Books by Douglas Bond

This post is going to be sort of a book review, sort of an author recommendation. Douglas Bond is a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA, a conservative Presbyterian denomination, not to be confused with the liberal PCUSA). For my Baptist readers, Presbyterian Elders (the whole group of which is called a “session”) are classified as “Teaching Elders” and “Ruling Elders,” the former usually holding a permanent teaching office in the church and the latter concerned more with the oversight and care for the church. Bond is a high school teacher at a Christian school in Washington (the state), teaches writing seminars, and, obviously, an author. He also leads historical tours in Europe, both the continent and Britain.

My introduction to Douglas Bond was his book in the Long Line of Godly Men series, edited by Steven Lawson, on John Knox. In reading that book, I was convicted by the Scottish Reformers willingness to stand strong for the truth of the Word. Even though he isn’t usually set up next to Luther, Calvin, and Beza as the great intellectuals of the Reformation, he was nevertheless a stalwart in the faith whose commitment to the Word has extended his influence across generations and national boundaries. When I got done reading that book, I looked up Douglas Bond and found out that he had written a novel on Knox.

The novel that Bond wrote on Knox is called The Thunder, and it traces out the life of Knox from the vantage point of one of Knox’s students. In “real life,” Knox had tutored a man’s sons going into the battle that marks the beginning of our knowledge of his life. What Bond does is take these boys with Knox onto the ship where he was a slave, to England, Geneva, Frankfurt, and back to Scotland, telling the whole story in the first person from one his students.

Next, I read Bond’s book on John Calvin, The Betrayal, which begins differently. In that book, Bond begins in France during WWI. Then he goes back in time to Calvin’s Noyon and tells the story of Calvin’s life from the point of view of a man who grew up jealous of Calvin that nevertheless stuck with him on into Geneva. One of the spectacular parts of this book is that whenever large portions of speech by Calvin are included, a page in the back shows that Bond got the words from specific works by the Reformer.

Finally, I picked up The Revolt on August 24th, about John Wycliffe. The reason I include the date is because the book begins on August 26, 1346, in Crécy, France, 670 years before the day that I decided to start the book (I held off the two days). On that day, a massive battle took place between the French and English armies as a part of the Hundred Years War that you can read about here. A scribe in the battle, who then granted the opportunity to go and study at Oxford, is the main character of this book. But there is a secondary character, told in the third person, who is a peasant and serves as an illustration of the type of lifestyle that so plagued England during that era. This book is less biographical, probably due to the scant amounts of information that come down from those times (before the printing press), and more historiographical, demonstrating the living conditions and thinking of the day. 

Bond has said that he is currently working on a book on Luther, which I’m hoping will be finished and released in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 2017). Other books that he has written are on the Huguenots (think French version of the Puritans, only they generally faced even harsher persecution), the Covenanters (Scottish believers), and Americans in the Revolution. He recently released a book on grace, which was well spoken of. In addition to the book on Knox, he has written the Isaac Watts biography in the Long Line series.

One interesting thing that you can look at in the back of the novels that I summarized are the timelines, especially in The Revolt, which shows that during Wycliffe’s time, tennis was invented, the legend of Robin Hood shows up, the plague struck, the Peasant’s Revolt breaks out, and, three years after he died, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was written. Some of these things show up in the novel itself. Perhaps the best thing that I enjoy about reading these is that they help to give real  context to the writings of these men and those like them. When I read Calvin, I feel like I have a better understanding of what he’s addressing specifically. When I think about Wycliffe, or my English Bible for that matter, I will no doubt consider the great misery that comes from the Bible’s absence in the lives of God’s people. It’s one thing when you read about the conditions of time and the contexts in which certain people lived, but fiction has a way of helping you to know the circumstances and Bond leverages this well for Christians. Read his books, and then go and read the authors themselves and tell me you did not come away more connected to what you read.

Visit Bond’s website here and his blog here.

Jesus Teaches Hermeneutics: Reflection on Matthew 7:12

This past Lord’s Day, our Sunday School class looked at the “Golden Rule” in Matthew 7:12 (for my use of this verse on debate/critique, view my previous post). The text was dealt with well, and there were great points made, but my mind was caught in the final phrase of the verse:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This post will be broken down into three parts. First, I will give some of the application that the teacher this week, Andrew Lindsey, gave to help clarify what is not being said in the passage (our class rotates through teachers each week as we move through books consecutively). Then I will give what I believe to be the relationship of the Sermon on the Mount to the Old Testament. Finally, I will explain why I think that Jesus is teaching us hermeneutics. (Hermeneutics is the art-science of interpretation)

What It’s Not

Andrew Lindsey, drawing on an earlier sermon by our pastor (Mitch Chase), explained that there are three things that this command is not saying. It is not saying: 1) Give people whatever they want, 2) Give people what they have given to you, and 3) Give people what you think they deserve.

