Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart, by Harold L. Senkbeil

Some serious cases of pastoral abuse came to light in 2020. In February it was reported that Steve Timmis was removed from his role as Acts29 CEO following allegations of abusive leadership from members of staff. Acts29 President Matt Chandler announced, “For where we’re headed next, we needed to transition Steve out of this role.” 29 members of staff at Acts29 made written complaints about Timmis’ leadership style. They were dismissed from their jobs and forced to sigh NDAs to obtain severance packages.

Timmis also faced accusations of pastoral abuse in relation to his leadership role in The Crowded House Church, Sheffield. Reportedly Timmis sought to mentor and disciple his flock into a church that operated “24/7” and spanned all areas of life. A family was confronted by Timmins for not attending an impromptu church barbecue. Melvyn Tinker stopped working with Timmins over concerns about his controlling leadership style,  “If Steve is challenged in any way, which he always takes as a threat, then the tables are turned and the challenger is made out to be the one at fault,” said Tinker, who saw the same pushback emerge during the decade his son, Michael, was a member of Timmis’ church. “This is classic manipulation.” (Christian Today).

Following these allegations Timmis stepped back from leadership of The Crowded House Church. In April 2020 it was announced that The Crowded House has commissioned Thirtyone:eight to undertake an Independent Learning Review concerning the leadership of Church. They invited anyone who had been harmed by the leadership of the church to express this and for their experiences to be heard and considered. The review has now been published so lessons can be learned by the wider church community, see here. The Crowded House accepted the findings of the review, which found "evidence of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in the name of our Christian vision and ministry" here.

Why bring all this up in a book review? I certainly don't have an axe to grind when it comes to Steve Timmis and The Crowded House. He is but one example of pastoral malpractice in the Evangelical world, Yet men like Timmis and Mark Driscoll are often lionised within Evangelicalism as just the kind of leaders the church needs in the 21st Century. They embody a dynamic entrepreneurial leadership model that gets things done and quickly. 'Move fast and break things' is the motto of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but pastors are in the business of people, not things. Leaving a trail of broken people in our wake is not a price worth paying to make our church leadership vision a reality.

This emphasis just outlined has led to a subtle change in the the the way people describe Christian ministry. Talk of pastors, elders and deacons has been supplanted by ‘church leaders’, or the ‘church leadership team’. Business models of leadership have been appropriated. But we are not to model ourselves on highly driven bully-bosses like Steve Jobs. Our model is the Chief Shepherd of the sheep, who is meek and lowly in heart. Someone can be  a great communicator and well-regarded preacher. They are certainly ‘able to teach’. But the biblical qualities required for overseers focus more on character than communicative gifts, 1 Timothy 3:1-3, Titus 1:7. 

We need to get back to classic model of pastoral ministry; the cure of sin-broken souls through prayer, ministry of the word and the sacraments. Which is where The Cure of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart comes in. Senkbiel is a veteran Lutheran pastor with many decades of ministry experience. Brought up on a farm  the writer observes that a farmer will become so attuned to the rhythms of sowing and reaping and the needs of his livestock that they shape his habit of mind, his very character. The farmer knows that nature won't be rushed, Cultivating crops and  rearing animals takes time and attentive care. 

It's the same with pastoral work. Patience and watchfulness are essential elements of what the writer calls a 'pastoral habitus'. A man does not enter pastoral ministry with a fully formed habitus. We become pastors by being pastors. A pastor is a servant of Jesus, a steward of mysteries of the gospel. The Lord is pleased to work through tools he places in our hands by his Spirit; word and sacrament. It is through the ministry of word and sacrament that we give hope to the dying, comfort to the bereaved, and counsel to people in their struggles with temptation and sin. 

The work requires prayer, patience, attentive diagnosis of spiritual ailments and the wise application of scripturally prescribed cures. We are to approach the task with a sense of insufficiency. Our personal stores of drive, charisma, charm can't make people into fruitful disciples of Christ. We must minister in power of Jesus. He can change people, we cannot. 

Acting as if that is not the case is practical Pelagianism. We can't make our people into more faithful Christians by forcing them to conform to our rules and expectations. We will end up leading by guilt trip, not pastoring by grace.  It is sadly possible for us to be be Calvinists in our studies, but Pelagians in pastoral practice. As the author points out, “To make pastors you need the person and power of the Holy Spirit who forms and shapes men inwardly to be fit vessels for the treasures of God’s transcendent and transforming gifts in his gospel and sacraments.” 

The emphasis on gentleness and patience in ministry is biblical enough, 2 Timothy 2:24-26. But this does not mean that for Senkbeil it's a matter of 'there, there, never mind' sentimentality. There is a an uncompromising toughness to his approach. The writer knows that gospel ministry is a conflict zone for which pastors need to don the whole armour of God. People in our care who are consumed with guilt and shame do not need a pat on the head, but the truth of justification by faith alone applied to their souls. Believers whose lives have been ruined by toxic relationships and addictive tendencies need to be brought to see the good news that God is transforming them into the holy people he wants them to be. 

If pastors are to minister to others, we first need to learn how to meditate upon and apply the word of God to ourselves. Senkbeil gives some practical advice on how to do that, as well as on how to sustain a life of God-dependent prayer. Given the unique privileges and burdens of pastoral ministry the writer recommends that pastors seek out a brother minister who can hold them to account and to whom they can unburden the souls. 

I said the author is a Lutheran minister. Some aspects of his approach were not to the liking of this Grace Baptist pastor. I wouldn't go along with his use of crucifixes, images of Christ, and so on. That kind of thing tends to freak me out a bit, but there are many good things here that will help us cultivate a stronger pastoral habitus. The classical model of gospel ministry commended in these pages by Senkbiel serves as a necessary corrective to dynamic entrepreneurial styles of church leadership that have sometimes had a toxic effect on Christ's flock. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Pastors are but sheepdogs. 

