“What a Piece of Work is a Man”–Studies in Theological Anthropology

 

 

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

Psalm 8:4-6

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act 2, Scene 2

Truly the study of humans is among the most profound, deep, enriching, challenging, and worthwhile pursuits.  Most of us in our professional lives as well as our day to day living are continually studying both ourselves and others. At every stage in life and family, the topic is renewed and expanded and the perspective is widened.  Marriage changes our understanding drastically.  Children expand that understanding in even more ways.  Self-reflection involves a series of affirmations or denials that all contribute to the topic.

The term “Theology” means the “study of God.”  Much of theological study involves in depth examination of Scripture and historical theological developments regarding who God is.  But in the broader sense, we use the word theology to refer to a series of studies that include not only God Himself, but the created order.  Highest in that order is man, meaning in the older sense, mankind or people.  The beautiful opening line of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion says, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’

I have recently been blessed by the challenge of working through three outstanding studies on the doctrine and nature of human anthropology.  First of all, I recommend all three books highly. They are not repetitions of one another, but the contents complement one another.  I did not set out to read these three books in an academic quest for studying humanness.  My reading plan is far too haphazard to be the result of a logic on my part.  But it has happened to me, and I could wish it to happen to others.

Reenchanting HumanityA Theology of Mankind

Reenhanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan is published by Mentor, which is an imprint of Christian Focus Publications.

This book is very basic, sound, and suited for regular readers, laymen, high school students, and perhaps college students in their first couple of years.  Topics include creation, fall, and redemption, as expected, but also particular subjects including work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice.  Each of those latter topics are hot spots in modern discussions.  Obviously, there are a wide range of views and speculations on these issues, but that does not mean that there are not basic and foundational truths to start with.  Strachan neither skirts the controversial issues nor does he waver from having a solid and traditional Biblical defense.

Some friends criticized this book as being a bit shallow.  Well, maybe.  But that depends on who the audience is.  I found the book to be both informative and spiritually moving.  In other words, theology and devotional reading met and ministered to me as the reader.  And there is always the need for good statements of basic truths and teachings.

This is a book that I would love to teach to a high school group or a Sunday school class.  At the same time, it was a very enjoyable morning read.

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck is published by Baker and is the first of three volumes.

See the source image

 

Herman Bavinck is currently a rock star among Reformed readers.  His books are being published, republished, translated, discussed, and promoted with unwavering zeal.  Now, along with the books by Bavinck, there are a number of studies appearing where scholars are analyzing and discussing him.  While he was never completely disregarded in the Reformed world, the degree of attention he is now getting is amazing.  I have previously posted a discussion of him and some of the many books that are now available.  I am currently reading off and on from The Wonderful Works of God, and it may well be the best Bavinck book to start with.

Bavinck is weighty and scholarly, but not impossible to read.  All he calls for is a bit of patience, a reasonably slow pace, strong hot coffee, and a mind ready for work. This first volume is…no surprise here…on ethics.  But such a topic so overlaps the study of man, mankind, humanity, people-persons that it is worthy to be used alongside the other two books listed here.

Any study of anthropology from Christian foundations has to examine what we were created to be like, how that changed due to the Fall, and how that has changed again due to redemption.  This is not ivory tower philosophy or dry-as-dust theology.  These matters are the nuts and bolts of Christian life and thought.  From here, one gets an understanding that should emanate from the pulpit, define the Humanities, impact the social order, and permeate every area of life and thought.

As my previous post indicates, one ventures here not just in reading some old dead Dutchman named Herman Bavinck, but in “Scaling Mount Bavinck.”

An Introduction to Theological Anthropology:  Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine by Joshua R. Farris is published by Baker. Academic.

Image may contain: text that says 'An Introduction to Theological Anthropology HUMANS, BOTH CREATURELY AND DIVINE JOSHUA R. FARRIS FOREWORD BY MARC CORTEZ'

When I first received my review copy of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology, I began second guessing myself for requesting it.  I really try to avoid asking for review copies of books that I think I will find too shallow, too technical, or disagreeable.  I thought this book would be way over my head, far above my reading ability, too deeply theological for my tastes, and too unfamiliar as a topic.

I was right.  And I am loving this book.  Yes, at times my comprehension of the discussion falls to a flat zero while Dr. Farris buzzes right on along tossing out terms and views that I know nothing of.  Some mornings, the caffeine in the coffee cannot quite energize me to the level of the book.  But so often, I have found myself very moved in the heart and challenged in the mind to think on topics that have never resonated quite this way before.

One of the saddest parts (and don’t bother to mourn for me) of being a book reviewer is that there is a drive to finish and post a few comments.  But this is a book that a reader needs to go through from start to finish, and then start over again with a pen and paper in hand.  Or he or she needs a group to study with.  Or maybe, one should just pay Dr. Farris to give lectures and reading assignments from the book.

One of my recurring thoughts on this book is about how vital this topic would be not just to a trained or aspiring theologian, but to a trained or aspiring student of philosophy.  I have spoken, as an outsider, about the need for, the growth of, the advance of Christians in philosophy and Christian approaches to philosophy.  And humans are central to our study of philosophy.  One thing that has dawned more slowly on me is that it is not just theologians and philosophers who should study “Humans, both creaturely and divine,” but also historians, literary scholars, psychiatrists, teachers, business people, and everyone else whose lives touch humanity.

What about preachers?  One of the questions I keep asking while reading this book is the old saying, “Will this preach?”  I don’t think, on the one hand, that many preachers will be stealing long passages from this book to incorporate into their sermons.  But the book’s discussion of the Incarnation worked me over.  I would not dare read those portions on the morning before giving an Advent sermon.  If I did read them at that point, I would not step into the pulpit.  But I would read and reread and think on these passages in my own study, which should be filled with sermons directed to my own mind and heart.

This is rich stuff. I have no doubt that some scholars and students more familiar with the sources cited and the topics addressed will have some fascinating tug of wars with this book.  “Farris did not adequately address such and such.”  “His treatment of this or that did not reflect a proper understanding of the whatever position.”  That is fine, for that is the world of some people, and such clashes of iron sharpens the clashed against iron.  But that is not my world.

For me, this book is once a again a work that impacts both head knowledge and heart direction.

Great books–all three.  Certainly, different strokes for different folks.  All three are evidences of God’s abundant blessings via the publishing world for us today.

 

 

 

Reformed Theology Takes Hold in Texarkana circa 1959

See the source image

In 1959, R. C. Sproul was still in college.  He had not yet encountered John Gerstner who would Calvinize his thinking.  John Piper was a teenager at Wade Hampton High School in South Carolina.  John MacArthur was a young Arminian, following in his father’s Wesleyan footsteps, who was transferring from Bob Jones University to Los Angeles Pacific College.  Tim Keller was an elementary school student.  John Frame was a seminary student.

There was no Gospel Coalition.  No PCA existed, while the OPC was a small group. No Founders Movement in the SBC.  Few people who identified as Anglicans in the Reformed tradition.  No internet trove of resources.  Few leaders who adhered to creation, inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and certainly not the Canons of Dordt.

Reprints could be found of old works of Arthur Pink and Charles H. Spurgeon.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known mostly in the British Isles.  Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd (still living at that time) were mostly confined to Dutch theological students.  Banner of Truth was just in its second or third year in the U. K.  Westminster Theological Seminary was a small operation that employed rather little known teachers named Murray, Van Til, Stonehouse, and Wooley.

These were what I have termed in various writings and talks “The Calvinist Wilderness Years.”  The declining fortunes of Calvinism had resulted in a loss of Calvinistic theology in Presbyterian, Reformed, Baptist, and Anglican circles.  Theological liberalism, the Higher Critical Movement, and Darwinian Naturalism had waged war against historic Christian theology in the latter decades of the 19th and the early decades of the 20th centuries.  The responses to theological deviations came from two radically different sources.  One was Neo-Orthodoxy and the profound, but not historically compatible, teaching of such men as Karl Barth or Emil Brunner.  The other more widespread response in the United States was the Fundamentalist Movement.

Rarely found from the fall of Princeton Theological Seminary to the 1980s were solidly Reformed, worldview thinking, culture driven Calvinist thinkers and movers and shakers.  Rarely found, but still in seed form and small plants, the future harvest of Calvinism could be found as I have indicated in my works called Calvinist Worldview Thinkers: The Wilderness Years.

