Thursday, December 23, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
See, the Lamb of God appears,
Promised from eternal years.
And most famously perhaps, In the Bleak Midwinter, in which it snows rather a lot,
Snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter,
Long, long ago.
I have to say that Christina Rossetti’s words don’t sound half as good when spoken, as when they are sung to Gustav Holst’s wonderfully haunting tune. Singing that carol certainly conjures up visions of a snowy, white Christmas. But what I have in mind by a white Christmas is taken from a passage in the Book of Isaiah. He was the Old Testament prophet who foretold that Jesus would be born of a virgin,
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (7:14)
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This same prophet issues an invitation from the Lord to all who will listen,
Friday, December 17, 2010
Malcolm MacLean on Andrew Bonar
1. Verses not Books
Bonar was a very ordinary preacher with a peculiar preaching style. He was not an orator, but built up his churches by the preaching of the Word.
He preached from Bible verses, rather than working his way through Books of the Bible, seeking his texts from the Lord. He always preached Jesus. A sense of the presence of God accompanied his preaching.
His sermons would last 1/2 hour.
Bonar preached for conversions.
He prayed for more freedom and power in preaching.
His preaching was imaginative. His people got the point of his message, which was not soon forgotten.
Bonar used a straightforward style, preaching not to scratch heads, but pierce hearts.
3. Christian life
He emphasised holiness of life in his preaching, urging his congregation to follow biblical examples of godly living.
4. Enraptured with the Saviour
He preached Christ in every sermon.
Bonar's preaching made the Bible seem like a new book. Unseen things became real.
Bonar kept a diary in which he recorded his private prayers. He once spent three hours in prayer before first sermon. For him the Lord's day was a day of prayer. He regarded prayer as the Minister's chief work. In his private devotions he always read the Bible before prayer. He viewed prayer as a letter to Jesus.
Concluding thoughts on Westminster 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Daniel Webber on 'Doomed from the start? The Edinburgh Conference of 1910'
The Edinburgh Conference generated a huge sense of expectation. It was not a church conference, but an event for Missions and Missionaries. It is now remembered as the precursor of the World Council of Churches, rather than for its missionary vision.
A concern for world mission was inspired by the Evangelical revivals of 18th century. Similar gatherings had met since since 1854, dedicated to the evangelisation of world. Later meetings were more ecumenical in character, although the word "ecumenical" not used of the 1910 Conference as it was a Protestant event to the exclusion of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Student leader, John Mott, who later helped to found of the World Council of Churches.
Organiser and scholar, with a gift for diplomacy, Joseph Oldham.
Edinburgh 1910 was a conference like no other. A kind of business meeting for missions. Its focus was not on education and inspiration, but the study of missionary policy. Reports were commissioned and discussed. Evangelistic action was to be based on analysis of factual reports. A new science of missiology was in the making.
Eight comission papers were prepared for discussion on subjects like 'The Gospel to the World', 'Preparation of Missionaries', 'Unity and Mission'. The decision was made that there was to be no discussion of doctrinal and church differences. In the USA contingent there were high hopes for church unity. Provision made to discuss this matter.
There were 1215 official delegates.
3. Conference sessions
Scottish Minister Alexander Whyte attended the opening session, which began with Lord Balfour reading a message from the King. This led to the spontaneous singing of the National Anthem. Quite what the American delegates made of singing "God save our gracious King", I don't know.
Balfour hoped that the desire for unity on the mission field might lead to greater unity at home.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson raised the expectation of a new era of worldwide evangelisation. He hoped that the centrality of mission might lead to coming of kingdom with power. Missionary conquest of world was within the grasp of the churches.
Commission reports were discussed, with Mott chairing the meetings in Napoleonic style. Responses were limited to 7 minutes. There were also times of prayer.
A resolution was made to set up continuation committee to consider whether an international missionary was to be body formed. The Conference closed with the singing of the Doxology.
Mott acted as chairman of the continuation committee, with Oldham as secretary. A framework of ecumenical structure was set up, which led to the founding of WCC in 1948.
Edinburgh 1910 was doomed from the start to be remembered as catalyst for ecumenism rather than for its vision for mission.
1) Divergence of views
When it came to the Commission Reports there were differences over the self-government of indigenous churches and the issue of cultural sensitivities. The world was divided between Western Christendom and Eastern Heathendom. It was not regarded as legitimate to evangelise in predominantly Roman Catholic or Orthodox countries. This reflected the Anglo-Catholic influence on the Conference.
