Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Great Evangelical Identity Crisis continued...

My article, The Great Evangelical Identity Crisis (1980-2010) was published in this month's The Gospel Truth Magazine. I posted the first part of the piece on the blog back in September, here. This is how it continues,

Evangelicalism contested

With the redefinition of Evangelicalism has come a loss of theological coherence in the Evangelical movement. Doctrines that could once be taken for granted as hallmarks of Evangelical teaching have been disputed by those who claim to belong to the Evangelical camp. Steve Chalke caused a furore of controversy when he likened penal substitutionary atonement to “cosmic child abuse”. John Stott questioned the traditional Evangelical teaching on the eternal, conscious punishment of the wicked . J. I. Packer has been at the forefront of Evangelicals and Catholics together, a movement that aims at rapprochement between Evangelicals and Rome. Andrew McGowan recently argued that we should reject biblical inerrancy in favour of a reworked concept of infallibility. Others are looking longingly in the direction of Karl Barth for theological inspiration that is Reformed, but not as we know it . The so-called Emerging Church, associated with Brian McLaren, has regrettably sacrificed faithfulness to the truth in the name of engaging postmodern culture. If certain sectors of Evangelicalism are no longer centred on the biblical evangel, and others are busily picking away at Evangelical distinctives, then it is no surprise that the movement is beginning to lose its identity.

Reformed recovery

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.

Both in the UK and the USA, the resurgence of the Reformed faith has crossed the dividing line between traditional Calvinistic churches and the Charismatic movement. This has had an impact on the worship style adopted at Together for the Gospel and other big conferences. We can see something similar happening in the UK at New Word Alive. New Frontiers Charismatics gather with Free Church and Anglican Evangelicals to hear the likes of Don Carson against the backdrop of Charismatic style worship. It is a good thing that Charismatics are being drawn to the doctrines of grace. But there are still some differences between the traditional Reformed Churches and our Reformed Charismatic brethren. The use of noisy music groups, song leaders and other accouterments of Charismatic worship is one of them, not to mention the issue of the continuation or not of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. I'm not saying that fellowship with Calvinistic Charismatics should be curtailed, but real differences should not be swept under the carpet.

Rather worryingly, there is a danger of traditional Reformed churches in the UK fragmenting over issues that are important, but not of the essence Calvinism such as Bible translations and the singing of recently composed hymns. Progressives need to be reminded of the value of being grounded in the theological and spiritual heritage of the Reformed faith. Friends with a more retrospective mindset need to heed the challenge of bringing the gospel to the contemporary world. The needs of the age are too urgent for us to be wasting energy on in-fighting, when we should be pooling our resources for the cause of the gospel in our land.

Evangelical future

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!"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Rome's "damnable plus"

See here for D. M. Lloyd-Jones on Roman Catholicism. Here is a flavour of his address:

[Rome] is indeed a form of the antichrist, and it is to be rejected, it is to be denounced; but above all it is to be countered. And there is only one thing that can counter it, as I said at the beginning, and that is a biblical, doctrinal Christianity. A Christianity that just preaches "Come to Christ" or "Come to Jesus" cannot stand before Rome for a second. Probably what that will do ultimately will be to add to the numbers belonging to Rome.

We must warn them. There is only one teaching, one power, that can stand against this horrible counterfeit; it is what is called here "the whole armor of God".

It is a biblical, doctrinal, theological presentation of the New Testament truth. That was how it was done in the sixteenth century. Luther was not just a superficial evangelist, he was a mighty theologian; so was Calvin; so were all of them. It was that great system of truth, worked out in its details and presented to the people, that undermined and even shook the Church of Rome. Nothing less than that is adequate to meet the present situation. Christian people, your responsibility is terrible. You must know the truth, you must understand it, you must be able to counter false teaching.

Christian people, your responsibility is terrible. You must know the truth, you must understand it, you must be able to counter false teaching.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

He gives his beloved sleep

I don't know why, but the other day I was thinking about what the Bible has to say about sleep. I think therefore I blog, so here is an attempt to sketch out a biblical theology of sleep.

