Monday, July 30, 2012

Bitesize Biographies: Francis Schaeffer by Mostyn Roberts

Bitesize Biographies: Francis Schaeffer,
Mostyn Roberts, EP Books, 2012, 144pp

As a young believer I would often make my way to the Evangelical Movement of Wales’ Christian Bookshop that sat in Wyndham Arcade, Cardiff (now closed). That was when Amazon was simply the name of a  river and books had to be bought from retail outlets in shopping centres. The old EMW bookshop was a like a lush, palm strewn oasis to my knowledge-thirsty soul. Many of the books that helped shaped my developing theological outlook were bought there. It was from that shop I purchased The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. I can't remember what possessed me to invest in Schaeffer. Maybe it was reading Christopher Catherwood's Five Evangelical Leaders (Hodder and Stoughton) that put me on to him.  Francis Schaeffer was one of the 'Big Five' alongside Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, J. I. Packer and Billy Graham. 

Anyway, in my lunch breaks at British Steel Orb Works, Newport I began to make my way through the five brightly coloured volumes. Volume 1 contained the seminal trilogy, The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. In these writings Francis Schaeffer offered a penetrating and far-sighted analysis of Western culture, exposing trends in philosophy, science and the arts to the scrutiny of biblical truth. His apologetic method involved giving honest answers to honest questions and showing the absurdity of unbelief when taken to its logical conclusion.

At a time when Evangelicals tended to be rather pietistic, with little interest in politics, the arts and culture, Schaeffer developed a rigorously biblical worldview that enabled him to engage with the world with critical, yet gracious honesty. He was no narrow-minded Fundamentalist, yet he robustly defended the inerrancy of the Bible and championed supernatural Christianity. Schaeffer was a stern critic of theological liberalism and the neo-orthodoxy alternative advocated by Karl Barth.

Those who know little of Schaeffer might think that he was a somewhat remote pointy-headed, goatee-bearded intellectual, who lacked knowledge of the real world. He did sport a goatee beard, but the rest of the caricature is deeply unfair. Roberts gives us an illuminating glimpse of the man behind the books and films. Amongst other things, Schaeffer experienced the stresses and strains of married life, a baby daughter’s exploding nappy and car crashes. Sometimes, much to his irritation, all at the same time.

Schaeffer’s life was dedicated to ‘speaking the truth in love’. But this involved more than words. He endeavoured to live out the truth by trusting in God and caring for other people. Francis and his wife, Edith pioneered work among children. They were interested in reaching the ordinary man and woman for Christ as well as academic types.  L’Abri, where their work was based in Switzerland was a not only a place for study and theological discussion, it was also a refuge for drug addicts and others whose lives had been broken by the destructive power of sin.

Mostyn Roberts, (who blogs at Harp from the Willows), has given us an insightful and gripping biography of Schaeffer, who he describes as a ‘pastor and evangelist’, rather than a ‘Christian philosopher’. He offers a well-judged account of Schaeffer’s thought. The writer is honest about his subject’s faults and failings, while appreciative of his achievements as a Bible teacher and apologist for the Christian faith. He shows us why today’s Evangelicals need to listen afresh to what Francis Schaeffer had to say.

Sadly, my copy of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer isn’t so complete. Years ago I leant Volume 1 to a mate’s girlfriend and haven’t seen it since. I hope she read it and found it helpful, but every time I glance at the set I pine for that missing book, containing as it does the key trilogy mentioned above. Never mind. The brightly coloured volumes have faded with time, but Schaeffer’s message still endures: 'God is there and he is not silent'.

* Reviewed for Evangelical Times

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jacob's age

How old are you, Jacob?

Only one hundred and thirty.

My age is but a passing shadow,
the years of my life have been few.
My fathers Abraham and Isaac 
were old men and full of days. 
Soon I shall be gathered to them. 

I have seen evil along life's way,
a brother's murderous intent,
an uncle's devious schemes,
the bickering of jealous wives,
Rachel buried, Joseph lost.

All things seemed against me,
but now I have embraced my
beast-torn son I shall die in peace.
God turned all evil to good
to save many people alive.

I am a stranger and pilgrim
and my journey nears its end.
Bury me in the land of my fathers,
the dust dry Canaan that will 
one day flow with milk and honey.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

The Reason for God: Belief in an age of scepticism,
Timothy Keller, Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, 293pp

OK, let's face it, Westbury isn't exactly Manhattan. No Wall Street, no skyscrapers, no yellow taxi cabs. And no New Yorkers either. Not that I know of, anyway. So, why read this book by Manhattan pastor, Tim Keller? After all, it's designed to give trendy New York postmodern types a reason to believe in God. Like that's going to help with my ministry and witness in this small Wiltshire town. Knowing that, why did I bother? 

