Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wales beat the Aussies 21 - 18

Wales finally managed to beat one of the big southern hemisphere sides in a thrilling game. See BBC Sport for the lowdown.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paul Helm on the impassibility of God

We had Paul Helm, who blogs at Helm's Deep come to speak to our Ministers' Fraternal which meets at the Old Baptist Chapel, Bradford on Avon yesterday. He was invited to address the subject, "Does God suffer?"
'Without body, parts or passions' - The Impassibility of God
"But to God nothing of this sort occurs; for He is neither deceived, nor does He deceitfully promise anything, nor, as James says, is there with Him any “shadow of turning.” (James 1:7.) We now understand to what this dissimilitude between God and men refers, namely, that we should not travesty God according to our own notions, but, in our consideration of His nature, should remember that he is liable to no changes, since He is far above all heavens." (John Calvin commenting on Numbers 23:19 - see here).
1. Approaching Divine Impassibility
We need to be careful to define terms. We are talking about impassibility - that God is without passions, just as he is without a body. This is not about impassability, which means that a road has become impassable due to an avalanche or some other obstruction. God is not a blockage. Impassibility does not mean impassivity - that God is Stoically disengaged or not concerned about the world. God is not psychotic.

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).

Impassibility then, is not a defect in God. He is not emotionally stunted or remote. Rather he is perfectly fulfilled and satisfied in the perichoretic fellowship of the Trinity. It is out of this self-sufficient aseity that God relates to us as his creatures. He is not dependent upon us for love or emotional completion, but he generously condescends to bring us into the rich blessing of loving fellowship with himself. That is why he made us in his image. That is why he acted in Christ to reconcile us to himself after the fall.
Impassibility reminds us of the Creator/creature distinction. "God is not a man that he should repent" (1 Samuel 15:29). He is not like us, a creature of the moment with moods and fleeting passions. He is the transcendent Creator and we are his finite creatures.
2. Immutability - the unalterability of God
Helm drew attention to some of the many Bible texts that show that God does not change, Hebrews 6:17-18, James 1:17, Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, Exodus 3:14-16. If God is immutable, then he is impassible, since passibility implies change. God's emotions are steady and constant. He does not waver in his love for his people or in his determination to punish the wicked for their sins. The divine immutability does not imply a denial of God's ability to relate to the world. He is not immobile. God, though immutable, created and sustains creatures who change, and engages with them. Precisely because God does not change and is not subject to fluctuating passions, his engagedness with the world is constant. His mercies are new every morning. His lovingkindness is over all his works. Great is his faithfulness.
3. The Nature of Divine Impassibility
Passions are not necessarily negative or turbulent like bad moods or loosing one's temper. When we are overcome with such passions we may say and do things that we later regret. But it is possible to speak more positively of passion. A judge may have a passion for justice, which makes him all the more careful and scrupulous when trying a case. A scientist's passion for physics will drive him to make new discoveries and add to the sum of human knowledge. When we say that God is impassible, we are not suggesting that he is unfeeling or uncaring. He looks on a suffering world with pity and has mercy on sin-broken humanity. But God is not the subject of fitful moods. He is not spasmodic, irritable or liable to irrational outbursts of temper. But we can perhaps speak of God being impassioned, like the judge or scientist in the examples just given. In his single-minded, impassioned justice, God will hold the world to account and right all wrongs. In his impassioned love, he reaches out to the lost and secures their salvation through the death of his Son.
4. Objections
Scripture sometimes seems to speak of God as if he were passible. His anger flares up and then subsides. He is described as "repenting". But Scripture is God's accommodated self-revelation. Here he reveals what he is to us, rather than what he is in himself. The Bible uses anthropomorphic language of God, speaking his his hands, eyes and back parts. As God is a pure spirit, and is without parts, he has none of those things. But anthropomorphisms communicate the truth in a very vivid way. In a similar way, we have "anthopopathisms", where God's emotions are depicted in terms of human feelings. He does not really repent. But such language is used to help us understand how the eternal God relates to his time-bound creatures. In his wrath, God threatens us with judgement, we repent, his anger turns away and we are forgiven. The Book of Jonah is a case in point. But that sinners are brought to repentance unto salvation is God's gracious, eternal and unalterable purpose.