If we give whatever someone wants, we may be assisting them in sin or something of that sort. When we think that we should only give people what they have given to us, we are in direct violation of Christ’s commands earlier in the Sermon (love your enemy set of passages) and Paul’s in Romans 12. Finally, if we are only giving people what they “deserve,” we may be acting as though we are in the position to sit in judgment over them.

Sermon on the Mount and the OT

Many have said that Jesus does away with the Old Testament way of doing things in the Sermon on the Mount. You hear it in remarks about the Beatitudes being a new Decalogue (Ten Commandments), his statement that he fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, and his “you’ve heard…, but I say…” statements. The problem with viewing it as an entirely new thing is that immediately after saying “I have not come to abolish them [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them” he says, “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (5:17-18). You can try to twist what he’s saying there, but the plain meaning of the words is that “God’s Word abides forever.” 

Something needs to be said shortly. The phrase “the Law and the Prophets” may mistakenly be taken to mean “the Ten Commandments and the prophecies.” In the Hebrew Bible, the books are divided into three sections, the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) the Prophets (Joshua-2 Kings, Isaiah-Malachi, excepting Ruth and Daniel) and the Writings (all of the other books, sometimes called the Psalms because it makes up such a big part of it and begins the section). In the New Testament, it is referred to in the shorthand form of “the Law and the Prophets.”

After slowly making our way through the Sermon on the Mount, I am convinced that one of the main things that Jesus is addressing is personal spirituality. While the Law is most definitely given for our instruction, I think Jesus is saying that the instruction is not for you to take community functions into your own hands. We may read our Old Testament and think, “Well, my brother sinned against me, so I am going to stone him,” or, “my wife has displeased me, so I am going to divorce her,” or, “I want to assure everyone that everything I say is true, so I will swear all the time.” So when we see that Jesus is saying not to retaliate, he is not taking the right of people to implore the magistrate to exercise judgment. Rather, he is saying that when we read the Law and the Prophets, we must be careful about making one-to-one connections between the duties and responsibilities given to the community leaders (ecclesiastical/civil) and those given to individuals.

What Jesus Teaches us About Hermeneutics

The last paragraph began moving into this, but we see specifically in 7:12 that Jesus teaches us to read the Old Testament with an eye to the love of neighbor. It would be easy to look at all of the commands, especially in Leviticus, and come away saying, “If my neighbor sins, I need to drag him to court!” We might think, “Well, since he didn’t build a parapet (a little wall around the top of your roof to stop people from falling off), I need to beat him.” What Jesus is carefully doing in the Sermon is drawing the distinct way that believers ought to act in the world, as individuals in community, with humility, love and gentleness. May we alert someone to their wrong? Absolutely! (cf. 7:5) But this is to be done with concern for them and with awareness of your own spiritual state, not nonchalantly and judgmentally. When we go back through the Old Testament, we notice Abraham’s (Abram at the time) love for his nephew Lot, Jacob’s lack of love for his wife Leah, Joseph’s love for his brothers (even when they had sinned against him), Samuel’s love for the people, and David’s love for everyone he came into contact with. David is one of the greatest examples of this. If you have a moment, just spend some time in 1-2 Samuel and mark down all the moments when David shows considerable love for his neighbor. Paul seemed to understand things this way. He recognized that the Lord exercises his vengeance through the magistrate in Romans 13, but on either end of that passage (Romans 12 and 13:8ff) he explains that the behavior of individual believers is to be marked by love and concern for others.

Concluding Remarks

The Sermon on the Mount has been, rightfully, a beloved set of chapters in the church. Many have written and preached from it, even when they don’t normally preach through sections of the Bible. While some have come away saying that the Sermon marks a departure from the Old Testament, we must not allow them to do so. We must read the Lord’s words and recognize the way that he understood what he was doing, namely, faithfully proclaiming the faith of Scripture. In reading what he has to say, his authoritative interpretation ought to instruct us in rightly interpreting the Old Testament. When we do, we will find it to be a lot less esoteric, meant only for those who lived before the cross. We will, in short, be strengthened and blessed (cf. 2 Tim 3:15-17). 

Avoid Unfair Simplicity: Entering arugment with fairness

I recently heard someone make this statement (paraphrase): “Calvin didn’t think we should use instruments because he didn’t see them in the New Testament.” While this is one aspect of the argument against using instruments in corporate worship, presenting the argument this way mistakenly makes it seem like there was no more substance to the position than “If it’s not in the New Testament, I’m not doing it.” Moreover, this could further mislead some into believing that Calvin held to what is currently called New Covenant Theology, where there is a hard break (or discontinuity) between the Old and New Covenants, where he would normally be accused by Baptists as having too much continuity (because of the form of Covenant Theology that he held to). This post is not to argue for Calvin’s form of Covenant Theology, or his view of instruments, but to explain the importance of representing the arguments of others fairly. First, I want to give the biblical principles behind this, then I would like to reason further for fair representation.