There was a naive optimism on the part of Mott. He wanted to get things done with little thought of the cost in terms of doctrinal faithfulness. The scope of mission was changed from all the world to the non-christian world. There was no clarity on the gospel or on what it means to be a Christian in the New Testament sense.
2) No consideration of theological matters.
2) No consideration of theological matters.
The Ango-Catholic delegates insisted that the Conference would involve no doctrinal discussion. In Comission 2 on Native Churches, dependence on Western Creeds and Confessions was deprecated in favour of 'self- theologising'. Conference leaders were theological liberals. John Mott was a 'Liberal Evangelical'.
Theological indifferentism was the order of the day. This was not a distinctly Protestant Conference, holding to the 'Solas of the Reformation'. Evangelicals attended, but non-Evangelicals controlled the event.
3) Preoccupation with unity
The key sub-plot of 1910 was a call for unity, which featured in each Commission. Commission 8 was devoted entirely to unity. Evangelicals wanted more interdenominational co-operation, but the leaders of the Edinburgh Conference wanted a broader approach, with the inclusion of Anglo-Catholics. Leaders went to great lengths to keep the Anglo-Catholics on board. Objection was made to regarding Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Churches as non-Christian. It was said that 1910 could not be a truly ecumenical gathering without without RC and EO delegates. There was no room for the evangelisation of RC's and EO's.
The New Testament has a lot to say on Christian unity, but not at expense of gospel. We must face the questions: What is the gospel? What is a Christian? What is a Church? What is our mission to world? Edinburgh 1910 offered a new vision for ecumenical mission. With its focus on institutional unity, it was doomed from the start to be remembered as the forerunner of the WCC, rather than for its missionary vision.
The assembly was not sufficiently focused on mission. It was sidetracked by the ecumenical agenda. With the involvement of Anglo-Catholics and theological liberals there was no agreement on the gospel. This diverse theological outlook was reflected in the commission papers. Evangelicals who participated did not stand out against this, or threaten to withdraw. But within decades, most Evangelicals would separate themselves from WCC-style ecumenism.
The 1910 Edinburgh Conference led to two developments. The founding of the WCC in 1948, and the specifically Evangelical assemblies for world mission, beginning with the Lusanne Conference in 1974.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sam Waldron on 'The Uneasy Relationship of Repentance
and Sola Fide in the Reformed Tradition'
I. Reactions to Legalism
B. Faith and Then Repentance in the Marrow Men
1. The Marrow Controversy and the Marrow Men
Church of Scotland minister, Thomas Boston 'discovered' The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. The book helped to clarify his thinking on the free offer of the gospel over and against Hyper-Calvinist tendencies. The Marrow of Modern Divinity was condemned by the Church of Scotland. Church authorities disliked the free offer of gospel. In their teaching the gospel in effect became a new law.
2. The Distinctive View of Faith and Repentance of the Marrow Men
Faith takes logical, causal and experiential precedence over repentance. The gospel is freely offered to all, not just 'sensible sinners' or the consciously penitent. Faith will lead to repentance. Once again, the concern is to safeguard sola fide.
C. Faith and Then Repentance in the Sandemanians
An extreme concern to safeguard sola fide. No will or affections in saving faith. Faith is intellectual assent. Faith precedes repentance. Andrew Fuller wrote against Sandemanianism. He emphasised that faith cannot exist apart from repentance.
II. Reactions to Easy-Believism
A. Repentance and Then Faith in R. L. Dabney, A. W. Pink, and M. Lloyd-Jones.
According to Dabney, we believe because we have begun to repent. Pink taught that in conversion, there is both a turning from sin and turning unto God. Repentance comes first. Also, in Lloyd-Jones' early teaching, repentance come first, Acts 20:21.
B. Repentance and Sola Fide in Norman Shepherd
Shepherd was extreme in his opposition to antinomianism. He pointed out that the Westminster Confession does not use the formula 'justification by faith alone'. For Shepherd, Luther's teaching on justification by faith alone is problematic. Repentance includes good works and new obedience, so justification is by believing good works.
III. Resolution: Repentant Faith and Believing Repentance
A. Historical Representation: Spurgeon, Ryle, Gerstner, and John Murray
Repentance and faith are inseparable, neither has priority. Like Siamese twins.
B. Relational Considerations
1. Response to Calvin
Calvin protected sola fide, but his deficiency is that he included repentance in transformative sanctification.
2. Response to the Marrow Men
There is no need to make repentance follow faith if repentance is properly defined.
