Saturday, November 29, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
When we talk of divine impassibility, we are using negative language. We are saying what God is not. Theologians often have to resort to negative language when describing the being of God. He is impassible, infinite, incomprehensible, immutable and so on. This reminds us that God's being is a great mystery. From our stance as finite human beings it is easier for us to say what he is not than what he is. We should exercise reserve and modesty before the great mystery of God's being. He is above and beyond us in every way.
God's impassibility is a quality of his aseity or divine fullness. Unlike us, God is not dependent upon anything outside himself for emotional fulfilment or satisfaction. I've been dipping into David Bentley Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite. He discusses the divine impassibility or apatheia against the background of the intertrinitarian fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Godhead.
"I can at least offer a definition of divine apatheia as trinitarian love: God's impassibility is the utter fullness of an infinite dynamism, the absolutely complete and replete generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit from the Father, the infinite "drama" of God's joyous act of self-outpouring - which is his being as God. Within the plenitude of this motion, no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation, because it is the infinite possibility of every creaturely motion or act; no pathos is possible for God because pathos is, by definition, a finite instance of change visited upon a passive subject, actualising some potential, whereas God's love is pure positivity and pure activity." (The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, David Bentley Hart, Eerdmans, 2003, p. 167).
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
The Resurrection of the wicked
Following the emphasis of Scripture itself, Calvin gives greatest attention to the resurrection of the believer. But he does not neglect to say something on the resurrection of the wicked. He addresses the question, "How can the resurrection, which is a special benefit of Christ, be common to the ungodly, who are lying under the curse of God?" (III:XXV:9). In Adam all died. Does the promise of resurrection mean that all will be indiscriminately raised to life? Calvin regards such a universalistic option as "incongruous". He draws attention to the witness of Scripture on this matter. Christ will divide the sheep from the goats, Matthew 25:32. God in his common grace showers his blessings upon the righteous and wicked alike in this life. But this does not mean that they will share the same eternal destiny. The Reformer alludes to Paul's reaching in Romans 1:18-21, to argue that the wicked will be rendered all the more inexcusable and receive greater damnation for stubbornly refusing to acknowledge God's goodness.
Calvin dismisses annihilationism - the idea that the wicked will snuffed out of existence at death. He anticipates the argument of Jonathan Edwards, that sin against the infinite majesty of God deserves and infinite and unending punishment,
"It ought not to seem in any respect more absurd that there is to be an adventitious resurrection of the ungodly which will drag them against their will before the tribunal of Christ, whom they now refuse to receive as their master and teacher. To be consumed by death would be a light punishment were they not, in order to the punishment of their rebellion, to be sisted before the Judge whom they have provoked to a vengeance without measure and without end." (III:XXV:9).
In the light of prominent Evangelicals such as John Stott and Philip Edgecumbe Huges flirting with annihilationism in the latter part of the 20th century, Calvin's words should be carefully weighed. The wicked sin in the body and they will suffer eternal, conscious punishment in their resurrected bodies. The Reformer dwells on the nature of that punishment,
"Moreover, as language cannot describe the severity of the divine vengeance on the reprobate, their pains and torments are figured to us by corporeal things, such as darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, inextinguishable fire, the ever-gnawing worm (Matthew 8:12, 22:13; Mark 9:43, Isaiah 66:24)." (III:XXV:12).
Is there a more than a figurative dimension to the "corporeal" or bodily aspect of the Bible's teaching? The wicked will be raised up bodily to suffer eternal punishment. This is too awful to contemplate. But it is part of the witness of Scripture which cannot be rejected simply because it we find it emotionally disturbing. We should be disturbed! Consideration of these things should make us ponder the terrible consequences of being alienated from God, both for ourselves and for others. Calvin conjures a terrible picture of the whole creation acting as an instrument of judgement upon the ungodly, "Next, all the creatures are the instruments of his judgment, so that those to whom the Lord will thus publicly manifest his anger will feel that heaven, and earth, and sea, all beings, animate and inanimate, are, as it were, inflamed with dire indignation against them, and armed for their destruction." (III:XXV:12). This is no mere linguistic extravagance, but a true prelude to the day of judgement. Calvin concludes with a thundering exhortation,
"Hence unhappy consciences find no rest, but are vexed and driven about by a dire whirlwind, feeling as if torn by an angry God, pierced through with deadly darts, terrified by his thunderbolts and crushed by the weight of his hand; so that it were easier to plunge into abysses and whirlpools than endure these terrors for a moment. How fearful, then, must it be to be thus beset throughout eternity! On this subject there is a memorable passage in the ninetieth Psalm: Although God by a mere look scatters all mortals, and brings them to nought, yet as his worshippers are more timid in this world, he urges them the more, that he may stimulate then, while burdened with the cross to press onward until he himself shall be all in all." (III:XXV:12).