Biblical Principles

The ninth commandment says, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). This is usually simplified in teaching to two words: don’t lie. When we represent the arguments of others unfairly, when we say that they are saying something that they are not from a system that they do not hold to, we are in violation of this command. It’s not only when we say that our neighbor has done something that they have not, but also when we say that they believe something that they do not.

Ask anyone what the “golden rule” is and they can probably tell you (though, for whatever reason, it is often placed in terms of Karma now). Jesus says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). It’s interesting to think/notice the way that this connects directly to his summary of the Scriptures in Matthew 22. There, in the Temple during Passion Week, our Lord is confronted by a lawyer who tries to test him, asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40). In doing for others what we wish done to us, we are not primarily acting in a “what comes around goes around” frame of mind. Rather, we are operating as people in love with the Scriptures and in love with God. We love our neighbors as ourselves because our Lord tells us to and because he loves them as well.

The Apostle Paul continues along these lines by saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). When we love our neighbors, we are also going to represent them fairly as we would wish to be represented. We are going to be careful not to say something that makes it seem like they believe something that they do not so that it is easier to defeat their arguments. Rather, out of obedience and love, our witness against and for them will be true.

Further Thoughts

There are at least three things that we can say further about this. First, we can say that this does not mean that we make something that is a horrible belief look good. Second, there is great benefit in representing our neighbors fairly. Finally, this doesn’t mean that we can’t simplify someone’s belief at all.

This doesn’t mean that we make the horrible look good

If our neighbor (the person we disagree with) believes something that is wicked, or that we simply think is false, we are not obligated by love for them to make it seem good or neutral. As a matter of fact, if we believe that it is wrong we are obligated out of love for them to (after examining ourselves) help them to get the speck out of their eyes and avoid falling into pits. To act indifferent, or to see ‘niceness’ as the only behavior in relationships, is to allow our neighbors to walk the pathway of folly. If it is wicked, say so. If it seems to have bad consequences, say so. Just because we are obligated to represent one another fairly, this does not mean that we must make their views seem right.

Benefits of Fair Representation

When we represent each other’s views fairly, we are in a better position to gain a hearing. As a Baptist, I am much more willing to listen to someone who sprinkles children of believers if they don’t begin with assuming that my view has no foundation. As a political conservative, consideration will be given to those who disagree with me if their underlying assumption isn’t that hatred for poor minorities drives my political views. When we understand that beliefs occur in the context of worldviews, that they are often (though admittedly not always) the result of thinking through more things than that specific issue, we are better prepared to deal with the debated issues on their own terms. Arguments that deal with whole systems are more convincing and conversions (transferring from one belief to another) more lasting.

Finally, We Are Able to Simplify

When we understand the system that the other person is operating on, we may simplify. It is when we try to simplify by ignoring the system that we run into the issue of speaking past one another and representing our neighbors falsely. The gentleman that said, “Calvin didn’t see them in the New Testament” may have better simplified, “Calvin believed that they were part of the cultic life and distinguishing mark of the Old Covenant people.” Simplification is fine so long as it doesn’t devolve into misrepresentation. If we could not simplify, we would never finish conversations because everything we said would have to be exhaustive, we just have to be honest and careful as we do.

Cremation? Burial? A simple commentary on Augustine

A couple days ago, on a comment thread on Facebook, some of us discussed whether a Christian should be buried or cremated. In this post, I will be giving a simple commentary on the text from St. Augustine in his massive City of God. This post will be a longer one, especially because it will include the text in full from St. Augustine, so in this opening paragraph I will give a summary of the outline of the post. First, I will give the background to the text. Next, I will include the text, with commentary interspersed. Finally, I will summarize the claim of the text. The thesis of Augustine, and one that I believe is correct, is: Christians ought to be buried, for this best corresponds to and expresses our beliefs, but tragic events that prevent this are not to be seen as harmful to the hope of the believer or their relatives.


St. Augustine was the bishop in Hippo, a city in North Africa (present day Libya), thus he is called Augustine of Hippo, and he wrote things in various genres, he most well known pieces being City of God and his Confessions. He ministered in the passing of the 4th century into the 5th, and was involved in many debates, his most notable being with the “most famous (or infamous) theologian of British history,” Pelagius, who argued against the doctrine of original sin (that in Adam we all became sinners). If you know about this time in the history of western civilization, you also know that this was the time of the raids on the Roman Empire, and the sack of Rome. In this context, with the Visigoths gruesomely attacking the population, many pastoral questions were being raised. One such question was what we ought to think about all the bodies that were just left out and when sometimes funerals were not possible. What are we to make of this?

