difficult question because I have a quite a number. Love Justin Taylor’s, and Albert Mohler’s and that of Russell Moore—all extremely informative and the latter two also provocative. I like my friend’s Kirk Wellum’s. Free St George’s because of his love of history. But these are only five of about ten or twelve.
GD: Well, thank you very much for this conversation Michael. It has been great talking to you.
The final interview in this series will be published soon (hopefully)...

Friday, July 06, 2007

John Calvin on the resurrection of the body (1)

Introduction
Reformed dogmatics has often failed to give due attention to the meaning and significance of the resurrection of Jesus. (See this earlier post for more details). While the Institutes is not a formal work of systematic theology, it is fair to say that Calvin's seminal work has had a huge effect on the development of Reformed theology. B. B. Warfield opined,

'As the fundamental treatise in the development in a truly evangelical theology, the Institutes' mission has stretched far beyond its own day. All subsequent attempts to state and defend that theology necessarily go back to it as their starting point, and its impress upon the history of evangelical thinking is ineffaceable'. (From back cover of the Henry Beveridge translation, 1993, Eerdmans).
It will be interesting then, to consider Calvin's discussion of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. What weight does he give to this subject? How does the Reformer understand the relationship between the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers? What does contemporary Reformed theology have to learn from Calvin on this matter? I hope to address such questions over the course of this series.
While Calvin makes reference to the resurrection of Christ at various points in the Institutes, he gives his most detailed attention to the subject in Book III:XXV, On the Last Resurrection. This really is a remarkable chapter. The Reformer covers a huge amount of ground in 17 pages. Many of the main arguments that are detailed in N.T. Wright's massive, 817 page The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, 2003 are anticipated here in summary form. Now, 17 pages may not seem like a lot of space devoted to the resurrection in a work of over 1200 pages. But the relative importance of a doctrine to Calvin should not be measured only by the number of pages he devotes to that truth in the Institutes. We have to pay attention to what he says about the value of a doctrine not simply how long he takes to say it. The Institutes are not, as I say a systematic theology, where doctrines are (hopefully) given biblically proportionate attention. Calvin's magnum opus was an occasional work, written in the heat of the Reformation controversies. The Reformer concentrated his fire power where it was needed most. If a doctrine was at the centre of contemporary controversy such as justification by faith, he would spend more time explaining and defending it in detail. While Calvin deals with some of the controversial issues that surrounded the resurrection of the body, the doctrine was not the focus of theological argumentation in his day. This rather than anything else is the reason why the Reformer did not give a more space to discussing the resurrection hope.
It should be remembered that the Institutes is Calvin's attempt to set forth the theology of the Reformation using the framework of the Apostle's Creed. The creed, of course contains this affirmation: "I believe in.... the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting". Calvin wants to show that the Reformed movement is thoroughly biblical and orthodox on this fundamental article of faith.
The location of the Reformer's treatment of the resurrection within the structure of the Institutes is important. The chapter on the resurrection is found at the end of Book III, which constitutes a massive exposition of, "The mode of obtaining the grace of Christ. The benefits it confers and the effects resulting from it." According to Calvin, the resurrection hope is the grand fulfilment of salvation in Christ. The goal of God's redemptive work is that the elect are conformed to the image of the risen, glorified Jesus. In placing his treatment of the resurrection at this point in the Institutes, Calvin emphasises that the resurrection of the body is the crowning benefit and effect that believers receive from grace of Christ. This is "the prize of our high calling" (III:XXV:1.)
For Calvin, the resurrection of the body is a deeply practical doctrine. The Lord Jesus has conquered death. Even now, believers sit with him in the heavenly places. In the midst of life's trials and difficulties, we are to attend to the great Christian hope that, "When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory."(Colossians 3:4). This hope will steel us to stand firm in the faith, steadfast to the end. We are raise our eyes from the passing things of this life and to fix them on the risen Christ. Reflection on the resurrection hope is absolutely vital for growth in godliness,
"Wherefore, he alone has made solid progress in the gospel who has acquired the habit of meditating continually on a blessed resurrection." (III:XXV:1).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Some good stuff

Don Carson recently said that the internet represents a "triumph of pooled ignorance". But there is some good stuff out there in blog-land. Check out these links:
Martin Downes talks to Tom Schreiner about penal substitutionary atonement:
In my place condemned he stood, here.
Paul Helm has published two new posts for July:

N.T. Wight's ordo salutis here.