Calvin certainly does not shy away from setting before us the biblical teaching on the resurrection of the wicked in all its sombre reality. But he does not make this the main point of his consideration of the resurrection of the body, "But although we are to hold, as already observed and as is contained in the celebrated confession of Paul to Felix, “That there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust,” (Acts 24:15); yet Scripture more frequently sets forth the resurrection as intended, along with celestial glory, for the children of God only: because, properly speaking, Christ comes not for the destruction, but for the salvation of the world: and, therefore, in the [Apostle's] Creed the life of blessedness only is mentioned." (III:XXV:9).
Over the course of this series we have considered the various features of Calvin's highly compressed and yet comprehensive teaching on the resurrection of the body as set out in the Institutes. There can be no doubt that the Reformer grasped the importance of the resurrection hope for the Christian faith. The believer's resurrection is rooted in his union with Christ. He provides the model and dynamic of his people's resurrection glory. We shall be raised like Christ by Christ. Reformed systematic theology has not always given the attention it should to the resurrection of Christ. In terms of the loci of systematics, it is usually the case that Christ's atonement is discussed, followed by consideration of the application of redemption. It is as if we could be saved by a dead Jesus. Richard Gaffin has done sterling work to redress the balance in a more biblical direction, especially in his Resurrection and Redemption, P&R, 1987, where he says, "Justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification all have a common redemptive-historical, resurrection-qualified origin and complexion. Further, as with Christ, so with believers, these are not distinct acts but different facets of a single act, in the case of the latter, the act of being raised with Christ, that is, being united to Christ as resurrected." (p. 136).
We have a lot to learn then, from Calvin's rich and helpful teaching on this subject. But beyond giving us some valuable theological insights, John Calvin directs us to the believer's ultimate hope - that we shall share in the glory of the risen Lord,
"Peter declares that the purpose for which believers are called is, that they may be “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Peter 1:4). How so? Because “he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe,” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). If our Lord will share his glory, power, and righteousness, with the elect, nay, will give himself to be enjoyed by them; and what is better still, will, in a manner, become one with them, let us remember that every kind of happiness is herein included. But when we have made great progress in thus meditating, let us understand that if the conceptions of our minds be contrasted with the sublimity of the mystery, we are still halting at the very entrance." (III:XXV:10).
Friday, November 21, 2008
"We have come to realise that a man can be educated and cultured and still be a beast!"
"Putting all the ecclesiastical corpses into one graveyard will not bring about a resurrection!"
"A man who does not realise that he himself is his own biggest problem is a mere tyro!"
"The men who have accomplished most in this world have always been theologically minded."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
See here for order info.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Edited by Stephen Clark, IVP/Apollos, 2007, 256pp.
Monday, November 10, 2008
The Word has power
The Second Helvetic Confession admirably sums up the Reformed view of preaching thus: ‘The preaching of the word of God is the word of God’ (chapter 1). We cannot emphasise enough the authority of God’s written Word. The business of preaching is to proclaim no other Word than the biblical gospel. But we live in a visual society where words are often discounted — which creates a problem for preachers, for words are our stock in trade! But words are never ‘just words’. They always do something — they are ‘speech acts’. In the Bible we have God’s Word in words. Scripture is composed of basic units of speech — words and sentences. Now, words are very powerful things. When a Minister says to a couple, ‘I now declare you husband and wife’ it is then that they are married. In everyday life, we accomplish things by speaking words — whether we ask someone to pass the salt cellar or book a holiday.