It is in the incarnation of Jesus and his suffering on the cross that we see God's impassioned love revealed in the assumed human nature of the Son. What the Christ felt in his human nature was the expression of his divine person. His tears at Lazarus' grave and his anger at the money changers in the temple expressed God's compassion for the lost and his anger against sin. The heart of the impassioned and impassible God is refracted in the humanity of Jesus Christ. The incarnation of the impassible One shows us that divine impassibility does not mean that God is emotionless or disengaged. Out of love for his people, the Son of God suffered and died for us in his human nature. In him we have a sympathetic high priest, who feels as we feel (apart from sinful passions!) -Hebrews 4:14-15.
Theology is not meant to explain the mystery of God's being like a detective may solve a crime. In the words of Augustine, the best we can do is erect a hedge around the mystery to protect us from misunderstanding the God whose ways are past finding out. The church's teaching on divine impassibility, when properly understood, is part of that protective hedge and we tear it down at our peril.
5. Uses
God is entirely faithful and reliable. We can trust his promises, certain in the knowledge that he will not renege on them in a fit of passion.
Impassibility reminds us of the divine transcendence and incomprehensibility. We can know him truly but never fully comprehend his being.
Without the safeguard of impassibility, we may be in danger of creating a passible God in our own image. He is not a man that he should repent! "I am the Lord, I do not change: Therefore you are not condemned, O sons of Jacob." (Malachi 3:6).
A time of discussion followed where many interesting points were raised. Can we divide up the life of Christ as we find it in the Gospels into the divine bits and human bits? No - that's Nestorianism. What do we make of the fact that the Son did not know the time of his second coming? I suggested (following John Murray) that in the Person of Christ we have one self-consciousness, but two levels of consciousness, divine and human. But Paul Helm thought that such a construction was attempting to explain away the mystery. I'm not so sure. I think it helps to preserve the fact that in Christ we have a divine person with a human nature. We touched on Donald Macleod's views on impassibility, which Helm finds unobjectionable. But he was unhappy with Jurgren Moltmann's emphasis on the suffering of God [the Father] at Calvary. Open theism, handling "God repented" passages in the Bible and some other issues were thrown into the pot to make for a very stimulating session.
What Helm had to say certainly clarified my thinking on a difficult and often controversial aspect of the doctrine of God. I especially liked his emphasis on impassibility as a consequence of divine aseity and his proposal on God being impassible and yet impassioned. (See also his B. B. Warfield On Divine Passion, Westminster Theological Journal 69 (2007): 95-104). Thanks also to Paul for giving me a free copy of the newly published Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, Crossway, 2008. He contributes a chapter, No Easy Task: John Franke and the Character of Theology.

Monday, November 24, 2008

John Calvin on the resurrection of the body (7)

The Resurrection of the Wicked & Concluding Reflections
This series on John Calvin and the resurrection of the body has been on hold since about this time last year, so I thought that it was about time to wrap things up. (All quotes from The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book III:XXV - see here).

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).

Concluding reflections

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

As Lloyd-Jones once said...

In my review of Iain Murray's Lloyd-Jones Messenger of Grace, I deplored the tendency of some to quote "the Doctor" in such a way that all discussion is brought to a halt, as if his opinion is our final authority. Having said that, Murray includes many thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom in the chapter, Some Convictions of Lloyd-Jones in Minature. Here are a few of my favourites:
"Some tend to think that Christianity is a matter of being nice. But niceness is purely biological. One dog can be nicer than another."

