The St. Andrew Seven–First Glances

 

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Truth be known, I have often been the kid at the back of the classroom.  Rather than sitting on the front row, taking notes, listening intently, I am sitting at the back of the room and gazing about absent-mindedly.  When the pressure is on–meaning the assignment is due tomorrow or I am on the verge of failing–I get busy.  Bottom line:  I am usually a bad student.

Case in point:  For years–at least a decade or more–I have heard George Grant wax on and on about Thomas Chalmers.  Then the front row students ask, “What should I read to learn more of Chalmers?” Meanwhile, I am wondering how much longer until class is over.  Repeatedly, in lectures, asides, personal exhortations, and the like, Dr. Grant says,

“The first book that I always send readers to is the short profile by John Roxborough and Stuart Piggen entitled, The St. Andrew Seven  (Banner of Truth).  Though not entirely about Chalmers (most of the text is devoted to six of his students and the way he influenced the trajectory of their lives and ministries) it is nevertheless the best single, accessible work available in a modern edition.”

The front row students hypervenilate until their copy of the book is in their hands.  And, they are anxiously awaiting that still future event where some mega-work on Chalmers by Grant himself arrives in print.  Meanwhile, on the back row, all I hear is that there is some book called Seven Saints Named Andrew, which I confuse with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (a movie), which I might watch instead of having to read the book.

Then a copy of the book arrives in the mail.  That is like a note sent home to the parents.  So, with the pressure on, I have finally begun to plod my way through this massive 150 pages tome with no pictures.

First observation:  A telling story appears about Chalmers in the early days of his ministry.  Although he was employed as a pastor, he was quite interested in a position teaching mathematics at the University of Edenburgh.  His view was  that “after the satisfactory discharge of his parish duties,” a minister could enjoy five days in the week of uninterrupted leisure for the prosecution of any science which his taste may engage.”

In popular terms, and some people actually think this, the preacher only works one day a week.

Twenty years later, and we might add, much sanctifying grace later, Chalmers wrote:

“What are the objects of mathematical science?  Magnitude and the proportion of magnitude.  But then…I had forgotten two magnitudes.  I thought not of the littleness of time.  I recklessly thought not of the greatness of eternity.”

It takes time–of which there is too little–but the kid at the back of the room does finally hear something,

The Works of John Knox–“Some Books are to be tasted….”

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Not knowing the library policies in heaven or the new heavens and earth that come later, I have to content myself with only tasting some books.  In some cases, a book has a limited use, and the dipping into it now and again is to fulfill such needs.  We call them reference works, and that includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauruses, and some Bible commentaries.  There are plenty of biographies, histories, books on economics and politics, and theological works that will only be used in the manner of checking the table of contents, then the index, and then scanning the pages for some pertinent quote or information.

The light use, occasional use, or call it underuse of a book is no bad reflection on the worth of a book or its author.  There is the matter of time, add to that specialization, add to that the tyrannies of the moment, add to that the human capacity or incapacity to absorb the contents.  I have books and particularly sets of books that I will never likely read and certainly not master cover to cover.  They are dearly loved…yes, loved…not merely liked or found useful or found attractive on the shelf.  My four volumes of Herman Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought is non-negotiable when considered as a possession (although I would probably yeild it if one of my children were kidnapped and NCTT were part of the ransom).  Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization gets read in bits and pieces, but it is indispensible.  The same can be said Calvin’s Commentaries, Calvin’s Letters, Magnalia Christi Americana, the works of Shakespeare, any literary criticism written by Cleanth Brooks, and my two great volumes of T. S. Eliot.

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Dooyeweerd’s New Critique was published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publications during the early 1970s and was almost given away at one time.

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Another treasured collection I have is the six volumes of The Works of John Knox, published by Banner of Truth.I supposed that if Banner were to publish the London telephone book, I would want a copy.  There books are quality on the inside and out.

But it is not just the quality, shelf appeal, and grandness of this set as a collection of boards, ink, and paper.  These are the works of the Other John of the Protestant Reformation.  We are talking John Knox, who was as much an influence on American history as was George Washington. (Debate or consider that statement later.)  Knox was a trench fighter, a survivor, a front line Reformer.  Scotland, or at least the Scotland of the 1500’s-1600’s, bears his brand, but he was also pivotal in Reformation battles in England and in Continental Europe.

It is incredible that he survived imprisonment on a Spanish galley ship.  Even more incredible is his surviving numerous conflicts with the reigning powers of both England and Scotland, particularly Queen Mary Stuart.

How did such a man ever find time to read, think, write, and preach?

We might have expected a volume or two of his works to survive, but we have six large volumes.  Okay, one of them does contain a biography, but even then, we have lots of Knox material to taste, chew, and even digest.

I am currently reading his largest work, which is titled History of the Reformation in Scotland.  It extends through the first two volumes of this set.  I suspect it will take quite a while and may never be completely read by this poor pilgrim.  But whether I get through 50 pages or 500 or all 3824 pages, I will find quite a bit that will delight, inform, correct, and encourage me.