The Spirit enables our response
It is here that the work of the Holy Spirit comes into its own. He enables people to respond appropriately to God’s communicative action in Scripture.2 That is why the Bible emphasises the importance of the work of the Spirit in relation to preaching. Paul testifies: ‘our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance ...’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
The Spirit’s presence in preaching
On the Day of Pentecost, the risen Christ poured out his Spirit upon the church. God’s people were filled with the Holy Spirit to enable them to bear witness to the gospel (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). Empowered by the Spirit, Peter preached and 3,000 people were converted, baptised and added to the church. Pentecost inaugurated a new era of the Spirit. As such it was an unrepeatable event. But there was still need of further fillings to empower gospel preaching (see Acts 4:8, 31). Art Azurdia comments:
The effectiveness of preaching
The Holy Spirit not only emboldens preachers, he gives preaching its saving effectiveness. The Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8). He brings the sinner to new birth as the gospel is proclaimed (John 3:8; 1 Peter 1:23-25). Christians too need to sit under Spirit empowered preaching. God transforms us by his Word. The Spirit enables believers to trust God’s promises and obey his commands. Above all else, God himself is revealed when Jesus Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit. Howell Harris said of the Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered preaching of Daniel Rowland: ‘a spiritual eye must see and acknowledge that God is there’.4
Seeking the Spirit’s empowering
Some dismiss the need to pray for the Spirit’s power because they say that Spirit invariably works with the Word. But Charles Hodge reminds us that we must actively seek the blessing of the sovereign Holy Spirit:
1. See Moore Theology, by Philip Eveson, Foundations (Affinity, Autumn 2006).
2. See The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (WJK, 2005) on the value of speech-act theory for theological reflection.
3. Spirit Empowered Preaching by Arturo Azurdia III (Mentor, 2007) p.105.
4. Daniel Rowland by Eifion Evans (Banner of Truth Trust, 1985) p.5.
5. From Pentecost Today, by Iain Murray (Banner of Truth Trust, 1998) p.81
6. Ibid, p.82.
7. Systematic Theology Vol. III, by Charles Hodge, p.476.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
I was born in 1975, the eldest of four brothers. My father had been ordained into the ministry a couple of years earlier. He spent the first six years of his ministry in two different evangelical Anglican churches, and has spent almost thirty years since in four different independent evangelical churches. When I was seven years old, the family moved to York, where my father was the minister of York Evangelical Church for just short of twenty years. So although I wasn't born in Yorkshire, that was as much home as anywhere.
From as far back as I can remember, I believed the Bible and felt called to the ministry. However, I remember making a childlike profession of faith when eight years old, and then being baptised in my early teens. There were times of doubt, as well as many inconsistencies, but what was known in the head increasingly became known in the heart too, and the sense of call to the ministry grew stronger and stronger.
After school, I studied Economics and Business for a couple of years, and then worked in Sales and Marketing - first in the motor trade and then in Christian publishing. After training for the ministry, I was ordained and inducted to the pastorate of Salem Baptist Church, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire in April 2001. I ministered in Ramsey until this August, and began my new role as Director of Ministry at the Protestant Truth Society on 1st September.
I should also say that I married my wife, Lydia, back in July 2000, and that the Lord has blessed us with four children - Eleni (7), Noah (5), Alice (3) and Ezra (1) - and that our fifth is due quite soon!
GD: What made you leave pastoral ministry to join the PTS as their Director of Ministry?
JB: I have to confess that if one of my friends had done the same thing a year or two ago, then I don't think that I would have thought very highly of them. However, the Lord moves in mysterious ways, and slowly but surely everything seemed to point to the rightness of the move. During Summer 2007, we felt that the Lord might be loosening our hands from the work in Ramsey. Then during Autumn 2007 I was approached by another church which had already approached me twice before, so we thought we knew what the Lord was doing. But we were wrong. As previously, that expression of interest didn't result in a call, so we sought to throw ourselves into the work in Ramsey once again. However, the sense that our time there was coming to an end increased rather than decreased. It was early this year that we began to wonder whether the Lord was moving us to something different, and to cut a long story short, I'm now working with PTS.
I have to say that all I ever wanted to do was to spend my whole ministry pastoring one church, as many of my heroes have done. However, what is the Lord's will for some is not the Lord's will for all, and the important thing for any of us is to be where the Lord wants when the Lord wants, and I have no doubt that the Lord wants me where I am doing what I'm doing. We were sorry to leave Ramsey, and the church there were sorry to see us go, but our work there was done, and a new challenge was calling.
GD: Where did you train for the preaching ministry and what did you find most helpful about your training?