1. The Lord caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam

The first reference to sleep in the Bible is found in Genesis 2:21-22. God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam in order to conceal from him the mysterious moment when the Lord removed one of his ribs, closed up his flesh and then "built" the woman from the rib. Adam fell asleep a single man, all alone in the world, bereft of human companionship. He awoke to find the woman whom the Lord had created from his side, "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh". She had come from his flesh and in the bond of marriage they two would become one flesh once more. Whatever Adam had dreamt of in his deep sleep, the reality of seeing the woman before him, shaped by the hand of God must have been more than a dream come true.

2. Good sleep

A good night's sleep is a gift of God. David reflects on this in Psalm 3:5-6 cf. Proverbs 3:24. There he was, on the run from his rebel son, Absalom. Yet the psalmist could rest peacefully knowing that "Salvation belongs to the Lord." (Psalm 3:8). The anxious workaholic knows nothing of this. He rises up early and sits up late, trying in vain to build his own house. But those who trust in God the Builder are blessed with sleep, Psalm 127:2. Jeremiah slept sweetly when he dreamt of the the redemption of Israel and Judah, Jeremiah 31:26. When feeling troubled unable to sleep, we should remind ourselves that the Lord "replenishes every sorrowful soul." (Jeremiah 31:25). But we can only sleep well if we are right with God and other people, hence Paul's injunction Ephesians 4:26.

3. Bad sleep

David also knew what it was to experience restless nights, Psalm 6:6-7. Sometimes it was a sense of sin and guilt that drove sleep from his eyes as day and night the Lord's hand was heavy upon him. He would only find rest when he confessed his sin and experienced God's forgiveness, Psalm 32:3-5. Too much sleep is a form of laziness and will only lead to poverty, Proverbs 6:9-11. The disciples' drowsiness when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane earned them repeated rebukes from their Master, Mark 14:37-38, 41. Paul urges spiritually drowsy Christians to "awake out of sleep", Romans 13:11-14, and "awake to righteouness and do not sin", 1 Corinthians 15:34. The world is asleep to the prospect of the day of the Lord, but this is not to be the case with the believer, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8.

4. Jesus slept

The fact that human beings together with many other creatures need to sleep is a reminder of our creatureliness and frailty. Unlike God we are not possessed of boundless energy and infinite power. After the labours of the day we need rest to replenish our stores of energy. It is testimony to the reality of Jesus' humanity that it is recorded that he slept. Granted that on occasion he would spent all night in prayer, (Luke 6:12), we are also told that he fell asleep. In fact his sleep was once so deep that not even a terrible storm at sea  disturbed his rest. The Father gave his beloved Son untroubled sleep and it took the cries of his terrified disciples to rouse him. The fact that he who had just been fast asleep arose and calmed the storm with his commanding word prompted his followers to ask, "Who can this be, that even the winds and waves obey him?" (Matthew 8:23-27).

5. The sleepy God

We are assured that "He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:4). But it can sometimes seem like the Lord is asleep and unconcerned about the lot of his afflicted people. This prompts the psalmist to cry out, "Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord?" (Psalm 44:23 cf. Isaiah 51:9).

6. Eschatological sleep

Death is described as "sleep" in Psalm 13:3. Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps", meaning "Lazarus is dead",  John 11:11, 14. Paul describes the death of believers as "sleep" 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This does not entail so-called "soul sleep" where it is held that believers are in an unconscious state in heaven. But it does suggest that in death the soul of the believer is at rest, Revelation. 14:13. I love the way Luke describes Stephen's death in Acts 7. The faithful martyr announces that he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  The crowd howls for his blood. Rocks rain down on his body. Yet his last words are of forgiveness, after which he peacefully "fell asleep". (Acts 7:59-60). In describing the death of the Christian as "sleep", the Bible points to the resurrection hope when the bodies of believers will arise from their graves as from their beds, Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2-3, cf. John 5:28-29.

Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.
(Ephesians 5:14).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Light from the Dark Ages

Lord, I acknowledge and I thank you that you has created me in this your image, in order that I may be mindful of you, may conceive of you, and love you; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except you renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, --that unless I believed, I should not understand. (Anselm, Proslogion).
In an interview with Carl Trueman I asked him a couple of questions on the value of church history:
GD: So, you're a church historian. What's the point of knowing all that old stuff?

CT: Christianity is an historical religion. It is only as we understand the past, how the Bible's teaching has been transmitted to us through history, that we can truly understand the significance of our position in the present. To be clueless about history is to absolutise the present. I think Karl Marx put it nicely: men make history, but they do not make the history that they choose. We are, individually and corporately, determined to an extent by the past; learning about that past liberates us.