There is a further obstacle to reading these books.  The language of Knox, which precedes the King James Bible and is dominated by Scotification (to coin of word) of the English language.  Reading Knox is not as difficult as reading Chaucer in the original, but more difficult that reading the KJV or Shakespeare.  The key to breaking the language and spelling code is reading it aloud and phonetically.  When sounding the words out, most of them become readily familiar.  This does raise the challenge level for these books, but it also adds to the beauty and setting.

It should be noted that anyone wanting to read Knox’s account of the Scottish Reformation can do so in a shorter and modernized version, found HERE and also published by Banner.

I will conclude this brief discussion of The Works of Knox with a few quotes which I enjoyed during my morning readings.  I am beginning in the midst of a sentence and the preceding portion was a list of charges brought against Scots who had begun seeing great flaws in the Medieval Church.

“By these Articles…may appeir how mercyfullie God hath looked upoun this Realme, reteanying within it some sponk of his light, evin in the tyme of grettast darkness.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Amen, and may God retain some “sponk of his light” on us in our time.

Speaking of his mentor/hero and martyr Patrick Hamilton, Knox said, “The zeall of Goddis glorie did so eat him up, that he could of no long cintinuance remain thair (in Wittenberg, Germany), bot returned to his countrie (Scotland, whair the brycht beames of the trew light which by Goddis grace was planted in his harte, began most aboundantlie to burst forth.”

From A Brief Treatise of Mr. Patrick Hamilton, Knox’s mentor, as found in Volume 1:
“The Gospell, is as mooche to say, in our tong, as Good Tydingis: lyk as everie one of these sentences be–
Christ is the Saviour of the world.
Christ deid for our synnes.
Christ offerred him selve for us.
Christ bare our synnes upoun his back.
Christ bought us with his blood.
Christ woushe us with his blood.
Christ was maid dettour for our synnes.
Christ hath maid satisfictioun for us and for our synne.
Christ is our rychteousness, oure wisdome, our goodness.
Christ is ouris, and all his.
The Father of Heavin hath forgevin us for Christis saik.”

Good Books, Good Times

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My former pastor, Curtis C. Thomas,  once described what he thought physical activities were for me.  He described it as, “closing one book and opening another.”  Didn’t he realize that I also had to walk to the shelves, pick out the next book, and carry it to the reading chair?  Never underestimate my life of adventurous activity.

Today, I will highlight a few of my current morning reads.

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The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Michael S. Heiser, published by Lexham Press, $24.99. I started this book a couple of months ago.  But some of the late spring reads are halted for a time and then resumed with summer break.  This is a fascinating and revealing book. One would think that Christians would not need to be prodded and jolted into reading the Bible–of all things–with a supernatural worldview.  Surprise, surprise.  We do need instructions on this.  This is a serious study of the Scriptures and not a one-time quick read.

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Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel L. Dreisbach, published by Oxford University Press, $34.95.  I am stunned every time I read from this book.  Sometimes Christians with more zeal than academic skill have oversold the Christian influences in our earlier history.  (I am guilty of this at times myself.)  Sometimes, in an effort to offset years of Christian influences being ignored while secular and Enlightenment thought was being highlighted, history was distorted.  Dreisbach is an academic scholar and Oxford University Press is not a small time Christian publisher.  And it is not that he was able to ferret out a few Bible references.  Instead the book is full of cases, quotes, and examples of the Bible drenching early American culture.  If the main text is not enough, he has enough extra material in the endnotes to make an additional volume.

 

Since reading Doug Douma’s outstanding biography of Gordon Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark  (published by Wipf and Stock), 

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I have been marveling over what all Clark did in his lifetime to promote sound, logical, and most of all, Biblical Christian thought.  Falling head over heels for Clark once again in my life, I suddenly had a profound thought:  I should read the big man himself.  Again.

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A Christian Philosophy of Education by Gordon H. Clark, published by The Trinity Foundation.

So I am enjoying getting back into Clark’s book on Christian education.  Christian schools or homeschooling families are found in almost every corner of the nation today, but Clark first wrote this book back in 1946.  That precedes even the writings of R. J. Rushdoony on Christian education.

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Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition is edited by W. Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Tomes and published by The Davenport Trust.

I received this book a few weeks ago, but just opened it up today.  It speaks to an issue of much concern to me:  Calvinists are fighters.  We are conditioned to contend for the Faith–and Biblically commanded to do so.  We learn the debate skills, Biblical arguments, intellectual approaches, and wide range of other (usually meaning false) options.  We are, as several historians have said, God’s marines.  I don’t know how many times I have heard a position referred to as “THE Reformed view.”  I don’t want to be accepting of any and every shade and variation of thought claiming to be Christian.  But we have spent far too much intellectual and spiritual energy fighting one another.

This book is made up of essays (adapted from talks) coming out of the Convivium Irenicum, an annual gathering of scholars, students, and pastors to “exchange ideas, deepen friendships, and apply the Reformed faith today.”

Count me in, guys.  I am looking forward to getting farther in to this collection.

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.