Consider this picture of the relationship between a sheepdog and shepherd as a vivid illustration of the bond between a pastor and the Good Shepherd who has enlisted him in service to his sheep. The sheepdog is iconic of a faithful pastor’s work: one ear tuned to the voice of the Great Shepherd, the other tuned attentively to the sheep. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Anselm on the suffering of the impassible God

Reading through Anselm's Why God Became Man I came across a remarkable passage on how the impassible God is said to suffer in Christ. This is important, because many Evangelicals seem to have abandoned divine impassibility in recent years. J├╝rgen Moltmann has been highly influential in precipitating  the turn from impassibility. He argued that the theological task must be reconfigured in the light of the Holocaust. A God who cannot suffer is of no use to a suffering world, "Only a suffering God can help' was his famous dictum. 

We may instinctively recoil from the idea of impassibility, as if by that world it is being suggested that God is cold, remote and apathetic. Such a God would be indifferent to the miseries of life in the veil of tears. However, when our forefathers confessed that God is 'without body, parts or passions' (here), they did not mean that he is without emotions, but that he is devoid of emotional spasms. A 'passion' is a temporary feeling of elation or irritation, a flash in a pan. There is nothing 'flash in a pan' about God. He is eternal and unchanging in his being and attributes. 

Impassibility is not a defect in God. He is not emotionally stunted or remote. God is love. He is totally satisfied in the perichoretic union and communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the fullness of his perfect being. It is out of his self-sufficient aseity that God relates to us as his creatures. He is not dependent upon us for love or emotional completion, but he generously stoops to bring us into the the loving fellowship of the Trinity. That is why he made us in his image. That is why he acted in Christ to reconcile us to himself after the fall.

The impassible God loves without sentiment and burns with wrath against sin without the least irritation. He is free to reach out to us in our suffering without being overcome by it. Divine impassibility is the grounds of God's covenant faithfulness. His self-generated and eternal love cannot be stretched to breaking point by the failings of his chosen people. In his impassibility God is never discouraged or disappointed. Nothing can quench his determination to save hopeless sinners. His is an impassioned impassibility. 

The impassible Father spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all at Calvary. That does not mean the Father was coldly indifferent to the suffering of his Son. He loved him infinitely as he hung and suffered there (John 10:17). But he loved us too and it was only through the willing sacrifice of his Son that the wrath of God could be averted from sinners, 1 John 4:10. For that happen the impassible Son had to be made flesh to suffer and die for us. And so to Anselm, reflecting on the passion of the impassible God in Christ, 

For we affirm that the divine nature is undoubtedly incapable of suffering, and cannot in any sense be brought low from its exalted standing, and cannot labour with difficulty over what it wishes to do. But we say that the Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, one person in two natures and two natures in one person. In view of this, when we say that God is suffering some humiliation or weakness, we do not understand this in terms of the exaltedness of the non-suffering nature, but in terms of the weakness of the human substance which he was taking upon himself.... For we are not, in this way implying lowliness on the part of the divine substance, but are making plain the existence of a person comprising God and man, (Anselm of Canterbury: The Collected Works, Oxford, 2008, p. 274-275.

Note that Anselm does not merely say that the human nature of Jesus suffered for us, but that the person of the Son, impassible in his deity, suffered for us in his human nature. What we need from God is not the sympathy of a cosmic fellow-sufferer, but one who has acted to save us from sin and suffering. Only a suffering God in Christ can help us. Calvary reveals the true the depths of God's limitless, unchanging love for sinners, Romans 5:6-8. Impassible love is not needy and vulnerable, but free and outgoing; flowing from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit to the world. 

As the Puritan Poet Edward Taylor (c1642-1729) meditated,

Meditation 1
What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoyn'd?
What hath thy Godhead, as not satisfide
Marri'de our Manhood, making it its Bride?

Oh, Matchless Love! filling Heaven to the brim!
O're running it: all running o're beside
This World! Nay Overflowing Hell; wherein
For thine Elect, there rose a mighty Tide!
That there our Veans might through thy Person bleed,
To quench those flames, that else would on us feed.

Oh! that thy Love might overflow my Heart!
To fire the same with Love: for Love I would.
But oh! my streight'ned Breast! my Lifeless Sparke!
My Fireless Flame! What Chilly Love, and Cold?
In measure small! In Manner Chilly! See.
Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Confessional Christianity, an antidote to evangelical biblicism


In his review of Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel by Matthew Barrett, Robert Strivens stated, "as evangelicals, we must cease to be mere biblicists and become faithful exponents of Scripture deeply rooted in a well-rounded dogmatic theology." I very much agree and think this is one of the pressing issues of our time. 

I'm sure that a naive biblicism that is uniformed by the theological heritage of the church is one of the reasons why evangelicals have got themselves into such a mess with the doctrine of God. Some advocates of the eternal submission of the Son make 'will' a property of the persons of the Trinity, rather than the divine being. But hang on a minute. If 'will' is a property of persons, rather than being, and the incarnate Son has two wills, is he therefore two persons, divine and human? According to classic Christology, the incarnate Son is one person with two natures, with a will appropriate to each nature, divine and human.

One of the reasons for subscribing to an elaborate confession of faith such as the Second London Baptist Confession is that our forebears were self-consciously Reformed Catholics. Their confessions bear the imprint of the great creedal heritage of the church. Subscribe to them and you subscribe to Nicaea and Chalcedon and identify with an Augustinian account of salvation by sovereign grace. 

But they didn't stop there. They were Reformed Catholics, who sought to reform church doctrine and life in the light of our supreme authority, which is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. Hence the Particular Baptists set out their own distinctive views on the covenants, the church and baptism, while holding to the Catholic creeds and the solas of the Reformation. 

Many contemporary evangelical doctrinal statements adopt a minimalist approach that fails sufficiently to root the church in the Great Tradition of theological orthodoxy. Neither do they set out why Independent Evangelical or Baptist churches operate as they do in the light of clear biblical principles. 

The older confessions provide us with a dogmatic framework in which the key teachings of Scripture are set out in a coherent and systematic way. They are an aid to interpreting the Bible in the light of theological reflection of the church over many centuries. Familiarity with the historic creeds and confessions of faith  can help save us from many a doctrinal blunder. 

That is not to say that the confessions are to be regarded as infallible, or unimprovable. The Westminster Confession was revised by the Independents in their Savoy Declaration and again by Particular Baptists in the Second London Baptist Confession. But we should think long and hard before adopting an interpretation of Scripture that is out of synch with the confession of faith we have pledged to uphold. 