To be honest, one reason for reading The Reason for God is that I've heard a fair bit about Tim Keller and his influential ministry and I wanted to get acquainted with his writings. I don't know whether this book is a good place to start, but there we are. I was going through a bit of an apologetics phase in my reading when I bought it last summer, so this one kind of fitted the bill for me personally. 

More substantially, you don't have to be a metropolitan sophisticate to voice some of the doubts and objections to the Christian faith that Keller attempts to deal with here. Almost every time I engage a non-believer in conversation one or more of of the issues discussed in Part I of this book comes to the surface. Here are some of the chapter headings, There Can't Be Just One True Religion, How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?, How Can a  Loving God Send People to Hell? etc. If you haven't heard questions like that lately, could be that you are lacking somewhat on the personal witness front.

Now, I'm not going to offer an in-depth chapter-by-chapter review here. Life's too short, as is the attention span of the average blog reader. I'll maybe say some stuff about Keller's general approach and make one or two more pointed and specific points and then wrap it up. Still with me?

Right then, the book begins as I say with Keller having a go at responding to six common objections to the Christian faith. I can't be bothered to list them all. The book has a "Click to LOOK INSIDE!" thing on Amazon. If you are that interested you can look 'em up for yourself. Anyway, beginning as he does, by allowing the sceptic to set the agenda, you might have thought that Keller is a card carrying evidentialist, who thinks he can argue people into the kingdom. Nah. You'd be wrong about that. The apologist is aware that the existence of God can't be proven in such a way that all nagging doubts are satisfied. Indeed, God has no need to prove himself to us. Even the most sceptical of sceptics know full well that he exists. The complex beauty of the universe and the voice of human conscience bear witness to the fact that God is there and he is not silent.

In terms of apologetic methodology, then Keller is a presuppositionalist rather than an evidentialist. That much becomes evident in Part II. His starting point is that only with faith in the living, triune God revealed in Holy Scripture can make sense of reality with all its wonder and absurdity. But that doesn't mean he is adverse to giving reasons for faith. The title of this book says it all. In fact it says too much, because Keller nowhere suggests that there is such a thing as THE reason for God, simply a number of telling clues that point to his existence. Nevertheless, the presuppositionalist still has to meet people where they are with all their doubts and questions and try to respond as best he can. As John Frame wrote in his entry on PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics (IVP, 2006. p. 575-578), 'presuppositionalists, like all apologists, have to answer objections." Keller attempts to do that in the opening six chapters. Also in Part II the preacher gives a reasoned defence of belief in God and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Keller writes in an easy, conversational style. He eschews any head-on confrontation that would spook the easily frightened postmodern enquirer. This can sometimes lead him to soft peddle on areas where he might have taken a firmer stand, such as on creation and evolution, or gender roles in the Bible. His argument is, if people accept the basic truths of the Christian faith, then acceptance of these other issues will prove less problematic. Fair enough I suppose, but he might have done a little more to show that there is a good case to be made in favour of biblical creation and to explain what the Bible means by male headship in family and church life. 

Now for the pointed points bit. The thing that bothered me most about the book is Keller's treatment of hell and his handling of substitutionary atonement. He believes in both aright, but tends to over-psycologize these biblical doctrines. Hell is described as a 'prison of self-centredness' (p. 79). I'm sure he's right there, but more needed to be said about God's just wrath upon the wicked in hell. That said, Keller clearly shows that it is not inconsistent for a loving God to punish sinners in hell.

When it comes to the Cross, Keller turns to the the human act of forgiveness to help explain why God requires atonement for sin to be forgiven. Forgiveness on a human level involves costly suffering, and so it is with God. That works fine as a sermon illustration, but it lacks the necessary theological clout for developing a biblically rigorous account of substitutionary atonement. Don't get me wrong. Keller is no Steve Chalke, who infamously said that penal substitutionary atonement is tantamount to 'cosmic child abuse'. In fact, the writer distances himself from any such notion and is clear that Christ died bearing the penalty of our sin upon the cross. He helpfully quotes John Stott, "The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us." (Author's italics. p. 195). But still, too much weight is placed on the human psychological model of forgiveness for my liking. 