3. Response to the Sandemanians (and Easy-Believism)
Easy believism leads to spurious professions of faith and is a gospel of cheap grace.
4. Response to Dabney, Pink, and Lloyd-Jones
Teaching that repentance is prior to faith can be a from of neonomianism - making the gospel into a new law.
5. Response to Shepherd
Shepherd imports good works into repentance and a makes repentance a condition of justification.
Faith and repentance are inseperable. Sola fide is preserved when faith is held to be repentant faith that turns from sin, and repentance is understood to be believing repentance that turns to God for the mercy and salvation that are freely offered to sinners in the gospel.
Monday, December 13, 2010
David Gregson on 'The 1611 English Bible: An Unlikely Masterpiece'
1. A 1000 years of the Bible in Latin in England.
Pre-Tyndale there was no complete Bible in England. According to John Wycliffe the main problem facing the English Church of his day was lack of faith in the Bible. He translated portions of Scripture from the Latin Vulgate into English. Even that was regarded as an act of sedition.
The Constitustions of Oxford 1409, made reading the Bible in English a crime punishable by death.
The ad fontes emphasis of the Renaissance saw a renewed interest in the original Bible languages, Hebrew and Greek.
The invention of Caxton's printing press in 1476 would enable the easy dissemination of the Bible in English.
The Reformation, beginning 1517, with the posting of Luther's 95 Theses, stimulated Bible translation, giving the Word of God back to the people of God.
2. Revolution brought about by Tyndale's translation of Bible into English
William Tyndale was persecuted by the authorities for wanting to translate the Bible into English. He fled to Europe, where he was translated the New Testament and a large part of the Old Testament into English before his arrest and execution in 1536.
Today we have a plethora of translations. We should be grateful that we live after 1611.
3. Other English translations of the Bible into English
Miles Coverdale completed Tyndale's work, finishing the translation of the Old Testament into English. The Matthew's Bible incorporated the work of Tyndale and Coverdale. As Tyndale died he prayed, "Lord open the king of England's eyes". His prayers were answered when Henry VIII proclaimed that a copy of The Great Bible, largely based on Tyndale's translation should be placed in every parish church in England.
The Geneva Bible was produced by English Protestants taking refuge in Geneva during the reign of Queen Mary. It was a study Bible, containing diagrams, maps and a commentary on the text of Scripture. It became the Bible of the Puritans. The Bishop' s Bible, an Anglican translation was a failure.
4. Hampton Court conference that led to 1611 translation of the Bible
The Puritans lobbied King James I for Church reform. The king chaired conference. Bishops were against further reform. It seemed that there were to be no gains for the Puritans. Then John Reynolds suggested a new translation of the Bible. The king agreed. The best Hebrew and Greek scholars in the land were tasked with making a fresh translation.
5. The six companies of translators and the rules they had to follow
The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge supplied two companies each. Another two were based in London.
The translators had to work in accordance with the King's rules - 15 instructions, including:
The Bishop's Bible was to be followed unless Hebrew or Greek demanded revision.
No marginal notes. James disliked the Geneva Bible because its notes seemed to legitimise the overthrow of kings.
Old ecclesiastica words like 'church' rather than 'congregation' and 'bishop' rather than 'overseer' were to be retained from the Bishop's Bible.
6. Some of the translators
Lancelot Andrews was a learned man, but a poor pastor. The Seperatist Henry Barrow was executed after being interrogated by Andrews.
Lawrence Cheriton was president of Emmanuel College, Oxford. He was a powerful preacher. Once, after speaking for almost two hours, he proposed to stop, but was urged, 'for God's sake, go on'.
7. Final touches to 1611 English Bible
The translation was carefully checked. According to Miles Smith's preface, the aim was to 'Make a good translation better.' His Bible quotes were from the Geneva Bible, not 1611 translation.
8. Use of the Received Text
Based on Erasmus' Greek New Testament.
9. The English used by translators on 1611 Bible
The translators were experts in Classical Greek, hence the elegance and excellence of the 1611 Bible. But the New Testament was in the more common koine Greek. The translators' literary style included many Latinisms. The words 'church' and 'charity', were used rather than 'congregation' and 'love'. The use of 'thee' and 'thou' was declining by 1575, but the translators retained these archaic forms over 'you'.
10. How 1611 replaced Geneva Bible.
James I banned the printing of the Geneva Bible. Archbishop William Laud suppressed the Geneva translation. By the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the 1611 Bible had surged ahead of the Geneva Bible. USA settlers took the 1611 version with them to the New World.