Image may contain: text that says 'CAL VINIST WORLDVIEW THINKERS DURING THE WILDERNESS YEARS 1898 TO 1980 Lecture Series for the Christian Worldview Student Conference Newport News, Virginia July July 2007 2007 By Ben House Sen Jeuee'

Here and there, a remnant was out there preaching and teaching the historic doctrines that echoed the lessons from Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, J. Gresham Machen, and others.  In the 1950s, a row broke out at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  Some students were talking on campus about something called “the Doctrines of Grace” or “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  The young men who were there with plans of becoming preachers who then embraced historic Calvinism realized that their futures in Baptist churches in the south were dismal at best.  What was needed was another field to work in where they would not be dependent on church support.

Henry Wood was a negligent and careless student during his first year of college.  Running up and down the halls with a water gun, he was failing or nearly failing his courses.  He was a tall, lanky young Christian man with a baritone singing voice of amazing tone who was going to be a preacher.  Raised in a faithful Christian home, he was called of God to his way of thinking, so he went to Ouachita Baptist College. Little did he know that God who purposes the times and events intended much more than for Henry to just sing in a quartet and get a Bible degree.

In short, Henry got a glimpse of God in His Sovereignty.  He fought the doctrines tooth and nail, but like all who battle against God, Henry was subdued.  He wasn’t brought kicking and screaming into Calvinism, to use C. S. Lewis’s description of his own conversion, but he did kick and scream (as I did many years later) until he was amazingly changed.

In 1959,  after a few years of teaching in a high school and some time spent in seminary and then on to graduate school in history, Henry and his wife Melba Wood arrived in Texarkana, a border city on the Texas and Arkansas border.  Henry had been hired as a history teacher at Texarkana College.

It was 1974 when I was first sitting in his classroom at the front of a row with a notebook opened and ready to take notes.  I had previously taken a CLEP test that granted me credit for both semesters of American history.  But God had ordained that Texarkana College would still require that a student take one semester of American history.  I entered the classroom with the slightly cocky feeling that I already knew American history.

A few minutes into Mr. Wood’s stentorian lecture he used the word “Weltanschauung.”  That is a still obscure German word meaning “world and life view.”  I did not totally realize it at the moment, but that first powerful right hook from Professor Wood had put me on the mat.

Image may contain: 1 person

By 1974, the lecture notes Henry had developed through years of reading and delivering his talks were in top form.  I found myself trying to write every word, every anecdote, book reference, humorous aside that he mentioned.  I was in a continual mental whirl in his classroom.

Through the next couple of years, I read several of the books that Henry assigned in his classes:  John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits and A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer,  This Independent Republic and Freud by R. J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the Problem of Origins by Philip E. Hughes,  Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen, and Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.  Then after he gave me a sale sheet from a place called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, I ordered a book called Studies in Theology by Loraine Boettner.  My mother saw me reading it and asked, “Are you changing your major?”  I was a history major, English minor, and No, I was not changing my major, but still my major and minor and everything else was changing.

I have referred to The University Without a Campus.  That university did not have a campus at Texarkana College, but it had a chair.  Henry should have been designated the John Calvin Professor of American History and Western Civilization Studies.  The research library for those studies existed in his home on Main Street on heavy laden bookshelves weighed down with theological and historical resources.  There was no other such collection of books in Texarkana or probably anywhere in a hundred or two hundred mile radius.

Distilled in his notes were the thoughts of the Princeton theologians, Gordon Clark, R. J. Rushdoony, Gregg Singer, and others.  While Henry admired Cornelius Van Til and Herman Dooyeweerd (and owned works by them), he was not drawn into the intramural debates between Clarkians and Van Tillians or the Amsterdam philosophy, as far as I could tell.  He had also read deeply and widely in the leaders in the emerging conservative movement, and this involved his reading of William F. Buckley, M. Stanton Evans, and others.  Among his labors, Henry had worked for the futile Goldwater Campaign in 1964.  He remains a Republican voter and political conservative, but he always found the Republican Party to be a small stepping stone on the path to the wider Reformed worldview.

Many students took Henry Wood’s history classes.  Many students grumbled about his style, his lectures, his religion, and his academic standards.  They were losers.  Others enjoyed getting good solid teaching.  Some appreciated that he was conservative, or scholarly, or Christian.  A few of us embraced the whole package.

It would be the mid-to-late 1970s before Henry and others were able to start what has been an abiding Reformed Baptist church in Texarkana.  At the time, Texarkana had no local churches that shared its theology–either of Baptist or Presbyterian variety.  It was a pioneering work, a lonely work, and a battle against all manner of odds.

Now, there are far more churches, pastors, and individual Christians who are committed to Reformed theology or who have at least borrowed heavily from it.  And there are those who have embraced the world and life view that  Reformed theology contains.  Henry and Melba Wood are moving to North Carolina to be closer to their children and grandchildren.  Henry allowed me to recklessly plunder his library and to get books I had long coveted.  He just sat there and commented on this book or that while I was building stack after stack of books.

Several times in the past, Henry gave a series of lectures for the Sunday School hour on the history of Christianity in America.  This was prime material.  I heard portions of the series several times.  I hope that a quality set of recordings exist.  An era is coming to an end and a great mission has been accomplished.

 

 

Christian Essentials: The Ten Commandments and The Apostles’ Creed from Lexham Press

The Ten Commandments: A Perfect Law of Liberty is by Peter J. Leithart

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is by Ben Myers

Both of these volumes are part of the Christian Essentials series published by Lexham Press.

 

Thank God for the massive, weighty, richly voluminous weight-lifting theological books available to us in our times.  My bookshelves are literally sagging from these huge volumes often surpassing the 1000 page mark.  From the past and the present, great works of theology have been made available to us in these times.

Yet many of us have to confess that we have bookmarks sticking out in the first chapters of these books.  Or we have cheery picked a chapter or two for particular reading.  Or we have made it through only the first volume of a multi-volume set.  Or we have read the endorsements and blushed with shame that we have not been able to echo the words of J. I. Packer or Joel Beeke about the value of some great theological treasure.

Praise God for our partially read books, our unstarted books, our good intentioned book reading, and our failed efforts to persevere.  Bit by bit, we have tasted great works.

But let us also give thanks for those books that are easily read from cover to cover.  And thanks be given for the short summaries, the “concise brevity,” to use Calvin’s words, and the books that are so easy to buy, carry around, and not only start, but finish.

Lexham Press published books of all sizes and shape.  Abraham Kuyper’s Honey From the Rock  is a physically big book from Lexham Press, but so are John Frame’s We are All Philosophers

and Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.

 

               

Besides the differences in size and topics, these books also display the variety of theological angles that Lexham Press books are providing.  Travis James Campbell and his study titled The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling God’s Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence and Michael Heiser’s books such as The Unseen Realm and Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the  Powers of Darkness are in the Lexham line-up.  At the same time, there are a number of rarely seen books by a few of the great Dutch theologians and thinkers such as Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen van Prinsterer.

Then there is this fine series called Christian Essentials.

These books are short, well-bound hardbacks that address key elements of Christian doctrine and life.  They are also deceptive!  One thinks that he or she is going to skip along through a nice, devotional read, but instead, the reader discovers a deep wellspring of theological practice and thought.  Short books, to be sure, but books that are far from light and fluffy.  Readable, yes, but also deeply connected to Faith and Life.  Practical, yes.  Teachable, yes.  Understandable, yes, assuming one is in a good solid church that is supplementing a life of Christian doctrine and practice.

I read Ben Myers’ Apostles’ Creed a year or more ago.  Sometime after reading it, I pulled it off the shelf again to borrow heavily from in preaching a sermon on the Creed.  (I never got past the words “I believe” from the opening of the Creed in my sermon.) This Creed is one that all Christians should believe, embrace, and recite.  Growing up Methodist, I learned it from childhood.  Recently, Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist theologian, wrote a book on the same creed.  (Mohler’s book is good, but Myers’ book is better.)

A few months back, I received a copy of Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments.  I have met and heard Dr. Leithart and have read quite a few of his many books.  Hop on board the Leithart train and you will be taken on a wild and surprising journey into theology, liturgy, literature, and more.  He is, quite simply, too smart.  (Read jealousy into that statement.)  He is also a good writer.