That is especially the case when it comes to what they have to say on doctrines of first importance, like the doctrine of God and of Christ the Mediator. According to the 1689 God's will is a property of his being (Chapter 2:1), not the three persons (Chapter 2:3), see here. With that in mind, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinguished in terms of one person submitting their will to that of another, but "by several peculiar, relative properties, and personal relations". 

In other words that "the Father is of none neither begotten nor proceeding, the Son is Eternally begotten of the Father, the holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son". There is an order in the Trinity, but no hierarchy of will. How could that be when will is a property of the divine being, which is wholly shared by the three persons? 

Making 'will' a property of persons plays havoc with the doctrine of Christ. As pointed out earlier, we confess that the Lord Jesus has two wills. The incarnate Son is not two persons, however. That would be Nestorianism. The confession rightly affirms that the incarnate Son is a divine person with a human nature, Chapter 8:2

Prominent Evangelicals in the US and UK have strayed from this historic teaching, holding that the Son eternally submitted his will to that of the Father. They have often done so using naively biblicist arguments in which the relationship of the incarnate Son to the Father in the economy of redemption is read back univocally into the ontological Trinity. It is enough to say that the missions of the Trinity reflect the eternal relations, without positing a plurality of wills in God. 

A more rigorous confessionalism would have helped prevent the theological confusion that is apparent in evangelical circles. Elders (pastors among them) and deacons should be expected to subscribe to a confession like the 1689. A more basic doctrinal statement such as the FIEC Doctrinal Basis may be required of church members, but the officers should ensure that church teaching and life is in line with a more wide-ranging and detailed confession of faith.

The biggest divide in evangelicalism is not between those who adopt traditional or progressive worship styles, or lockdown defiers and lockdown compliers; it is between confessional Reformed Catholics and doctrinal minimalists. We see further when we stand on the shoulders of giants. Time-honoured terms such as 'person', 'relations', 'being' and 'will' have meanings that were carefully defined in response to doctrinal error. Heretics could also quote the Bible. A simplistic biblicism was not sufficient to combat heresy. The teaching of Scripture needed to be explained and defended using non-biblical terminology. Hence the precise and exact language found in the creeds and confessions of old. 

When we step off the shoulders of the theological giants we become short sighted. Those who ignore or redefine key theological terms cannot always see the consequences of their doctrinal missteps. Making 'will' a property of the persons rather than the divine being makes for a subordinationist Trinity and an incoherent Christology. This is just one example of why we should strive to become "faithful exponents of Scripture who are rooted in a well-rounded dogmatic theology." Let us 'hold fast our confession, faithful to the end'. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant and His Kingdom by Samuel Renihan

The big problem with The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant and His Kingdom by Samuel Renihan is that it wasn't readily available in the UK. I managed to blag a review copy, but otherwise British readers would have needed to shell out a tidy sum in p&p to obtain a copy. You can see Part 1 of my review here. It is an excellent a treatment of covenant theology from a Reformed Baptist standpoint. The title traces the the broad sweep of redemptive history in terms of covenant and kingdom. It's rich in biblical insight and theological depth. The Particular Baptist perspective does justice to the lines of continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants. The 'mystery of Christ' shines through brightly, both in the 'covenants of promise' of the Old Testament and, of course in the new covenant in which the covenant of grace comes into its own. The good news is that Founders Press have now sorted out UK distribution, so you can buy it here. Just in time for Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Anselm On The Incarnation of the Word

My idea of getting all Christmassy was to read On The Incarnation of the Word by Anselm of Canterbury. Better that than waste time putting up a tacky tree. It's a remarkable little work in which the great Medieval theologian sets out to refute the idea that the Father and the Spirit became incarnate as well as the Son. He set down his thoughts in a letter addressed to Pope Urban II. 

The work is a marvel of tightly compressed theological reasoning. Its occasion was a controversy between Anselm and 'a certain cleric' he encountered when he was abbot of a monastery in Bec, France. This cleric held that, 'if the three persons are only one thing and not three things... then the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as the Son became flesh', p. 233. 

Anselm initially wrote to refute this error while still ministering in Bec. The cleric in question seemed to have recanted his heterodox views. It transpired later that he only recanted because he feared the population might kill him. Meanwhile, once the danger had passed, he continued to teach the incarnation of the whole Trinity. Partial copies of Anselm's refutation were doing the rounds and now as Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm felt the need to respond in a more thorough and complete way to the French cleric's 'novelty'. 

Despite his high ecclesiastical rank and theological ability. the Archbishop felt ill equipped to defend the faith. He likens the task to a man endeavouring to stabilise Mount Olympus. He wrote not so much to confirm the faith, as to satisfy Christian brothers who urged him to put pen to paper in response to the error under discussion. And this was no mere intellectual exercise for Anselm. He saw his task as one of faith seeking understanding the things of God. Our minds need to be illuminated by the Spirit if we are to receive and experience  God's truth. 

Anselm did not believe that doctrinal disputes can be resolved simply by appealing to the text of Scripture. Some heretics don't believe in the authority of the Bible. Others interpret it in a perverse sense. It is necessary therefore to use theological arguments derived from the Bible to expose error and defend the faith. That does not mean, however, that everything is up for grabs. The Catholic faith that is based on Scripture and confessed by the Church should be received and lived out by faithful believers. We must believe in order to understand the mysteries of God's Word. 

In terms of the Trinity, Anselm assumes the orthodox teaching that there is but one will and power in the being of God, which all three persons share, as each is fully divine. Yet there are not three gods, but one. Plurality in God is a property of the persons, not the divine nature. Were plurality a property of  nature, God would be composed of parts, which he cannot be. God is the perfect being. In all composite entities are some things superior and some things inferior. God cannot be anything less that perfect in his simple and undivided essence. He is a being than which none greater can be conceived (Anselm's Proslogion). 

The persons may be distinguished not in terms of their shared nature, but on account of their personal relations. The three are not interchangeable and there is an order of persons in the Trinity.  The Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. These distinctions may not be misattributed. The Son is Son because he is begotten of the Father, the Father is Father because he begets the Son.