"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

Lloyd-Jones Messenger of Grace by Iain H. Murray

Lloyd-Jones Messenger of Grace, by Iain H. Murray,
Banner of Truth Trust, 2008, 274pp.
I was converted some years after the death of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, so I never heard the great man preach. But his published sermons and life story have had a profound impact on my life and ministry. As a relatively new believer, I devoured his sermons on Romans and Ephesians. "The Doctor's" emphasis on Reformed doctrine and experiential piety transformed my understanding of the Christian life. Not having met him personally, I had to make do with reading Iain Murray's biography of Lloyd-Jones to give me a glimpse of the man behind the sermons. His D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, Banner of Truth Trust, 1982 and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981, Banner of Truth Trust, 1990 are indispensable for those who wish to understand the impact of Lloyd-Jones on the history of 20th century Evangelicalism. But after over 1,200 pages of biography, what more could Murray have to say on his old friend, colleague and mentor? Well, this new book is not a rehash of the earlier biographical volumes. What we have here is a fresh analysis of aspects of Lloyd-Jones' life and teaching that speak powerfully to our situation today.
The Lloyd-Jones Legacies sets the scene for the rest of the book. Murray draws attention to some of the key emphases of the preacher's ministry, such as the need for God-centeredness, church-based evangelism and revival. Lloyd-Jones often spoke of the need for preachers to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and a helpful chapter is devoted to that important theme. We have seen a recovery of expository preaching in the last few decades, and fresh attention is being given to preachers developing their homiletical skills. But we need to be reminded that true preaching is not in word only, but in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance. We need to pray for the Spirit's empowering presence so that the Christ-centred Word is proclaimed with life-transforming effectiveness.
People tend to think that Lloyd-Jones was preeminently a Bible teacher, who gave lengthy series of sermons on Romans and Ephesians. But as Murray points out, that is only half of the picture. Most Sunday evenings, Lloyd-Jones would preach evangelistically. He would often base his sermons on the Old Testament, showing how that portion of God's Word spoke to contemporary sinners in their need of a Saviour. This bucked a something of trend in many mid twentieth century churches, where the message of the Old Testament was neglected. How many of those who follow Lloyd-Jones in preaching series of expository sermons also maintain his commitment to preaching evangelistically? The chapter on The Evangelistic Use of the Old Testament is a real challenge to us.
Lloyd-Jones' sermons rarely had an obvious structure in that he did not announce his headings as he worked his way through the message saying, "Firstly...secondly...thirdly....finally." But that does not mean that the preacher failed to give attention to sermon structure. He put a lot of work into developing clear and logical sermons. He would begin with a basic skeleton, which was then fleshed out and developed. But just as skeletons give shape to a body, while remaining unseen, Lloyd-Jones did not like to give too much prominence to the structure itself. In Skeletons in the Cupboard, Murray does not "dish the dirt" on his old friend. Rather he discusses the preacher's method of sermon preparation, giving various examples of his "skeletons". Preachers would do well to learn from Lloyd-Jones' practice. All good sermons begin with a well thought out structure.
The proceedings of the Westminster Fellowship, a Ministers' Fraternal, chaired by Lloyd-Jones were never recorded. But Iain Murray provides us with his notes on an address given by "The Doctor" after a period of illness had kept him from the pulpit. This makes interesting reading, as Lloyd-Jones reflects on some of the preaching he heard while he was unwell. What he looked for in preaching was a sense of God, which found was often absent. He complained that even some "Reformed" preaching could be dull and predictable. Earlier in his ministry, Lloyd-Jones reacted against the use of illustrations and anecdotes in sermons, as they had been used excessively and therefore detracted from the message. But now he saw that he had gone too far and urged preachers to make their sermons attractive, using anecdotes and illustrations to help their people to grasp the truth. He ruefully commented, 'I am not sure my progeny have been a credit to me, or whether they reflect a defect in me.' His Preaching and Preachers, which warns against he misuse of illustrative material, should be supplemented by a book like Stuart Olyott's Preaching Pure and Simple, where a slightly more positive approach may be found.
In a fascinating chapter, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones Compared, Murray compares and contrasts the two pulpit giants of the nineteenth and twentieth century. One was English, the other Welsh. Unlike Spurgeon, with his multiple ministries and good causes, Lloyd-Jones was no organiser. But both men stood steadfastly for the truth of the gospel. Spurgeon sought to preserve the truth, which was being abandoned by many, while Lloyd-Jones worked for a recovery of the truth after years of neglect. It is encouraging to note that the Lord was able to use these two very different men to advance the cause of Christ.