Samuel Rutherford and the limits of toleration here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Hand of God by Frederick S. Leahy

The Hand of God: The Comfort of Having a Sovereign God
by Frederick S. Leahy, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006, 207pp.
According to Leahy, ‘When we read of God’s hand in the Bible we are to think of his invincible sovereignty in action’. Here the writer reflects on the working of God’s sovereign power from creation to the day of judgement under chapter headings like, The Hand That Creates, The Hand That Keeps and The Hand That Redeems.

This work is packed full of sane, pastoral wisdom and is the product of a passionately God-centred theology. Leahy demonstrates how the sovereignty of God is deeply relevant to every area of life. He makes penetrating application of Biblical teaching to contemporary issues such as the environment and materialism. His main aim is to comfort and strengthen the people of God. Life in this fallen world can sometimes be very difficult and baffling. Leahy deals sensitively with the problem of suffering and evil and assures us that God is in control of all events. The Lord may use suffering to chasten and discipline us, but he always does so in love, for our eternal benefit.

In this book, readers will find robustly Biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation and good, practical discussion of issues like guidance and Christian service. At a time when many Christians seem to shy away from all talk of hell, Leahy writes honestly and compassionately about the final judgement. The chapter, The Hand That Judges is shot through with urgent, evangelistic appeal, making this book useful to unbelievers as well as Christians.

Fredrick Leahy’s experiences as Minister of the Gospel, theological teacher and popular writer find fine expression in this, his final book. The writer was called to glory in January 2006.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Jim Packer revisits penal substitutionary atonement

"Throughout my 63 years as an evangelical believer, the penal substitutionary understanding of the cross of Christ has been a flashpoint of controversy and division among Protestants. It was so before my time, in the bitter parting of ways between conservative and liberal evangelicals in the Church of England, and between the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF) and SCM in the student world. It remains so, as liberalism keeps reinventing itself and luring evangelicals away from their heritage. Since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the character of God, the terms of the gospel and the Christian’s inner life, the intensity of the debate is understandable. If one view is right, others are more or less wrong, and the definition of Christianity itself comes to be at stake."
See here for the rest of the well thought out and passionately argued article. Vintage JIP.

Preaching and the power of the Spirit (3)