The Text

Below I will include the text in full, with only short interruptions for commentary. This comes from Part 1, Book I, Chapters 12-13 in the Penguin Classics edition.

12. The lack of burial does not matter to a Christian

‘But many could not even be buried, in all that welter of carnage.’ Religious faith does not dread even that. We have the assurance that the ravenous beasts will not hinder the resurrection of bodies of which not a single hair of the head will perish. He who is the Truth would not say, ‘Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul’, if the future life could be hindered by anything which the foe chose to do with the bodies of the slain. Unless anyone is so absurd as to contend that those who kill the body should not be dreaded before death, for fear that they should kill the body, and yet should be dreaded after death, for fear that they should not allow the corpse to be buried! In that case Christ spoke falsely about ‘those who kill the body, and have nothing that they can do after that’, if they can do so much with corpses. Perish the thought, that the Truth could lie! The reason for saying that they do something when they kill is that there is feeling in the body when it is killed; but after that they have nothing they can do, since there is no feeling in a body that has been killed.

He’s just saying here that in desecrating a corpse, these people are not hurting the eternal state of the individual, since then they would be able to do more than “kill the body,” which Jesus sets as the limit of man’s ability to harm believers.

And so many Christian bodies have not received a covering of earth, and yet no one has separated any of them from heaven and earth, and the whole universe is filled with the presence of him who knows from where he is to raise up what he has created. The psalm says, ‘They have set out the mortal parts of thy servants as food for the birds of the sky; and the flesh of thy saints as food for the beasts of the earth. They have shed their blood like water all round Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.’ But this was said to underline the cruelty of the acts, not to stress the misfortune of the sufferers; for although their sufferings seem harsh and terrible in the eyes of men, yet ‘the death of the saints is precious in the eyes of God’. 

In this paragraph, he is saying that they have not destroyed the hope of resurrection for believers’ bodies.

Such things as a decent funeral and a proper burial, with its procession of mourners, are a consolation to the living rather than a help to the departed. If an expensive burial is any advantage to the godless, then a cheap funeral, or no funeral at all, will prove a hindrance to the poor religious man. A crowd of dependants provided the rich man in his purple with a funeral that was splendid in the eyes of men, but a funeral much more spendid in God’s sight was provided for the poor man by the ministering angels, who did not escort him to a marble tomb, but carried him up to Abraham’s bosom.

This is treated with ridicule by those against whose attacks we have undertaken to defend the City of God. Yet their own philosophers have shown contempt for anxiety about burial. Whole armies, when dying for their earthly country, have often shown no concern about where they would lie, or for what beasts they would become food; and their poets could be applauded for saying,

         Who lacks an urn, is covered by the sky.

By what right do they jeer at Christians because their bodies are unburied? Christians have the promise that their bodies and all their limbs will be restored and renewed, in an instant, not only from the earth, but also from the remotest hiding-places in other elements into which their dead bodies passed in disintegration.

In all of this, for this chapter, St. Augustine has been arguing that there is no harm done when the body remains unburied. By not burying the body, those who have desecrated it are not harming the person, either regarding his final resting place or his resurrection hope. Ultimately, our hope is in the promise that we are taken up to God and that he is powerful to resurrect the body no matter where it ends up.

Next, St. Augustine argues for the importance of burial.

13. The reason for burying the bodies of the saints

This does not mean that the bodies of the departed are to be scorned and cast away, particularly not the bodies of the righteous and faithful, of which the Spirit has made holy use as instruments for good works of every kind. For if such things as a father’s clothes, and his ring, are dear to their children in proportion to their affection for their parents, then the actual bodies are certainly not to be treated with contempt, since we wear them in a much closer and more intimate way than any clothing. A man’s body is no mere adornment, or external convenience; it belongs to his very nature as a man. Hence the burials of the righteous men of antiquity [in Scripture] were performed as acts of loyal devotion; their funeral services were thronged, arrangements made for their tombs, and they themselves during their lifetime gave instructions to their sons about burial, or even the transference, of their bodies; and Tobit is commended, as the angel testifies, for having done good service to God by giving burial to the dead. The Lord himself also, who was to rise again on the third day, proclaimed, and commanded that it should be proclaimed, that the pious woman had done ‘a good deed’, because she had poured costly ointment over his limbs, and had done this for his burial; and it is related in the Gospel, as a praiseworthy act, that those who received his body from the cross were careful to clothe it and bury it with all honour.