JB: I trained for the ministry at London Reformed Baptist Seminary. It was a part-time course lasting four years. It wasn't as thorough as a full-time course, but it was a very practical preparation for real-life ministry. We had many visiting lecturers, including such men as Joel Beeke, James Grier and Robert Reymond, but it was the lectures of the Principal, Peter Masters, that I found most helpful. I wouldn't dot every "i" and cross every "t" with Dr Masters (in fact, I've yet to meet anyone that does!), but I found him always worth hearing, I benefited from his teaching in so many ways, and readily acknowledge that I owe him an incalculable debt.
GD: Who has had the biggest influence on your theological development?
JB: I owe so much to so many, but not least to my father, Richard Brooks, and my father-in-law, Malcolm Watts. It is not an exaggeration to say that I have learned more from these two men outside seminary than many men ever learn inside one!
GD: Some might see organisations like the PTS as a slightly old fashioned and backward-looking. How do you see as the mission of the Society in relation to the churches and the nation in today's world?
JB: Some undoubtedly do, and sometimes with some justification. The challenge for such organisations is to look both backwards and forwards at the same time! What I mean is that, on the one hand, we shouldn't rubbish our past, as is popular today, but on the other, we shouldn't live in it, but should have a clear, bold, adventurous vision for the future. Regarding the PTS, a lot has changed since 1889, and yet the big picture is just the same. What's true is true, what's false is false, and both church and nation need all the help they can get to know the difference. The mission of the PTS is both to assist the churches in holding onto the true gospel as rediscovered at the Protestant Reformation, and to encourage the nation to treasure rather than despise our great Protestant heritage. I believe that mission is as necessary as ever.
GD: What is your role as Director of Ministry?
JB: The PTS used to have General Secretaries. These were normally ministers, but they were responsible for overseeing both what we might call the ministry and business aspects of the society. What the Council has done recently, is to appoint George Rae (manager of the PTS Bookshop for twenty years) as Company Secretary and myself as Director of Ministry. Therefore, instead of having a minister trying to be a businessman or a businessman trying to be a minster, we have a businessman doing what he's good at and a minister doing what he's called to do. Preaching is central to my role, but I also oversee the team of Wickcliffe Preachers (I like to see that in terms of being first among equals), I'm editing the magazine, Protestant Truth, from the next issue, I speak to the media, and am responsible to the council for the spiritual leadership of the society.
GD: For many people today the very word "Protestant" has almost wholly negative connotations. How would you define what it means to be a Protestant Christian?
JB: You're right that many don't like the word "Protestant", even those who are Protestants without realising it! Nonetheless, I don't think we should give the term up, because it is really a historical term describing anyone who believes the true gospel as rediscovered at the Protestant Reformation. In that sense I see terms like "Christian", "Evangelical", and "Protestant" as really meaning one and the same thing.
GD: Was John Kensit, founder of the PTS a rabble rouser or Protestant Martyr?
JB: Opinion is polarised. Many think he was very much the one, and many think he was very much the other. It is a historical fact that he was killed as a direct result of his stand for the truth, therefore I would assert that he was most definitely a Protestant Martyr. Regarding being a rabble rouser, well I probably wouldn't want to defend everything he ever said or did, but anyone who has ever done anything significant for God has been open to being misunderstood. In a day of largely spineless evangelicalism, a few more Kensits wouldn't go amiss.
GD: Is Roman Catholicism the biggest threat to the gospel in the UK?
JB: All thinking evangelicals would have to agree that Roman Catholicism is a big threat to the gospel in the UK, but whether or not it is the biggest threat probably depends upon your interpretation of Scripture. In many ways it may not appear to be the biggest threat at present, but I believe that Scripture teaches that it is the greatest threat of the New Testament age, and I wonder whether the very fact that it doesn't appear so threatening as sometimes it has doesn't add to rather than subtract from its danger.
GD: How do you view the Evangelicals and Catholics Together Movement?
JB: The short answer would be "A mistake", and the long answer would be "One of the greatest evangelical mistakes of the last century". I have some respect for some of those involved - for example, so many of us owe so much to J. I. Packer - but he and others have been very unwise in seeking to reconcile the irreconcilable in this way. When all's said and done, Evangelicalism and Catholicism or Romanism don't mix. They never have, and never will.
GD: The media (here and here) and blog-land, (here and here) have picked up on your recent criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon at Lourdes. What was that all about?
