Theological Fighting Trim–The Morning Workouts

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If there were world records for such a category, I would be the world’s most unathletic person ever.  The advancing years have not changed that in the least.  Lacking speed, skill, co-ordination, height, weight, accuracy, perseverance, endurance, body build, and competitiveness, I have been content to do less than sit on the sidelines.  I have skipped the games and contests all together.  To make matters worse, I know almost nothing of sports events.  I don’t watch any sports networks, although I did happen to see a whole quarter of a football game this past fall.

I can never tell you which baseball team is in the Superbowl or what football team is playing the world series or what state the Olympics are in this year.

Sports does help me in one way, however.  Sports makes for good metaphors.  The Apostle Paul used them often, and I suspect he may have been a grappler. (At least Johannes Brandup, as Paul, puts up a pretty good match against his Sadducee friend in the movie Paul the Apostle.)  So I use, in this case, a boxing metaphor to describe–once again–some of my most sedentary habits of the morning hours.  Calling it training and thinking of it in terms of a boxer makes me feel a bit more active.  Such thoughts can be fine substitutes for exertion.

Besides, aren’t you tired of pictures and discussions like the one below?

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Isn’t this more interesting and enticing?  And wouldn’t it lure more of you into buying and reading the books I am promoting?

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Still, truth be known, my morning routine is rather staid, quiet, and unexciting.  But for various reasons, I love it all the same.  That being the case, I would like to share a few of the recent titles I have been working on.  In some cases, I am reading straight through the books.  In some cases, I am reading a little here and a little there.  The morning reads are all devoted to the broad topic of theology, or perhaps Bible study, or Bible related readings.  As always, I do not venture in without the staple of strong, black coffee at my side.  Until summer comes along, I only have an hour for these reading jaunts.  With my flitting mind, I usually read a chapter or ten or so pages from one book and then venture on to another.

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The Unseen Realm: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Michael Heiser is published byLexham Press.  (If you have not yet discovered Lexham Press, you are missing out on lots of great books.)  I acquired this book after hearing it praised by P. Andrew Sandlin and Brian Godawa.  It is almost unique among books that I have been familiar with.

The main point of the book is that there are passages and ideas contained in the Bible that are challenging, hard to understand, and often ignored. In these cases, it is because the verses support a supernatural worldview that doesn’t fit well into much of our conventional theology.  At first glance, one might think, “Oh, another weird book by some glassy eyed Bible student who claims to have uncovered some ‘overlooked truths’ of the Bible.”  In other words, another book like the bizarre numerology Bible books that surfaced (and hopefully sunk) some time ago.

If this book is out-of-the-box weird, I have not detected it.  So far, it is very careful and Bible-grounded.  I try to avoid cutting and pasting blurbs and comments from the web-site, but please consider what is written below:

The psalmist declared that God presides over an assembly of divine beings (Psa. 82:1). Who are they? What does it mean when those beings participate in God’s decisions (1 Kings 22:19–23)? Why wasn’t Eve surprised when the serpent spoke to her? Why are Yahweh and his Angel fused together in Jacob’s prayer (Gen. 48:15–16)? How did descendants of the Nephilim (Gen. 6:4) survive the flood (Num. 13:33)? What are we to make of Peter and Jude’s belief in imprisoned spirits (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6)? Why does Paul describe evil spirits in terms of geographical rulership (thrones, principalities, rulers, authorities)? Who are the “glorious ones” that even angels dare not rebuke (2 Pet. 2:10–11)?

The Unseen Realm presents the fruit of Dr. Heiser’s fifteen years of research into what the Bible really says about the unseen world of the supernatural. His goal is to help readers view the biblical text unfiltered by tradition or by theological presuppositions.

I will keep you updated on this book.  So far–130 pages into it–it is really good.

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Count me as a “Johnny come lately” to the surge of interest in the theology and books of N. T. Wright.  Don’t count me as a total novice or bumpkin, however.  I did hear the man speak at an event some years ago, and I stood in a small circle next to the tall bishop.  Much that defines his theological paradigm slips past me.  I have read some really helpful things from him, and some of what I have read, I did not find convincing.  In recent months, I did find his book Surprised By Hope very edifying, and from the 50 to 80 pages I have read in The Day the Revolution Began, I can give this book whole-hearted approval.

Much of what Wright writes (that is right) concerns how we have heard and embraced ideas that are not totally lined up with the Bible.  Jesus’ mission in its ultimate competed purpose is not so that we can dwell in an ethereal, body-less state in a heavenly realm.  Going to heaven is only one part of the Christian’s future expectations.  God is re-creating and re-fashioning and redeeming heaven and earth.  After all, our frequent prayer that God’s will be “done on earth as it is in heaven” is command and promise and certainty, and not mere wishful thinking.