The personal distinctions are real, not modes in a unipersonal god. The same man may be a father in relation to his son and a son in relation to his father, yet he is one person, not two. The situation is quite different in the Trinity, where there are three distinct persons in the one God. 

It was fitting that the Son should become incarnate rather than the Father or the Holy Spirit. Had the Holy Spirit taken human flesh, reasons Anselm, there would have been two sons in God, the eternal Son of the Father and the human son of Mary to which the Holy Spirit had become personally united. Had the Father been born of Mary, according to Anselm, 'two persons of the Trinity would take the name of grandson, since both the Father would be grandson of the Virgin's parents, and the Father's Son would be the Virgin's grandson, although the Son himself would have no part from the Virgin'. (p. 251). 

The economic missions of the Trinity reflect the eternal processions. It was signally appropriate that the only begotten Son of the Father should have become the son of Mary. 'Therefore' continues Anselm, 'no divine person other than the Son ought to become flesh, since there cannot be any least inappropriate thing in God. For although we declare that the Son in his humanity is less than the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet the latter two persons do not on that account surpass the Son, since the Son also has the same majesty whereby he himself is also superior to his humanity.' (p. 251). 

It is not right to say that because there are three persons in the one God that all three persons therefore became incarnate. The incarnation was not an act of the divine nature, but an act of a divine person, namely the Son.  Neither do we say that the Son as the second person of the Trinity became a human person at the incarnation. Rather, the Son took a human nature in addition to his divine nature into the unity of his person. Having said that, the external acts of the Trinity are undivided so the Son did not become man apart from the Father who sent him and the Spirit by whom his human nature was conceived in the womb of Mary. 

Anselm's On the Incarnation of the Word might seem to address a rather abstruse point; that the whole Trinity became incarnate, rather than simply the Son. Who would ever say such a thing these days? His letter is worth reading, however. Anselm's grasp of Catholic trinitarian dogma is is remarkably clear and profound. The arguments he deploys to refute his opponent's theological novelty are in full accord with the Nicene Creed and Definition of Chalcedon

The simplistic biblicism of some sectors of Evangelicalism has left its pastors and theologians incapable of doing much more than trading proof texts. Our ability to engage in theology as a work of 'holy reason', or 'faith seeking understanding' is often weak and underdeveloped compared with Medieval theologians such as Anselm, the Church Fathers, the Reformers and their Orthodox Reformed successors.  

The Reformers did not jettison the creedal heritage of the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith and its Congregational and Baptist derivatives (the Savoy Declaration and  the Second London Baptist Confession) bear all the hallmarks of historic doctrinal orthodoxy. See this Tabular Comparison for Chapters II (The Trinity) & VIII (Christ the Mediator). We are Reformed Catholics, recognising that while Scripture alone has magisterial authority for the church, the ancient creeds have ministerial authority, as they accurately summarise key Bible teachings and help to guard against erroneous ideas. 

In recent years Evangelicals have denied the eternal generation of the Son, which is a key component of trinitarian theology, here and here. Others have posited that will is a property of persons rather than the being of God, which leads to them saying that the Son eternally submitted his will to that of the Father, here. Anselm is a better guide to understanding the relations between the three persons in the being of God and what that means for the incarnation. 

The Trinity and the incarnation are the two great mysteries of the Christian faith. The role of creeds, confessions and classic treatments of these doctrines is not to fully explain the fundamental truths of Holy Scripture. Rather, such texts serve to erect a fence around the high mysteries of divine self-revelation. In doing so they act as a safeguard against error and provide us with sound parameters for faith seeking understanding. 

As to 'Why God Became Man', that's next on my 'Christmas with Anselm' reading list. But I guess that tree tinsel decked-tree will have to go up sometime. 

Providence Baptist Church Online Carol Service

 So here's our Online Carol Service with carols to sing along to at home, Bible readings by members of the congregation, a nativity video with a dragon in it and a message from me, 'Jesus: After Darkness, Light'. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas Services at Providence & Ebenezer

Things are quite different for our two churches this year. At Providence we would normally have Christmas parties for our Bright Sparks playgroup and One Way Club for primary school aged children. Bright Sparks hasn't been operating since the March lockdown and One Way Club has moved online for now. Providence usually has an All Age Carol Service on the Sunday before Christmas, which is often well supported by families from our playgroup and children's work. None of that will be happening, I'm afraid. 

But we still want to share the good news of Jesus with people in our local communities. The poster above has info on the Providence Online Christmas Activities. The Online Carol Service on Sunday 13 December at 4.00pm will include carols to sing along to at home, readings from the Bible, a nativity video featuring a dragon, and a message from me. I'm also looking forward to interviewing Phil Heaps on his book, Who Stole Christmas? at 6.00pm on Sunday.

At Ebenezer Baptist Church we'd usually have a 'Time for Tea+' Christmas Special, a Carol Service followed by a festive spread. In place of that will be livestreaming a Carol Service on Sunday 20th December at 4.30pm. 

You'll find all these services and activities livestreamed to our Facebook page, or you'll be able catch up later if you prefer. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Plague Journal 2: Week 4

22-28 November 

Prior to the national lockdown for England, which expires on 2 December, Wiltshire was in 'Medium Risk' Tier 1. That seemed fair, as infection rates were among the lowest in the country. From 3 December we will be in Tier 2 'High Alert'. Some good lockdown did us. Could be worse, nearby Bristol will be in Tier 3, but Coronavirus cases have skyrocketed there, so tighter restrictions may be justified. According to BBC figures, Wiltshire currently has 98 cases per 100,000, compared with a national average of 152. And cases are falling week-on-week. We will be in the same tier as Liverpool, which has 138 cases per 100,00. 

The only parliamentary opposition to ever tighter restrictions is from backbench Conservative MPs. Labour seems to have a policy of backing the government's measures, yet accusing ministers of doing too little too late and too ineffectively. According to news reports the PM has been spooked by the threat of a backbench revolt against his more draconian tiering system under which the vast majority of England will be placed in Tiers 2 & 3.  The government has promised to look again at imposing blanket restrictions on whole counties. Sunset clauses will be added to the legislation to allow MPs to keep things under review.