Iain Murray's admiration for Lloyd-Jones is evident on every page of this book. But this does not make him at all myopic. He can be critical when he thinks that the preacher was mistaken. There has been a lot of controversy over Lloyd-Jones views on the baptism with the Holy Spirit, especially as expressed in the book, Joy Unspeakable. Some claim that he gave impetus to the Charismatic movement and others accuse him of departing from the Reformed understanding of the work of the Spirit. Murray makes it clear that the sermons printed in Joy Unspeakable were originally preached in the mid 1960's, before the Charismatic movement really took off. Lloyd-Jones was concerned that the Reformed movement was becoming overly cerebral, with so much of a focus on doctrine, that the experiential aspect of the Christian life was being ignored. He was also alarmed by the publication of John Stott's Baptism and Fullness, where Stott argued that the baptism with the Spirit is non-experiential. Lloyd-Jones' concerns might well have been justified. But Murray points out some flaws and inconsistencies in the preacher's handling of the biblical material. He also questions his teaching on assurance, suggesting that it was different to what we find in earlier Reformed writers like John Flavel and Jonathan Edwards. This may be true, but I think his emphasis on the direct witness of the Spirit in assurance is biblically grounded in Romans 8:16. Lloyd-Jones' views are remarkably similar to the mature teaching of the Puritan Thomas Goodwin. In fact studying Goodwin on assurance some years after reading Lloyd-Jones on the subject, such was the close resemblance of their teaching, I found myself thinking, "Ah, this is the source of his doctrine." (See here). Murray tries his best to be fair to Lloyd-Jones, while at the same time highlighting problem areas in his teaching on the work of the Spirit. Those who have swallowed "the Doctor's" position hook, line and sinker will need to think carefully about what Murray has to say.
A further area of controversy was Lloyd-Jones' call for Evangelical unity in 1966. Some blame him for needlessly dividing Evangelicalism over the issue of involvement in the theologically mixed Denominations, while others have profound regrets that his proposals were not followed more widely. In 'The Lost Leader' or 'A Prophetic Voice'?, Murray endeavors to set the record straight, giving an accurate account of what happened in 1966 and the subsequent fall out. Lloyd-Jones argued that Evangelicals needed to come together in response to the threat of the ecumenical movement. He was not proposing the construction of a new Evangelical denomination. But he reasoned that Evangelicals could not simply be content to be a wing of a comprehensive ecumenical grouping, which would ultimately include the Roman Catholic Church. That some Anglican Evangelicals were tending to think in such terms became clear at the Keele Conference in 1967. Murray agrees with Lloyd-Jones' basic thesis, but he suggests that "the Doctor" was wrong to charge Evangelicals who refused to leave their denominations with schism. But I think there may be something in the charge. If Evangelicals put fellowship with non-Evangelicals in their denominations before church-based fellowship with other Evangelicals, then they are guilty of schism.
We are still living with the effects of what happened in 1966, and the issue of separation from mixed denominations is still a live one. But we have to take account of a new breed of Evangelical Anglican. It seems to me that the men associated with Reform and the Proclamation Trust do not accept the comprehensivist agenda of John Stott and Jim Packer. They wish to remain with the Church of England, while holding tenaciously to the Evangelical faith and working to reform their denomination. As Murray makes clear, Lloyd-Jones did not insist on immediate secession from the denominations, neither did he break off contact with Evangelical Anglicans, especially those who were determined to fight their corner for the biblical gospel. But relations between Lloyd-Jones and Evangelical Anglicans were inevitably strained. Murray explains the reasons behind the preacher's decision to end the Puritan Conference, associated as it was with Jim Packer.
Lloyd-Jones was right to spot the Rome-ward trajectory of the ecumenical movement. His concerns over how this would affect Evangelicals were justified when Packer sided with Anglo-Catholics in the publication Growing into Union (1970), and then later became involved in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Murray's review of Is The Reformation Over?, charting the development of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, (included in this book) further proves the point. The stance taken by Packer and others in identifying themselves with men whose teaching undermined the gospel, has damaged their fellowship with other Evangelicals. Is this not precisely what Lloyd-Jones meant by schism in his 1966 address?
Lloyd-Jones was above all else a preacher, although he was careful to say that he did not live to preach. The remainder of the book is taken up with some choice quotations from his sermons, reflection on his preaching and an analysis of his messages on Ephesians. Those who have already read Murray's biography of Lloyd-Jones will find much new and valuable material in this book. It is a reminder of the abiding value of the life and teaching of "the Doctor". If you have yet to read the biography, then this will serve as an excellent introduction to Lloyd-Jones, that will leave you wanting to know more about the man and his message.
Many have reason to be thankful to God for the life and work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, me included. But as Murray makes clear, we should not uncritically accept all that he said and did. "Call no man teacher", said our Saviour. Discussions in minister's fraternals should not be brought to a shuddering halt when someone pipes up, "the Doctor said...". We face fresh challenges in the 21st century and we cannot keep harping back to what Lloyd-Jones might have thought about this or that. He was a faithful messenger of grace in his generation. Let us learn from him and above all else seek the blessing of God upon those who preach the Word today, that they may do so with biblical integrity, contemporary relevance and Holy Spirit power.
Oh, and the book includes a CD of Lloyd-Jones preaching on John 8:21-24, which I haven't listened to yet as there is a danger that Welsh preachers end up sounding like "the Doctor" if they listen to him too much. "Is there, my friend? No! No!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Herman Bavinck on Christian Dogmatics