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I first starting reading Sermons in Candles by Charles H. Spurgeon last week when I was out of town.  I wanted a morning read that would be good, but lighter than usual.  This book was perfect.  Only Charles Spurgeon could take the then common concept of candles and use them to illustrate and illuminate a wide number of Christian applications.  Spurgeon references Scripture, books of all sorts, examples of famous Christians, and every day experiences in the 170 pages of humorous, instructive, convicting, and edifying reading.

I owe an increasing debt to Ruben Alvarado for his publishing so many good books at Pancrator Press/Wordbridge Publishing.  But Ruben has written several books himself, and Calvin and the Whigs is his latest work.  Understand that if you are needing a light, enjoyable read, try the Spurgeon book above (and don’t feel bad for swimming in the shallow end of the pool).  This book, however, calls for some slow reading and serious attention.  Note that this is A Study in Historical Political Theology.  Four words in that subtitle should serve as a warning that this book calls for some seriously hot and strong coffee.

I must confess to my own way of reading the book.  First, I read it from start to finish.  Well, almost.  Actually, I read about half or more and then skipped over to the conclusion and read it.  Then I went back and finished reading the book, including a second reading of the conclusion.  Then today (May 18), I started the book again from the beginning.

To give some spoilers (!), the great concern in this book is the way that Christian political theology (as exemplified by Calvin, Augustine, Althusius, and others) has been submerged from political discussions.  In its place, the teachings of John Locke have been posited as the founding ideas that impacted political theology in Britain and America.  The title subtly alludes to Herbert Butterfield’s book The Whig Interpretation of History.  (To my shame, I have only recently acquired and have not yet read this classic work on historiography.)

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This book includes an examination of Augustine’s political theory, Calvin’s, and the contradictory ideas of Hugo Grotius.  Yes, I am intimidated, but no, I am not willing to let this book escape my understanding.

Upcoming Matches

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The battles never end.  I have some great books lining up for upcoming matches.  There is no way I will get through this gauntlet without getting some major bruises and possibly a broken bone or two.  I guess I have become a glutton for punishment, but I look forward to hitting and, in return, getting hit by these books.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture - By: John Piper

Don’t be fooled by John Piper’s pleasant and easy-going style.  The man trained under Jonathan Edwards, taught in a seminary, and knows the Bible. Reading the Bible Supernaturally should be quite good.

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Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary is a big, hefty book that promises to be a cross country marathon with weight-lifting during the breaks.  Very timely for this the year to celebrate Reformation 500.

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition

I like Craig Bartholomew’s writings and I love Abraham Kuyper.  This book is a dream read.  So glad that it is on hand and awaiting the moment when the pages start to turn.  Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition is an IVP publication.

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Beware the little book.  Short and easily carried about, I suspect this book will pack a punch.  For one thing, I have little understanding of the contributions and ideas developed among Lutheran theologians (including Brother Martin himself).  And if I make it through Christology by David Scaer, I suspect I will want to have a go at the other volumes in this series.

On the way

How can I rest knowing that Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition is soon going to show up, primed and ready for action?  Thankful to now be acquainted with Davenant Trust and looking forward to some real work-outs with this book and others.

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All of these athletic metaphors and images have worn me out.  I simply must go and take a nap.

Arthur W. Pink and The Sovereignty of God

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I stepped right into the middle of a great revival in the 1970s.  I didn’t realize it at the time.  I thought I was veering off the main road onto an obscure, overgrown, largely unused country road.  At the time, it seemed lonely, odd, and extreme.  Marching to a different drummer had long been a practice in my life, or rather a disposition.  So, embracing a theology that was little known, little understood, and yet often vehemently opposed was not that hard to do.  But it take a cost.  It was not without some sacrifices and some life changes.  Some were good, and some were painful both then and now.

Around 1972, I had become a Christian.  Before that, my beliefs were foggy, undefined, mildly theistic, prudishly moralistic, works-oriented (I thought I was a good person–even better than most), and not very Bible based.  Little by little, through an experience while watching a movie, by listening to Jerry Falwell, by attending an outdoor revival with an evangelical Methodist, I became–to use my term then–more religious.

Then I confronted Calvinism.  It was easy enough to dismiss Calvinism with a few easy swats, thinking it was a gnat.  But have you ever tried casually swatting at an elephant?  To improve upon the image, have you ever tried swatting a charging elephant?

I think it is funny that God used two men with less than formidable sounding names to turn me from a spiritual jellyfish to a Christian man.  One man bore the given name of Loraine and the other bore the surname Pink.  Think of the sound of it:  Pink and Loraine.  Doesn’t sound exactly like a devastating spiritual tag team.  But it was.