Glad to hear it, but this is another example of a failure of party management by the Johnson government. Didn't the Tory whips warn the PM that the crew were feeling mutinous before the new tiering system was announced? In an article in Saturday's Times, Michael Gove issued alarmist threats that the NHS will be overwhelmed unless the government's plans are supported. Backing down now makes those dire warnings smack of crying wolf, or, if the treat is genuinely believed, gross irresponsibility. Either way, not a good look.

Church-wise, it is great that places of worship will be allowed to reopen in all tiers once lockdown ends. We are looking forward to gathering for worship on Sunday 6 December. Being in Tier 2 will mean no 'routine' pastoral visits to lonely and isolated church members. Given the time of year outdoor meetings won't be any good for the elderly. We'll have to keep in touch by phone. In Tier 2 no interaction is allowed between members of the congregation when meeting indoors. In Tier 1 interaction was permitted within in groups of 6. With that in mind, Zoom meetings will need to continue alongside in person gatherings so people can hang out and chat after the 'service' element has finished.

On Wednesday afternoon I went for a walk and chat with a pastor friend, It was good to catch up and enjoy fellowship together. Pastors are under pressure these days. We need to support each other in the work of the ministry. 

On Sunday 22 November I spoke on Jeremiah 11:1-17 in the morning Zoomer and on Acts 2:37-41 for Bradford on Avon Baptist Church's Livestream Service, which our people also watched. For our Zoom Prayer Time I gave a Bible Study on Psalm 66. We had a Providence officers' meeting on Thursday evening via Zoom in preparation for a Members' Meeting on 1 December.

Everything seems to be happening on 1 December. The Westminster Conference from 2.00-5.00pm, school governor meetings from 5.30pm, and then the Members' Meeting at 7.30pm. All online.

In the week I finished, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart by Harold L. Senkbeil. Must post a review soon. I used an Audible credit to download, The Journey to the Mayflower: God's Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom, by Stephen Tomkins. Made a good start, four chapters in. With chapter headings seemingly borrowed from songs by The Jam, 2, Going Underground, where can you go wrong?

On Saturday we went for a morning walk along the towpath of the Kennet & Avon canal. Lockdown in Wiltshire, it could be worse. It did get worse. Wales lost to England in the rugby, 24-13. Scant are the consolations of this sad world. There will be no tiers in glory. 
Kennet & Avon Canal

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Jars of Clay: Peace for the Anxious Soul, by Catherine Haddow

10ofthose, 2020, 200pp

The other Sunday evening I had the privilege of conducting an online interview with Catherine Haddow, where we discussed her Bible-based approach to helping people who are suffering with anxiety. Our conversation ranged around the material set out in this book and her earlier work, Emotions: Mirrors of the Heart. People with anxiety problems have spoken of how they were helped by what the author had to say, which is great. Jars of Clay deals more thoroughly with some of the issues we were only able to touch on in the interview. 

Haddow doesn't decry secular approaches to treating people with anxiety, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but she goes further, arguing that the things that make us feel anxious reveal what we really treasure. CBT can help straighten out people's thought processes, but it cannot touch the heart, or change what we value as most precious to us. Had it been available to him, Gollum* may have found CBT of some use, but his heart would still have craved 'The Precious' Ring of Power above all else. What's your 'Precious'? That's what you'll be most anxious about losing. 

Emotions are part and parcel of our being made in the image of God. We are fallen creatures, however, living in a fallen world. Our emotions are therefore distorted. What Haddow calls a 'constructive concern' about our own welfare or that of loved ones can become a crippling anxiety. Fear is the right response to danger, anxiety lingers on after the reason for fear has dissipated.

As 'embodied souls', human beings are a psychosomatic whole. Anxiety therefore affects our bodies as well as our spirits. High blood pressure and harmful chemical reactions may result from anxiety. Anxiety attacks have debilitating physical effects. On the other hand, some physical disorders such as thyroid problems can cause sufferers to feel anxious. Drug treatments for anxiety can be helpful when prescribed by a GP, but, like CBT, they can't get to the heart of the matter; what we truly treasure. 

Anxiety can have a disruptive effect on a person's Christian life. All-consuming worry can make God seem remote and his promises unreal. The bright light of the gospel may be eclipsed by overwhelming anxiety. The anxious can become withdrawn as they seek to insulate themselves from anything that might trigger their negative feelings. They stop attending church meetings, so they stop hearing the word of God preached and miss out on supportive Christian fellowship as they move in ever decreasing circles. Feeling secure has become their 'treasure'. 

The author's focus is not on techniques for dealing with anxiety, or phycological processes, but a person, Jesus Christ. We may bring all our anxious cares to God through him, Philippians 4:6-7. The psalmists poured out all their troubles to the Lord, Psalms 42-43. The apostles set their many sufferings in the light of our eternal hope, 2 Corinthians 4. As we learn to trust the Lord with our cares, he strengthens our faith and enables us to grow in grace. 

Anxiety may have a number of different causes, relational, material or health. Each of these factors reveals what the soul truly values and is scared of losing; a cherished relationship, financial security or physical wellbeing. While it is right to make proper provision for ourselves in these areas, the believer's greatest treasure is the gospel of salvation in Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. Nothing we could lose in this life is comparable to our Saviour, the one who us 'chosen by God and precious'.  

The book's title is taken from 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. God places the treasure of the gospel in the clay jars of our fragile humanity. We don't have to pretend to be stronger, or more resilient that we really are. The Lord knows our sins and weaknesses, yet loves us all the same. Although outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly the Lord is renewing us by his grace, a grace that is made perfect in weakness. 

Catherine Haddow's approach to helping people with anxiety is deeply biblical and gospel-centred. She helps us to apply the good news of Jesus to our anxious souls. We are not to listen to ourselves as our overactive minds clog up with worry. We must preach to ourselves, remembering what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection, what he is doing in us by his Spirit and what he will do for us when he returns. As we are captivated by the hope of the gospel, our present distresses will seem light and momentary when compared with the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 2 Corinthians 4:17-19. This is not a quick fix, but a call to renewed devotion to the Lord Jesus. Like Paul we need to count whatever gain we have as loss for Christ, Philippians 3:7-8.  