11. 1611 Never authorised
The word 'authorised' was not used in relation to the 1611 Bible until 1824.
12. An unlikely masterpiece
Despite its origins in the failed (from the Puritan point of view) Hampton Court Conference, and the doubtful character of some of the translators, the 1611 Bible was a masterpiece that had a massive impact on the religious life of the English speaking peoples of the world and English language. It's phrases are now part of everyday speech, 'Am I my brother's keeper?', 'sown the wind, reap the whirlwind', 'signs of times', 'looking unto Jesus'. Interestingly, most of these examples derive from Tyndale.
With next year marking the 400th anniversary of the publication of the 1611 Bible, we should certainly thank God for this landmark translation of his Word into English.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Guy Davies on 'Puritan Attitudes Towards Rome Revisited'
I won't try and summarise my own paper, but here is an excerpt.
II. ‘A very naughty business’: John Owen’s ‘Guide in differences of religion between Papist and Protestant’
I have chosen John Owen as my exemplar of Puritan attitudes towards Rome partly because he devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to the controversy. Besides, I think that it might be best to interact in some depth with one Puritan thinker rather than take a more diffuse approach. Owen’s basic attitude to controversy with Rome is almost as instructive as what he actually had to say.
Owen’s main anti-Roman writings may be found in Volume 14 of his Works. The majority of that volume is taken up with Animadversions on Fiat Lux and its sequel, Vindication of the Animadversions on Fiat Lux. Volume 14 also includes a shorter piece, The Church of Rome no Safe Guide. In the Animadversions Owen engages in controversy with John Vincent Cane, a Franciscan Friar. In 1661 Cane published his Fiat Lux . It was a blatant attempt to take advantage of the recent upheavals in Protestant England in order to try and win the country back to Rome. His argument ran something like this: “Just look at what has happened to your once peaceful land since leaving the Roman Catholic fold. You Protestant Christians have divided into mutually hostile camps. The nation has been torn apart by religious unrest, Civil War, revolution and regicide. Come back to Rome and all will be well. You know it makes sense.”
The restoration of the monarchy, with Charles II returning to England in 1660, did not succeed in healing old wounds. In the aftermath of the Civil War there were bitter recriminations for the Puritans. The newly installed pro-king, pro-Church of England authorities set about mercilessly persecuting their Puritan fellow Protestants. Cane chose his time well. The opportunity seemed right for his Roman propaganda.
In a sense, Cane’s Fiat Lux was the English equivalent to Cardinal Sadoleto’s Letter to Geneva. Sadoleto sought to exploit the troubles and tensions in Geneva that led to the banishment of John Calvin to woo the city back to Rome. Famously, the exiled Calvin was prevailed upon to answer the Cardinal on behalf of Protestant Geneva. It is a mark of John Owen’s recognised theological clout that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Clarendon sent him a copy of Cane’s Fiat Lux, requesting that the divine answer it on behalf of Protestant England.
ii. John Owen’s Reformed Catholic Attitude Towards Rome
Although he was willing to take on John Vincent Cane , the veteran Puritan minister was no anti-Roman sectarian. In common with many Puritan polemicists, Owen regarded Protestants as the true Catholics. It is instructive that early Puritan, William Perkins’s anti-Roman work was entitled A Reformed Catholique.
Richard Sibbes expressed the typical Puritan thinking on catholicity,
Then, if the question be, which is the catholic truth – Popery or our religion – I say not Popery, but our religion. That which ‘without controversy,’ all churches have held from the apostles’ time…that is catholic.
The problem was that Rome had added its own inventions to the Catholic faith and had therefore become less than Catholic in its teachings. Not for the Puritans what seems to be the view of many contemporary Evangelicals that after the close of the New Testament era, church history all but ground to a halt, only to begin again in 1517 at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Owen was steeped in the creedal heritage of the church. His Trinitarian theology was unashamedly that of the Council of Nicaea. His understanding of the Person of Christ was shaped by the Definition of Chalcedon. Owen was well read in the Church fathers, especially Augustine.
It is sometimes suggested that John Calvin and those who were faithful to his legacy rejected wholesale medieval scholastic thought. However, while Calvin was critical of the speculative excesses of the schoolmen, he drew freely on the resources of scholastic theology in developing some of his key ideas. Similarly, John Owen engaged with scholastic theology and made eclectic use of medieval Catholic literature in his own constructive theological work. In opposing Arminianism he deployed the anti-Pelagian arguments of great medieval schoolman, Thomas Aquinas and others in the Dominican tradition.