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Loraine was Loraine Boettner.  He was a rather shy, retiring fellow who wrote 5 or 6 books, lived his retirement years on a farm in rural Missouri, and sold his books for a pittance to eager young students of theology.  My first Boettner book was Studies in Theology.  It wasn’t one of the five points of Calvinism or the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God that did a mental and spiritual make-over for me, however.  Instead, it was the chapters in that book on the authority of the Bible, followed by an in-depth study and description of the Trinity, and another in-depth study of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

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I think I was a believer before I read–consumed!–those chapters, but they constituted a conversion experience as well.  My mother, knowing I was a history major (and I was in college at the time), saw Boettner’s Studies in Theology on my desk.  “Are you changing your major?”  I don’t know what I answered (and graduated as a history major), but I knew something was changing that meant that everything was changing.

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I next read Boettner’s block-buster book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.  I still remember thinking that the title sounded promising.  To my mind, I wasn’t sure what this lady named Loraine did to it, but I was glad that someone had re-formed the doctrine of predestination.  But, to borrow from Batman, “Pow” and “Bam.” There wasn’t much left to me after I finished the second of the Boettner books.

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This revolution of thought and theology was all going on during the summer of 1976–the year of America’s Bicentennial.  It was during this time that I met my second Calvinist–Pastor Jimmy DeMoss.  A small man who is a tightly wound bundle of energy and an ex-Marine, Pastor DeMoss recommended The Sovereignty of God by Pink.  I think he just called him Pink.

It was many books later when I first acquired The Sovereignty of God by Pink.  Over the years, I ended up with quite a few books by Arthur W. Pink.  In many cases, his innumerable articles have been patched together to form a large number of collections.  He did several books in a series known as Gleanings, for example, Gleanings in Genesis, Gleanings in the Scriptures, and so on.  His little work Profiting from the Word is a classic “rip the layers off your heart” kind of searching and convicting work.  I rather grew to enjoy–and grow–from the cutting edge of the Reformation/Calvinistic/Reformed/Puritan approach of using the Bible to sear into the sins of the heart.  Pink’s book The Attributes of God ranks among his best.  As the title indicates, it tells us who the God of the Bible is.

I even have a volume of Pink’s works on order right now.  Hearing George Grant preaching on 1 John lead me to my usual question, “What are the best books on 1 John?”  To which Dr. Grant responded by mentioning a couple of authors, and then he said,  “The real treasure trove for this book (1 John) may be found in Arthur Pink’s massive work.  It is fantastic—as you might expect from Pink.”

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With quite a few Pink books scattered throughout my library, I am convinced of his worthiness as an expositor, commentator, and preacher of God’s Word.  At the same time, he has his limitations.  He recognized that due to the voluminous amount of writing that he did, that his views sometimes changed as the years went by.  Also, Pink could often spiritualize narrative portions of the Bible and draw good lessons from them that are not actually present in the text.  And he could jab, and I mean jab hard.  In his day, the Puritan works lay hidden in old libraries and book stores.  The works of Spurgeon were ignored.  The teachings of the Reformers were unheeded.  The pulpits of the lands (for Pink labored in many English speaking domains) were captured by theological liberals and higher critics in the worst cases.  In the best cases, the pulpits poured forth Arminian theology and messages designed to salve the emotional aspects of hearers.

God gave Arthur W. Pink a tough personality, a cutting edge, and a stubborn streak.  A milder man, a gentler message, and a smoother approach would not have carried in his day.

Arthur Pink’s greatest work and most abiding book is The Sovereignty of God.  Some years ago, Baker Book House published the book in hard cover, and quite a few copies were sold over the years, especially after Pink’s views became more acceptable (again) and interest rose in learning about the sovereignty of God.  Then Banner of Truth published a slightly abridged version of the book in paperback.  As usual, Banner did a fine job of putting together the more user friendly edition of the book, which excluded a couple of more difficult to digest chapters.  Banner of Truth also published Gleanings from Paul (in hardback), The Life of Elijah, Profiting from the Word, and some Pink titles translated into Spanish.

Life of Arthur W. Pink

Another Banner of Truth work is Iain H. Murray’s fine biography of Arthur Pink.  I am always partial to Iain Murray’s biography, and even though it has been many years since I read the book (which has since been revised and enlarged), I still remember it as a great read.

Often the word “dated” is applied to older books.  Perhaps that word is descriptive of much of Pink’s works, for he lived from 1886 to 1952.  The theological issues and battles have changed; the reception to Reformed theology is much improved; and the availability of good books has vastly increased.  I am sure that Mr. Pink would be amazed at the popularity of writers like R. C. Sproul, Tim Keller, and John Piper.  Going against the grain, as Pink did; adhering to a theology out of favor, as Pink did; and stubbornly standing alone, as Pink did, is not as necessary as it was in his day.  Besides, some of the more recent writers are better able to convey the great doctrines that are often opposed without being disagreeable sorts of preachers.