These authorities are not instructing us that dead bodies have any feeling; they are pointing out that the providence of God, who approves such acts of duty and piety, is concerned with the bodies of the dead, so as to promote faith in the resurrection. There is a further saving lesson to be learnt here – how great a reward there may be for alms which we give to those who live and feel, if any care and service we render to men’s lifeless bodies is not lost in the sight of God. There are other examples of instructions given by holy patriarchs about the disposal or the transference of their bodies, instructions which they wished to be taken as uttered in the spirit of prophecy; but this is not the place to discuss them, and the examples we have given may suffice.

But if the absence of the necessities of life, such as food and clothes, although causing much misery, does not shatter the good man’s courage to endure with patience, and does not banish devotion from his soul, but rather fertilizes it by exercise, still less does the absence of the usual honours of funeral and burial bring misery to those who are at peace in the hidden abodes of the devout. Therefore where those honours were not paid to the bodies of Christians in the sack of their great city, or of other towns, no fault lay with the living, who were unable to offer them, and no penalty was suffered by the dead, who could not feel their deprivation.

In the first paragraph, he argues that there are reasons for caring for the bodies of the dead, namely that they are part of a human not to be disposed of carelessly and that there is biblical precedent for caring for them. In the second, he argues that the importance of being careful for how we deal with the dead helps us to understand the surpassing good of caring for the living. Finally, he returns to what he said in chapter 12, that there is no absolute harm done when burial is not able to occur, but rather that the pain felt when we are deprived of this ability helps to steel our faith.

Summary and Argument

St. Augustine moves from the absence of necessity for proper burial to the goodness of doing it. By absence of necessity, I mean that he argues that the soul of the individual who died is not impacted when burial is unable to occur. In our day, we will be increasingly forced to put the emphasis on the latter part of his argument. You see, the Christians that he has in mind likely already have a great concern for burial, so they need comfort in the face of the events that have recently happened which prevented it. Presently, however, we are moving in an increasingly gnostic direction, where the body-soul separation is so great that the body no longer matters. Notice his argument is from basic observation, to biblical examples, to theological and practical conclusions (with a final caveat in the event of inability).

Basic Observation

Augustine begins with the basic observation that we (particularly children) deeply value the items used by our family members that have passed on. The example I use is children of soldiers that have died who continue to wear their father’s dog tags. We treasure these items, being careful with them. How much more careful should we be with the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and that which really is part of the person who died? It’s a lesser-to-greater argument that the body of the individual was really part of the individual (not just an adornment) as well as something specially used by the Spirit. If we honor trinkets, why would we not honor the actual person?

Biblical Example

While there are times when bodies were not able to be dealt with properly (like the destruction of Jerusalem that he references), the constant mindset we see examples of in Scripture is one where the individual is asking that his body be dealt with properly (or it just happening). Think of the plot of land the Abraham purchased to bury Sarah, or Jacob’s insistence that he be buried there. Think of Joseph’s expression of faith when he commands that his body be taken with the people when they get to leave the land. Each of these is an expression of faith, faith that they really would inherit what was promised. St. Augustine points to the great care taken with the body of the Lord, even though he was going to rise again shortly.

Theological and Practical Conclusions

St. Augustine argues that in burying our dead we are expressing faith in the providence and sovereignty of God to raise the dead. Practically, we are demonstrating to those who observe that we care about people. We believe that we are not simply going back into dust, but that there is a real resurrection, like that of our Lord, coming in the future.

I hear some common statements made that relate to this that I think we do well to address.