But the book ends on a high note. There is a beautiful chapter on the Trinity, The Dance of God, followed by an epilogue pondering the question, Where Do We Go From Here. Often that's where we get to the 'sinners' prayer' bit. You know, 'pray this prayer and you'll get saved'. But Keller adopts a more thoughtful and challenging stance, urging his readers to examine their motives and count the cost of following Jesus. He also makes it plain that becoming a Christian involves committing to a church community. 

In The Reason for God, Keller has endeavoured to engage the culture with the gospel. This is only right. We have to try and understand the times, speak to people where they are and show how the good news of Jesus relates to them. Calvin wanted to be a culturally engaged preacher. He complained, "Many people would like me to preach with my eyes closed, not considering where I live, in  what locale, or in what time." (Cited in Engaging with Calvin, Edited by Mark D. Thompson, IVP, 2009, p. 15). The danger is that aspects of the gospel that are regarded as culturally untenable are downplayed in order to make the faith appealing. Keller has largely avoided this danger, but not altogether. His psychological rather than theological approach to the doctrines of hell and penal substitution are perhaps cases in point. Nevertheless, there is certainly enough here to make the sceptic think again about the Christian faith. For as Keller shows, it is the Christian message that best makes sense of the grandeur and grime of reality. Only the Christian gospel has an answer to the problem of sin. Christ was crucified in the place of sinners. He rose again from the dead. Jesus brings human beings into the perichoretic dance that is fellowship and communion with the triune God. The people of Westbury just as much as Manhattan need to hear of that. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Graham Harrison on Engaging with Lloyd-Jones: Round Two


Here Harrison gets to grips with "1966 And All That". A taster:
[Jim] Packer was to complain that Lloyd-Jones’ 1966 call was a ‘campaign of words without plans.’ (p.272). This position was elaborated years later by Carl Trueman who complained that Lloyd-Jones’ vague alternative to Anglicanism was ‘a non-ecclesiastical, non-confessional disaster.’ (p.272). Presumably he means that the Doctor had not produced a Presbyterian blueprint on which the forthcoming seceders could structure their theology. This is interesting as it betrays either an ignorance or, more likely, a rejection of Lloyd-Jones’ often argued distinction between the primaries and secondaries in the pecking order of evangelical doctrinal priorities. It is well known that into the latter category he was willing to place matters of church government, Independency, Presbyterianism and even Episcopacy. Important as they were they simply did not compare with the fundamental issues that were and still are at stake in a situation which calls into question the very nature of the gospel.
I think Harrison hits the nail on the head. Simply because Lloyd-Jones did not propose the post-succession restructuring of Evangelicalism along Episcopal or Presbyterian lines does not mean that he he had no concern for ecclesiology. On the contrary, what he wanted was a union of Evangelical churches, although those churches might have had differing patterns of church government. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to make friends and influence people


Can't see why, but reportedly, some of our black pudding eating friends from "The North" have taken offence at a couple of my recent posts (here and here). Eh-up, chuck, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 

Also, I may have given the impression that with my lurking phobia of anywhere much north of Bristol that I'm rapidly becoming a kind of Wessex-Welsh hermit. It'll be 'Wash and Stay In' rather than 'Wash and Go' shampoo for me from now on. 

Anyway, with this in mind, out of the blue I received an invitation to preach in Wolverhampton sometime in 2013. From a  reader of this blog. Good eh? Diss people and they offer you a gig. 

So, I want to put it on record that I think that California is a dump and I'd never want to go there. Ever. 

No harm in trying. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Running the race


Apparently, a certain sporting event is due to take place in our country this July and August. Something to do with interlinked coloured rings, flaming torches, gold medals etc. I think its called the Olympic Games. Some of the events in the modern games, like running, jumping and throwing stuff would not have been out of place in the original Olympics. But I’m not sure that the Spartan and Athenian competitors of yesteryear went in for synchronised swimming. How would that have helped at Thermopylae or the Battle of Marathon?

The biggest event of the modern Olympiad is undoubtedly the men’s 100 metre race. Will Usain Bolt manage to nonchalantly chalk up another record breaking win? The Jamaican makes it seem so effortless, but he must put in hours of hard training to be the undisputed Fastest Man on Earth.

I can’t be sure about this, but I think that the apostle Paul was a bit of an athletics fan. His writings in the New Testament make reference wrestling and running. He admired the athletes’ single-minded dedication, Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Paul viewed himself as a spiritual athlete, who had been called to run the race of faith. Following Jesus demands self-denial and perseverance. The apostle kept on running to the end. He maintained a steady gaze on the prize that was set before him. Some of the last words he wrote reflect this,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Are you running the race? 

