Monday, June 26, 2006

New Poll: Contemporary Evangelical Theologian

Who is your favourite present day evangelical Theologian?

Are you conversant with Carson, dazzled by the drama of Vanhoozer, mesmerized by Macleod, stimulated by Sinclar or gobsmacked by Grudem?

Make your choice in the poll [above left] and leave a comment to tell us who you voted for and why.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

History of the English Calvinistic Baptists by Robert W. Oliver

The book details the development of English Calvinistic Baptist Churches during the period 1771-1892, from the death of John Gill to the death of C. H. Spurgeon. These two men may have pastored the same London Church, New Park Street, but they had quite different visions of what constituted a Calvinistic Baptist. Gill was a Hyper Calvinist who denied the free offer of the gospel. Spurgeon held to the evangelical Calvinism of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. The legacy of Gill ensured that Spurgeon was treated with suspicion by some Victorian Calvinistic Baptists.

The English Calvinistic Baptist movement of this period was packed with fascinating characters. Robert Oliver gives us vivid portraits of men who were giants in their time, but whose names are now little know. Benjamin Beddome (1718-1795) was an influential evangelical Calvinist, whose labours at Bourton-on-the-Water were blessed with revival. The eccentric preacher and school master John Collett Ryland (1723-92) is brought to life. Abraham Booth (1734-1806) is rescued from undeserved obscurity and revealed as one of the great Calvinistic Baptist Pastor- Theologians.

One of the most important Particular Baptist thinkers was Andrew Fuller (1754-1815). Fuller was deeply influenced by the works of Jonathan Edwards. He challenged head-on the Hyper Calvinism of his day. In 1785 he published his widely read, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. This was a a tour de force in favour of the Biblical teaching that, 'faith in Christ is the duty of all men who hear the Gospel'. Inspired by Edwards, Fuller helped to found the Particular Baptist Missionary Society. He corresponded with New England theologians Jonathan Edwards Jr, Samuel Hopkins and others. But Oliver refutes the charge that Fuller accepted their governmental theory of the atonement.

Many prominent Pastors were self-taught working class men. Some were rugged individualists such as William Gadsby and John Stevens. Others were highly educated like the former Anglican Clergyman and Fellow of Worcester College, J. C. Philpot. Magazines were published to guide and influence the Particular Baptist movement . A chapter is devoted to the analysis of some of these journals including The Gospel Herald and The Gospel Standard.

Neglect of the 1689 Baptist Confession in the period under consideration led to a number of theological aberrations among particular Baptist Pastors and people. While accepting that Christ was a divine Person within the Trinity, John Stevens denied his eternal Sonship. Stevens speculated that Jesus' human soul pre-existed from before the foundation of the world. Others taught that the elect are justified in eternity, not at the moment they come to faith. Oliver deals honestly and fairly with the controversies of the day from the perspective of his own evangelical Calvinism.

Throughout this period, arguments raged over the free offer of the gospel. Fuller was not alone in facing this challenge. Abraham Booth and others argued forcefully that God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. The Hyper Calvinists taught that as only the elect will come to faith, Christ should not be offered to all and sundry. While Hyper Calvinists did experience conversions and Church growth, their beliefs had a baleful effect on Particular Baptist life and mission. Modern day Calvinists who are strangely attracted to Hyper Calvinism should take note of this salutary lesson.

Some in the movement were influenced by the antinomianism of William Huntingdon. He preached that the law of God has no authority over the believer. John Ryland Jr and others opposed this view and held that the law is a rule of life for the godly. This debate too has resonance for the present day.

The book also examines the controversy over strict and open communion among the Calvinistic Baptists. Some like Fuller and Booth argued that only baptised believers should take the Lord's Supper while others such as John Collet Ryland agitated for a more conciliatory position that would allow convinced Paedobaptists to observe Communion in Baptist churches. The Appendix to the 1689 Confession of Faith allows Baptist Churches some liberty with regard to these matters.