  1. I want my ashes to be spread out over the ocean/mountains/etc. This is a statement that is sentimental and mystical rather than Christian. The funeral pyres of pagan religions also emphasize this ‘joining nature.’ The Christian belief is that when a person dies, their body awaits the general resurrection. When Christ returns, the graves and seas will give up their dead. We are not related to nature the way that statements like this make it seem. We are creatures, like everything else, but we are distinct. There is continuity between the body you have now and the one that you await. As we wait for the new heavens and new earth, we express that even in our death by being buried rather than spread out over some sentimental spot.
  2. We are all just going to dissolve into dust and become worm food anyway. This view assumes that our bodies don’t matter, and the care of them upon death doesn’t matter, simply because of decomposition. Christians have never been unaware of the effects of time on the corpse, but they have continued to bury their dead anyway. The reason is, again, that this represents hope in the resurrection (which will be of our bodies). Further, this view denigrates the body. It assumes that it is unimportant, something we simply have upon us. However, when God created us, he created us with the purpose of the unity of body and soul. We only distinguish between these two things now because of sin, because something has interrupted the unity. In the new creation, these will be one again and for eternity. Statements relating to decomposition that are said flippantly like this often reveal an unhealthy understanding of the relationship between the body and soul. My body is me, it is a part of me. Sure, when I die my soul and body are separated, and my body will undergo decomposition and God will again raise it from the dust. This does not mean that I all of sudden regard my body as nothing different than the plasticware I use to eat my dinner. Your body is ‘no mere adornment, or external convenience; it belongs to [your] very nature as a man.’
  3. Doesn’t cremation express hope that God can raise up from the ashes. This sounds good, but it is often connected to the one above, and used to bolster the argument. The problem with this view is that it makes something meaningful that has no precedent for meaning in Scripture. Meaning is given to burial, not cremation. I can’t use koolaide for baptism because it signifies washing with blood, or candy for communion bread because it represents the sweetness of fellowship, or replace the Scripture with a play because it represents that the Word is “living and active,” or preaching with a group talk because it represents that we are unified in our dependence on Scripture. We can’t just give meaning to something we want to do anyway, ignoring a consistent example. Is it commanded in Scripture? No, or else it would be a definite sin not to be buried. But this doesn’t mean we just brush off the normal example as an unnecessary item in the text.
  4. What if I can’t afford a burial. For this one, you must speak with your elders. Ask them if there is a way to do a burial cheaply, or if the church can contribute to help with the costs. I understand that there is a high cost in this, but don’t just write it of automatically. There may be help that you can receive, especially from the church, and this will more likely be the case if you express the importance that you see in burial. This is a much harder situation that really requires input from pastors who are concerned and understand the importance of burial themselves. If they are not inclined to stay in line with the consistent practice of God’s people for four-thousand years, they may rashly counsel cremation when something could have been done, but if they see the importance and still feel that it is most wise to do it, you can rest in the confidence that “no fault lay with the living, who were unable to offer them, and no penalty was suffered by the dead, who could not feel their deprivation.”

For all of this, I hope that you will recognize that everything we do represents our beliefs, even the way we die/deal with death. Burial represents belief in attainment of the promised land and hope in the resurrection, both of Christ and our own. Cremation represents an unhealthy disregard for the importance of the body, or sometimes an infatuation with some sort of mysticism more in line with idolatrous religions than our own. Still, if for some extreme reason burial is not possible, we have hope that the God who is everywhere and knows all things will be able to locate our bodies when the Lord comes. It is this event that we eagerly await, confessing with the church of all ages (including St. Augustine), that “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (Nicene Creed)
Augustine, and Henry Bettenson. Concerning the City of God against the Pagans. London: Penguin Books, 1984. On Amazon for about $10 here. There are tons of different editions that you can find too at all different price points, as well as free online copies.

Christian View of Mystery

This past Lord’s Day, I was blessed with another opportunity to preach at the historic Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in a little town called Boston, KY (about a half hour south of Louisville). I preached on the doctrine of revelation from Ephesians 3:1-7, but to begin I explained a little bit about the Christian idea of mystery. I’m including that paragraph below (with slight updates since this is a blog post rather than a sermon):

I want to explain what a mystery is so that we don’t automatically push it aside as one of those things that we are unsure about, something that is “true for us” but really not certain. No, a mystery is a certainty about which we have limited knowledge. This knowledge is limited because God has not yet revealed it, or it is limited because we are finite creatures with finite abilities to comprehend the deep things of God. The first type, the ones that are not yet known, are things like what exactly glory will be like or when the coming of the Lord will be. They are certain and we will one day understand them, but right now the things we can say about them is limited by our experience of them and the amount of God’s revelation in Scripture. The second type of mystery, those that we will never understand completely, are particularly the infinitudes of God. His omniscience (that’s his all-knowing) and omnipotence (his being all-powerful) and immutability (his unchanging nature) his Trinity (his Threeness-in-Oneness and Oneness-in-Threeness). There are things that we can and must say about each of these things, with certainty, but they are limited by our creatureliness. This is the Christian definition and idea of mystery, that is, that it is a certainty about which we have limited knowledge.

Very often, we use the word mystery as a cop out. We use it as a way to say that we are unsure or as means of avoiding making statements that others might find strange or debatable. When we use the term ‘mystery’ we ought to understand that it is something we don’t know, but there are things we can still say about it. We don’t chalk it all up to “mystery” and consider our work done. Instead, we explain where the mysteries are. I know that I can say things about God that are true, and then I say where my ability to speak is limited. For the OT believers, they were sure that a Messiah was coming and that the nations of the earth would be blessed in the Seed of Abraham, but their knowledge of how this would occur was limited by the amount of revelation, both prophetically (what the prophets had written) and temporally (the moment the Son came). This mystery is a mystery no longer; we know how the nations are blessed and how the Messiah has come. Let’s be careful of how we use the word mystery soas not to make it seem that we are uncertain. In that way, mystery is tightly connected to our use of the word hope, so that both are really certainties of which we await fulfillment and both are words we often misuse. 