* For the July/August edition of News & Views, West Lavington parish magazine. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

Graham Harrison on Engaging with Lloyd-Jones: Round One


I was never a member of Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Newport where Graham Harrison was the Minister for so many years. But I often sat under his preaching when living in Bassaleg, near Newport, and when visiting family back in South Wales. In addition, Graham Harrison was our systematic theology lecturer when I studied at the London Theological Seminary from 1988-1990. In one way and another he has had a formative impact on my life and ministry. I did a summer pastorate at Emmanuel some years ago, standing in for Graham when he was on sabbatical. We stayed at the Harrison's home for a month. Our son was a baby and Sarah was carrying our daughter, so it must have been a while back. What impressed me most about my time there was not so much Mr. Harrison's well-stocked library, but the realisation that the theologian and preacher was also a pastor. Talking to members of the congregation, it was evident that Graham cared for his people, visited the elderly saints regularly and comforted those who had lost loved ones.

But  Mr. Harrison could also be a bruiser, taking no prisoners in the cut and thrust of theological debate and discussion. If you were going to disagree with him you had better be able to put up a fight. Back in 2006 I had Graham come and speak on 'Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1966 & Today'. You can see a report here. While not agreeing with everything Lloyd-Jones said and did, Harrison is convinced that 'the Doctor' was right on the big issues, such as evangelical unity and the need for revival. It was with interest, then that  I read  the first part of his review of Engaging with Lloyd-JonesHarrison the Heavyweight is to the fore.

Seconds out for Round One of this rumble in the theological jungle

Here's an excerpt to get you going,
One other thing is lacking overtly from the book. It is the dimension of the effect he provoked on the part of those to whom his presence and the powerful expression of his views constituted something of an alien intrusion. That he was not English was a fact that soon became apparent. Nor did he come from Scotland which in a peculiar way (despite Gordon Brown) is still somewhat fashionable in London! He could not abide snobbery in any shape or form – whether or not it was expressed religiously, politically or merely socially. Many will have said - although Lloyd-Jones would no doubt have disagreed most strongly with them - that he was a self-made man who came from a remarkable family. Undoubtedly he possessed a boldness in advocating his opinions and something of a temperamental inability to be intimidated by persons or views contrary to his own. There can be little doubt that he was viewed as something of an irritant to the settled equanimity of the circles into which his gifts thrust him. It could not be gainsaid that he was intellectually brilliant, well able to hold his own in any company; he was a Christian of Calvinistic convictions and a preacher of remarkable power. But he was Welsh and unafraid to say so; he was not an Anglican but a dissenter and a nonconformist; furthermore, swimming against the tide was something that rarely seemed to bother him – particularly as usually and eventually he seemed to do it so well. Some find this hard to take – and, dare we say it, still do! Signs are not wanting in this volume that this attitude is still there, lurking, as it were, under the surface. Perhaps an open, full-blooded expression of such criticism would have been useful, if only to clear the air!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

To The North and back, a journey through fire and water

My sense of foreboding concerning Friday's journey to "The North" for a Sheffield Uni Open Day was more than fulfilled. Radiohead's Amnesiac proved an appropriate soundtrack. The sonic assault that is Pulk/Pull/Revolving Doors mirrored the storm that lashed my trusty Ford Focus. accidentally ended upon the M6 toll road and then had to take the intermittently congested A38 in order to join the M1. It rained. All day. Not in sweetly gentle showers, but angry incessant torrents. 

We got very wet. Cheapo brollys bought in desperation from a shoe shop leaked, as did 'showerproof'  coats and our trainers (Jonny) and desert boots (me). Had lunch in the queue for the bus that took us from accommodation tour to the Uni (see above). In a rush to catch a Chem Eng talk (see below).  

Sheffield Uni was OK, but the presentations weren't as good as Birmingham or Nottingham. In fact one was pretty poor, with a quietly-spoken prof struggling to be heard above postgrads nosily playing a Yu-Gi-Oh! GX card game in the background. 

Returning home we faced heavy traffic. Witnessed the aftermath of what looked like a head-on collision. On the M42. How'd that happen? Emergency Services in attendance. Later, saw a car on fire on the hard shoulder. Police at the scene. Thankfully, didn't look like anyone was hurt in either incident.