There are a number of books, as one might guess, on the Ten Commandments.  On the one hand, I tend to shy away from some of the ones that would be more popular, trendy, and designed to go after our cultural enemies.  Note that I would probably agree with most of the content of such books, but would still not prefer to be reminded that statistical numbers and Hollywood culture are cringy signs of a culture that hates God.

My two previous and preferred books on the Ten Commandments are as follows:  I love R. J. Rushdoony’s classic Institutes of Biblical Law.  This book is large, detailed, profound, thoughtful, and revolutionary.  More than any other work I know, it expands and applies the commandments to all of life, culture, thought, politics, and society.

The second volume I like is Thomas Watson’s Ten Commandments.  This book is, in Puritan fashion, aimed at the heart.  It is rich, devotional, and filled with practical exhortations.  If you want to like the Puritans, read this book.

Now, my favorite Ten Commandments book has a third member:  Leithart’s book.  At the end of each chapter, I found myself wondering how anyone could have packed so much into so few pages.  This book is a not a call for posting the Commandments on the lawn of the city square.  Nor is this book one that places the Law of God in a museum for New Testament believers to tour and take selfies in front of.  The Law is applied to people in Christ because they are in Christ and the Ten Words are from God.

Great books–The Christian Essentials are wonderful studies, preaching and teaching tools, family worship materials, and reads.

 

 

 

The University Without a Campus

See the source image

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.”  By that I mean that the post- and also pre-World War II era, including the 1960s, was a time of great political and cultural calamities, and it was a time of great spiritual drought and uncertainty.

There was no Internet on which to search for the topic Christian worldview.  Nor was there an Amazon, Goodreads, or Abebooks on which to find needed resources.  The Christian school movement, including the revitalized classical Christian school movement and home schooling, were largely non-existent.  Christians in politics usually meant more liberal people fighting for Civil Rights (somewhat correctly) or more conservative people opposing Civil Rights (wrongly).  Christianity and philosophy were separate subjects who barely acknowledged one another.  Reformed theology was limited to a small number of folks who clung to the Five Points of Calvinism or some traditional Presbyterians who were hold-outs against the theological wars of the 1920s.

Billy Graham represented in both positive and less positive ways the face of evangelicalism.  There was little concern for finding the Christian mind because few thought that it even existed.

And yet, there were and had been a cadre of Christian scholars and thinkers who had swum against the tides.  They circles were small; their followers were few; their books were obscurely published and, in not in English, usually untranslated.  They found themselves rarely noted, reviewed, footnoted, or referenced.  This was what I called in a series of talks some years ago “The Wilderness Years.”

The topic mesmerizes me.  I was first reminded of it when James Jordan published an article called “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind.”  Later, P. Andrew Sandlin published a similar article titled “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”  For them and for me, the story was powerful because it was autobiographical.  When I rediscovered this topic, somewhere around the year 2005, the age that Jordan and Sandlin wrote about had passed.  For me, it had faded into the back of my mind, but reading about it was like discovering a door leading back into the foundations of my own journey and still incomplete worldview.

As I described the events of the time, an Australian friend described the situation as “A university without a campus.”  I thought it an apt and beautiful phrase.

Like all historical recollections, this one is incomplete and not fully nuanced.  But here in this post, I want to call attention to a world of books that were, even in the most intellectually barren and spiritually slim times, “out there.”  Some few found them.  They told others.  The books got picked up here and there.  Iron sharpened iron.  The remnant read the books.

One can find many books today that are, in most respects, better written, more applicable, and improved.  But these were the books that showed up in those Wilderness Years.

Charles H. Craig

Charles H. Craig may be among the most under-acclaimed heroes of Christian publishing. He took over Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing in 1957 and was responsible for seeing to the publication of so many good books.

THE UNIVERSITY WITHOUT A CAMPUS

Books Published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company

(also called The Craig Press)in the 1950s-1970s

See the source image

Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 1977

——–Homosexuality: A Biblical View, 1978

Theonomy in Christian Ethics came near the end of the period that I have as my focus.  The picture above is of a much later edition.  In many ways, this book and author were high-jacked.  Dr. Bahnsen wrote a lengthy, detailed study of Biblical law.  It was attached to a movement, alternately called Theonomy or Christian Reconstruction, which made it handy to refute it by attacking some aspects of the movement.  It lessened Bahnsen’s standing as a first-rate scholar in apologetics and philosophy, not because of anything wrong with the book, but because it overshadowed the work of the man.

Whether one accepts any or all or none of its content, this was a powerful study that has yet to receive due compensation from Christian thinkers.

See the source image

Gordon H. Clark. Historiography: Secular and Religious. 1971

——–Karl Barth’s Theological Method.

———-Religion, Reason and Revelation. 1961

———-The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. 1964

———-Three Types of Religious Philosophy. 1973

Gordon Haddon Clark was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of the 20th century.  Wheaton College committed a kamikaze attack on its own academic standards when it pushed him aside decades ago.  Controversies within Presbyterian circles pitted Clark against Cornelius Van Til, resulting in the small remnant of Calvinist thinkers battling each other rather than confronting the enemies in the opposing trenches.

Much recovery has been done by Douglas Douma’s biography of Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher:  The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. There are probably more serious students of Clark’s writings than ever before. R. C. Sproul said that Clark is one of the few Christians of our time who will be read 500 years from now.  Almost all of his books are currently in print from the Trinity Foundation.

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by [Doug J. Douma, Lois Zeller, Betsy Clark George]

Norman De Jong. Christianity and Democracy. 1978

———-Education in the Truth. 1977

While many evangelicals accepted, embraced, and defended public schools, the Dutch in America maintained a suspicion and opposition to Christ-less education.  They were not fighting against integration, the removal of non-descript prayers, or evolution; rather, they embraced a whole philosophy of education.  Norman De Jong wrote several books that provided such foundations.

Herman Dooyeweerd. The Christian Idea of the State. 1968

———-In the Twilight of Western Thought. 1960, 1980

———-A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 4 Volumes. 1953

One of the greatest names in philosophy in the world today is a name that is ignored still in many philosophy departments both secular and religious.  Herman Dooyeweerd, a Dutchman, wrote extensively on philosophy and culture. Through most of his life, he was little known here in the United States.  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing picked up some of his books and lectures, or had them translated, for the North American readers.  HD is not an easy read, but he has sparked a number of followers in philosophy, history, and theology.

See the source image

David Hugh Freeman. A Philosophical Study of Religion. 1964

———-Recent Studies in Philosophy and Religion. 1962

Freeman wrote and contributed to a number of volumes that P & R published.

E. R. Geehan, editor. Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and  Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 1971

This work, which probably garnered few readers, was an in-depth discussion of Cornelius Van Til’s thought as critiqued and defended by friends and foes.

Philip Edgecombe Hughes, Christianity and the Problem of Origins. 1974

Reverend Hughes wrote quite a few fine books, including several Bible commentaries.  He taught at Columbia Theological Seminary due to a grant for a theology professor from a wealthy conservative donor.  A British scholar, Hughes wrote the little noticed short work listed above.  I read it for a Western Civilization class taught by Henry Wood, one of that small remnant who read the Calvinist thinkers back in their day.  That short work was powerful. It needs to be made available again.

Jon R. Kennedy. The Reformation of Journalism: A Christian Approach to Mass  Communication. 1972

Both the book and the author are forgotten.  I read it back in the 1970s because I was taking some journalism classes.

See the source image

Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee

Francis Nigel Lee. A Christian Introduction to the History of Philosophy. 1969, 1978

———-Communism Versus Creation. 1969

———-Communist Eschatology. 1974

———Origin and Destiny of Man. 1974

Francis Nigel Lee was a prolific writer, a scholar who collected Ph. D.’s like other people collect coffee mugs, and an engaging preacher.  He wrote several fine books, but the biggest was Communist Eschatology.  I spent a couple of years searching for this book.  I could remember back when P & R was just about giving it away.  Finally, I contacted Christian cartoonist Vic Lockman, who agreed to sell me his autographed copy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting Vic and Dr. Lee via emails.  I was saddened when Lee died some years back.

No photo description available.