Christians Through the Ages

Jesus told the disciples, particularly Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Whatever you make of the antecedent to “this” (Roman Catholics say Peter, some Protestants say the confession he made, I say “both”), this statement is a promise for the perseverance and preservation of the church of Christ.

What I’d like to do over a series of blog posts is highlight key Christians over the past 2,000 years. I will obviously not agree with all that each of them taught, but the reality is that there are many people that we ought to know about. I want to say that there are books, like the Long Line of Godly Men series by Stephen Lawson, Theologians on the Christian Life series by Crossway, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, and Michael Reeves new Theologians You Should Know, and if you can you ought to listen to the 5 minute weekly podcast by Stephen Nichols, called “5 Minutes in Church History.” I mention these because what I’m going to do is basically list some names and give a quick blurb about them, but these books can give you more in-depth information on them. One final caveat: I am using the term “Christian” as broadly as possible. I’m including those that believed themselves to be operating within Christianity, which means that I will include heretics because I think they need to be known as well (for the sake of avoiding them).

Now, to begin. Christianity is a historic faith. Some religions consider the historical veracity of their faith inconsequential. Hinduism, for instance, is often not understood historical, but mythological. Because of this we can look to our first major Christians in the historical and inspired Book.


Peter was the spokesman disciple and Apostle (“apostle” means sent one, and the 12 Disciples were called Apostles after the Resurrection). He’s the one we know about walking on water with Jesus, who saw the ineffable (“beyond description”) transfiguration of Christ, attempted to defend the Lord in the garden, denied Christ, was restored, and preached the sermon on Pentecost. He was able to preach to the Gentile Centurion, and baptize him (Acts 10), and he wrote two letters in the New Testament (1st & 2nd Peter). Historical tradition says that Peter was crucified in Rome, upside down (it’s said that he didn’t feel worthy of being crucified in the manner of the Lord), perhaps foretold in John 21:19. It is understood that the Gospel of St. Mark is actually his telling of the testimony of Peter (he served with Peter).


Paul’s Jewish name was Saul (often they had a Jewish and Roman name, so he was probably not renamed). He shows up in the Bible in the stoning of Stephen, and he quickly goes on a rampage to destroy the church. He is converted on his way to persecute the Christians in Damascus when the Lord appears to him. He begins to preach the Gospel and is sent by the Spirit to the Gentiles. He wrote 13 of the New Testament epistles, though some earlier Christians believed that he also wrote Hebrews. The second half of the book of Acts is about his life and imprisonment, though it cuts off when he gets to Rome. It is said that he was released from that imprisonment before he was imprisoned again and executed. He too was martyred in Rome, but because he was a Roman citizen he was beheaded (crucifixion was not allowed to be applied to citizens).


The physician followed Paul. He wrote the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles as historical accounts of the incarnation and spread of the gospel. If you pay attention in Acts 16, the “he” and “they” statements change into “we” so you can see where Luke joined the crew. He was careful at his writing, and though he was a Gentile he clearly had a strong grasp of the Old Testament. Paul’s final letter is 2 Timothy, and at the end he says, “Luke alone is with me” (4:11).

Timothy & Titus

These were men that Paul used to extend his ministry. He sent them to various churches to encouragement them to continue in their walk. Their names are mostly known by the three letters written to them, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. First Timothy and Titus are specifically about the structure of the church, and because of this you get a glimpse into the passing of the apostolic age into something more like what we are used to.


John is called the Apostle of Love or the Beloved Apostle. He wrote the Fourth Gospel, which is told from a different angle than the other 3 (called the Synoptics). He also wrote the three epistles that bear his name and Revelation. He cared for the Lord’s mother and ministered in Ephesus. He is the only Apostle without a martyr story, and it is believed that he died in his exile to Patmos (where he wrote Revelation). His Gospel stands out for its affirmation of the deity of Christ and his epistles are remarkable for their balance of truth and love.

Judas and Demas

I want to include these two men because they are examples of the reality that some follow Christ for a time, but eventually, fall away. Judas is well known as the betrayer. Demas, too, shows up in early letters with Paul as a fellow worker, but eventually fell away (fellow worker: Philemon 24; fell away: 2 Tim. 4:10). The Bible is brutally honest about the way things really are, and here in the beginning of the Church age we already see that not all who say they are of us, are really of us (cf. 1 John 2:19).

I know this post was long, but that is only because it is the first. The rest should definitely be shorter.

Intro to Philosophy

The past few weeks (really since the first week of June), I’ve been taking a class on Contemporary Theology (also called liberal theology or modern theology). I only began the reading for the course a couple weeks ago (and just finished it). Contemporary/Liberal Theology really begins at a man named Freidrich Schleiermacher at the beginning of the 19th Century (1800’s). Liberal Theology is basically a combination of Philosophy (especially Enlightenment philosophy) and Christian Theology. As such, a lot of my reading and study for the course has been in Philosophy (I had also taken other philosophy classes in college). I have come up with what I think is a good general way of understanding philosophy at very basic level that I hope might help someone who isn’t looking to study philosophy but understands the need for some kind of basic grasp of the broad movements and basic terms.