I've recently started reading Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics Volume One. It really is a remarkable piece of work. The first volume is given over to prologema. Bavinck wrestles with the problem of doing authentically Christian dogmatics in a post-Enlightenment world. Contrary to Schleiermacher, he argues that that dogmatics cannot simply be the product of the religious consciousness of the believer. Dogmatic theology must be based on God's self-revelation in Scripture. He distinguishes his "synthetic-genetic" approach, which takes into account both word and fact in revelation, from Charles Hodge's "inductive method". Hodge tended to view the task of theology in terms of collecting and arranging the facts of Scripture rather like an empirical scientist. Anyway, here is Herman Bavinck's working definition of Christian Dogmatics:
"Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ; it is the system of the Christian religion. And the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ. (Eph 1:10). It describes for us God, always God from beginning to end - God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull science. It is a theodicy, a doxology of all God's virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a "glory to God in the highest" (Luke 2:14)."

See here for order info.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Forgotten Christ edited by Stephen Clark

The Forgotten Christ: Exploring the majesty and mystery of God incarnate,
Edited by Stephen Clark, IVP/Apollos, 2007, 256pp.
This book began life as a series of papers delivered at the 2007 Affinity Theological Study Conference. The authors were tasked with exploring different aspects of the majesty and mystery of Jesus Christ. It is often assumed that a large chasm lies between the historical Jesus presented on the pages of the New Testament and the Church's confession that he is the Son of God incarnate. Old style liberal theology tended in that direction. Modern day conspiracy theorists such as Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code have also helped to perpetrate that myth. It is appropriate then, that the first chapter in the book is entitled "Affirming Chalcedon". Andrew McGowan relates the history of the Council of Chalcedon, setting out the key issues at stake. The Council sought settle controversies over how Jesus could be both God and Man. While the Definition Chalcedon is not the last word on Christology, it set out certain biblical parameters on understanding the Person of Christ that have stood the Church in good stead.
There are a number of outstanding essays in this book. One of them is "The inner or psychological life of Christ" by Philip Eveson, Principal Emeritus of the London Theological Seminary. With great reverence and theological insight, Eveson probes the inner life of our Lord, charting his intellectual emotional and spiritual development. Issues such as the relationship between Jesus' divine personhood and human nature and his consciousness of his divine identity are handled with care, warmth and precision. In the closing section, we are invited to "consider Jesus", our fully divine, fully human Saviour. He is our sympathetic high priest, perfect example and exalted Lord.
Paul Wells gives consideration to "The cry of dereliction: the beloved Son cursed and condemned". The cry is set in its proper biblical context and is discussed with theological sensitivity. On the cross, Jesus endured the horrors of hell as he was made sin for us, and forsaken by God. Wells quotes Rabbi Duncan, 'Dying on the cross, forsaken by his Father...it was damnation - and damnation taken lovingly.' But as the writer points out, the cry of dereliction did not denote a rupture in in the the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. Indeed the unity of the Father and the Son is what enabled God to both inflict and endure suffering at Calvary. Wells argues that the penal substitutionary model of the atonement gives us the most adequate interpretation of Jesus' fourth utterance on the cross. The chapter concludes with some helpful pastoral reflections on the cry of dereliction.