GD: Well, I can see that the Early Church Fathers with their creeds and that are important, and the Reformation just rocks. But who cares about the Medievals, weren't they all just monks and popes or something?

CT: I used to think that; but study of post-Reformation Protestantism (that of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) has convinced me that much of what is basic to our Christian doctrine in the Reformed tradition (e.g., the nature of God, necessity, predestination etc) was self-consciously appropriated by the Reformed from medieval theology. After all, why reinvent the wheel? If good arguments on these points were made in the Middle Ages, it would be foolish not to use them.
The questions were a little 'tongue in cheek', but I think the second one fairly represents the attitude of many Evangelicals  to the medieval period of church history. Trueman's answer hints at why we should give more respectful attention to the theologians of the Middle Ages.

In his book Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a former Catholic (Zondervan, 2009), Chris Castaldo discusses the "ditch" theory of church history as illustrated in the diagram below. Once again the suggestion (with which Castaldo disagrees) is that not much is to be learned from the "ditch" of compromise and heresy which into which the medieval Church had fallen.

However, as Trueman points out, the Reformers and those who followed in their wake were willing to learn from medieval theologians and utilise their best insights in the service of the Reformed faith. In his 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part Two: The Middle Ages, (2000, Grace Publications), Nick Needham includes a preface "For Evangelicals who find the Catholic Middle Ages hard to understand". He acknowledges that Evangelicals will have problems with some aspects of the medieval Church, but he sees the Reformation not so much as a rejection of what went before but,
As an heir of the Reformation and a Church historian, I often find myself telling people that the great spiritual and theological movement set rolling by Luther and Zwingli was in fact the best elements of Western medieval Christianity trying to correct the worst elements. (p. 10).
With that in mind the other day I  purchased Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, Oxford World's Classics, Reissued 2008. Only £6.37 from It includes Monologion, Proslogion, and probably his most famous work, Why God Became Man. With Anselm helping my faith seeking understanding, I look forward to receiving light from the 'Dark Ages'. Also along these lines, have a look at Paul Helm's recent post on Aquinas on Predestination and his thougths on Anselm's Perfect Being Theology.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gottschalk of Orbais a medieval "Five Point Calvinist"

Indeed, just as He [God] predestined all of the elect to life through the gratuity of the free grace of His kindness, as the pages of the Old and New Testaments very clearly, skillfully, and soberly show those seeking wisdom on this matter, so also He altogether predestined the reprobate to the punishment of eternal death, of course, through the most righteous judgment of His immutable justice. (Reply to Rabanus Maurus, Gottschalk of Orbias)
In his book, The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue! (reviewed here), Robert Reymond mentioned Gottschalk as one of the few medievals to have a clear conception of Paul's teaching on salvation by grace alone (see p. 68 & 82). I first came across Gottschalk (805-69) in Nick Needham's 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part Two: The Middle Ages, 2000, Grace Publications. Needham gives a potted summary of Gottschalk's controversial career. The son of a Saxon nobleman, Gottschalk was placed in the abbey of Fulda when a child. When he grew up his abbot, Rabanus Maurus refused to release him from his monastic vows. However, he allowed him to move to the monastery at Orbias in north eastern France. Gottschalk was an ardent disciple of Augustine of Hippo. His passionate teaching of Augustinian views on sin, grace and predestination got him into hot water with his old abbot, Rabanus. Eventually his doctrine was condemned at the council of Mainz in 848. Following that, his archbishop, Hincmar of Rheims deposed Gottschalk  from the priesthood, had him flogged within an inch of his life and imprisoned him in the monastery of Hautvilliers, where the turbulent monk spent the rest of his days.

All of the so-called "Five Points of Calvinism" later set out at the Synod of Dort were found in Gottschalk's teaching: The total depravity of man in sin, unconditional election to salvation and eternal life (and the reprobation of the non-elect), Christ died only for the elect or limited atonement, irresistibly effectual grace and the final perseverance of the saints.