Ronald H. Nash, editor. The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. 1968

The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift - Ronald H. Nash Ed. - 1968 HB

In Hot Spring, Arkansas some years ago, I was searching–I thought in vain–through the most worthless, cluttered, junky used bookstore I have ever been in.  98 percent of the books were trade paperback romance novels and the like.  But somewhere in the high reaches on a shelf, I saw a good hardcover edition of this festschrift to Gordon Clark.  Outstanding book, containing contributions from several of the other authors mentioned in this posting.

See the source image

Gary North, economist, libertarian political thinker, theonomist, Christian Reconstructionist, author, and more.

Gary North, An Introduction to Christian Economics, 1973

———-Marx’s Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction. 1968

Although I now have a couple of dozen books by Gary North, I don’t think I have ever acquired An Introduction to Christian Economics.  From these two books that North did for P&R, he went on to create his own publishing firms which were putting out his books and those of his followers.  It is easy to find fault with Gary North on some topic or the other, but the man wrote some fine studies and has labored hard for the cause of Christian thought.

Vern S. Poythress. Philosophy, Science, and the Sovereignty of God. 1976

This book has been reprinted, revised, and expanded.  Poythress is among the last of the old-time Calvinist worldview thinkers who has lived on to be in the top cadre of such writers and thinkers.  His books are many.  I know because I keep trying to get all of them.

W. Stanford Reid. Christianity and Scholarship.

I am not sure if I have this book or not.  The topic is one on which dozens of books are being published today, but it was not as common in the past.

See the source image

Rousas John Rushdoony. Foundations of Social Order. 1968

———-Institutes of Biblical Law. 1973

———-Intellectual Schizophrenia. 1961

———Law and Liberty. 1971

———-The Messianic Character of American History. 1968

———-The Myth of Overpopulation. 1969

———-The Mythology of Science. 1967

———-The Nature of the American System. 1965

———-The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. 1971

———-Politics of Guilt and Pity. 1970.

———-This Independent Republic. 1964

Pilloried, ignored, discounted, and politely not mentioned, Rousas John Rushdoony was one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century in regard to Christian thought.  Yes, he was wrong sometimes, but try reading Augustine and Calvin for perfect thinking.  RJR was the most widely diffused thinker I have ever been acquainted with.  I met him a few times, corresponded with him a few times, and read and listened to him quite a bit.

The books listed above are, besides being on a variety of topics, brilliant gems.

See the source image

C. Gregg Singer. From Rationalism to Irrationality: The Decline of the Western Mind From the Renaissance to the Present. 1979

———John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits

———-A Theological Interpretation of American History. 1964

It was Singer, along with Rushdoony, whose books first taught me a critical lesson:   I didn’t know how to read serious, analytical material.  And another lesson:  I didn’t know how to think Christianly about politics and culture.  Even on points where I disagree with the late Dr. Singer now, I still have to respect what his books taught me.

J. M. Spier. Christianity and Existentialism. 1953

———-An Introduction to Christian Philosophy. 1966

Spier was another Dutchman, I think, who helped pave the way for English speaking people to read and understand Dooyeweerd.

See the source image

Hebden Taylor. The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State. 1966

———-Economics, Money, and Banking , 1978

———-Evolution and the Reformation of Biology. 1967

———-Reformation or Revolution. 1970

E. L. Hebden Taylor was a British Anglican theologian and writer.  His books are all out of print and hard to find.  One of my copies came to me from New Zealand.  A dear couple, the young man now deceased, gave me copies of The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics, and the State and Reformation or Revolution.  Taylor was a strong disciple of Herman Dooyeweerd.

See the source image

H. Van Reissen, author of Society of the Future and a monograph titled Nietzsche.

H. Van Reissen, The Society of the Future. 1952

Van Reissen was a Dutchman, part of the cast of thinkers in the Free University of Amsterdam orbit, and a profound Christian scholar.

See the source image

Cornelius Van Til. The Case for Calvinism. 1964

———-Christian Theistic Ethics. 1971

———-A Christian Theory of Knowledge. 1969

———-Christianity and Barthianism. 1962

———Christianity and Idealism. 1955

———Christianity and Modern Theology. 1955

——–Common Grace, 1947

———-The Defense of the Faith. 1955

———-An Introduction to Systematic Theology. 1966

———The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel. 1953

Cornelius Van Til was one of the greatest apologists of his and our time.  There are plenty of critics around.  I cannot completely land myself within his complete system, but I have gained so much from my limited studies of the man and his labors.

In the late 1990s, P&R would publish two major studies of Cornelius Van Til.  One was by Greg Bahnsen and the other by John Frame.

         

William Young. Foundations of Theory

———-Hegel’s Dialectic Method: Its Origins and Religious Significance. 1972

Young was a translator of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique , and he authored a couple of philosophical studies.  A few years back, another company published a collection of his writings which range from philosophy to theology.

             

Modern Thinkers Series, edited by David H. Freeman

Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen

Kierkegaard by S. U. Zuidema

Dewey by Gordon H. Clark

Bultmann by Herman Ridderbos

Sartre by S. U. Zuidema

Van Til by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Niebuhr by G. Brillenburg Wurth

Barth by A. D. R. Polman

Tillich by David H. Freeman

James by Gordon H. Clark

Freud by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Toynbee by C. Gregg Singer

This set of books was outstanding in its day.  I have several of them and wish I had them all.  P&R has somewhat revived the tradition with its Great Thinkers Series.

Books Published by Baker Book House

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism.

H. Henry Meeter, Basic Ideas of Calvinism. 1939

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. 1959

Baker Book House often worked in tandem with Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.  These three books are all classics in the field.  I think that they may all still be available.

Books Published by William B. Eerdmans

Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education. 1946

———-A Christian View of Men and Things. 1952

Herman Dooyeweerd, Transcendental Problems of Philosophical Thought. 1948.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. 1923

Four books among many that William B. Eerdmans published that were influential in Calvinistic Worldview Thinking.

Books Published by Ross House Books

Gary North, editor, Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective. 1979

Ross House became the publishing firm for R. J. Rushdoony’s books.  They are still pouring out old and newly published volumes of his work.  This work was an early publication that has some really tough essays on Christian thought.  It is worth searching for and buying.

See the source image

Time  fails me from being able to scope out and discuss, even briefly, many of the other works of the Wilderness Years.  Besides the men mentioned above, others like George Grant, John Frame, Joseph Morecraft, Gary DeMar, David Chilton, Calvin Seerveld, H. Evan Runner, Arthur Holmes,  Carl F. H. Henry,  and many more were writing, teaching, preaching, and laying the foundations for Christian thinking from solidly Reformed positions.

Also, much more could be said about the formative roles of James Orr, a Scotsman, and those incredible Dutchmen–Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck.

No photo description available.

Swimming In The Deep Waters of Theology

 

See the source image

One of the marks of a good book, in my experience, is the sense that while you are reading it, you know that you will need to read it again.  I am not talking about a book being unnecessarily obscure or difficult.  I am talking about a book having layers, having implications, having a depth that demands more than just the passing of the eyes over the pages.

On the one hand, swimming in deep water involves the same processes that are used in swimming in shallow water.  But the swimmer needs more resources, such as the ability to persevere, to tread water for a time, to come back up if the depth is too much to allow standing, and to not lose heart.  But remember that I am actually talking about reading, about which I have much experience, and not swimming, about which I have only desires and not abilities.

Krause Springs

I would like to highlight some recent readings that have depth.  Along with the books mentioned, I have an anxious stack of deep water reads that are calling out to me to dive in, regardless of the consequences.

Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, edited by Robert Elmer, is published by Lexham Press. This rather recent publisher is working hard to become one of my all time favorites with their publications of works by Abraham Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen Van Prinsterer.  But along with the venerable Dutchmen, Lexham Press is putting out a number of other outstanding and attractive books.

This book is of superb gifting quality.  It is a beautiful hardback book that would adorn any coffee table, shelf, reading table, or ungainly stack of books (as is the case with most of my own books).  I apologize for not giving heads up about this book before Christmas.  If you have enjoyed such blessing-filled prayer and meditation works as Valley of Vision, published by Banner of Truth, or Every Moment Holy, published by the Rabbit Reading Room,you will love this book as well. The title itself comes from a Puritan who said, “That prayer is most likely to pierce heaven which first pierces one’s own heart.”