Jars of Clay keeps it real. The author is open about her own struggles with anxiety and gives anonymised case studies of  people whose lives have been blighted by worry, yet who have found peace through faith in Jesus. Practical tips are provided for mitigating some of the physical effects of anxiety. Quiet meditation on the Word of God is commended as an alternative to Mindfulness. The book is well written and helpfully structured, making it easy to follow the basic argument. Anxiety is a 'smoke alarm' that alerts us to what we really value as 'The Precious' thing in our lives. The more we treasure Jesus, the less we will be consumed with this world's 'uncertain riches', Matthew 6:19-21. 

Anxiety isn't just a 'woman thing'. Men may also become consumed with worry, Male mental health is an issue of big concern in our society. Men as well as women will benefit from reading this title and taking its message to heart, Pastors should read it too. It will help you minister more effectively to care-worn members of your flock. More than that, read Jars of Clay as  part of your pastoral self-care. 

Sadly men have dropped out of ministry, overwhelmed with the burden of the work. Paul knew 'the care of all the churches', yet his sufficiency as a minister of the gospel was not in himself, but God. If we are not careful we can treasure ministry success above the Master, which is a sure recipe for anxious insecurity. We who preach the word and apply it to others, also need to partake of its rich treasures for ourselves. 

Thank God that in Jesus we have One why says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). 

* Please note, Catherine Haddow doesn't put J. R. R. Tolkien's character Gollum in the psychologist's chair. Any gratuitous  LoTR refs are the reviewer's. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Plague Journal 2: Week 3

15-21 November 

On Sunday morning I spoke on Jeremiah 10:17-25 in our Zoom service, on 'Facing Affliction with Faith.' In the evening I conducted an interview with Catherine Haddow 'Anxiety: A Mirror of the Heart'. We discussed her Bible-based approach to helping people with anxiety issues.  

We had our Zoom Prayer Time on Wednesday evening, where I gave a Bible Study on Psalm 65. On Friday evening I livestreamed the latest One Way Club video on the Story of Moses. Last week  I also made a video on 'Daniel in the Lions' Den' for a primary school assembly. 

It was deadline time for the two parish magazines for which I write a monthly article. I usually use the same piece, but with different services info for the Providence & Ebeneezer Churches.

Our Bradford on Avon Ministers' Fraternal, of which I am chairman, resorted to Zoom for our meeting on Wednesday morning, Michael Payton of Chippenham gave an inspiring talk on the Huguenots. What those faithful French believers had to suffer put the inconveniences of lockdown into perspective. 

The lockdown rules don't allow for 'routine' pastoral visiting, so my wife and I keep in touch with people by phone, especially those who live on their own, or are unwell. The rules do allow two people to meet up outdoors, also I arranged to for a walk in Longleat Forest with a church member who lives near there. 

News is percolating through of a small number of churches defying lockdown rules and meeting regardless. Some are claiming to meet under the guise of a support group, others are simply ignoring government guidance and gathering anyway. Sadly, and perhaps predictably this has been the cause of some division between and within Evangelical churches.  

As I've indicated, we have moved all our services online for the lockdown period. That doesn't mean I am convinced the government was right to close church meetings. I have written to my MP and signed a letter of protest. But I don't believe that Christians are being signalled out for hostile treatment by the government. All faith groups are being treated the same and other sectors such as cinemas and pubs have had to close their doors. Sometimes we may best commend the gospel not through bold defiance, but gracious submission, 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Although we are locked down, the word of God is not bound. Livestreams of our services are reaching more people than would have been the case before the pandemic. The online interviews have garnered a good number of  views. The Catherine Haddow one has attracted almost 800 views. 

We used to run 'Bake Through the Bible' outreach events aimed at engaging whole families with the gospel. Our Hall would often be buzzing on a Sunday afternoon. The family who were the driving force behind BTTB this week produced the first episode in an online version, which was really well done. Take a look at Bake Through the Bible: Episode 1, which has had nearly 600 views so far. 

Still, I'll be glad when the current lockdown ends on 2 December and we can start gathering for worship once more.

Biss Wood

Friday, November 20, 2020

Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3 Vern S. Poythress

Crossway, 2019, 390pp 
Much ink has been spilt over how to interpret Genesis 1-3. In recent decades controversies have raged between those who see the opening chapters in the Bible as little more than ancient Near Eastern myth and those who accept the creation account as a foundational part of Holy Scripture.

Even among Evangelicals a number of different approaches have been adopted. Some see Genesis 1-2 as a literary framework which teaches that God made an orderly universe. As such, there is not necessarily a conflict between the Bible and modern scientific accounts of the origin and age universe. Others insist that Genesis 1 tells us that God made all things in 6 x 24-hour days. If that interpretation brings the Bible into conflict with modern science, so be it. Another view (held by Reformed theologians Herman Bavinck and Michael Horton, for example) is that the days of Genesis 1 are God’s workdays. They are analogous to our 24-hour days, but not identical in length.

In setting out his constructive proposals on how to interpret Genesis 1-3, Poythress doesn't tackle the issue of how to understand the days of creation head on. He takes a more indirect approach. The author insists that the Bible should be read theologically as the written word of God. Whatever the Bible teaches must therefore be received as truth. God is the Creator and sustainer of the universe. The order and regularity of the created realm that makes science possible is the result of his faithful providential care. Strictly speaking the Bible offers no scientific theories, instead it describes creation and providence in terms of everyday human experience of the world, which is a perfectly valid perspective.

In terms of its literary genre, Poythress sees Genesis 1-3 as historical narrative. He works through the creation account in some detail, offering a wealth of insight. One of his main points is the relationship between creation and providence. Genesis 2:1-4 tells us that God is now resting form his work in creation, but his providential rule continues. There was something unique about the work of creation described in Genesis 1-2, but we can understand the essential meaning of those chapters in the light of our everyday experience of the world around us. We must take care, however, not to confuse creation with providence. 