In addition, Owen knew what was going on in the world of 17th century Roman Catholic theology. He made a careful study of the controversy between the Augustinian Jansenists and the Semi-pelagian Jesuits. One of the foremost defenders of post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism was Robert Bellarmine. Owen’s extensive library contained a well thumbed set of Bellarmine’s works. In short, he knew what he was talking about when it came to controversy with Rome. Carl Trueman rightly argues that John Owen,
deserves to be taken seriously as a leading proponent not simply of English Puritanism…nor simply of Reformed Orthodoxy, but of the ongoing Western anti-Pelagian and Trinitarian tradition that stretched back from the seventeenth century, past the Reformation, though the Middle Ages, and back to the writings of the early church Fathers.
Accordingly, Owen carefully scrutinised Roman doctrine in the light of Scripture. But also he endeavoured to out-Catholic the Roman Catholics by appealing to the church fathers in order to show that distinctive Roman doctrines such as the universal authority of the pope were not in fact Catholic teachings, that is doctrines that Christians everywhere and at all times had believed. He argued that the Roman Catholic Church was divisive and schismatic in its attempt to foist its distinctive dogmas on all Christian churches.
In his interaction with Cane, Owen does not adopt the stance of a bitter Protestant polemicist, gleefully exposing Romish errors almost for the fun of it. Sometimes he betrays a little irritation with his interlocutor, but on the whole his tone is calm and reasoned. On occasion the great divine even permits himself a little ironic humour. Remarking on this William Goold, editor of Owen’s Works writes in a Prefatory Note to the Vindication, “he reminds us in his humour of the cumbrous gambols of the whale.” In dealing with Cane’s claim that the Roman Catholic Church had never fallen into error he summarises his opponent’s argument like this,
The Roman church did never at any time adhere to any opinion, but what the Roman church at that time adhered unto.
If you will forgive the mixed metaphors, in his dealings with Cane Owen resembles an indulgent cat toying with an overconfident mouse. But this feline divine has sharp teeth and pointed claws. When roused the old Puritan could be devastatingly incisive in dealing with his opponent’s weak arguments.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Duffy and Haigh
1. Re-examination of the state of church
Anticlericalism in England not as popular as once thought. There was no great cry for reform of the pre-Reformation English Church. The Church was part of everyday life for most people.
2. Slow speed of the English Reformation
The Reformation took time to settle in because it was not generally embraced by the masses.
3. Mary's reign was more successful that thought
Mary was a competent monarch. England was more conservative than once believed. People were happy to revert to Rome under Mary's reign.
1. The traditional Protestant view was not necessarily right. The Whig school of history suggested that the English naturally embraced Protestantism, gladly throwing off the Roman yoke for the sake of the liberty of England. The idea that the English were 'naturally' Protestants, embracing the gospel and wanting reform is based on an overly optimistic view of human nature.
After the reign of Mary, the Elizabethan Act of Settlement, which made the country Protestant once more was won by only 21-18 votes in Lords. Unlikely victory for Protestantism more an act of God than historical inevitability due to the essential English character.
Older Protestant views of the Reformation are distorted by the revisionists. The older writers did not exaggerate poor state of church prior to Reformation.
Anticlericalism was present prior to the Reformation, but there was no universal outcry against the Church as such. Anticlericalism did not amount to Protestantism - witness Erasmus.
The Roman Catholic Church was part of the fabric of people's everyday lives. Some parishes were conservative, others were more reformist.
Desire for reform was disproportionately represented in the political power base of England.
2. The historical study of wills made during the period of the English Reformation can lead to misleading conclusions. It is possible to tell whether a person was Catholic or Protestant by their will, whether Mary and saints mentioned or not etc. Wills underestimate the progress of the Reformation movement amongst young.
The impact of Bible. According to Duffy, the Roman faithful had Harmonies of the Gospels. They knew Bible stories through stained glass windows. But the harmonies were more about Mary than Christ. It has also been pointed out that it is difficult to explain the message of Romans in a stained glass window. 20,000 English Bibles were printed in 1534. As people read their Bibles they began to notice discrepancies between the Roman dogma purgatory and the teaching of Scripture. Also the Bible does not have Rome's great focus on Mary.
Preaching. In 1570 not many clergy could preach. By 1584, 400 or more preachers were produced by Cambridge University. The Oxbridge Universities were rapidly becoming seminaries for preachers who proclaimed the Protestant message.