I include this book with the deep water theologies for one reason:  It is a slow, very slow, methodical book to get through.  This is not due to technical terms, theological allusions and references, or convoluted prose.  I had to read the first prayer several times and for several days. This material is rich, while my prayer life and thoughts are poor.  I know that I could, as a book reviewer, kick it into high gear and knock this book out quickly.  And there are good reasons to survey the book as a whole; however, the book cries out, page after page, for me to slow down, think, apply, re-read, and attempt to make these Puritan prayers my own.

And, if you are new to understanding the Puritans, God has a great gift in store for you.  And this gift is not one that you will use up even over a long lifetime.

The Feasts of Repentance

The Feasts of Repentance: From Luke-Acts to Systematic and Pastoral Theology by Michael J. Ovey is published by InterVarsity Press.

After I received this review book, I questioned my judgment in asking for it.  I shied away for a short while, thinking that unlike so many delightful reads from IVP, this would not be a book of interest.  But one day, I devoted a few minutes to glancing at it.  What caught my attention, first and foremost, was a description of the man that I shared with friends.  This quote noted that Dr. Ovey, who had recently passed away, was ” a biblical and systematic theologian with a deep pastoral concern ” from Australia.  He was still working on this book when he died. “The word most often used of him after his death was ‘kind. ‘”

I was deeply touched by that and desired that whatever I might attain as to understanding and knowledge would be trumped by a reputation for being kind as well.  The description of Dr. Ovey, given in the preface by a friend and colleague, led me to slowly dive into the book.

The first few chapters of the book are exegetical and text related looks at the theme of repentance in Luke and Acts.  One of the riches of the Gospels and of the Bible in general is that a teacher or pastor can call attention to a particular theme and lead us back through the familiar texts with a new and greater appreciation.  Of course, I knew that Luke and Acts both say something about repentance, but this study brought the content of that home in a much richer, way.

Subsequent chapters delve more deeply into repentance as a theological, Biblical, and pastoral topic.  As stated above, this is stuff well worth reading a second or third time.  This book would most likely appeal to theology students and serious pastors (and I hope that is the only kind) who are never satisfied with what they know about the different aspects of salvation.

Cover Art

Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ by Matthew W. Bates is published by Baker Publishing Group.

I arrived at this party late, which is no surprise for those who know me.  This book is a follow-up to Bates’s previous book Salvation by Allegiance Alone, which is also published by Baker.  Early on, he notes areas where the more recent book clarifies or adds to the other book, but I was not able to engage in that part of the discussion.  (That also happens when you arrive late to a party.)

This book presents some rather strong cases for rethinking and restating some familiar truths and beliefs.  This book locks horns, gently but aggressively with some of my theological mentors such as John Piper and the late R. C. Sproul.  This book calls for some unconventional, but according to Bates, Biblical ways of understanding salvation. And this book provides the strongest bridge I have encountered for Christians of all orthodox heritages to recognize one another as believers, and by this I mean that Bates’s definition and explanation of being Christian brings Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, Reformed folks and Arminian/Wesleyans into the same big tent.  By the way, he does this without glossing over what he views as errors among some of the groups.

The main contention of this book is that the Greek word pistis, which we commonly translate as faith, is better translated as allegiance.  Okay, so what?, you might ask.  The point is that faith is often defined, documented, and defended as a personal response to Jesus that gives us a ticket to heaven when we die.  In contrast, allegiance is kingly, more comprehensive, more communal and corporate, and more focused on both the here and now as well as a future eternal state.

We don’t just “accept Jesus” (I am cringing while writing that) and then go on about our way.  Of course, those who have long emphasized Lordship in the controversies related to that term or who emphasize a Christian world and life view have already frequently pressed the point that salvation is not just eternal fire insurance.

Christ is King, and this is the proclamation that should be made in our preaching, teaching, and lives.  Just as when the Allies liberated Nazi-held territories, they were proclaiming that the land areas and people were now under American, British, or French rule, so we proclaim Jesus as the one to whom we owe allegiance.  We recognize in this that our allegiance, like our faith, works, and intentions, are weak, often faltering, often failing completely, but we still acknowledge Christ as King.

Everyone, except for me of course, muddles the definitions and explanations of salvation.  Catholics are a particular target among us Protestant folk.  Although Dr, Bates attained his Ph.D. from Notre Dame and teaches in a Catholic institution, he delivers some pretty hefty gut punches to the Catholic scheme of salvation.  Yet, I find his overall approach quite appealing since I know Catholics who affirm everything that I say in the Apostles’ Creed and who do not say that their hope is based on doing enough good stuff or lighting enough candles.

I have had to give some careful thought to what Bates says about election.  His focus is on God’s  predestination of the Church, the body of Christ–local and universal–rather than on individual believers.  Ephesians 1, a favorite passage among us Calvinists, is the passage under discussion in the book.  Even a longtime Calvinist like me has to consider ways that Ephesians 1 speaks corporately and not of individuals.  I do admit that we all read too much of the Bible as though it was God’s Word specifically to me, myself, and I rather than to God’s people in time and history.  My experience in reading this book was not one of complete agreement with every point.  I had lots of “Amens,” but quite a few times when I had to file away what is said so that I can think about it, preferably in the light of Bible reading.  That is, in my opinion, the mark of a good book.

Plenty of reasons can be added to what I have said above for reading and discussing this book.  I have been tossed and turned by a number of theological controversies pitting this group or faction against that group or faction.  The gunfire has usually been intense, has often included lots of helpful insights, and yet has usually resulted in Christians plunging swords into the bellies of each other while letting the stinking world go to Hell.

But surely we can read, disagree, think, modify, and expand our understanding of salvation.  I am not a theologian, so I cannot let go of the rope swing (see pictures above) and plunge into these waters.  But I can be blessed by those tidbits of wisdom I latch onto as a result of serious reading or an idle thought that comes from this book.

Read it and let me know what you think.  My thanks to a young, serious theology student, Timothy J. Martin, for calling my attention to this work.

Alas, there are more deep waters awaiting me on my “to be read and reviewed” shelf:

Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History by Darrell L. Bock and J. Ed Komoszewski

The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy by James R. Payton, Jr.

Divine ImpassibilityFour Views on God’s Emotions and Suffering edited by Robert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill

Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry

The Identity and Attributes of God by Terry L. Johnson

Cover image for the Identity and Attributes of God by Terry Johnson

Every pastor, teacher, and serious Christian should have a healthy dose of Puritan theology.  Over and over again, I have heard it:  Read the Puritans.  Whole volumes have been written on the value of the Puritans.

But there is a problem.  It is not as though someone said to read the works of this author or that one.  But the call is to read “the Puritans.”  The Puritans of England, along with some of their heirs who paddled over the pond to New England, were among the more prolific, and sometimes wordy, writers that ever lived.  Sometimes their styles are dense, archaic, and too formal for easy reading.  But sometimes they are clear, crisp, and as pointed as a sharp knife.  But still there is the immensity of the task of even plodding through particular volumes, much less through whole sets, of Puritan works.

I suspect that there are more Puritan writings available today than at any time in history.  One of the main publishers of Puritan works has been the Banner of Truth Trust.

See the source image

The Banner, however, has no monopoly on Puritan reprints.  As a point to consider, you should be able to quickly judge the depth of a pastor by how many books he has on his shelves by Puritans and their direct theological descendants.  And you can make it a point to see how many Banner of Truth works he has. If his shelves are sagging from the weight of so many Puritan works, you can either buy him more or get him more bookshelves.  If his book collection makes you think of the wimpy guy on the beach before he embraced the Charles Atlas body-building program, you will know what to get him for Christmas, his birthday, and Pastor Appreciation month.

See the source image

The relentless accumulation of Puritan tomes doesn’t really solve the problem, however, of the immensity of the task of reading the Puritans.  For that reason, I want to strongly recommend The Identity and Attributes of God by Terry L. Johnson.  Yes, this is a Banner of Truth book.

Terry L. Johnson has read, gleaned, and cherry picked the Puritans with great skill.  This book of nearly 400 pages would be cut in half if all of his fine quotes from Puritans and their fellow travelers were cut out.  This book is a primer on what Puritans to read, which volumes to peruse, and what method to use to get the Puritans’ thoughts into your own heart and mind first and then into your preaching and teaching.  Names like Charnock, Sibbes, Trapp, Henry, Owen, Edwards, Poole, Bunyan, Watson, Gurnall, and Baxter become household names after just going a few chapters into the book.  Add to that, you get a number of other great Christian writers such as Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, A. W. Pink, James Henley Thornwell, and more.  Learning begins with lists and recognition skills.  I promise that if someone were to read this book and then pick a book every month by almost any of the authors quoted, he would have years of good reading choices.