We are living in a new age as far as Reformed theology is concerned, especially as it relates to the Doctrines of Grace.  But there is a need to go back to the sources.  We need to read and promote the books and authors that carved out a niche for Calvinism back when Calvinism wasn’t cool.

The great Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave this advice to a young man in ministry:  “Don’t waste your time reading Barth and Brunner. You will get nothing from them to aid you with preaching. Read Pink.”  I do believe there is profit in Barth and Brunner, but for the best and most direct spiritual benefit, I agree, “Read Pink.”

Kyle Shepherd is a young man in a hurry.  He wants to see yet more good resources available to Christians, Christian families, homeschoolers, and others engaged in directly confronting and toppling the culture.  As the founder of a publication ministry called Visionarion Press,  Kyle promised several months ago to reveal a major publishing venture that would make a foundational work in Christian worldview thinking available again.

My mind was racing through a number of great books that could be secret reprint, but I guessed wrong every time.  Kyle Shepherd then announced that the book was Arthur W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God.  Even if you already have the book, you will want to get copies (plural) of this book for your library and others.  The new edition includes the following features:

Hardback, smythe-sewn binding to last for decades
Scripture & Topical Indexes
Unabridged
Modern typesetting for easy reading

Put this book high on your want list.  No, go ahead and put it in your cart and get this classic work today.

Contending for the Truth While Still Loving the Brethren

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I don’t know which is worse:  Christians fighting Christians, or embracing the idea that we should never talk about politics and religion because it divides us.  Christians must earnestly contend for the faith, and that means apologetic encounters with unbelief, but it also entails butting heads with fellow believers over differences.  Iron sharpens iron, but it does not do so when the two pieces of iron fail to get near each other and “dialog” (I cringe a bit over that word.)

I have been in many a Christian theological brouhaha.  Some were fun, some were mean, some inflicted wounds and causing pain for myself and others.  “Milquetoast for Jesus” is not a good stance to take, but neither is the tendency to see every hill as the place to die on and every difference as the fight unto death.

I am not without convictions.  Most of them are probably immovable due to 1.)  my age,  2.) the life/career/reputation investment I made to obtain those convictions, 3.) the practical benefits of not changing, and, most of all–hopefully, 4.) truly Biblical foundations and reasonable assumptions for those convictions.  I can repeat the creeds in church (Apostles and Nicene) without hesitation.  My biggest problem with the Bible is application, not accepting a total belief and trust in it.  I am more than comfortable with a number of descriptions that define me, such as Protestant, Reformed, Calvinistic, Presbyterian, Evangelical, and Biblicist.  I am deeply appreciative to and much influenced by Presuppositionalism, A- and Post-Millennialism, Theonomy, and more.  I have much admiration for and many take-aways from Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, George Marsden, Charles Spurgeon, R. C. Sproul, and many others.  I borrow heavily from Christopher Dawson, the Catholic historian, and others from his theological positions.

I think of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til as uncles.  I love both and would fail any major examinations explaining their views and differences.  I think J. Gresham Machen hung the moon.  I believe Jonathan Edwards is even greater than John Piper thinks he is.  Francis Schaeffer, R. J. Rushdoony, and Gregg Singer all shaped my understanding of history and culture, and Greg Bahnsen was a personal friend and mentor.

All of that is said, to introduce my latest and newest Christian friend:  Laurence M. Vance.  Also, I want to call your attention to his many books found on his web-site: Vance Publications.

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This connection was started due to my interest in Dr. Vance’s book The Other Side of  Calvinism.  This is a massive hardcover book, heavily documented, that seeks to correct and/or refute what has come to be known as Calvinism or Reformed theology.  In nearly 800 pages with heavy documentation, this book examines both the history connected to Calvinism and the particular doctrines, commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism.

 

Understand me, I am a Calvinist and have been so since 1976.  I have never wavered, rarely doubted, long since stopped questioning, and have long since felt solidified in this position.  My hall of heroes are largely made up of Calvinists, and I have paid some heavy prices along the way for my theology.  (Blunders and stupid things done in the name of promoting Calvinism on my part–well, that’s another story.)

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I grew up a-dreamin’ of bein’ a Calvinist
And lovin’ the Calvinist ways
Pursuin’ the life of my theologian heroes
I burned up my teenage days
I learned all the rules of a modern day reformer
Hold on to convictions strong
Just take what you need from the books as you buy them
With the words of a imprecatory Psalm.
My heroes have always been Calvinists,
And they still are, it seems
Gladly, in search of, but one step in front of
Themselves and their theological dreams.
(With Apologies to Willie Nelson)

So why would I want this book?  I am sure that Dr. Vance has gotten plenty of letters, maybe phone calls, e-mails, and other communications desiring to correct him. Quite frankly, I am not interested in that.  He’s a big boy (with the degrees and a number of books that show his scholarship) and, as said earlier, there is a place for the debates, exchanges, and kingdom labors to better hone the truths of the Bible. But such debates are not what I need right now.  If Dr. Vance and I were neighbors, I would hope that we would be seriously talking (and often laughing) together as we sought to take the Gospel to our neighborhood.