Gottschalk was also a notable poet and Needham includes a translation of one of  his hymns,
Freely You created my by Your goodness;
Freely create me afresh, I pray and restore me to life!
Freely You bestow Your gifts, which is why we say they are "by grace".
O Holy Spirit, You bring instant life to those You breathe into:
Together with the Father and His Son, You thunder forth, govern and give light.
You increase and You quicken the faith
Which You grant to whomever You choose.
Gottschalk's teaching was championed by Remigius of Lyons, Florus of Lyons and Prudentius of Troyes. It just goes to show that even in the "Dark Ages" prior to the Reformation that the light of the gospel was not totally extinguished. Have a look at Francis X. Gumerlock essay on Gottschalk of Orbias: A Medieval Predestinarian. The Gottschalk Homepage also has lots of helpful material.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue! by Robert L. Reymond

The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it Must Continue!,
by Robert L. Reymond, Mentor, 2001, 155pp.

As the old saying goes, ‘You shouldn't judge a book by its cover'. And as far as this volume is concerned, the hoary cliche holds good. I mean, take a good look at the cover, ignoring the words for a moment. For starters it's purple, which alternates with pink as my teenage daughter's favourite colour. Then did you notice the little diamond motif? Everyone knows that diamonds are a girl's best friend. Taken together these two features might suggest that what we have here is a fine specimen of chick lit. But that ain't the case. Reymond is a bloke and his offering isn't about knitting, ponies or romance. So, you can't judge this book by its purple, diamondy cover. But you can judge it by it's subtitle, The Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue! Did you get that? It's not The Reformation's Conflict... What was all that About? or Why it was a bad thing and should Stop! Oh no, unlike some Evengelicals,  Robert Reymond wants the conflict to continue. 'Why on earth is that?' You might ask. I'm not telling you.

Seeing as this is ostensibly a book review, you might expect me to attempt to summarise Reymond's monograph and offer an appraisal of his efforts. But, no. I'm not even going to use the review as an excuse to dilate on the subject in hand with some thoughts of my own. Not this time. What I'm going to do is list the kind of people who should give serious attention to this book. So, here goes:

If you think that the Reformation's conflict with Rome is is about as relevant today as a mobile phone that doesn't take photos, then you should read this book.

If you think that the difference between the Reformers and Rome on justification by faith alone or justification by faith plus works is of little consequence to sinners in the light of the day of judgement, then you should read this book.

If you think that it doesn't matter that Rome elevates its traditions and the 'infallible' declarations of the pope to the same level as Scripture, then you should read this book.

If you think that recent Protestant attempts at rapprochement with Rome like Evangelicals and Catholics Together are a jolly good idea, then you should read this book.

If you think that the Reformation's alone's are not needed to preserve the integrity of the gospel against Rome's and's then toll lege, take and read.

Even if you are none of the above, this monograph will help you to see with fresh eyes the momentous difference between Rome and authentic biblical Christianity. Your vision of the gospel of free grace will be clarified and enhanced. You too should read this book.

The trouble is, having said all that, the book is sadly out of print. You won't get a copy from the publisher, but has one left in stock and some new copies are available from the Amazon Marketplace. Failing that, you'll have to make do with a diseased secondhand copy. I mean, have you never sneezed while reading? Be brave. Even if you can only get a scabby used copy, take the risk and read this refreshingly honest account of the Reformation's Conflict with Rome: Why it must Continue!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Anselm on the death of Christ and the day of judgement

Reading Robert L. Reymond's The Reformation's Controversy with Rome: Why it Must Continue, (Mentor, 2001), I came across this quote from Anselm, the great medieval Archbishop of Canterbury. Reymond cites it to show that the doctrine justification by faith alone in Christ alone had not entirely disappear in the Dark Ages. (Quoted on p. 76 - see note 75). Anselm is writing to console the dying who, conscious of their sins, feared appearing before God on the day of judgement.
Question: “Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus died for thee?”
Answer: “I believe it.”

Question: “Dost thou thank Him for His passion and death?
Answer: “I do thank Him.”

Question: “Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved except by His death?”
Answer: “I believe it.”