All this being said, Johnson did not write primarily to introduce us to Puritans and other theological writers.  They are only eligible for being the supporting cast for this book.  The key theme, purpose, goal, and objective for the reader is to know God.

See the source image

It might seem like God is the Big E on the eye vision chart.  We might think that the pressing need in the church is to focus on family, marriage, the current cultural challenges, witnessing and evangelism, and many more practical things.  Of what practical use is hearing about the incommunicable attributes of God? This entire book seeks to answer that question.  A case can be made that all of the practical needs in the church, all of the cultural problems, and all of the defects in our theology stem from inaccurate, inadequate, and unbiblical views of God.

Pastor Johnson, who ministers in the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia, originally set out to preach ten sermons on the attributes of God.  It didn’t turn out that way, for he ended up preaching 82 sermons in that series.  This book is the distillation of that series.  Whether one reads for devotional purposes, or desires to delve into theology, or seeks to find material for preaching and teaching, this book is a gem.

On the cover of a 1971 album, the rock group Jethro Tull described modern folks saying, “In the beginning man created God in his own image.”  This is not too far from a statement by Karl Barth: “I said concerning critical reflection that it cannot be good to reverse the order and turn ‘Thus says the Lord’ into ‘Thus hears man’….”  I have been convicted in paragraph after paragraph of this book that I may know God and be known of God, but I have taken the name, identity, and attributes of God far too lightly.

I highly recommend this book.  Thanks to Banner of Truth for publishing it and to Pastor Terry Johnson for laboring to write and share it.

 

The Theopolitan Vision by Peter J. Leithart

The Theopolitan Vision by Peter J. Leithart is published by Theopolis Books, an imprint of Athanasius Press.

Dr. Leithart is the President of the Theopolis Institute, which is a study center for “Biblical, Liturgical, and Cultural Studies.”  He has authored an incredibly large of books on Biblical, theological, and literary topics.  I have and have read a number of his books, but I way behind on having everything he has published.  His productivity simply astounds me.

On the one hand, doing a promotional review of a Peter Leithart book is both certain to succeed and to fail.  Leithart, as well as his friend and mentor James B. Jordan, have lots of fans, followers, and students who would buy print copies of their grocery lists if such were available.  I understand, for I am that way about certain authors.  On the other hand, there are those who immediately link Leithart with various positions he espouses or with people he is associated with and would flee from any suggestion of reading his books.  I am not able to address either group, and that first one probably has already devoured this book.

I am not equipped to be contentious or even capable of deep critical thought.  When my wife and I go to a concert and listen to skilled musicians, we talk about them on the way home.  I am usually saying things like, “They are really good.”  My wife, on the other hand, is saying things about the technique,  interpretation, dynamics, and execution of the music.  I nod and assume she is right and try to figure out if she also thinks they are really good.

There are many theologians, philosophers, political and social commentators, literary critics, and historians that I learn from without being able to plunge to the depths or climb to the heights of their thought.  Nor do I reject them because of a point of contention here or a quibble there.  I write this post, therefore, to ask readers to glean the pages of The Theopolitan Vision.  If you want to know which sentence caused me to cringe or which paragraph put a grumpy face on me, message me.  Overall, the book was encouraging, enlightening, and much needed among God’s people.

Many years ago, I was reading heavily from books emerging from the various corners of the Christian Reconstruction (Theonomic) movement.  For a time, the centers of these productions were coming forth from Chalcedon in California, from Tyler, Texas (for a short season), and from American Vision in Georgia.  In spite of the many good and serious works these Recons were writing, there was an ongoing criticism.  It was that their books, and especially those of Dr. Rushdoony in California, were weak on the local church.

Maybe they were, or maybe they were just focused on some overlooked areas of Christian cultural engagement.  A movement will tend to morph in several directions.  There are always those who try to maintain the original ideas and concepts, and then there are those who push the boundaries and maybe even redefine them. us

I don’t know the exact role of Peter Leithart from those Recon days.  There are quite a few Christians who found the Recon movement helpful without embracing it.  I think that defines me, and I think it defines such people as Leithart, George Grant, Andrew Sandlin, John Frame, John Barach, Mickey Schneider, and others.  In the second tier of Reconstruction authors was James B. Jordan.  For a season or two, he worked for Chalcedon, and then he departed. (Departed being a nice way of saying that he was fired.)  Dr. Jordan, an acquaintance of mine, greatly influenced Leithart.

Within the ranks of those who might have been immersed in Reconstruction thought in the 1980s, we now find many who now have a heavy emphasis on the local church, church life, and liturgy.  In our day, we find a wild enthusiasm for many elements of Reformed theology that is often joined with many contemporary, popular, and crowd-centered ideas about the Sunday worship service.  It is not all bad, but it is not all good either.  I pastored for several years in a Presbyterian church with a very traditional service, and after I stepped down as pastor, I was still in charge of the worship service.  I thought the order of service to be quite good, Biblically rich, and fulfilling.  Nevertheless, for a host of reasons, the church faltered, failed, and then closed.  I still love the liturgical practices of those days.

The Theopolitan Vision is not a manual for worship services.  Leithart would direct you to Jeffrey Meyers’s useful book The Lord’s Service for that (and I found Meyers’s helpful but not convincing). I would direct you to John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth.  Instead, this book, as the title indicates is a vision of what church life should be.  Leithart directs a large part of the book to the role of the pastor, who is to be the prime (or maybe sole) worship leader.  He also presses upon the people in the pews how they are to worship and participate.

We can, so easily, minimize that hour or so we spend worshipping.  We can, while worshipping, find ourselves so distracted, so lulled by the repetition from week to week, and dulled by our own lethargy that we miss what a powerful impact worship has.  Every area of life and thought is to be brought under the dominion of Christ, but central to all that is church life and worship.

Leithart explains the vision as follows: “So the Theopolitan vision isn’t a vision of pastoral ministry alone.  It’s a vision of the church in the world and of the church’s mission in and to the world. It’s a vision of the church, the whole church, as God’s heavenly city on earth.”

There is nothing wrong with the sentiment of the song that says, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” but if we are not experiencing something really, really close to that in worship, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Of course, it is easy to read a book with some attainable, but rare ideals of church life and find yourself nit-picking the problems in your own congregation. (Avoiding in the process your own eye logging industry.)  Whether pastor or pew sitter, you will find your own church service, congregation, and church life wanting.  Leithart says that if you find your own church indifferent or hostile, pack up and leave immediately and find the ideal church.  No!  He does not say that.  Instead, he says, “If the church is faithful to the gospel, start by giving thanks for the congregation, pastor, and church….Thank God for their faithfulness, for their ministries and evangelism, for the truth that is communicated.” Amen!

I would love to see Christians reading this book who are not in sync with Leithart’s doctrines and practices.  I would love to see Baptist, non-denominational, charismatic, and people-friendly pastors and others gleaning from this book.  Many would read it and conclude, “Here is how we are going to do what he says.” That response, I think, would be quite joyous to me, and I think Peter Leithart would like it as well.

The Essential Karl Barth

Cover Art

The Essential Karl Barth: A Reader and Commentary by Keith L. Johnson is published by Baker Publishing Group.

Karl Barth was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century.  He remains one of the more controversial theologians as well.  I have no way of knowing how much influence he still has or will have over the next few decades.  Theology is not my field of specialty.  I watch the high dives while wading in the shallow end of the pool.

I figure that many pastors, teachers, and theology students are not all that different from me in their familiarity with Barth.  We have heard the name.  Often it is resounding in phrases like “Bultmann, Barth, and Brunner.”  Add Tillich to the mix and you have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who either spread wisdom throughout the Christian world or who spread evil.

In my background in very conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles, Barth (and company listed above) were not admired and were seen as the enemy of orthodoxy.  Two of my great theological heroes, Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til (pictured below), both wrote books critiquing…let’s be more blunt…critically condemning Barth’s theology.  These two men, dogmatic as they could be, were not simply off on a rant.  There were elements in Barth’s theology that were not merely different perspectives on truth, but were undermining of the same.