JB: The Archbishop visited Lourdes to preach at the 150th anniversary of the shrine there. This was an unprecedented action which appalled all true Protestants. Lourdes represents everything about Roman Catholicism that the Protestant Reformation rejected, including apparitions, mariolatry and the veneration of saints. The Archbishop's simple presence there was a wholesale compromise, and his sermon which included a reference to Mary as "The Mother of God" was a complete denial of Protestant orthodoxy. At a time when our country is crying out for clear Biblical leadership, it is nothing short of tragic that our supposedly Protestant Archbishop is behaving as little more than a Papal puppet.
You're right that the term theotokos is more accurately translated "God-bearer" rather than "Mother of God", and you're right that that term was used in the fifth century and is accepted as a part of Protestant orthodoxy. However, that term was used at that time not to make much of Mary but to make much of Christ, and to assert his divinity at a time when it was popular to question it. The term has since been mistranslated and misused by Roman Catholics to make too much of Mary. When assessing the Archbishop's recent remarks, it's important to remember that he wasn't speaking to a fifth-century audience, but rather to twenty-first century Roman Catholics. Therefore, he can't hide behind what the term really meant, but must accept that his Roman Catholic audience will have understood it in accordance with their theology rather than ours.
GD: Quite. In the light of Roman Catholic misuse of the term, Donald Macleod wisely said, "We certainly cannot feel free to use theotokos without careful elucidations and safeguards." (The Person of Christ, IVP, 1998, p. 188). Rowan Williams signally failed to do that. Now, should para-church organisations like the PTS intervene on controversial, yet secondary issues like Bible versions or hymn books?
JB: Yes and no! It depends which such organisations. Regarding the PTS, our mission is bigger than Bible versions and hymn books. Therefore, within agreed parameters, people of different persuasions can work together, and we respect such differences of opinion. However, some organisations have a more specific mission, and are surely free to do so.
Also, I think the phrase "secondary issue(s)" has become rather over-used. It was Dr Lloyd-Jones who popularised it, and I have great respect for him (I wouldn't dare not to when being interviewed by a Welsh preacher). However, I think Dr Lloyd-Jones understood a secondary issue to be something that wasn't of primary importance, whereas most evangelicals today understand it to be something of no real importance whatsoever. Therefore, although I don't think that Bible versions and hymn books are primary, in the sense that these things are not essential to salvation, I do think that they are far from unimportant. Surely having as accurate a Bible as possible and rendering the most acceptable worship we can should be two of the most important issues to any Christian or church.
GD: If time travel were possible, which figure in post-biblical church history would you like to meet and what would you say to him?
JB: There could be so many, and yet there's only one. It would have to be Charles Haddon Spurgeon. No figure of history has had a greater effect upon my life and ministry than the Prince of Preachers. I'd be happy just to listen to him preach, but if he had time to talk, then I'd start by saying "Thank You", and see where the conversation went from there.
GD: Is it possible to be faithful to Scripture and truly contemporary?
JB: I would go so far as to say that it is impossible to be truly contemporary without being faithful to Scripture! Nothing is ever more contemporary than the Bible and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, so the more faithful we are to Scripture the more relevant we'll be to our generation. We must remember that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart, and what counts is what lasts. Sadly, I believe that much so-called contemporary evangelicalism won't last very long at all, because it leans harder upon the wisdom of men than it does upon the Word of God.
GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?
JB: I must confess to being something of a Philistine in this department. I'm not really musical, and although I can appreciate all sorts, I'm really no connoisseur. I suppose the impressive thing to say would be that my tastes are somewhat eclectic, but that would be code for the fact that my appreciation of music is a mile wide but only an inch deep!
GD: What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?
JB: To be honest, I'm not sure that I've read anything earth-shatteringly brilliant this last year, but I've read a lot that I've appreciated. One such book, would be the rather large and awkwardly shaped volume of The Works of Andrew Fuller republished by The Banner of Truth. I wouldn't say that Fuller's Works are among the first that a young minister should have on his shelves (he's not as high as some, not as deep as others, and not as sweet as many), but as I've dipped into them at various times during recent months I have found them again and again to be helpful, stirring, and enlivening.
GD: Ever thought of starting a blog?
JB: Yes ... many times ... but never for more than a few seconds at a time!
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
33. All God's elect are in their time inseparably united unto Christ by the effectual and vital influence of the Holy Ghost, derived from him as from the head unto every true member of his mystical body. And being thus made one with Christ, they are truly regenerated and made partakers of him and all his benefits.