English Protestant identity was reinforced by events like the Spanish Armada of 1588. Defeat of the Armada was widely celecrated. Charles I attempts at re-Romanising England were strongly resisted. One of the factors that led to the Civil War. All this indicates that the English Reformation went deeper than the revisionists suggest.
3. Mary's attempt at Re-Romanising England was a model counter-Reformation experiment. It is no defence that Mary may have been a competent ruler. She could have been wrong, but competent. Archbishop Pole made massive efforts to re-Romanise England. Roman propaganda, coercion and persecution of Protestants. The Reforation was too deep deep seated to be easily reversed. Elizabeth may have put dissidents to death, but Mary oversaw the most intense religious persecution in the 16th century. Elizabeth had dissidents put to death for political subversion. Mary had Protestants martyred for their faith. The grim industrial efficiency of her reign of terror does not count in her favour.
At the heart of the revisionists' attempt re-rewrite the English Reformation is a theological disagreement. Mary's actions were sinful. She took a stand against gospel.
Is the Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Their argument is that Rome has changed. Differences remain, but not so serious as to prevent co-operation between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.
Claimed that 2/3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is agreeable to Evangelicals. But we must respond to Rome as a complete system, not just cherry pick the bits with which we agree. Evangelicals and Catholics Together fudges justification by faith alone. No alone. Debates on justification not regarded as too important. J. I. Packer says that we are not justified by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That is true in a sense, but what might be true on individual level is not true of Roman church as a whole. The Reformation is not over.
ECT is ecumenism of trenches. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics against secularism. But our enemy's enemy is not our friend. The gospel must define with whom we have fellowship on an ecclesial level.
ECT gives little attention to the Mass. Seen as a mistake and irrelevance, not for what it is, an act of idolatry.
Simply reverting to the English Reformation of the 16th century is problematic
1. It was Reformation by Parliamentary Statute.
2. The Church of England was only church allowed and Protestant dissent was stamped out.
3. The Reformation in England was unsatisfactory. Cranmer wanted to further revise the Prayer Book to make worship more like the Genevan pattern, but did not succeed. Puritans wanted dynamic reform, but they were blocked.
4. The situation in modern day UK is not like the 16th century, but more like 1st - paganism, pluralism etc.
5. Beware of an unhealthy Reformation antiquarianism. We must be concerned for gospel witness today.
6. The English Reformation spread by preaching. Consider the need to identify and prepare ministers, 2 Timothy 2:2.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Well, it's all over and done with now. I'll probably post some more detailed reports over the next few days, but here are a few thoughts on the conference.
It's difficult to know how my paper on Puritan Attitudes to Rome went, but the discussion that followed was quite lively and afterwards people made some encouraging comments. It was good to get it out of the way on Tuesday afternoon so I could sit back and enjoy the rest of the conference.
The theme was Standing Firm: Still Protestant?, and the need to be clear on the issues that divide Evangelicals from Rome was emphasised in a number of papers. Daniel Webber highlighted Evangelical weakness in this area at the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference, where Ango-Catholics were allowed undue influence over proceedings. Garry Williams' address on revisionist readings of the Reformation also brought the controversy with Rome into the picture. Sam Waldron gave a stimulating paper on sola fide and repentance.
But it wasn't all about the Reformation vs. Rome. David Gregson gave a delightful paper on the "unlikely masterpiece" that is the 1611 English Bible. The conference was brought to a fitting conclusion with Malcolm MacClean's heartwarming talk on Andrew Bonar.
Some might wonder whether concentration on the centuries old battle with Rome is relevant to contemporary Evangelical churches. But as the controversy is about getting the gospel right, it is doctrinal indifferentism to pretend that the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone are no longer worth fighting for. We can do no other.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
Some notes on the second of Paul Helm's talks at the recent Pastors' Forum.
1. The image of God was in some sense lost at the fall, but it is renewed in redemption, Colossians 3:9-10. Human nature disordered was by loss of image. This was the typical view of both the Reformers and medievals such as Aquinas.
2. Loss of the image left human nature entire, in a state of "pure nature". This was the later Roman Catholic view, but was opposed by Augustinian Jansenists such as Paschal.
The Westminster Confession speaks of the "light of nature". Natural law is not on a track that is independent of revelation, but by the light of nature all human beings, have a sense of right and wrong. Loss of the image in the fall has to be qualified by Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9. Nevertheless, even if the image is not totally lost in the fall, the image as distorted by sin is restored in Christ.