And then Anselm addresses the dying man:

“Come then, while life remaineth in thee; in His death alone place thy whole trust; in naught else place any trust; to His death commit thyself wholly; with this alone cover thyself wholly; and if the Lord thy God will to judge thee, say, ‘Lord, between thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; no otherwise can I contend with thee.’ And if He shall say that thou art a sinner, say thou, ‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and thee.’ If He say that thou hast deserved condemnation, say, ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and thee, and Your merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’ If he say that He is wroth with thee, say, ‘Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Thy wrath and me.’ And when thou hast completed this, say again, ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Thee and me.’” (see Anselm, Opera (Migne), 1:686, 687)
Likewise, in his controversy with Franciscian Friar John Vincent Cane, John Owen cited the schoolman Ferus as saying, ‘If you desire to hold the grace and favour of God, make no mention of your own merits.'  He also reminded Cane of the example of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, who, on his death bed ‘renounced all merit of good works, as a proud figment, and gave himself up to the sole grace of God in Jesus Christ, on whose purchase of heaven for him he alone relied.’ Owen urged his opponent to likewise forsake his supposed merits and trust solely in the righteousness and blood of Christ as the grounds of his justification before God.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
(Ludwig von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Benedict XVI: Commander of the Faith by Rupert Shortt

Benedict XVI: Commander of the Faith,
by Rupert Shortt, Hodder and Stoughton, 2006, 164pp

Back in September the news agenda in the UK was dominated by the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI. Millions of Roman Catholics consider that this man "has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para. 882). I reflected on that claim as I saw the diminutive German formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger make his way into Westminster Abbey on the Friday of the Papal Visit. "Unhindered power over the whole Church", that's really something. No wonder, when the arcane process by which popes are appointed seemed to indicate that Ratzinger was in for the top job, did the Cardinal tell the Lord, "Don't do this to me." He didn't. The Lord Jesus alone has unhindered power over the whole Church, and he has not delegated his absolute authority to anyone else. Nevertheless, on becoming Pope Benedict XVI, in his own mind, as well as in the minds of the Roman Catholic faithful, Joseph Ratzinger became the Vicar of Christ and head of the Church. Power to pronounce infallibly on matters of Christian faith and practice  was suddenly in his hands.

Rupert Shortt isn't interested in the biblical legitimacy of papal power. Or if he is, he doesn't say so in this book. His aim rather is to give an account of the life and ecclesiastical career of the man who would be pope. Ratzinger is a fascinating figure. He rose to prominence as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, slapping down pinko liberals and silencing liberation theologians. But during the 1960's he was allied with radicals like Hans Kung and Karl Rahner. Together with these men Ratzinger was an advocate for change  in the Roman Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council (1962). However, as the 60's drew on, Ratzinger's thinking began to alter. He became more attracted to the Augustinian vision of Hans Urs van Balthazar over and against Kung and Rahner's Thomist synthesis. Also, changes in the modern world signalled by student unrest at Tubingen, where Ratzinger was a member of the Catholic theology faculty, suggested that perhaps Rome's post Vatican II openness to the world wasn't such a good idea after all.

The die was cast. Ratzinger distanced himself from his old radical friends and looked on in horror at what had become of the Roman Catholic Church since the heady days of the early 1960's. After a succession of academic posts, in 1977 he was appointed Archbishop of Munich, before Pope John Paul II made him the Rome's heresy hunter-in-chief as Prefect for the Doctrine of the Congregation of the Faith (1981-2005). As Prefect Ratzinger would arise to defend the teachings of the Church in a rapidly changing world. It has to be said that Evangelical Protestants will have some sympathy with Ratzinger in a number of the battles he fought to maintain Rome's historic teachings. A cause celebre was that of Charles Curran, who taught at an American Catholic University. He openly questioned the Church's line on contraception and pre-marital sex. While Evangelicals don't have a problem with non-abortifacient birth control, on biblical grounds, we certainly don't believe in sex before marriage. Ratzinger had Curran's licence to teach in a Catholic University removed. He silenced those who wanted to see the Church take a more accommodating stance towards homosexuality. The Prefect also fought against the synthesis of Marx and the Bible that is liberation theology. Good on him. Although it is clear from his tone that Shortt doesn't approve of Ratzinger's hard line stance on these issues.

Protestants welcome the Roman Catholic Church's move towards worship in the vernacular since Vatican II. But attempts to render the the old Latin liturgy into English in the 1970's were viewed as disastrous by Ratzinger. Both in terms of excellence of language and theological emphasis, the new English translations left a lot to be desired. For example, one prayer ran "Lord, as we make this offering, may our worship in Spirit and truth bring us to salvation". Such Pelagian sounding sentiments rankled against the Cardinal's Augustinian theology and he insisted that the liturgy be revised to take these concerns into account.