I guess I have a hundred or more books to answer things he says, and from glancing at his bibliography, he did not write and later revise this huge book without extensively researching the topic.

Without conceding a single millimeter to skeptics who say we cannot know truth, I do believe that my own capacity to know and understand–to use the Bible and reason as both Loraine Boettner and Laurence Vance contend–is always in need of further labor, refinement, rethinking, repenting, and growing.  As a someone whose life labors consists of teaching, preaching, writing, and endlessly talking, I want to primarily be a listener and learner and not just a mouth.

The issues that divide Calvinists from non-Calvinists (whether they are or wish to be called Arminians is another story) are important.  We are talking about the nature of God and salvation and the revelation of the Bible.  Maybe I have been wrong for many years, although I don’t think so.  Or maybe I have been right but have not properly understood the grounds of what I am right about or how to communicate it.  Maybe, I have over-complicated simple truths and over-simplified complicated truths.

I teach children.  I preach to people of all ages.  James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”  Do I dare stand in front of a group without carefully hearing and studying all sides to an issue?  Do I dare assume that agreeing to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which I do adhere to, will get me off the James 3:1 hook?  No.

For that reason, I rejoice in having yet another hefty book to add to the shelves.  But it is one that is not just to give some balance to one end of the theological scale, but one to read, think about, pray over, and consider carefully.  So, thanks to Dr. Vance–in advance (no pun intended)–for your labors to write about your deep convictions.

And as Cornelius Van Til was fond of saying at the end of letters, “Soon we shall meet at Jesus’ feet.”  (Although I hope and pray that “soon” doesn’t mean before I get this and many other books finished and many other earthly tasks completed.)

George Whitefield–The New Biography by Thomas Kidd

There are few men in the history of the Christian Church who were greater preachers, more dedicated servants of God, and more godly examples than John and Charles Wesley. While the Methodist Church stands as a reminder of their impact on church, particularly English and American, history, their works extend beyond denominational boundaries. In the case of Charles Wesley, his poems provide a great portion of good, solid Christian hymnody.

But there are those of us who grew up Methodist and left that denomination. I assure you that I did not leave over any quibbles regarding Charles Wesley’s hymns. Nor did I leave over John’s vision for spreading the Gospel. Nor did the idea of intense Christian fellowship, which the Methodist Societies promoted, turn me away.

When I was growing up, my experience in Methodism was in a local church that tended toward a very soft, flat, thin approach to Scripture. Blatant theological liberalism, the kind that denied the Resurrection or the miracles of the Bible, would not have been accepted in a small, southern community, such as the one where I grew up.

The hymns were still sung in the church–Thank God. The Apostles’ Creed was recited–Praise God. And much that was done was solid, orthodox, and traditional. However, whereas the Wesleys preached the New Birth and the radical nature of conversion, the tacit assumption among Methodists was that we were really okay as we are and that only Baptists got carried away over topics such as being saved, being once saved thus always saved, and not dancing. Those who got carried away more than Baptists were the Pentecostals, commonly known as Holy Rollers.

In 1974, I found myself sitting in an American history class feeling quite smug. I knew American history. This was going to be a review and an easy A. This self-confident 18 year old suffered the most severe brain concussions of his life-time. The teacher was Professor Henry Wood , whose reputation was that he strayed from the book to lecture on and on about fanatical religious points. He was, rumor had it, a Baptist preacher. Unlike any Baptist preacher I had ever met, however, he didn’t have a big toothy smile.

He did laugh but only when he told what appeared to be jokes. For example, he chuckled when he told of a man who said at a conference, “I am an Armenian, but not an Arminian.” (I now know that was a statement by R. J. Rushdoony.) Worse than the lack of communicable humor was Mr. Wood’s tendency to upend the way I understood history. He began the first class by referring to Woodrow Wilson as an ignoramus. Wilson would be the first of many ignoramuses in Mr. Wood’s notes.

One of the most surprising turn-arounds in Mr. Wood’s class was his discussion of a man named George Whitefield and an event known as the Great Awakening. We had already heard a lecture on a man named John Calvin who greatly influenced many of the settlers to the colonies. Calvin’s theology was quite shocking, but I took consolation in the fact that Methodists and other normal Christians would have never thought such bizarre things.