In Part 1 of this series, I focused on the biblical teaching on the relationship between preaching and the power of the Spirit. We looked at the subject from an historical point of view in Part 2. Now, in this concluding post I would like to reflect on some of the practicalities. I am not suggesting in any way that I am an expert in these things. One of the reasons for doing this series was to help to clarify my thinking on this matter and to sharpen my desire an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon my own ministry.
1) Preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit does not mean preaching without preparation
During times of revival it has sometimes been the case that men have been able to preach very powerfully with little or no sermon preparation. When the revival period has ebbed away, some of these men foolishly continued to preach in this way with disastrous effects for their ministries and their people. We must not make the exceptional the rule. If we would preach in the power of the Spirit, we must prepare our messages diligently. The Spirit will honour his Truth. Our sermons therefore must be as exegetically accurate as possible. The preacher's calling is to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 ). It is the "entrance of God's word that gives light (Psalm 119:130 ). Preachers need to give attention to exegesis, doctrinal matters, sermon structure, illustration and application. I do not think that it is wise to lay down rigid rules on sermon construction or to dictate how long it should take to prepare a sermon. But we need to put in the hard work of developing a message. This holds true whether we adopt an extemporary style of preaching, or we use notes to a greater or lesser extent. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to make good our lack of preparation. But if we rely upon him in the study, we may look for his help us in the pulpit.
Our general reading and study are related to this point. Yes, we must consult the commentaries for our sermon preparation, but beyond that, preachers must be readers. We should read works of theology and doctrine to deepen our understanding of God's word. Books about church history and biography can serve to inspire and warn us. We should try to be aware of some of the major contemporary doctrinal controversies. Our people may be affected by certain errors and we need to be able to help them. But we should not read "professionally" because it is our job to be informed. The preacher should read passionately as one who hungers for a better, deeper and wider grasp of the truth. We need to be able to read people too and have some understanding the contemporary situation so that we can apply God's word effectively to our congregations. Those who have known most of preaching with great power have often been voracious readers. Think of Paul, Luther, Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
2) Preaching in the power of the Spirit and the life of the preacher
The preacher is above all else a Christian. We are called to live in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) and produce the fruit of the Spirit (22 & 23). Sin grieves the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and lack of spiritual sensitivity quenches his work (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Robert Murray M'Cheyne famously said, "A holy minister is a terrible weapon in the hands of God". This does not mean that preachers have to be perfect. We are sinners saved by grace. But it does mean that we are to be men of God, who seek to live for the glory of Christ. If we would know the power of the Spirit upon our ministries, then we must be godly men. All preachers are not equally gifted, but gifts without godliness are useless. This is what John Owen had to say,
"Preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit, which men so much quarrel about, is nothing less than the evidence in preaching of of unction... No man preaches that sermon well to others that doth not first preach it to his own heart; for unless he finds the power of it in his own heart, he cannot have confidence that it will have power in the hearts of others. It is an easier thing to bring our heads to preach than our hearts to preach. To bring our hearts to preach is to be transformed into the power of these truths: or to find the power of them, both before, in fashioning our minds and hearts, and in delivering them, that we may have benefit; and to be acted with zeal for God and compassion for the souls of men. A man may preach every day in the week and not have his heart engaged once. (Works of John Owen Volume 9, p. 455, cited in Pentecost Today? by Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 1988, p. 82.)
May the Lord help us to preach his Word from our hearts. We need to be like Bunyan who said, "I preached what I smartingly did feel."
3) Preaching in the power of the Spirit and prayer
Jesus taught that Christians should pray expectantly to the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Preachers are especially in need of the Spirit's work in their ministries. In the first post in this series, we looked at what Paul had to say about preaching in the power of the Spirit in his own ministry. The apostle did not regard this as being in any way automatic. He constantly urged the churches to pray for him,
"praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak". (Ephesians 6:18-20).
In Acts 4:29-31, it was through the Holy Spirit filling the church that they spoke the word of God with boldness. Paul said about his preaching Thessalonica, that it was not "in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance". (1 Thessalonians 1:5). In his second letter to the church, he asks for this prayer,
"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Both preachers and people need to pray urgently that the Spirit will empower the proclamation of the gospel.
4) The power of the Spirit in the act of preaching
On this point, I can do little better than to quote the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones,
"How do we recognise this when it happens? Let me try to answer. The first indication is in the preacher's own consciousness. 'Our gospel came not unto you in word only' says Paul, 'but in power and the Holy Ghost, and much assurance'. Who knew the assurance? Paul himself. He knew something was happening, he was aware of it. You cannot be filled with the Spirit without knowing it. He had 'much assurance'. He knew he was clothed with power and authority. How does one know it? It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through the whole of your being, and an indescribable sense of joy. You are a man 'possessed', you are taken hold of and taken up. I put it like this - and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to this feeling - that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on. You are looking at yourself in amazement as this is happening . It is not your effort; you are just the instrument, the channel, the vehicle: and the Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment and astonishment. There is nothing that is in any way comparable to this. This is what the preacher himself is aware of".

From Preaching and Preachers p. 324, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.
May the Lord help us to know more and more what it is to preach in the power of the Spirit.