6 x 24-hour creationists argue that because in God's providential ordering days are now 24 hours in length, the same time scale must be applied to the days of the creation week. Poythress advances that such a view is in danger of applying the norms of providence to the singularity of creation. The sun does not make an appearance until day 4, so days 1-3 at least were not solar days. Also, there are other measurements of time besides solar days, or modern clocks that count the passing of 24 hour periods to the second. Nature has its own ways of marking the passing of time. Ordinarily fruit trees take a number of years to grow from a seed to fruit bearing maturity, while the trees planted by God in the Garden of Eden seemingly sprung up 'good for food' instantaneously. Similarly, God created Adam from the dust of the ground as a mature adult and Eve from his rib, while we are formed in our mothers' womb and grow to maturity over many years. The writer makes a valid point in saying that the regular rhythms of providence cannot simply be read back into God's unique work of creation. 

Some 6 x 24-hour creationists posit that God must have temporarily speeded up physical processes during the creation week. That explains how the light from distant stars is visible on earth, which at the current speed of light must have been travelling for billions of years before it reached our planet. "God supernaturally made all the processes of stars occur at near infinite speed so that the stars went through 'a long history of events' in an instant of time." (He made the stars also, Stuart Burgess, Day One, 2001, p. 24). Yet, as Poythress points out, if God did things so differently during the creation week, that makes it difficult to insists on maximal continuity between our 24-hour days and the six days of creation, p. 252-258.  

The author concludes that, "God really did create the world in six days" (p. 289). He affirms the special creation of the first human pair and the historical fall of man into sin, But, according to Poythress, we need not hold that the days of creation were 6 x 24-hour periods. He argues that in the Hebrew mind days were measured more as periods of work and rest rather than strict 24-hour units. Genesis 1 depicts God’s work of creation on each day, followed by rest until the whole was completed. God then ceased from his work of creation on the Sabbath day. The days of the creation week are analogous to ours, but not necessarily the same in length. With this scheme in mind Poythress holds that the Bible’s teaching is broadly compatible with the modern scientific account.

This book contains valuable reflection on the relationship between the Bible and science, Genesis and ancient Near Eastern mythology, and creation and providence. Numerous appendices give detailed attention to matters raised in the main body of the work, such as 'Genesis 1:1 Is the First Event, Not a Summary' and 'The Meaning of Accommodation' in theological discourse. Poythress avoids offering simplistic solutions, calling upon the reader to re-examine their views afresh in the light of God’s Word. 

* An edited copy of this review was published in the The Banner of TruthDecember 2020 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Where Has All The Gospel Preaching Gone? by Roger Carswell

This little booklet came as a freebie with a book I ordered from It was very kind of the publishers to send me a gratis copy. Although it was a bit like receiving the gift of a book on losing weight, or how to smarten up your appearance. What is the giver trying to say? 

Roger Carswell is a gifted evangelist whose soul winning ministry has been wonderfully used of the Lord in the UK and beyond. He thinks he's spotted a gap, or maybe even a gaping hole in much of contemporary Evangelical preaching. There isn't much of the evangel in it. Expository preaching may expound a Bible passage and apply it to the congregation, but the gospel of salvation isn't necessarily proclaimed and a response called for.

Does Carswell have a point? Yes. Whatever text they are handling, preachers should always set the little story of a particular Bible chapter or verse in the context of the big story of God's redeeming grace. And Jesus is at the heart of that big story of creation, ruin, redemption and renewal. 

But it isn't simply a matter of bringing the gospel into a sermon. The gospel, or al least some aspect of the gospel should flow from the text, into the sermon and be applied to the congregation. That doesn't mean John 3:16 always gets tagged onto the end of every message. The gospel is as broad as it is deep in its declaration of the plight of man and the power of God. 

Regular hearers of our preaching should be left in no doubt that they are sinners who need to repent and believe in the Saviour who died for our sins and rose from the dead that we might be put right with God and have the hope of eternal life. 

It may be easier to do that when preaching from some Bible books/passages than others, but it can and should be done at all times. In the evenings I'm currently preaching through Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. You can't avoid proclaiming Jesus' saving crucifixion, resurrection, exaltation and new life in the Spirit. Peter even tells us how to apply the message, Acts 2:37-41. 

In the mornings I'm preaching through Jeremiah and the other week I gave a sermon on Jeremiah 10:1-16, 'The stupidity of idolatry and the supremacy of God'. 'Not very gospely', you might say. But my headings give the drift of the message: I. In our folly we put idols in God's place, II. Let us put God in his rightful place, III. In his grace God put Jesus in our place. The great exchange of the gospel undoes the grim exchange of sin. 

I think one thing pastors need to work on in giving their preaching an evangelistic edge is the introduction to their messages. This should flag up a link between the passage in hand and people's need to hear the good news of Jesus. The pandemic has highlighted the plight of man in sin, for which the gospel alone has the answer. Let's make that clear, rather than simply jump into the text with some remarks about the background of a passage, or whatever. 

Carswell argues his case for bold evangelistic preaching biblically and with the support of some of the great evangelistic preachers of the past such as C. H. Surgeon and Octavius Winslow. He could also have enlisted the help of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. While he is best known these days for his great expository series on Romans and Ephesians, on Sunday evenings at Westminster Chapel, he would herald the gospel that sinners might be saved. 

Maybe one of the reasons behind the decline of evangelistic preaching is that we tend to think of outreach primarily in terms of personal witness and small group study. The preaching of the Word to the gathered church is not necessarily seen as an evangelistic event. Perhaps it is assumed that every member of the congregation is already converted, but that is a dangerous assumption to make. 

Besides, non-Christians should be made welcome in our services. They need to hear the gospel if they are to be reconciled to God. Such was the case in the church gatherings of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. The fact that our services are now broadcast online for all to hear should make us all the more determined to proclaim the gospel that people might turn to Christ for salvation. 

A timely call for pastors to, 'preach the word... do the work of an evangelist', 2 Timothy 4:2, 5. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

'Anxiety: A Mirror of the Heart' an interview with Catherine Haddow

On Sunday evening I interviewed Chartered Psychologist Catherine Haddow. We discussed 'Anxiety: A Mirror of the Heart'. In her books, Emotions: Mirrors of the Heart and Jars of Clay: Peace for the Anxious Soul, Catherine has sought to show how faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can calm our anxious souls and give us peace.

If someone reading or watching this now is feeling overwhelmed, even suicidal, where can they turn for immediate help?

·       The Samaritans 116 123 (24hrs).

·       Shout is a 24/7 text service if that feels easier. Text 85258.