But hang on a minute, before we get too excited, there is the matter of how Ratzinger attempted to undermine the Joint Declaration on Justification by the Holy See and the World Lutheran Federation. Central to the Declaration are the words,
By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts while equipping...and calling us to good works.
The Cardinal didn't like the sound of that. The CDF published a response to the accord arguing that the Lutheran doctrine of justification is incompatible with the Roman Catholic teaching on the consequences of baptism. Ratzinger was right. The Joint Declaration was a classic ecumenical fudge. Look again at the excerpt just quoted. The words, "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God" are a fine statement of traditional Protestant teaching. However, in the next bit the waters are muddied considerably, "and receive the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts while equipping...and calling us to good works." [emphasis added]. It is true that on being united to Christ the believer is declared right with God (justified) and inwardly transformed (regenerated). But in Roman teaching justification involves not only a forensic declaration, but also inward transformation. Justification so defined is received at baptism and is capable of being enhanced and improved by the meritorious good works of the faithful. That is plain  contrary to the Protestant and I would say biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, Galatians 2:16. In the end, the accord was ratified. But the controversy highlights the fact that the differences between Rome and the Reformation teaching on justification by faith alone have yet to be satisfactorily resolved. It is the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone,  in Christ alone that safeguards the Augustinian insistence that salvation is by grace alone.

When Pope John II, whom Ratzinger had served so loyally died in 2005, the issue of who would succeed him was brought before the red hatted cardinals. After several rounds of voting, white smoke emerged from the Vatican signaling that Joseph Ratzinger had been appointed Pope Benedict XVI. And so it was that one Friday back in September I witnessed the 'German Shepherd' enter Westminster Abbey, the papal ensign fluttering incongruously on the Abbey's flag pole. It might be questioned whether it was right for the pope to be accorded the high honour of a state visit to this constitutionally Protestant nation. But his repeated message on the importance of faith-based values in public life was surely to be welcomed. As an Evangelical Protestant I have more in common with the current pope, than with Liberal Protestants such as John Selby Spong and his ilk. Benedict, an able theologian, boldly refuses to allow the Church over which he presides to conform to the relativistic spirit of the age.

However, nothing changes the fact that on becoming pope this man abrogated to himself "unhindered power over the whole Church", an authority that belongs to Jesus Christ alone (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 1:22-23). His title "Holy Father" is an affront to God the Holy Father (John 17:11) and his title "Vicar of Christ" detracts from the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7, 13-14). Rome's anathemas continue to ring out against justification by faith alone. Right at the heart of the Roman system is the blasphemy of the Mass which denies the saving sufficiency of the once and for all sacrificial death of Christ. Where biblical Protestantism says "alone" - Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, Rome still says "and", Scripture and tradition, grace and merit, faith and works, Christ and Mary. God must share his glory with idols as Roman Catholics bow in worship before their sacred images. This is the anti-Christian system over which Benedict XVI rules as Supreme Pontiff. Shortt describes him as "Commander of the Faith". But the faith he commands isn't that which is revealed in Holy Scripture which is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the one and only Mediator between God and men.

Oh, and talking of Popes and Vatican Coincils, have a look at Charles Hodge's letter to Pope Pius IX, declining an invitation to attend Vatican I - here.

* Thanks to blog reader Adrian Sargent for kindly sending me a copy of this book.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

When God came to North Wales, Philip H. Eveson (editor)

When God came to North Wales,
Philip H. Eveson (editor), 2010, Quinta Press, 109pp.

In the busy foyer of the Aberystwyth Great Hall, thronged with people emerging from one of the Aber Conference morning meetings, I spied a man carrying a large pile of books. He spied me too and said, "You should buy one of these books." I replied, "If you let me have one for free, I'll review it on my blog." The man in question, the book's editor, Philip H. Eveson didn't like the sound of that. Off he scurried to deliver his precious load to the conference book shop.

After that encounter, whenever he saw me he enquired, "Bought my book yet?" I responded, "Let me have a freebie and I'll review it for you." I added that a review on Exiled Preacher would hopefully generate additional interest in his book and hence make for more sales. A sprat to catch a mackerel so to speak. He wasn't convinced, but I was prepared to be patient, 'slowly, slowly catchee monkey'. As my mother used to say, "Good things come to those who wait."