The ascension of Christ is not always given the attention it deserves. It is good, then to see that this book includes an essay on the subject. Matthew Sleeman considers, "The ascension and heavenly ministry of Christ". He reflects on the theology of the ascension and sketches out the New Testament's teaching on the matter. The ascended Christ is hidden in heaven, but accessible from earth. The Spirit compresses and preserves the distance between believers and the heavenly Christ, enabling us to have fellowship with our Saviour. As our exalted, yet sympathetic high priest, Jesus ever lives to make intercession for his people. Entailed in the ascension is the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord. This provides the basis for public theology and Christian engagement with society. Jesus' glorified humanity reveals life as we are coming to know it. When Jesus returns, he will inaugurate the new creation. Then we shall be made like him. Jesus will be hidden and distant no longer. We shall be for ever with the Lord.
It would be invidious to single out a particular chapter for special praise. But sometimes being invidious is not neccesarily a bad thing. Richard B. Gaffin's contribution "The last Adam, the life-giving Spirit" is simply excellent. Unlike some systematic theologians, Gaffin does not do theology by making a doctrinal statement backed up by a string up proof texts. His theology is based on painstaking exegesis of Scripture. He brings his finely honed exegetical skills and rich theological insight to the task of exploring Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49. Gaffin ably teases out the broken symmetry of the Christ/Adam parallel in the text. He argues that protology anticipates eschatology. The natural or psychological body of the first Adam held out the hope of a spiritual body. Adam did not attain to this spiritual body because of the fall. But the potential that was frustated in Adam is fulfilled in the risen Christ. He is the life-giving Spirit. As the last Adam, Jesus is the head of God's new humanity. It is in him that creation will be renewed, and through him that believers will receive their spiritual bodies. This insightful chapter is not for the faint hearted, but it will repay careful thought and reflection.
The book concludes with Greg Beale's consideration of, "Worthy is the Lamb: the divine identity of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation". He was charged with exploring Revelation's unique contribution to Christology and its significance for us today. But rather than paint with the broad brush the conference organizers placed in his hands, Beale opts to give detailed attention to a single text - Revelation 3:14. While a more general study might have been helpful, this narrower focus pays dividends. Comparing his text with Revelation 1:5, Beale argues that the risen Christ is the beginning of the new creation. When set against the Old Testament background (especially Isaiah 43 & 65), Revelation 3:14 clearly includes Jesus in the divine identity. Beale shows the rhetorical purpose behind describing Christ in such terms in the letter to Laodicea. The church had failed to be a faithful witness against the cultural idols of the day. The church is therefore summoned to repent and bear witness to the risen Christ as the world's true Lord.
As it says on the back cover, "It is essential that the church is able to proclaim the authentic Christ to a needy world". This book will enable us to proclaim Jesus Christ, the incarnate God with a deeper and more adoring sense of his wonderful majesty and mystery. In a culture that has lost sense of his unique splendor and a church that is a little embarrassed by his exclusive claims, few things could be more important than that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Spirit and the Word in preaching