Then came Whitefield. Mr. Wood not only praised and lauded the man, but mentioned that the first volume of a biography of Whitefield had been written. Mr. Wood was a voracious reader. Whitefield was a Methodist. Denominational labels as we know them were not the case in Whitefield’s day. He was actually a Church of England minister.

To jump ahead to the brain concussion, I began reading theology. To make it worse, I read theology by Reformed writers. I didn’t even understand what the word “Reformed” meant, but I assumed it meant that they had tried to correct the odd views of Calvin. It really wasn’t the Reformed guys who smacked me in the head, rather, it was the Bible itself. When your self-assured intuitive knowledge runs full speed into the Bible, it hurts.

When I woke again, with a headache that has never gone away, I was on the same side of the theological fence as Whitefield and Calvin. So, when I had the money, I got Arnold Dallimore’s two volume biography of George Whitefield, read it, and loved it.

Through the years, I read quite a few other accounts of Whitefield. Most of these were either short chapters in books extolling the man or portions of studies on colonial history. Many times, I have taught about Whitefield in my American history classes. Occasionally, I have dipped into George Whitefield’s Journals, one of many fine Banner of Truth books.

Last year, I learned of the publication of a new Whitefield biography. Being a Yale University Press, it was a bit high priced, but at least was a quality hardback. Then last summer, I got to hear the author, Dr. Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor, at the Association for Classical Christian Schools conference in Dallas.

First, I bought Kidd’s book The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America, based on Dr. Chris Schlect’s recommendation. $40 for George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father was prohibitive until I was able to make a quick $40 from selling my own book.

This biography is a fine work that aptly complements Dallimore’s more lengthy book. Some of you will be aware of the biographies of Jonathan Edwards by Iain Murray and George Marsden. Both are great works, but Murray’s book focuses on presenting a model for Christian life and theology, while Marsden wrote an academic biography. What Kidd did for Whitefield is the same as what Marsden did. Both kinds of biographies are needful.

Concerning the book itself, Whitefield’s life is quite interesting. He grew up in a broken and poor home. He struggled with lots of personal issues and challenges. His oratorical gifts could have led him to the stage, but grace intervened and he determined to enter the ministry.

Whitefield fell in with the Wesley brothers. This would be the defining connection in his life. With the Wesleys, he pursued the idea of ministry and mission. While they began as his mentors, he outpaced them in time. One might, from a Twenty-first century perspective, correct the theological struggles of the fellows who were called Methodists, that is, those who were trying to follow the method of the Bible.

Were these guys already converted, but adding an experience on to what they already believed? Did they embrace a type of works-theology before they saw the clarity of the new birth? Were they a bit too uptight about religious matters? All these are useful questions, but they are for theology class, not history class.

Whitefield began doing radical things. When either the crowds exceeded the church’s capacity or the preacher forbade access to his own pulpit, Whitefield took his preaching outside. He preached anywhere and everywhere he could. The crowds were huge and the reactions intense. When the Wesley brothers learned of his methods and successes, they balked at first, but then joined in.

While Whitefield had an impact throughout the British Isles, his greatest ministry was in the colonies. He started an orphanage in Georgia that became a focal point of his attention and fund raising. But he ranged up and down the colonial seaboard preaching in all manner of churches and outdoor venues. The crowd numbers are astonishing. The reactions, again, were intense. Religion excites all kinds of passions, and Whitefield’s style and urgency heightened such passions.

He formed some amazing friendships and alliances. He and Jonathan Edwards, while never close friends, were brothers-in-arms in the cause. He fanned the flames of the Great Awakening. (Excuse the cliché in the last sentence. As Dr. Tom Wagy often says, “Avoid clichés like the plague.”) The most interesting friendship was between Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin. Both men were supportive of each other, but in spite of Whitefield’s witnessing to Franklin, the great inventor clung fast to his Deistic religion.

A very instructive aspect of the biography was Whitefield’s blind eye toward slavery. It is a harsh reminder that we are all people of our times, and while Whitefield was good about preaching the gospel to African-Americans, he not only accepted slavery but took advantage of it when it came to finding workers on the plantation connected to his orphanage.

Of course, a key theme in the interaction between Whitefield and his brothers-in-Christ, the Wesleys, concerned Calvinistic theology.  They butted heads repeatedly over it.  Whitefield was both an evangelist and a Calvinist, as is often pointed out.  The Wesleys were self-professed Arminians.  At times, these fights took both sides to the mat, and both often ended up bloodied, but neither gave ground.  The 18th century had more than its share of theological wars, of which Reformed theology was only one.  The comforting part (besides the fact that I think Whitefield won the theological battle) is that Whitefield and the Wesleys had true times of affirming their brotherhood in Christ and commitment to work together in the greater kingdom issues.