Anyway, one day Philip Eveson happened to pop into the conference Missions Exhibition, and got chatting to Jeremy Brooks, Protestant Truth Society Director of Ministries. JB was manning a stand on behalf of the PTS. Somehow the subject of PHE's book cropped up and JB asked the esteemed writer/editor to let me have a copy for review in the Protestant Truth magazine. Ha! My mum was right.

But now I'd managed to blag a copy of the book I had to find the time to read it. Quite a bit of my reading of late has been to do with my Westminster Conference Paper on Puritan Attitudes Towards Rome. I had Bob Letham's The Westminster Conference: Reading its theology in historical context  and Rupert Shortt's Benedict XVI: Commander of the Faith on the go (both now finished - the Letham title is reviewed here). Also, I had to read and review A Dictionary of European Baptist Life and Thought by 1st November, a whopping 500 pager.

Well, the other Wednesday I had to go to London for a meeting of the Kensit Trust. I travelled by train, meaning I had time to read on the way there and back. The dictionary was a bit heavy to lug around London so I took Tony Blair's A Journey and read the chapter on Northern Ireland and made a start on When God came to North Wales. The book is divided up into three main sections, Philip Eveson's chapter on The 1904-05 Revival in Rhos and Dictrict, The Rhos Herald Account, a translation of revival reports in a local newspaper of the time, and Revival in Bethesda by Dafydd Job.

I had listened to Philip Eveson give a paper on the Rhos revival at the 2004 Bala Ministers' Conference, but it was good to see the material in print and I enjoyed reading it on the train. He tells the story of a remarkable work of God in Rhossllanerchrugog, or Rhos for short. The 1904/05 Welsh Revival saw around 100,000 people converted and added to the churches. In popular memory the revival is associated with the name of Evan Roberts. Unlike previous revival leaders in Wales such as Daniel Rowland and David Morgan, Roberts wasn't first and foremost a preacher. It is therefore thought that the 1904/05 Welsh Revival was more dependent on Robert's charismatic personality and innovative methods than the powerful preaching of the Word. But that wasn't the case. Many South Wales revival leaders were preachers, notably W. W. Lewis of Carmarthen, Joseph Jenkins of New Quay and the evangelist Seth Joshua. Anyway, the revival in Rhos owed nothing to the ministry of Evan Roberts. The awakening began under the ministry of Baptist pastor R. B. Jones of Porth in the Rhondda Valley.

Jones had been invited to preach at a series of meetings at Penuel Chapel from 8 to 18 November 1904. At the start attendance at the meetings was a little disappointing, but by the end of the mission the Chapel was packed to capacity. Jones' preaching was mightily owned by the Lord. The people were gripped by a deep sense of the holiness of God, the vileness of sin and the greatness of salvation in Christ. Believers were overwhelmed by the presence of God. Many non-Christians were convicted of sin and brought to confess Christ as Saviour and Lord.

However, the revival was not dependent on the ministry of one man. The work continued after R. B. Jones left for home. The whole community felt the impact of this notable outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A new spirit of prayer came upon the churches. Denominational barriers were broken down. Notorious sinners were soundly converted. The revival spread from Rhos to neighbouring villages. The local press recorded the impact of this powerful work of grace in the district, reporting, 'The revival has now reached Coedpoeth... and Brymbo... and Cefn'. Visitors from elsewhere in the UK and beyond descended upon Rhos to experience the awakening first hand. It is reckoned that by the end of February 1905 that 1,338 people had been saved in Rhos alone. What an amazing work of grace!

On the following Thursday morning I had to take a family member to an orthodontist appointment in Bath. While waiting I got stuck into The Rhos Herald Account. It was moving to read the newspaper's enthusiastic reports of the revival meetings. But inclusion of this chapter means that there is an element of repetition in the book. Eveson's paper obviously draws on material from the Rhos Herald and while the translation contains additional information, much of  it will be familiar from his earlier piece. It might have been better if the Rhos Herald reports had been included as an appendix at the back of the book, rather than having them sandwiched between the chapters by Eveson and Job.