Reformed attitudes towards the natural
His Christocentric approach left no room for natural theology. Witness his "Nien!" to Brunner's proposals on natural theology.
After the French revolution Western culture became overtly anti-God. In Kuyper's world and life view there is an antithesis between Christianity and culture. The idea of "pure nature" is an aberration.
Natural theology means autonomy from God and is Arminian.
The fall did not erase the knowledge of God, who reveals himself in both general and special revelation. Each human being has a sense of God. But the sensus divinitatis, perverted in false religion, still exists in every human heart. The light of nature is spoilt by sin, but it is not erased.
There is the earthly kingdom of this life and the kingdom of God. In the earthly kingdom, we have civil order and gifts of common grace such as the arts and sciences. The earthly kingdom has to do with temporal matters and the kingdom of God with eternal realities. The Christian lives in the kingdom of this world, subject to God's providential care, but he belongs to the heavenly kingdom. The Christian benefits from the gifts of common grace bestowed by God upon all humanity; music, medicine, maths, logical argumentation etc. In accordance with his negative view of nature, Kuyper set up Christian Universities in Holland and led the Christian Anti-Revolutionary Party. But there is no need for "Christian maths". For believer and unbeliever alike, 1 + 1 = 2. There can be no such thing as "the Christian view of politics", as politics belongs to the earthly kingdom, which is governed by the light of nature.
Amongst other things, a retrieval of Calvin's theology of nature will help to prevent believers ghettoising themselves by, if possible, solely using educational services, enjoying arts and studying sciences that are explicitly Christian in orientation. While only the special grace of God can save us and fit us for the heavenly kingdom, we have cause to be grateful for the rich gifts of common grace and the light of nature, which still shines in the heart of every human being.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Last Thursday I headed off to the Land of my Fathers for a Pastors' Forum meeting. The speaker was my good friend Paul Helm. The key theme that spanned all three of his talks was the relationship between nature and grace. Here are some notes on what he had to say.
Talk 1 - Athens and Jerusalem Revisited
A whistle stop tour of ancient Carthage, Jerusalem, Athens and Hippo.
Carthage, 200AD. Tertullian posed the question, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" He opposed a hybrid of Christianity and philosophy. Does this make him an irrationalist, fideist? No. He was not against reason, saying that Christianity is believable because it is rationally impossible. He warned against the hybridisation of the faith, not the use of reason per se. He recognised that at some points there was concord between faith and philosophy.
Is is possible to translate the faith into other thought forms?
To answer this question, Helm took us to the heart of our faith, the cross of Jesus. Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross, reading, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews", in Latin, Greek and Aramaic, John 19:19. The basic idea of Jesus being the King of the Jews was accurately conveyed in all three languages.
Language is at heart of the Christian faith, as is translation. Jesus' words as recorded in the Gospels were originally spoken in Aramaic, not Greek, but the New Testament gives us an accurate record of his speech. The gospel message, "This is the King of the Jews" is translatable because Christianity is an international faith. Abrahamic covenant, Genesis 12. Great Commission, Matthew 28. Pentecost, Acts 2.
Translation is problematic - John 19:19. Some meaning is lost as the words are translated into Latin, Greek and Aramaic. But NT Greek is adequate to give us access to Jesus' words, even though in translation nuances of meaning are lost and gained. Speakers of Latin, Greek and Aramaic may have had different ideas of kingship, but the basic the idea that Jesus was crucified as the King of the Jews was conveyed to all three language groups by Pilate's inscription. Whatever fine nuances may have been lost in translation did not matter.
Cognitive meaning is conveyed in translation. Content test - "King of the Jews" means the same when translated into French and English. In translation the words are true in either language, because Jesus is the King of the Jews. The truth of gospel is true in other languages.
Postmodern obsession with context is a gross exaggeration. People of all all languages will cry, "Worthy is the Lamb". Is cultural context important? Yes and no. Cultural sensitivity is needed, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, yet as in John 19:19, the truth is essentially the same in any language and culture.
What of a culture that has no word for king? Translate, "Jesus is the CEO of the Jews"? Retain "king" in translation and explain what it means. Or appropriate a word that approximates "king" and extend its meaning. But this does not mean that Helm favours a "dynamic equivalence" approach to Bible translation. It is one thing for Christian apologists to attempt to translate the faith into the language and thought forms of a culture, but in Bible translation, the aim should always be an accurate as possible rendering of the original. This applies even if there is no equivalent concept in the language into which Scripture is being translated. If a people have no idea of snow (Isaiah 1:18), then it is the task of Christian teachers to explain that it is very white, cold stuff that falls from the sky.