The final chapter is devoted to C. H. Spurgeon. He challenged the Paticular Baptists to return to their roots in the evangelical Calvinism of the 17th Century Puritans. Spurgeon republished the 1689 Confession for the benefit of his own Church and the wider Baptist community. He fought with his Hyper Calvinistic critics who disliked his practice of offering Christ freely to all. Toward the end of his life, Spurgeon was embroiled in controversy over the downgrading of evangelical theology in the Baptist movement. In 1889 he said.

I do not look so much at what is happening today, for these things relate to eternity. For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me. I have dealt honestly before the living God. My brother, do the same. Who knows but what thou are come to the kingdom for such a time as this. (p. 356)

Exactly 60 years later, a small group of English Baptists republished Spurgeon's edition of the 1689 Confession of Faith. There are now many Baptists Congregations in the United Kingdom that hold to the evangelical Calvinism of the old Confession.

This work is written with great clarity and care and is the products of meticulous research. The author is deeply familiar with the original sources and interacts with the secondary literature. The author brings historical honesty and shrewd theological judgement to bear on this fascinating subject. All who are interested in the history of the English Calvinistic Baptists should read this beautifully produced book. Published by The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006, 410pp.

Robert W. Oliver is a Pastor of the Old Baptist Church, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire.

He is Lecturer in Church History at the London Theological Seminary, Adjunct Professor of Church History of Westminster Theological Seminary and Lecturer at the John Owen Centre. He completed his doctoral research into English Baptist History at the London Bible College.
Buy the book from the Banner of Truth Trust here

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lloyd-Jones at Faith & Theology

See here for my guest post on "The Doctor" in the For the Love of God series at Ben Myres' blog.

Click here for my post: Martyn Lloyd-Jones - A Personal Appreciation, written on 1st March this year, the 25th anniversary of Lloyd-Jones' death.

Nonconformist boom years

Today I attended the Reformed Minister's Fraternal at Honiton in Devon. The pastor of the host Church, (Honiton Congregational) Peter Robinson, spoke on Congregationalism's Boom Years. He gave a well researched and illuminating paper that detailed the extraordinary growth of Nonconformist Churches during the years 1790-1840.
According to Paul Cook in his The Forgotten Revival "Between 1790 and 1840 some half a million people were gathered into the Nonconformist churches of England and Wales alone, one of of every ten of the population of the time. God had stretched forth his arm to perform an astonishing work which shaped the history of the nation for over one hundred years. It laid the foundation of all the social, educational, penal and political reforms of the late Victorian age". (1984 Westminster Conference Paper p. 88).
Many of the Nonconformist Churches of this period were vigorously Calvinistic in doctrine and passionately concerned to reach the lost with the gospel at home and overseas. New Churches were planted and old ones witnessed extraordinary growth and blessing.
What are some of the features of this period of revival?
They Prayed: There was an increasing dependence on God in the work of outreach and evangelism. We too need to pray that God will 'rend the heavens and come down'.
They Co-operated: Evangelical Churches pooled their resources across denominational boundaries to support evangelistic activities. Have we so stressed the independency of local churches that gospel partnerships have been neglected?
They Innovated: This period saw the multiplication of new ministries and societies that aimed at reaching the people with the gospel. Are we willing to exercise faith be adventurous or have our Reformed Churches become to risk adverse to try anything new?
They Preached the Word: They believed that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Nonconformists invested in the financing of intenerate preaching ministries and in training men for the preaching ministry. Have we lost confidence in the power of preaching?
For details of Peter Robinson's paper click here .