Whitefield was never a great theologian, but one would be amiss to underestimate his many years of Bible study. Those who merely read his sermons cannot grasp how his preaching drew such numbers. He stumbled in many points. His faults as a husband are exceeded only by John Wesley’s faults in the same area. Both could have benefited from a few marriage seminars. Like many of us, he grew older, heavier, and less able to whip up the same kind of zeal, crowds, and results in his older years. But he never gave up, never dulled the Bible centered message, and never conformed to a faith that was institutional rather than personal.

He is a hero of the faith. Flawed, quirky, and sometimes inspired by zeal without prudence. The fault lines are in the book, but so are the qualities. God grant that we could all learn from this man.

Post Script:  I recently purchased a copy of Dr. Kidd’s biography of Patrick Henry, and I hope to get a copy of his latest book American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faith.  I believe Dr. Kidd is emerging, with already having quite a few fine books, as one of the premier historians on American colonial and religious history.  He is what I want to be when I grow up.

       

Strong Morning Coffee and Stronger Morning Theology

I love mornings.  I only wish I had two hours instead of one to enjoy the great pleasure of a strong cup of coffee and a good book.  My morning routine begins with turning the coffee maker on and doing my Bible reading.  After the Bible reading, the coffee is ready and the first book is started.  I usually read 10 to 20 pages of about 3 books on the morning stack.

Sinclair Ferguson, a Scotsman who had spent lots of years pastoring and teaching in the U. S., is one of my favorite writers.  I first heard of him and actually heard him many years ago at a conference in Pensacola, Florida.  He spoke there on the Book of Ruth.  Or as he called it Rrrrrr-uth, with his Scottish accent.  He is a representative of the best of Scottish Reformed preaching and teaching.  Last year, I read his book In Christ Alone and thorougly loved it.

This book, however, is of a different nature.  This was some tough theology, for it was an examination of an older theological work titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  In its time, some 250 years ago, the Marrow controversy created quite a stir among the Scottish ministers.  Formost among the defenders of the Marrow proponents was Thomas Boston, pastor and author of the Reformed classic Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.

While this is not a fluff book, it is an amazing work, as Tim Challies has noted HERE.  What Ferguson does is to take this old, largely forgotten and obscure controversy and explain in an understandable way.  But his goal was not simply to weigh in with clarity on a historical theological dispute. Instead, he makes it pertinent to modern Christians.  Legalism still affects the Church and the Christian community.  Many think that antinomianism (without law) is the opposite reaction to legalism.

In other words, a person goes from obeying a set of partially Biblical and partially man-imposed laws as a means of or proof of salvation.  It is easy to see how this morphs into works-salvation.  In reaction to this, other Christians oversell grace and freedom in Christ and open the door to any kind of living or acting.  “We are not under law, but under grace.”

Ferguson contends that the opposite of legalism is not antinomianism, but rather is grace.  Also he contends that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites, but are quite closely connected.

Tim Challies writes, “The core issue was whether or not a person must first forsake his sins in order to come to Christ. The Marrow Men, those who agreed with Fisher’s book, believed that this demanded works as a precursor to faith and was, in that way, opposed to the free offer of the gospel. Their opponents taught that the gospel should only be offered to those who were beginning to show evidence of being among God’s elect.”

I commend Challies’ review as a fuller explanation of the problem and as a short way of getting to the heart of this book.  This work is not a “once through rapidly” kind of read.  I already look forward to reading this book again, perhaps supplemented by some readings in both Fisher’s original work and Boston’s work.

It’s All Rushdoony’s Fault: Confessions of a Book-aholic

Books are a part of God’s creation and exhibit man’s being made in the image of God. Yet books are not innately sanctifying nor are they neutral. James tells us that the same tongue can praise God or curse God. Likewise, the same pen can write God-honoring truths or God-denying falsehoods.

Recently, I read a book called The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett. The title made me think the book could be about me, but by the grace of God alone, it wasn’t. It was the story of John Charles Gilkey, a book thief, and Ken Sanders, the book dealer who tracked him down. Gilkey connived and deceived sellers of expensive, rare, and antiquarian books. He accumulated certain collectible books because he thought it gave him a certain prestige, class, and acclaim among the wealthy and powerful.

To continue reading, click HERE.

Scots and Theology–Aye

   Two countries have continually attracted my attention as a student of history and theology.  History is filled with great powers that have risen to prominence and have ruled the lands and seas.  They conquered kingdoms, accrued vast territories, dominated culture, and changed the world.  But the two countries that repeatedly draw me like a magnet were not great powers.  They never really controlled vast territories or dominated the world.  Neither country had the natural geography or resources to be world movers and shakers.  But their influence has been repeated, profound, and salt-and-light type changing of the world.