From Jerusalem to Athens: Acts 17
A case of "natural theology". At Mars Hill Paul quoted pagan authors. In the pagan poets, what is true of God was misapplied to false gods. Since we are God's offspring, how can God be an idol, Acts 17:28-29? Paul's address involves a conceptual translation of Genesis 1, using the language of pagan poets. "Let us make man in our image", Genesis 1:26. "We are also his offspring", Acts 17:28. But the gospel is not translated, as Jesus' resurrection (Acts 17:31) had no counterpart in pagan thought.
In Book 7 of his Confessions, Augustine describes how he was delivered from Manichaeism by reading "certain books of the Platonists". By their writings he was freed from seeing God in physical, embodied terms. The Platonists, by which he probably meant Plotinus, taught him that God is an immortal Spirit. Augustine begain to understand the creature-creator distinction more clearly and now saw sin a defect, rather than in the dualist terms of the Manichees. This did not make him a Christian, but he became convinced of the existence of the true God through the Platonists. Plotinus even helped Augustine in his reading of Scripture. The philosopher wrote of the One producing a second hypostasis as the sun produces light. Augustine saw John 1:1-5 as the biblical counterpart of Plotinus' writings. In fact the philosopher was trying to defend Platonism against Christianity, but Augustine was willing to "spoil the Egyptians" by using the insights on the philosophers in the service of faith seeking understanding. However, the theologian was not carried away by all this. He knew of both convergences and divergences between Christianity and philosophy. Plotinus knew nothing of the Son being of the same essence of the Father who had begotten him, Word becoming flesh, or of Jesus saving sinners by his death on the cross. God has hidden these things from the wise and the prudent (Matthew 11:25), who, professing themselves to be wise, became fools, (Romans 1:22). I suppose that in a similar way, a modern day sceptic might be delivered from his atheism by reading a scientific critique of Darwinism. He might then come to believe in the existence of a Creator, but he would still need to hear and respond in faith to the gospel in order to become a Christian believer.
The gospel can be communicated in different cultural contexts. It is permissible to translate faith into a culture when there are cognitive equivalents, but no further. Liberal theology eliminates the historical singularities of the faith; the incarnation, atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ, in an attempt to make Christianity culturally acceptable. This is not an option if we wish to be faithful to the biblical gospel. However, "natural theology" may provide common ground between the Christian and the non-believer and so give us a point of entry for the gospel.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
But the story of Evangelicalism in the last thirty years is not all bad news. One of the encouraging features of the Evangelical scene in the UK has been the recovery of the Reformed faith. Amongst other factors, the resurgence was heralded by the writings of A. W. Pink, the preaching of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the theological teaching of John Murray, and publications of the Banner of Truth Trust .
We are now well into a second generation of Reformed preachers and churches who did not come under the direct influence of the likes of Lloyd-Jones. There are presently literally hundreds if not thousands of Reformed preachers and congregations in the UK, not to mention the widespread recovery of the doctrines of grace in the States. Reformed Christianity is now a well established part of the Christian landscape in Great Britain, with many conferences, publishers and movements seeking to strengthen the cause.
For the first generation engaged in the recovery of Reformed theology there was the excitement and joy of new discovery. Now we are seeing men and women who have been involved in Reformed churches for the whole of their Christian lives. The present generation needs to appreciate afresh the sheer wonder and grandeur of the Reformed vision of the Triune God of sovereign grace. But theological recovery is not enough. Calvinistic doctrine is of little use if it does not lead to its proponents living vibrant godly Christian lives that adorn the truth as it is in Jesus.
It is often suggested that Calvinism has a stultifying effect on the evangelistic effort of the churches. But out of love for the lost and zeal for the glory of God in the salvation of the sinners, many Reformed churches are giving fresh emphasis to evangelism, and church planting. As well as traditional means of outreach like door-to-door work, literature distribution, open air preaching, and special evangelistic services, in recent years, many churches have run courses like Christianity Explored. We need to pray that the Lord will make these activities effective in the salvation of many in our day.
We have reflected on the recent history of Evangelicalism. Does Evangelicalism have a future? Only in so far as it holds to the evangel revealed in Holy Scripture that was recovered at the Reformation. The triune God of the Gospel is still mighty to save sinners and revive his work in our time. Ultimately the future of Evangelicalism is in God's hands. "Revive your work, O Lord in the midst of the years!"