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

D.M. Lloyd-Jones on seeking the Spirit's power in preaching

Following on from the post below, here is Dr. Lloyd-Jones on seeking the power of the Spirit in preaching. This is the final, rousing exhortation in Preaching and Preachers:

What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him? Seek Him! Seek Him always. But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him. Do you expect anything to happen, when you get up to preach in a pulpit? Or do you just say to yourself, 'Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not.?' Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone's life? Are you expecting someone to have a climactic experience? That is what preaching is meant to do. That is what you find in the Bible and subsequent history of the Church. Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to Him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon in necessary. Let Him loose you, let Him manifest His power in you and through you. I am certain, as I have said several times before, that nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. This makes true preaching, and it is the greatest need of all today - never more so. Nothing can substitute for this. But, given this, you will have a people who will be anxious and ready to be taught and instructed, and led further and more deeply into 'the Truth as it is in Jesus'. This 'unction', this 'anointing', is the supreme thing. Seek it until you have it; be content with nothing less. Go on until you can say, 'And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power.' He is still able to do 'exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.'
From Preaching and Preachers p. 325, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

D.M. Lloyd-Jones: preaching in the power of the Spirit

Following on from yesterday's post against PowerPoint preaching, I thought that it might be good to look at what "the Doctor" had to say about preaching in the power of the Spirit. In the final chapter of Preaching and Preachers, he discusses this matter from a historical perspective, giving examples of preaching in times of revival. In the quote below, he considers the effect of the work of the Spirit upon the preacher himself. Lloyd-Jones writes with great insight into experience of preaching with the Holy Spirit and much assurance. What do we know of this kind of preaching?

How do we recognise this when it happens? Let me try to answer. The first indication is in the preacher's own consciousness. 'Our gospel came not unto you in word only' says Paul, 'but in power and the Holy Ghost, and much assurance'. Who knew the assurance? Paul himself. He knew something was happening, he was aware of it. You cannot be filled with the Spirit without knowing it. He had 'much assurance'. He knew he was clothed with power and authority. How does one know it? It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through the whole of your being, and an indescribable sense of joy. You are a man 'possessed', you are taken hold of and taken up. I put it like this - and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to this feeling - that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on. You are looking at yourself in amazement as this is happening . It is not your effort; you are just the instrument, the channel, the vehicle: and the Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment and astonishment. There is nothing that is in any way comparable to this. This is what the preacher himself is aware of.
From Preaching and Preachers p. 324, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.

Monday, June 12, 2006

PowerPoint and the death of preaching

I have nothing against PowerPoint presentations when it comes to missionary spots, illustrated talks or lectures etc. But I take issue with the use of Power Point in the pulpit. A preacher told me recently that a church he was due to visit asked him not only for his hymns and Bible readings, but his sermon headings for PowerPoint. Whatever is the world coming to?
.My objections to the use of PowerPoint in preaching are two-fold:
.1) Practical
.PowerPoint done badly is depressingly awful. If people are going to use this medium for anything other than their private enjoyment (how sad is that?), they should really take the time to attain some level of competence at this kind of thing. I have witnessed a PowerPoint presentation that would not project onto a screen, so people had to huddle around a Lap Top PC. That was OK until the screen saver activated and the poor presenter did not know what to do about it. What of PowerPoints where the specially arranged sermon headings announced by the preacher are out of sync with what is projected onto the screen? That really helps people to follow the message!
.When PowerPoint is done well the presentation looks really professional. I even like it in certain contexts. But preaching is not meant to look professional is it? John Piper should have had a chapter on Brothers, Take Pleasure in Preaching without PowerPoint in his Brothers, We are not Professionals (see review here).
.I am no Luddite with a fear and loathing of new technology. This blog is not written on parchment with crushed up blackberries for ink and a quill pen! But when it comes to PowerPoint preaching, I say "No!"
.2) Spiritual
.Preaching, by definition is a speech act. One man speaks to a congregation of people concerning the message of the Bible. He engages them, looks them in the eye. They (hopefully) look back at him. The preacher tries to hold the people's attention by the Truth that he is speaking and by the manner in which he speaks the Truth. Authentic preaching involves interaction and spontaneity. Yes, the preacher will have done his preparation. He takes care to present his message in a coherent and logical way. But we preachers never really know how people will react to our carefully prepared sermons until we begin to preach them. Someone looks encouraged. The message seems to speak directly to their situation - so we expand on it a little to be of help to them. Another looks confused. We need to clarify and illustrate. Someone else seems to be troubled or challenged. Do they need to be healed and soothed or does the point need to be brought home with greater power and conviction? A decision will have to be made. All this involves communication between preacher and people. Along the way, sermon headings may be modified. A point may be dropped because another needed greater emphasis. There should be an element of unpredictability about preaching because it is an act of personal communication. The ordered professionalism of PowerPoint has no place here. Preachers should use as few notes as possible in the pulpit for the same reasons.
.Preaching, according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones is meant to be "logic on fire", Theology presented through a man who is on fire for the truth. But that "fire" must not be man-made or manufactured emotionalism. We need what used to be called "unction", where the Holy Spirit empowers the preacher and gives him great liberty and power in preaching. When that happens, the last thing on the preacher's mind should be, "what about my PowerPoint headings?" The use of PowerPoint suggests that the preacher expects his sermon to go as planned with no breaking in of the Spirit to disrupt his carefully crafted message. He may have accurate exposition, telling illustration, nicely alliterated headings and thoughtful application. But where is the "demonstration of the Spirit and power"? That is what we preachers should long for above all else.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thomas A Kempis on the danger of Theological study