See the source image

I must confess that in my life experiences (which have been limited), I don’t recall ever running into a bona fide Barthian.  I don’t recall hearing him quoted either.  That was all true for many years, until one occasion when I was working on a lesson prior to Easter.  I needed a quote from a heretic who denied the resurrection.  I went in search of Barth denial and was struck by the fact that he affirmed it.  I mean a bodily resurrection of Jesus the God/Man and not some mystical sense of “the spirit and teachings of Jesus lives on.”

It was around this same time that I learned that my friend P. Andrew Sandlin, a man who had worked alongside of R. J. Rushdoony, was an admirer of Barth.  And then, the more I searched for the quotes on all subjects, the more I discovered that Barth didn’t just happen to say something true and good every now and then, but he did so often.

Karl Barth wrote a large number of books, many of them quite weighty and lengthy.  He was a dominating theological force both in European and North American circles.  If you go around the theological blocks a time or two, you will encounter quotes, references, critiques, praises, and condemnation of Barth.

I often think (and maybe regret) that I did not pick a particular theologian or Christian thinker to be to focal point of my own reading and study.  Instead, I have flitted from branch to branch, reading a book by this person, a biography of another, and many quotes and references to all the big names in Reformed circles with a few outside those confines.  If I could pick the theologian to study and devote years to trying to master and understand, it would not be Barth.

That is why books like The Essential Karl Barth are so useful and necessary.  I ascribe to the idea that most pastors need to be theologians and scholars.  Books such as The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan address these issues.

Along with the near impossible task of keeping up with the latest theological trends, ideas, and debates, there is the need to be aware of the past teachers and leaders of the Church.  Very certainly, I would put Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, Machen, and a few others before Barth, but I would not leave Barth out.

One of the most helpful and instructive things about The Essential Karl Barth is the work that Keith Johnson put into giving a helpful sketch of Barth’s life and times at the beginning of the book and then giving descriptions and footnotes to the selections he includes.  I am sure that real Barthians will grimace over what is left out, but I find the amount of information helpful.  In other words, sometimes I have no idea what problem or people Barth is writing about, but the notes set the context and explain what is going on.

I know this for certain, Barth is usually labeled as Neo-Orthodox.  Although he called himself Reformed and he fit into the Reformed tradition in some ways, his theology put him at odds with the more strictly and historically Reformed people that I am associated with.  But he was strongly opposed to the theological liberals of his day.  He was not on a mission against American evangelical or fundamentalist thinking; rather, he was going full throttle against those who denied the supernatural God and the Bible.  He believed that Jesus was the God/Man and that He rose from the dead.  He affirmed much that we believe, and his enemies were those that we would oppose.

I remember reading from John Warwick Montgomery an account of him going to hear Barth speak in Chicago.  Montgomery, a very solid Lutheran, opposed Barth’s theology.  But on this occasion, he was in Barth’s corner as he listened to him skewer the theological liberals.

Paperback Preaching in Hitler's Shadow : Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich Book

 

A final point is actually one of my main reasons for being interested in Barth.  He opposed World War I and preached against it.  Then, in the 1930’s, he began speaking out against and criticizing the German Christian movement.  He is often remembered and praised even by his critics for signing the Barmen Resolution.  Alongside other Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul  Schneider, Martin Niemoller, Barth saw the sham of identifying German nationality and culture with Christianity.  Being Swiss, he was able to escape from Germany.  After the war, he labored to restore the crumbled foundations in European Christendom.

See the source image

 

 

 

Three Worthy Reprints–Machen, Kuyper, and Groen Van Prinsterer

You cannot possibly keep up with all of the really fine books that are being written today by serious, capable Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians. I know and experience that frustration constantly.  Besides, theological books are only one component in the vast university of knowledge that many of us need to attend.  Books on history, classics of literature, and political and economic studies abound as well.

The problem gets worse, not better, when we realize that along with the many good books available, there are many older works that simply cannot be neglected.  I don’t have a magical formula for solving either yours or my own reading problems.  The best I can do is to simply plug along, reading a half dozen or so books at a time.  In some cases, I am getting 20 pages read a day, but in other cases, I am getting less than half that amount.  Some get started and set aside, and they may not be picked up for a very long time.  Some get lost in the stacks.  Some seem better suited for a different time.

These are the problems that are associated with modern American abundance.  In some places, books are few and far between.  In some places, serious students have to master a second or third language to access the books readily available to us. We here in the English speaking world are inundated with reading material, and that should make us thankful.  Our thanksgiving should also include giving thanks for the availability of three Reformed classics from three different publishers in recent months.

Christianity & Liberalism: Legacy Edition

It just makes sense that the new Legacy Edition of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism has been published by Westminster Seminary Press. It was Machen who led the movement that founded Westminster Seminary.  And it was this book, originally published in 1923, that clearly marked the dividing line between the historic and orthodox Christian faith from its deviations of that time.

I first became aware of this book when a college student I knew was reading it for a class by Professor Henry Wood at Texarkana College.  The class was on the second half of American history, so I was puzzled why a “religious book” was being read for the class.  The girl explained that it fit in with what was going on in American history during the time period.  I was pretty sure that I knew a lot about American history, but was clueless about this.

The importance of Machen’s book became clear over the next year or so after I took Professor Wood’s classes.  I cannot remember when I first read Machen myself, but I am certain that I have read this book a couple of times over the years.  The first thing to be clear on is what the Liberalism is that Machen is contrasting with Christianity.  He was not talking about politics of his time or ours.  He was, at the same time, a man of conservative and slightly libertarian political convictions.  In this book, however, he was dealing with theological liberalism.  The liberals, or higher critics, were embracing modern thought, Darwinian naturalism, and then-current scientific beliefs with reckless abandon.  Their heirs are still among us.

This book laid down the distinction between what Christians have historically believed and what the Liberals were proposing.  Machen’s contention was that their beliefs were not simply another brand or way of thinking Christianly, but that they were positing an entirely different religion.

Adding the value of this new edition is a section called “The Legacy of Christianity and Liberalism by the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary.”  This consists of some 17 short essays on different aspects of Machen’s work.  So, don’t just rush out and find an older copy of this book or pull your copy off the shelf, get this new work.

Lectures on Calvinism

Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper has also been around in many editions for many years.  This new edition, published by New Liberty Mission and distributed by American Vision, has been modified slightly to improve readability. Don’t worry, for this is not a paraphrase or abridgement of the original book.  It is a translation that has some slight changes in punctuation along with some much needed footnotes.  Kuyper gave these lectures in 1898.  He refers to many things in his time that we are not generally aware of.

This book is the foundational read for each and every book that seeks to present a “Christian Worldview.”  It is astounding how prevalent that phrase is now.  When I was a young pup, very few people would have used that phrase or known what it meant.  Interestingly, Kuyper actually used a phrase that is translated “Life and World System.”

This book stumped me some years ago because I quickly grew used to equating Calvinism with “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  I was devouring everything I could find on understanding and defending those Five Points.  But Kuyper’s lectures had six points, and there was no TULIP or similarly description of Calvinistic soteriology.

Many, although fewer than in the past, stumble, balk, snort and kick, and object to the word “Calvinism” itself.  When Kuyper gave these lectures at Princeton in 1898, people of varying theological positions knew exactly what he meant by the term and how he was using it.  Especially at Princeton Theological Seminary, the use of the term Calvinism was helpful shorthand for a system of beliefs, more or less articulated by Calvin and his heirs.

In our day, the controversy over the contents of this book revolve around what is called the “Two Kingdoms Theology” and its counter-part, which is often referred to as Kuyperian theology or Augustinian theology.  There are plenty of books to read on this where you can witness the clash of swords as Calvinist battles Calvinist (or Lutheran battles Calvinist).  For a short, sweet deathblow to the Two Kingdoms view, read Brian Mattson’s Cultural Amnesia.

See the source image

I have read and used Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism many times.  I have several editions of it, as well as Peter Helsam’s Creating a Christian Worldview (written about Kuyper’s book), Kuyper in America (about Kuyper’s experiences while here in the States giving the lectures), and a Dutch edition of the book.

This book is critical to all who are teaching in Christian schools.  This book is valuable to all pastors and teachers in the church.  This book is necessary for us in our times as we struggle to figure out how to have a Christian influence on our culture.

Unbelief and Revolution is by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and is translated by Harry Van Dyke.  The book is published by Lexham Classics.