Listening to Murray win his semi on the radio made it all seem a little more bearable. And we arrived home safely, if later than expected. Something to be grateful for. On the scale of human misery I don't suppose our trip to Sheffield amounted to much. Still, there is enough grief in the world and I don't propose to add to it by going there again any time soon. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Due North

Tomorrow morning I'm going to have to drag myself out of bed at some unearthly hour and hit the road in order to get to Sheffield Uni by 10am. I'll be taking my son there for an open day. Westbury to Sheffield. And back. In a day. West Country to The North. What's the point in that? 

Apart from heading east to sojourn in London for a couple of years I've either lived in South Wales or Wessex. I'm a man of the South West. Given the choice I wouldn't head much north of the M4. Sheffield. Whoever said that fathering a child would mean going up there? 

I've endured sleepless nights, nappies, being beaten at chess and Swingball, surrogate exam stress, but now this. Birmingham was bad enough, and then Nottingham, but Sheffield? Nothing against the place, mind you, it's just, I don't know....

I need an early night. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thomas Goodwin on election in Christ: what it is


See here and here for parts one and two of this series that has been left hanging in the air for some months. 

Having ruled out several deficient ways of understanding the believer's election in Christ, Goodwin proceeds to give his positive exposition of the subject. 

1. Christ, the federal head of the elect 

The Puritan divine construes election in Christ in federal terms. He does not use the language of "federal headship" that is often found later Reformed theology, but his treatment has a distinct federal flavour. "Jesus Christ in election is head of the elect. He was from the first considered and ordained by God as a Common Person, to represent us." (p. 70, Exposition of Ephesians: Chapter 1 to 2:10). Goodwin draws an analogy between Adam and Christ. All humanity were created in Adam. As the first man (1 Corinthians 15:47), Adam acted in a representative capacity. "Thus in choosing Christ God looked on him as a Common Person, as a second Adam, and chose us in him." (p. 71). But the fact that elect were chosen in Christ as a 'Common Person' does not mean that God's people were not chosen individually and personally. "God did not choose in the general... he knoweth the very persons fully and particularly; yea and distinctly viewed them when he elected them. And notwithstanding he thus chose us as distinct persons from Christ, yet still our election is in Christ. (p. 71). 

It is because the Son of God was chosen as Head of the elect in eternity that he assumed our nature and came to redeem the people of God in the fullness of time. But even prior to the incarnation Christ acted as Mediator of the covenant of grace. He was a Common Person to the fathers under the Old Testament, forgiving their sins by virtue of the atonement he would one day perform on their behalf (p. 73). 

Election in Christ is the foundation of the covenant of grace. "And so a covenant was struck between God and us, through Christ's representing us, as the covenant of works was between God and us considered in Adam. And thence it is that Christ, by the prophet Isaiah is called 'our covenant'." (p. 75). That believer's election is in Christ guarantees they will  receive the blessings of the covenant. Goodwin cites Paul's words in 2 Timothy 1:9, 'the grace that was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.' If God chose his people in themselves, the apostle could have written that he purposed to give them grace before the world began. But Paul says that grace was actually given to the elect in Christ Jesus, as he stands as a 'Common Person' representing his people who are chosen in him. "God in the act of choosing us gave us to Christ, and in giving us to Christ he chose us." (p. 74). 

2. The order of election 

According to Goodwin, Christ was chosen first, and we in him. "Jesus Christ was the Head of election, and of the elect of God; and so in order of nature first, though in order of time we were elected in him. In the womb of election he, the Head came out first, and then we, the members." (p. 74). Note that in saying that Christ was chosen first and we in him, Goodwin is careful to say that he is speaking of an order of nature rather than time. This is because the expositor is mindful that Paul teaches that we were chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4), which Goodwin takes to mean "from eternity" (p. 77). He reasons, "Before the world was there was nothing but eternity. If you look past the world, you put your head up into eternity." (p. 77). Goodwin tentatively construes Paul's words in a slightly supralapsarian sense, agreeing with those who understood the words "before the foundation of the world" to refer to the order of God's decrees, not simply to the act of creation. He sees this as a further evidence of God's love for his elect, that "he chose you before he purposed the world; he preferred you to all the world." (p. 78). The seventeenth century Puritan almost anticipates modern day multiverse theory saying, "Value God and his love more than all the world, though there were millions of them." (p. 79). This might seem like rather abstract theologizing, but as ever with the Puritans, Goodwin's  theology is put to practical use,
Fear not the ruin of kingdoms, not of the world, for your being depends not on either of them; God chose you before all worlds. Let kingdoms totter, and mountains be thrown in the midst of the sea, 'we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken,' Heb. xii.28. (p. 80).
3. Chosen in him