The greatest danger in studying Theology is that our studies can be an end in themselves, rather than a means of encountering the living God. Here, A Kempis makes us reflect on the relationship between Theology and the life-transforming love of God:
What will it profit thee to argue profoundly respecting the Holy Trinity, if thou hast not humility, and art, therefore, displeasing to the Holy Trinity?

Profound words do not make a man holy and just; but a virtuous life maketh him dear to God.

I had rather feel compunction* than be able to give the definition of it.

If thou knewest the whole Bible by heart and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would all that knowledge profit thee without the love of God and without his grace?

"Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity," except to love God and serve Him only.

This is the highest wisdom, by contempt of the world to press forward towards the kingdom of heaven.

From The Imitation of Christ Chapter 1:3

* In case you were wondering, compunction can be defined as "as sense of sin or guilt". But do you feel it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

George Whitefield, speaking the truth in love

It seems that some Evangelicals are willing to accept the principle that if someone claims to be a Christian, then they must be accepted as such. In a recent case, Tom Wright said he believed that this friend, the Liberal scholar Marcus Borg was a Christian. Borg does not believe in the deity of Christ, his virgin birth, substitutionary death on the cross, or bodily resurrection from the dead. See here .
The great 18th Century Evangelist, George Whitefield had an altogether different approach. This (lightly edited) letter to a friend is full of compassionately honest spiritual counsel.
Dear Sir,
Philadelphia Nov. 10 1739
Gratitude and love call upon me to write a letter of acknowledgement for favours received when lately at ___ . The Lord remember them at that day! You have confessed his servants before men, he has promised to confess such, before his angels in heaven. The principles which I maintain, are purely scriptural, and every way agreeable to the church of England articles.
What I have been chiefly concerned about is, lest any should rest in bare speculative knowledge, and not experience the power of them in their hearts. - What avails it, Sir, if I am a patron for the righteousness of JESUS CHRIST in behalf of another, if at the same time I am self-righteous myself? I am thus jealous, I trust with a godly jealousy, because I see so many self-deceivers among my acquaintance.
There is one particular (whom I love, and for whom I most heartily pray) who approves of my doctrine, and has heard it preached many years past, but I could never hear him tell of his experiences, or of what God has done for his soul. He has excellent good desires and intentions, but I think he wants something more: Lord, for your mercy's sake, grant he may know himself even as he is known! I need not tell Mr. D ____, who this dear friend is - you are immediately acquainted with him, you love him as your own heart; you are never out of his company. Oh, dear Sir, be not angry. Methinks I hear you, by this time, making application, and saying, "Then I am the man." True, dear Sir I confess you are. But love, love for your better part, sour soul, your precious soul, this love constrains me to use this freedom. You are more noble than to take it ill at my hands; I could not bear even to suspect that you deceived yourself, dear Sir, and not tell you such suspicion was in my heart.
That God may powerfully convince you of self-righteousness, and clothe you with the righteousness of his dear Son; that he may fill you with his grace, and thereby fit you for, and at last translate you to, his glory, is the hearty prayer of, dear Sir,
Your most obliged and affectionate friend and humble servant,
Letter CXVI, George Whitefield's Letters, A Facsimile of Whitefield's Works, Volume One, 1771, With Suppliments 1737-1742, p. 111, Banner of Truth Trust, 1976.