I first encountered Unbelief and Revolution many years ago when there were only two portions of it available in English. Groen (which would translate as Green in English) was largely unknown in America both in the theological and historical worlds.  I suspect that is still the case, although less so and to our shame since his works are much more available in English.

See the source image

Groen is the Dutch counterpart to Edmund Burke when it comes to the French Revolution.  Meaning, the French Revolution is often heralded as a great event in history, a liberating event, a demolishing of old and antiquated ways, and of establishing a new order.  Sure, there was an excess of beheadings, but as Lenin would later say, “To make an omelet, you must break some eggs.”

I realize at this point that this book sounds like a work of specialized interest for students of history.  It is that, but it is more.  Groen was not giving a history of the French Revolution, but was examining its cultural, philosophical, and theological underpinnings.  If nothing else, this work helps teach us to go beyond mastering the facts and trying to discern the foundational beliefs in a movement.  And, this is not a simplistic “Christians didn’t pray enough” approach to what was a world-wide revolution.

Translator Harry Van Dyke writes in the Introduction:  “The central message of the book is that the French Revolution is not actually over but lives on in its ideas, and these ideas are dangerous for society.  This book makes a compelling case for challenging the ‘permanent revolution’ in which Western Civilization has engaged since the 18th Century Enlightenment.  Our culture, according to Groen, is increasingly in the grip of an intellectual and spiritual revolution that has put secular humanism in the saddle and repeatedly wreaks havoc with the created order for humanity and society.”

On the cover of the book is a short statement from George Harinck saying, “Very relevant for today.”

I would love to take (or teach) a course on the revolutions of the 18th–20th centuries.  I would require that James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men and Crane Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution be required reading, but first on the list would be Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution.

Get and read these great reprints!

 

Reason and Worldviews by Owen Anderson

Image may contain: table and indoor

First, I must begin with a warning:  Do not attempt to read Reason and Worldviews with decaf or weak coffee.  Make it stronger than usual.  Avoid distractions.  Don’t confuse this book for a morning devotional.

Reason and Worldviews is by Owen Anderson, assistant professor of Integrative Studies at Arizona State University.  It is published by University Press of America.  It bears the very descriptive subtitle Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics.  

Often my book reviews are tied to some experience I have had in my life.  In this case, I read a couple of essays around the years 2008 and 2009 that rekindled my interest in my first experiences in confronting Calvinistic or Reformed theology.  On the one hand, there were those many Bible flipping evenings where I was reading Boettner, Pink, Steele and Thomas, and others and looking up the proof texts for Calvinistic soteriology or views of salvation.  But prior to those experiences and subsequent to them as well were explorations into the Calvinistic worldview.

It was first introduced to me with the German word Weltanschauung.  That mouthful was explained as meaning a world and life view or a comprehensive view of all things from a particular viewpoint.  God grabbed me by the mind and did not let me go.  I had the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, but the life of the mind was pretty mushy, vague, and vulnerable.  A Fifth Column of Presbyterian and Reformed warriors, including Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, Gordon Clark, Francis Nigel Lee, H. Van Reissen, and Phillip Edgecombe Hughes sidetracked me and forever changed my way of thinking.

That was the 1970’s and it was, to repeat myself, the years 2007 and 2008 when I re-engaged with the thinking that had created this initial effect.  There were men, like those mentioned above, who were not exactly the public intellectuals because most of the world–both secular and religious–either did not know they existed or they ignored them.  But they reached a remnant of thinkers, and like a stone tossed in a pond, the ripple effect spread out widely.

I had the opportunity to give a series of talks in Newport Newes, Virginia and later in Alaska in 2008.  My series in Virginia was titled “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers During the Wilderness Years,” and in Alaska, my topic was “Dutch Worldview Thinkers.”  I loved the subject (if I may call it that) and have continued to read on the various influential Reformed theologians and philosophers who have grappled with the issues of modern thought.

When I first saw the title and subtitle of Reason and Worldviews, I was sold on the book.  Being a more specialized monograph, it bears a high, but not prohibited price.  So, it took me a while to get the book, and this past few weeks, I have been reading it.

The word “Apologetics,” which appears in the subtitle, is a rather broad word within Christian thought.  I have and have read dozens of books on apologetics, which is the field of defending the Christian faith.  Many books focus on the range of arguments Christians confront in the classroom, in conversations, and in our culture.  Hence, such books teach provide us foundations for believing the Bible, answering objections, and dealing with stumbling blocks to the faith.

This book, however, is dealing with much more difficult issues.  Christian theology has not merely brushed up against the field of philosophy, but has confronted and, we might say to some degree, converted it.  Or at least, it has taken thought captive–as Paul admonishes us to do in II Corinthians 10:5.  For many years, Princeton Theological Seminary was the center of Christian philosophical thought as well as theological thought.  Harvard had caved;  Harvard Divinity School hired Ralph Waldo Emerson to teach whatever it was that he believed.  Yale had waffled.  Princeton stood as the bulwark of Christian thought.

Truth doesn’t change, but the way we present the truth changes.  We teach our young children truths, but we expand and adapt these truths to fit their minds and lives as they grow up.  The issues confronting Princeton changed through the years, and sad to admit, but Princeton changed as well.  That is another story, but as long as the Hodges and later Benjamin Warfield occupied key positions, Princeton was a ruling force.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield is the key Christian theologian/philosopher in this study.  He wrote on a wide range of theological topics, although many have lamented that he never compiled all of his thinking into a systematic theology.  To some degree, this has been remedied by Fred G. Zaspel’s book The Theology of B. B. Warfield.

In Anderson’s study, Warfield is examined for his approach to the issue of how we know God, how we interpret revelation of God, and to what degree man is excusable or inexcusable from life experiences.

Warfield had a beloved friend and fellow theologian across the pond named Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper was a key figure in the theological and political world of the Netherlands.  He was invited by Warfield to give the Stone Lectures for the year 1898.  Those lectures were published and have been reprinted many times under the title Lectures on Calvinism. While Warfield and Kuyper could walk arm in arm on many issues, they had different approaches to apologetics and how unbelievers were to be confronted and held accountable.

 

In time, a young Dutchman and immigrant to America, attempted to bring the differences of Warfield and Kuyper together.  His name was Cornelius Van Til, and he is well known in Calvinistic circles for presuppositional apologetics.  For many, Van Til has provided the definitive and last word on apologetics and how the unbeliever thinks and/or suppresses the truth.  At the same time, in good old Calvinistic fashion, some fellow believers rank Van Til’s thinking somewhere below that of Joel Osteen.

Others have grappled with these issues as well.  Two of the big names in Christian philosophy in our day are Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga.  Plantiga has promoted the position that Christian belief in God is warranted belief.  In other words, we Christians are just a bunch of simple minded crazies. (Okay, well some of us are, but not all.)

Each variety of thought–Warfield’s, Kuyper’s, Van Til’s, and Plantiga’s–has attempted to deal with some difficult issues, and each has its limitations.  As a way of bridging some of the gaps here, Anderson proposes that we seriously examine the much neglected idea of Natural Theology.  In his conclusion, he brings us back to Warfield who was, in many ways, closer to the answers found in Natural Theology, than some of the others.

“Ben,” you ask, “Do you even know what you are talking about?”  Okay, I admit it.  I walked out to the pool expecting to wade, but I got thrown into the deep end–again.  Owen Anderson is not teaching basic swimming lessons.  He had to pull me out of the water several times, in fact.  But he ends each chapter with a series of questions.  On my next reading, I want to have those questions in view as I read.  And he includes a really useful glossary of terms and key people mentioned in the book.

This is not, as I said above, a morning devotional.  Nor is it a fast, once through and then shelve, book.  Who needs it then?  First, people like my son Nick and many others I know who study philosophy, but who have a theological grounding.  Second, pastors and teachers who need to branch out beyond their sermon helps.  Third, Christians who have been given the blessings and gifts of the enjoying the life of themind.  Fourth, me.

I deeply love Warfield, Kuyper, and Van Til.  I suspect that the more read of Plantiga, the more I will love him.  But this is more than just hero worship (of which I am often guilty).  There is the great concept of “Glorifying God and Enjoying Him Forever.”  Forever doesn’t begin when we arrive in heaven.  Enjoying God–even to the extent that it means examing the heights and depths of philosophy and theology–begins now.