This article was originally published in the July edition of Evangelical Times.
In the last few decades there has been a welcome recovery of expository preaching in the UK. In both the Free Churches and the Church of England, men are being trained to teach the Bible. It is right that preachers should give attention to accurate exegesis, biblical doctrine, sermon structure, the use of illustrations and telling application. But the role of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the gospel is sometimes neglected. This can turn preaching into little more than a well-delivered exposition rather than an event in which the God of gospel grace is encountered in his Word.
I once went to hear an address on ‘The power of God’s Word’. The speaker said many helpful things about God’s Word, both written and preached, encouraging us to have confidence in the power of Scripture. But he neglected to say anything about the role of the Spirit in preaching and I raised this in the question session. He replied that in preaching we must rely upon the God who upholds all things, but still had nothing specific to say about the Holy Spirit. Sadly, in some circles, any talk of seeking the Spirit’s empowering is dismissed as worryingly Charismatic. These friends suggest that the Spirit is so wedded to the Word that the Word invariably comes with power.1 But is this necessarily so?

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.
In Scripture we have God’s ‘speech acts’. By words he makes promises, utters warnings, and enters into a covenant relationship with his people. Scripture is not simply a record of God’s words — it is the communicative action of the triune God. But it is one thing for God to do things with his words, like make promises. But what guarantees that God’s words will produce results? He may make a promise, but we still have to trust in that promise!

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).
Yes, Paul’s message came in word. But it was the Spirit who enabled the apostle to preach with power and full conviction. That was the reason why many in Thessalonica turned from their idols to the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Certainly, ‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God’ — but our preaching will only be received as such by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. ‘For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

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:
'While it must be affirmed that all Christians are indwelt by the Spirit permanently, and all believers will experience the effects of the Spirit’s presence in their lives ... there is another work of the Spirit directly related to the proclamation of the word of God, a unique filling of the Spirit which amounts to an access of power. This is a spontaneous work of God attending the declaration of his word which is given sovereignly and selectively’.3
The Holy Spirit gives preachers clarity of thought, boldness of speech and heaven-sent authority. The Jewish Sanhedrin witnessed ‘the boldness of Peter and John’ (Acts 4:13). The Jerusalem church prayed, ‘Now, Lord ... grant to your servants that with all boldness they may preach your word’ (Acts 4:29). Their prayers were answered — ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31). Paul asked for prayer that, ‘I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel’ (Ephesians 6:19).

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
Our spiritual forebears recognised this. John Calvin said that preaching is ‘dead and powerless if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit’.5 William Perkins, the early English Puritan, taught:
‘The demonstration of the Spirit is, when as the minister of the word doth in time of preaching so behave himself that all, even ignorant persons and unbelievers, may judge that it is not so much he that speaketh, as the Spirit of God in him and by him ... This makes the ministry lively and powerful’.6
To summarise, the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching may be described thus —
The Spirit’s empowering presence enables preachers to proclaim the Lord Jesus with boldness, liberty and life-transforming effectiveness. His presence makes preaching an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in all the fullness of his grace and power.

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:
‘It is important that we should remember, that, in living under the dispensation of the Spirit, we are absolutely dependent on a divine Person, who gives or withholds his influence as he will; that he can be grieved and offended; that he must be acknowledged, feared, and obeyed; that his presence and gifts must be humbly and earnestly sought, and assiduously cherished, and that to him all right thoughts and right purposes, all grace and goodness, all strength and comfort, and all success in winning souls to Christ, are to be ascribed’.7
We must follow the pattern of the early church and pray that preachers will be endued with Holy Spirit boldness and power. That is the great need of the hour. Jesus taught that Christians should pray expectantly to the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit — ‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11:13). Let us urgently ask the Father for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ today.

References

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

An interview with Jeremy Brooks

Jeremy Brooks is the recently appointed Director of Ministries at the Protestant Truth Society, for whom I work on a part-time basis. We discuss his new role and matters of Protestant interest.

GD: Hello Jeremy Books and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
JB: Hi Guy, and thank you for having me on your blog. I've read so many interviews here over recent years, and never imagined that you'd ever be interviewing me! [GD: Fame at last, Jeremy!]