Yesterday I was off to London again, this time for the AGM of the Protestant Truth Society. Once more I travelled by train, meaning I could at last finish reading When God came to North Wales. Interestingly, Dafydd Job, author of the final chapter is the paternal grandson of John Thomas Job, a preacher powerfully used by God in the Bethesda revival. The village of Bethesda is overshadowed by the Snowdonia mountain range. At the turn of the last century it was also overshadowed by industrial unrest. The main source of employment for the men of the village was the Penrhyn Slate Quarry. The high handed quarry owner, Lord Penrhyn treated his workers badly, which led to a walk out, the Great Strike, which lasted from 1900-03. The strike plunged many families into poverty and men were forced to leave the village to seek work elsewhere. The unscrupulous Lord Penrhyn drafted in strike breaking "scab" labour to man his quarry. This caused huge resentment an bitterness in the close knit community. Even the Chapels were affected. On one occasion when a strike breaking "traitor" was about to take part in a service, the whole congregation left the building.

John Thomas Job, pastor of Carneddi Calvinistic Methodist Church in Bethesda was something of a national figure. He was a preacher-poet who had won the prestigious chair for his poetry at the National Eisteddford. However, tragedy struck in the Job household. The preacher's wife and three children all died within the space of three years (1899-1902). Job was cast upon the Lord, who gave him grace to bear up under all these trials. The preacher reflected on losing his last child, Etta, "He must have a glorious reason for all of this, or else I must throw my Bible overboard. But I'd rather drown with the Bible in my hand than live without it."

By the closing months of 1904 news had begun to filter through of an outpouring of the Spirit in New Quay, under the ministry of Joseph Jenkins. This led to to a renewed prayerfulness among believers and Job's preaching was marked with a fresh note of hope that the Lord was about to do a great work. Indeed he was. The bitterness occasioned by the Great Strike had exposed the evils of the human heart. When the Holy Spirit came in reviving power, Christians became aware of their sins and cried out for mercy. Those harbouring an unforgiving spirit were enabled to forgive others as they had been forgiven by the blood of Christ. Under the preaching of the Word by Job and others, a deep realisation of the love of God overwhelmed the people. The preacher wrote after one meeting, "Oh! The love of God in the Death of the Cross is awfully powerful!" During the revival, which lasted until the summer of 1905 members of the different Nonconformist Churches in the village met for times of united, fervent prayer. But the Anglican Church, to which most of the strike breaking workers belonged remained aloof from the revival. Nevertheless this work of the Spirit in the small Welsh village of Behesda was to have a lasting and beneficial impact upon the community.

The stirring account of  When God came to North Wales is a wonderful testimony to what the Lord can do. Revival is a sovereign work of God that cannot be worked up by human beings. But as Eveson reminds us in his concluding remarks on the Rhos revival, we are now living in the era of the Spirit. The Lord can break out in awakening power at any time. This thought should rouse us to pray without ceasing for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day.

With Christmas coming, you could add a request for this excellent little volume to your letter to Santa. Alternatively, order from Quinta Press.

* An edited version of this review will be published in a forthcoming edition of Protestant Truth.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Freedom Bill

I recently wrote to my local MP on the matter of the Freedom Bill. May I suggest, dear reader, that you go and do likewise.

I understand that the Coalition Government is proposing to introduce a Freedom Bill to restore civil liberties by repealing unnecessary laws. I welcome that move and would suggest that one such unnecessary piece of legislation is the outlawing of "insulting" words or behaviour in Section 5 of the Public Order Act. In a recent high profile case, Christian hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were charged with insulting behaviour under Section 5 on being reported to the police by a Muslim guest following a discussion of religious matters. The case was dismissed, but sadly Mr & Mrs Vogelenzang's hotel business never recovered.

While it is appropriate that Section 5 makes "threatening" and "abusive" conduct illegal, I don't believe that people should have the right not to feel insulted or offended when others disagree with their views. As it stands Section 5 has had a chilling effect on free speech. To give a number of examples, under the legislation a street preacher was arrested and spent eight hours in a police cell for expressing his views on homosexuality when asked what he thought about the matter by a Police Community Support Officer. Animal rights campaigners were threatened with arrest when protesting against seal culling using toy seals daubed with fake blood. A 16 year-old boy was arrested for holding a placard outside a Scientology centre which read, “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

Civil liberties groups Liberty and Justice as well as the Christian Institute (see their helpful briefing paper here) back the campaign to remove the word "insulting" from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Please will you do all you can to help ensure that this aspect of the legislation is repealed in the Freedom Bill.

Best wishes,

Guy Davies

Wednesday, November 03, 2010