And so Thomas Goodwin offers a federal explanation of election in Christ. Jesus is not the meritorious cause of our election. God chose his people simply out of love and free grace. But neither is union with Christ merely the goal of election. The Puritan would not have agreed with the words of Louis Berkhof, that Christ was merely  'the mediate cause of the realisation of election' (see here). The elect were chosen in Christ as a Common Person, the second Adam, the Head of God's new humanity who cannot be considered, even in the predestinating decree of God apart from Christ or outside of Christ, "For God chose you in him; the being you had was in him before the world was." (p. 77). As Herman Bavinck put it,
It is not that Christ was thereby the ground and foundation of election; but the election of the church is the very first benefit bestowed on the church; and even this benefit already occurred in union with Christ, and above all it has its goal, not as its foundation, that all other benefits - rebirth, faith and so forth - will be imparted to the church by Christ. In this sense, then, the election of Christ logically precedes our own. (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, p. 404) 
Besides a certain "holy Baines" (p. 70) or "Mr. Baines" (p. 78) Goodwin refrains from citing sources for his views on election in Christ. But what he says is certainly in keeping with the teaching of John Calvin. Admittedly, Goodwin's highly developed federalist construction is not found in the Reformer, but Calvin insisted that we are not chosen in ourselves, to the end that we might be united to Christ, but we are loved and elected in him. Hence it is foolish, harmful and dangerous to contemplate election apart from Christ. He is the mirror of our election,
But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to ingraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life. (The Institutes of the Christian Religion III:24:5). 
Robert Letham, who  is critical of Berkhof's stance on election in Christ argues, "Thus, our entire salvation is received in Christ, election included. Union with Christ is existent at the point of our election in eternity." (The Work of Christ, Robert Letham, IVP, 1993, p. 55-56). Salvation is by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Prior to faith in Christ a person remains subject to the wrath of God upon their sin (Ephesians 2:3 cf. John 3:36). But the gift of faith itself is granted by virtue of the people of God being chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4). Goodwin comments, "if all be given us in Christ, then faith also [is given us], as we are considered already chosen in Christ" (p. 66).

The Puritan expositor's Christocentric doctrine of election is grounded in sound biblical exegesis and is consistent with the best insights of Reformed theology. It is deeply pastoral, pointing the believer to Christ in whom we are chosen, rather than leaving us mystified and unsure in the face of God's inscrutable decree. Above all, Goodwin gives due honour to the God, who gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the world was made. He calls us to love the electing God more than a million worlds.

In the next and concluding post in this series I plan to consider what Goodwin has to say on God's purpose in electing his people in Christ. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Fighting where the battle rages


"Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.”                   (Martin Luther, 1483-1546). 
Virtually the whole gamut of biblical revelation has been under attack at one time or another. In the first four centuries of church history the doctrines of God as Trinity and the Person of Christ took a mighty battering. The medieval period might be characterised as a titanic struggle between Augustine's doctrine of grace and the Pelagian error of salvation by works. The stresses and strains of this conflict eventually rent the church asunder at the time of the Reformation. The Reformers stood with Augustine, while Rome championed Semi-Pelagianism. The battle raged fiercely over justification by faith alone or justification by faith plus meritorious good works. It rages still. During and after the time of the Enlightenment, the fight was against rationalistic liberalism. Liberal theology offered a Christianity that was shorn of the supernatural, leaving us with a depersonalised 'ground of all being' in place of the living God, and a merely human Jesus. 

Where is the battle raging today? I suggest that we are guilty of flight and disgrace if we flinch on the following points: 

1) We must fight for the Godness of God. He is the triune Lord of the gospel, both compassionate and commanding. He is Creator we are his creatures, subject to his sovereign rule. We need to resist Open Theism and any other form of theology that renders void the Creator/creature distinction.

2) We must fight for the truth of God. In the face of postmodern scepticism concerning truth claims, we believe that God has revealed himself to us and is therefore knowable. Although our knowledge of him can never be exhaustive, we can nevertheless truly know the Father through the Son by the enlightening work of the Spirit. As revealed truth, Holy Scripture is God's Word, totally reliable and without error.  

3) We must fight for the salvation of God. Against pluralism and syncretism, we are called to boldly proclaim that salvation is  received by the sinner trusting in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of the world. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Apart from faith in Christ the wicked will die in their sins and face the eternal, conscious punishment that is their due for rebelling against their infinitely glorious Creator.