Jonathan Edwards in the blogosphere

Jonathan Edwards, who predicted the advent of Christian blogging, here is the subject of two interesting posts.

The first is by James Spurgeon at Pyromanics:
Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God here

The second is a guest post Todd Vick over at Faith & Theology:
For the love of God (9): Why I love Jonathan Edwards here

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was deeply influenced by Edwards said of him, "I am tempted, perhaps foolishly, to compare the Puritans to the Alps, Luther and Calvin to the Himalayas and Jonathan Edwards to Mount Everest...There are so many approaches to this great summit; but not only so, the atmosphere is so spiritually rarefied, and there is this blazing white holiness of the man himself, and his great emphasis upon the holiness and the glory of God..."
(The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, Banner of Truth Trust p. 355).

Lloyd-Jones said of the two volume set of Edwards' works, "If I had the power I would make these two volumes compulsory reading for all ministers! Edwards seems to satisfy all round; he really was an amazing man."

If you have yet to get into Edwards, take a look at the posts suggested above. Buy the Two Volume set of his Works by the Banner of Truth Trust, and begin to experience Edwards' God entranced view of all things. If have already purchased an edition of Edwards' Works, how much have you actually read? If the volumes are little better than a status symbol, gracefully gathering dust on your bookshelves, you know what to do: "Take and read"!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Certainty? (Not!)

If one thing's for certain in "postmodern" Britain it's that certainty is out of favour. An old song used to tell us that, Money is the root of all evil. (Sorry to be a pedant, but what the Bible actually says is that "the love of money is a root of all evil" 1 Timothy 6:10). Many people today argue very forcibly that certainty is the root of all evil. We are told with great confidence, not to say dogmatism, that many of the problems in our world are due to people having strong religious and moral convictions. Just about the worst thing you can call someone in this climate of opinion is a Fundamentalist. Bible-believing Christians are lumped together with Islamic extremists as the enemies of our way of life. With great insight, G. K. Chesterton wrote:

What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition...[and] settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.

William Wilberforce was an Evangelical Christian. Some today would call his beliefs "fundamentalist". He was certain that slavery was a moral evil. That was the basis of his campaign against the slave trade. Had Wilberforce believed that strong convictions were the root of all evil, he would not have had the moral courage to fight against slavery. The fundamental Christian ethic is "love your neighbour as yourself."

What would you think about a man who believed the Bible's account of the creation of Adam and Eve saying, "He who made them at the beginning made them male and female"? This person also preached saying, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" He made some outrageously dogmatic statements about himself. What of this claim? "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." He did not believe that all ways lead to God, but that he was the way to God! These are not the words of some raving Fundamentalist preacher. They are the words of Jesus (look them up in the Bible if you don't believe me: Matthew 19:4, 23:33 & John 14:6).

Christians aught to be sure about the truth. Not that we grasp it in all its fullness. But if we know Jesus, we know "the truth". When the apostles took the message of the Christianity to the ancient world, they preached a sure and certain message of God's saving love revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. This is gospel truth. As the apostle Paul wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe." (Romans 1:16.) I certainly agree with that! Do you?