·       If you are a young person (or you're concerned about a young person) you can call Papyrus Hopeline on 0800 068 4141 9am-midnight. Or text on 07860 039967

·       Book an emergency appointment with your GP or ring 999 or go to A&E even in lockdown.

There is no shame, there is help available, your life matters, there is hope, you are not alone.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Plague Journal 2: Week 2

8-14 November 

This lockdown feels a lot different to the last one. That's because it is. Restrictions aren't so tight as in the Spring. Back then people were massively spooked into slavish compliance with the rules. The occasional Coviditiot aside.

This time people are more questioning of the need for lockdown, although, so far as I can see most are still doing the 'Hands, Face, Space' thing. But this is Wiltshire, hardly Covid-central. 

Last time round the abrupt closure of places of worship felt to many preachers like they were a bird flying into a window. Fly, fly, fly, bump. This time it was more like a duck making a smooth landing on the village millpond. A rather grumpy duck, admittedly. But at least now we've mastered online services, taking to Zoom like a duck to... You know the rest.

We had a Zoom service on Sunday 8 November in the morning, where I spoke on Jeremiah 10:1-16. In the evening I did a 'service' on Facebook Live, with a message on Acts 2:33-36. Our Zoomers are pretty straightforward affairs. I open in prayer, read the Bible, give a kids' talk and then a message. That segment is also livestreamed to Facebook. After that we have a song video, open prayer time, another song video, closing with the benediction. After the service has finished I leave the meeting open for people to grab a coffee and have a chat. Much like we used to in the old days before Covid struck. 

I don't agree that places of worship should have been forced to close during lockdown. There is little evidence that churches have been Covid hotspots. For many older believers church meetings are their main form of social contact. Above all, gathered worship is not a 'non-essential hobby', but an important component of the Christian life. 

But I don't believe churches should defy the lockdown law that was passed by parliament. We are not yet being forced to deny that Jesus is Lord and instead burn incense on Caesar's altar. Few would deny that under at least some circumstances the state may order the closure of places of worship and other venues in the name of public safety. That said, it is perfectly fair for Christians to challenge the ruling via judicial review, which I hope is successful. 

On Friday evenings I do a story video for our Virtually One Way Club, mainly for primary school aged children. We've been looking at the story of Moses and last Friday it was the Ten Commandments. Again, it's via Zoom (with only me in the meeting), streamed to FB Live. 

I read Catherine Haddow's book, Jars of Clay: Peace for the Anxious Soul in preparation for an online interview with the author on Sunday 15th in the evening. Very helpful it was too. I hope to post a review on the blog sometime this week and also share the interview video here. 

On Saturday Sarah and I visited Westonbirt Arboretum. Last time we visited in October 2018 the acer trees were decked in their autumnal splendour. The glory had faded somewhat by mid-November but it was still an enjoyable day out. We managed to dodge the heavy showers. Finding the Gruffalo in the woods gave me inspiration for Sunday morning's children's talk. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom by Samuel Renihan (review part 3)

Founders Press, 2019, 217pp

See here for part 1 and part 2 of this review series. 

Constructive appraisal 

In The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant and His Kingdom, Samuel Renihan has admirably traced the grand plot line of the Bible in covenantal/kingdom terms. He has done justice both to the continuity and discontinuity of old and new covenants, as the mystery of Christ is progressively revealed. While the  writer draws on the riches of the Particular Baptist theological tradition, this is a fresh study in its own right and yields many valuable insights. That the Davidic kings were in effect the federal heads of the Mosaic covenant is one. The author admirably highlights the eschatological dimensions of Christ's covenant and kingdom. 

His characterisation of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants as 'covenants of works' is not quite so convincing. Renihan certainly does not take the Meredith Kline view that Sinai was a republication of the Adamic covenant of works based on strict merit (p. 111). But in some sense he holds that the Old Covenant operated as a covenant works, as least as far as appropriating the blessings of life in the Promised Land were concerned. 

If, however, threats of chastening judgement and promises of reward for obedient faithfulness constitute a covenant of works, then the New Covenant could arguably be construed as such. In the New Covenant the covenant of grace comes into its own, yet God's judgements upon Israel are taken as a warning to the church (1 Corinthians 10). Christians may also appropriate Old Testament promises of reward, but stripped of their shadowy form and seen in the light of eternity (Matthew 25:14-30, Ephesians 6:2-3). Note the many threats and promises in the Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2-3. To be clear, under both Old and New covenants, rewards were dispensed graciously by the Lord, rather than earned or merited. 

If the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants were not covenants of works and neither can they be identified with the Covenant of Grace, what are they? Renihan is nearer the mark when he says, 'There is no covenant prior to Christ that reveals His covenant as directly as the Abrahamic Covenant does. The unilateral free gift of the earthly typical promises most clearly demonstrates the unilateral and free gift of the heavenly antitypical promises to the elect.' (p. 100). Further, he writes that 'the covenant of circumcision [made with Abraham] was a covenant of guardianship. It is a covenant that constitutes Abraham's descendants the womb of the Messiah.' (p. 101). 

The giving of the law at Sinai did not compromise the gracious character of the Abrahamic covenant, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 3:15-29. The law functioned as a guardian until Christ came. It 'increased the trespass' (Romans 5:20) by exposing the sinfulness of sin that those who were under the law might seek the righteousness of God by faith in Christ (Romans 10:3-4). 

The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants were not recognisably covenants of works. They were 'covenants of promise'. Through their shadowy types and figures they spoke of the promised Messiah who would be born of Abraham's line. 'They are Israelites, to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants... and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.' (Romans 9:4-5). 

This criticism should not detract from the work as a whole. For too long Paedobaptists have cornered the market in covenant theology, while Reformed or Grace Baptists have lagged behind. Renihan's title is an important contribution to covenant theology from a Baptist standpoint.  That said, readers will not find heated polemic here. The author makes his case in a gracious and winsome way, insightfully handling the text of Scripture and ensuring that doctrine leads to doxology before the glorious mystery of Christ. 

I am most grateful to Founders Press for sending me a complimentary review copy of this book. I would urge them to make it available more widely, as importing the title from the USA is prohibitively expensive for readers in the United Kingdom.