I speak of the Netherlands and Scotland.  One might notice that Scotland itself has not been an independent country since the 1700s at least.  (A plebiscite last year fell short of a majority.  I will not take sides on that issue.) Certainly, the geographical challenges of both the Netherlands and Scotland, along with the histories of the people, have ingrained character traits into the people.  But more than Dutch lowlands and Scottish highlands have impacted the people.  It was Calvinism that gave a certain grade of steel into the Dutch and Scottish hearts.  That is not to say that all Scots or Dutch were or are Calvinists, and it is not to approve of all that Scots and Dutchmen have done or thought in line with their beliefs.  Neither land was ever a Reformational Utopia, but both have heavily salted and boldly lit up by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In this post, I want to highlight some of the books by and about the Scots that are currently weighing down my “To-Read Shelf.”

I am currently reading Riots, Revolutions, and the Scottish Covenanters:  The Work of Alexander Henderson by L. Charles Jackson. This book is published by Reformation Heritage Publishers, which is a top-notch source of great Christian books–their own publications and others they carry–in the Reformed perspective.

In the midst of our current, on-going, unrelenting culture wars, Christians need to be preparing for front-line cultural and spiritual battles.  That means reading about Christians who have gone to the mat in previous times.  The Scots were known for their dogged devotion to Calvinistic doctrine and their unflagging insistence on church and state bowing before the throne of King Jesus.

Alexander Henderson is one of many who are not well known among most of us, but who should be.  This is a scholarly study, and it is not an easy, quick read.  But this is a great contribution to our understanding of an overlooked phase of history that sheds light on our times.

Far better known than Henderson is John Knox.  He is one of the key figures in the Reformation as a whole, and, in particular, the Reformation in the British Isles.  I have only read a portion of this new biography of John Knox by Jane Dawson, but it is obvious from the very beginning that this is a first rate biography.  It is worth noticing some of the other descriptions and reviews given of this book, such as this one from the publisher’s web-site and the review found in The Scotsman.

Quite often biographies of significant religious and political leaders fall into 2 categories.  On the one hand, there are the popular biographies written for more general audiences.  There are quite a few good accounts of Knox written to encourage believers and resurrect the good ideas and steadfast actions of Knox.  The other types of biographies are the scholarly, more objective studies.  These are more reliant upon an examination of the documents and letters, the more complex times in which the person lived, and the evaluation of other academic biographers.

Both types of biographies are useful and needed.  The line between the two is not always so pronounced.  This is an academic biography of Knox, written by a university professor.  But, based again on what I have discerned from the book, it is very readable and balanced.  University presses don’t give their books away.  You may have to put this on your wish list, or wait for the paperback edition (poor fellow!), or ask Santy Claus to bring it to you.  Or take another job, sell something, or rob a store to get $45 for the book.  But get this book.

 

Banner of Truth Trust exists in part to provide temptations for me.  They publish and reprint quality and beautiful books in the Reformed tradition.  I don’t think, to paraphrase Will Rogers, that I ever met a Banner of Truth book I did not like, or want.

Sitting on my table is this incredible set of The Works of John Knox.   I now know something of what it must feel like to be rich like Donald Trump (without his hair or wacky views) or Mitt Romney (without his Mormonism).  In fact, I am wealthier than they are because I am sure that neither has this set of books.  Right now, it is like the New World that Columbus stumbled upon (without his mistaking the location).  There is a treasure trove of wealth here.

Again, this is a pricey set.  Banner sells it for $162, which is $27 per volume.  But Banner usually has an enticing Christmas sale and that is not far away.  Looking at the available space in Santy’s sleigh, there is adequate room for him to pack a set of Knox’s works.

One of the many great scholar-pastor-theologians of Scotland was James Bannerman (1807-1868).  He was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland and a professor of Apologetics and Pastoral Theology at New College, Edinburgh.  This is a 900 plus page study of ecclesiology.  I reckon this would be a book more appealing to pastors and more often referenced and studied in part than read from “kiver to kiver,” but it is a good addition to the shelves.

Of course, these four selections are only the tip of the iceberg, or only the top layer of a tilting stack of great Scots’ theology.  Banner has also reprinted John MacLeod’s Scottish Theology in Relation to Church History, which I have in an older edition–from Banner.  Then one cannot overlook Iain Murray’s delightful Scottish Christian Heritage.  For one unaquainted with the Scots (basically converted, but barbarian), Murray’s book might be the best place to begin.

Aye, the Scots…their history, culture, and theology.  Time would fail me to mention the many other Scots Worthies ( useful term and also another Banner title).  There is so much to learn and give praise to God for that grew out of the glens and dales of Scotland–Patrick Hamilton, James Melville, Thomas Chalmers (of whom George Grant eeks out a little bit information now and then to tantalize his readers and hearers), John Witherspoon, Eric Liddell, John Murray, and so many more.  (Sir Walter Scot and John Buchan open up yet another venue of discussion.)