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.
GD: I think your concerns are well placed. But doesn't the term "Mother of God" or at least theotokos - "God-bearer" have an honoured place in the Chuch's confession? The term is used in the Definition of Chalcedon (451), which is affirmed by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike.

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!
GD: Probably just as well. Thanks for dropping by for this chat. Every blessing for your new ministry.

Interesting Stuff

Byron Smith of "Nothing New Under the Sun" has a thoughtful piece on The Change We Need: Reflections upon Obama.
Paul Helm of "Helm's Deep" has posted some new articles for November, including Analysis 20 - History and Dogma and Natural Law and Common Grace. The Prof's Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed, T & T Clark, 2008 is out now. He kindly sent me a review copy, which I hope to be able read and review on the blog by the end of the month.
Martin Downes of "Against Heresies" draws our attention to Crazy NICOT/NICNT Commentary sale at Amazon, with bargains such as, Waltke on Proverbs (2 Volumes) £6.00 and £6.80 instead of £28.00. Wenham on Leviticus £1.99 instead of £22.00.Barnett on 2 Corinthians £4.79 instead of £30.00. [Update: looks like the sale is over - see comments and weep].
Gary Brady of "Heavenly Worldliness" has a couple of posts on the Puritan Thomas Brooks, Refreshing Brooks 01 and Refreshing Brooks 02. Spot the pun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Irish Articles on Regeneration and union with Christ

James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (1625-1656),
principal author of The Irish Articles (1615)
In the bumper issue of The Banner of Truth magazine for August-September 2008, Michael Haykin devoted an article to "Regeneration and Faith, according to Two British Confessions". The first was The Scottish Confession of Faith (1560) and the second The Irish Articles (1615). The definition of regeneration in the latter Confession really grabbed my attention. Haykin stresses the anti-Arminian polemic in the Articles. But what impressed me was that the new birth is not treated simply as link in the chain of salvation. It is subsumed under the heading of union with Christ. Note the allusions to John 6, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 2 & Titus 3.

32. None can come unto Christ unless it be given unto him, and unless the Father draw him. And all men are not so drawn by the Father that they may come unto the Son. Neither is there such a sufficient measure of grace vouchsafed unto every man whereby he is enabled to come unto everlasting life.

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.

I think that is a most helpful definition of the biblical doctrine regeneration. We are born again as Christ unites us to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. But this aspect of the new birth is seldom given the emphasis it deserves in Reformed theology. Both Louis Berkhof and Robert Reymond seem so keen to locate the place of regeneration in the ordo salutis (order of salvation), that union with Christ hardly gets a mention. (See Berkhof's Systematic Theology p. 465ff & Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998 edition, p. 708ff). Sinclair Ferguson shows us a more excellent way,

"Every facet of the application of Christ's work ought to be related to the way in which the Spirit unites us to Christ himself, and viewed directly as issuing from personal fellowship with him. The dominant motif and architectonic principle of the order of salvation should therefore be union with Christ in the Spirit." (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology, IVP, 1996, p. 100).
See also my review of Gary Brady's recently published, Being Born Again.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Welcome Break

On Thursday of last week we set off for Paignton, Devon for a mini-half term break. On Thursday evening I spoke on Rome and Biblical Christianity - What's the Big Difference? The talk was a kind of mash-up of some stuff that was originally posted on the blog on ecumenical issues and Roman Catholicism, here, here and here. Friday was more of a family day. We visited Paignton Zoo, went go-karting and caught a film in the evening. Zoos always make me feel a little sorry for the the animals. Modern zoos provide their animals with largish enclosures, rather than the old concrete and steel cages. But there's still something slightly sad about gawping through a perspex window at a pair of majestic lions dozing in the autumn sun. We travelled back home on Saturday in readiness for preaching on Sunday on John 17:24-26 and 1 Peter 3:7. In case you were wondering, I think that the big difference between Rome and Biblical Christianity....
"can be summed up in the little word 'alone'. We believe in salvation through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone to the glory of God alone in accordance with the witness of Scripture alone."