Metaphysics basically has to do with what is most basic and important. This is the field of study that looks at God, gods, the nature of being, what Plato calls “Forms” atoms (in a philosophical meaning, that is, tiny little things that make up everything), distinctions between things, etc. This can be associated with especially pre-Christian Greek philosophy. Because of the fact that Christianity grew up in a time when this was the focus, sometimes early Christian theologians and philosophers included too much from the Greek philosophy in their own. It’s not as pronounced, however, as many make it out to be until after the turn of the first millenium (with the rediscovery of Aristotle).


Epistemology is the study of knowledge. In this area you are trying to study how it is that a person knows a thing and what it is that may be known. A period when this became the major focus of study is the Enlightenment. Perhaps the most famous statement in this field, and coming out of the Enlightenment (basically starting it), was, “I think and therefore I am” by Rene Descartes (pronounce “Day-cart”). He began a thing called “Rationalism” which is reasoning your way into knowledge, and this was held to mostly on the continent of Europe. In Britain they held to what was called “Empiricism,” which means that you can only know what can be experienced by the senses. The one who brought these together was named Immanuel Kant (pronounced like “want” with a k).


Ethics is probably the best known field because it’s so common. Ethics deals with the philosophy of “ought-ness”. What ought we to do. Is it right that so-and-so did such-and-such? My theory is that we currently live in the age of Ethics (separated from other things). Proof is seldom given for why we ought or ought not to do something or discriminate between behaviors. The argument is simply that it’s wrong.


While every age dealt with each topic, I think what you would find is that each age has one area that is particularly pronounced. Ethics, unfortunately, has been detached from universals (metaphysics) in the current age (often called postmodernism, since the Enlightenment was also called “Modernism”). What’s right has become context specific. Of course, I believe that Christianity has something to say to each of these areas. I think the God is who is most fundamental. I think that everything else is created, and exists in a linear-historical progress toward and eternal re-creation. I think that we know because we are made in God’s image (as rational creatures) and that we were created to know God and to study his creation to his glory. All creation declares his glory, which could only be said by someone who has studied it. Knowing creation, though, is penultimate, a far second in importance, to knowing the Creator. I think that, as he is holy so are we to be holy. This holiness is outlined in his Word, in which he speaks to us. I think that apart from being in Christ, all works are as filthy rags, but that in Christ we work out of thankfulness and reverance and our works are accepted. There is a source, definition, and purpose for our ethical living (these are three areas of ethics).

This is a very basic outline of philosophy, but I hope that it is helpful.

What Does “Reformed” Mean?

Well, I’m going to go ahead and make people mad. I’d like to give a definition of “Reformed,” which is a contested word that it seems everyone has an opinion on. My definition will be three-tiered (with a subset) that will hopefully give people a way to understand what they mean when they make reference to this word.

Strictly Reformed

I know there are other terms that could be used, but I’m going to go ahead and call this first group “Strictly Reformed.” What I mean by this category are those who belong to a denomination that has the word “Reformed” in their title, like Reformed Church in America or Christian Reformed Church. These groups are usually the result of what is called the “Continental Reformed” and it usually comes from the Dutch.

Theologically Reformed

This generally refers to Presbyterians. Presbyterians and what I called Strictly Reformed generally have the same theology, called Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology is a specific interpretation of the Bible by which the covenants and unfolding revelation of God’s redemptive plan is understood. For a concise look at this, see the Westminster Confession of Faith’s statement in Chapter 7 here.

Generally Reformed

I was torn between calling this “Generally Reformed” and “Reformed by Heritage.” I’m thinking that those who fall under this category are those who have come to see themselves as heirs to the Reformation and wanting to stand on the shoulders of the Reformers, but not necessarily holding strictly to all that they believed. I think that this is a broad category that usually includes Baptists and is the category that many today fall into when they first embrace the “Five Points of Calvinism.” This category clearly has a spectrum of its own, from those Baptists who hold to the 1689 London Confession (like myself) to those who have only recently embraced the idea of sovereign election and irresistible grace. Of course, if you look around you’ll find that there are associations of Reformed Baptists (which may seem like it falls into the first category), but even this name has been adopted to reflect the idea of this category.

Next time you hear that somebody is “Reformed” (when they are talking about their Christian theology), hopefully this little post will help you to understand the range of meaning that statement can have.

When You’re Persecuted… Rejoice?

I’ve been memorizing the Beatitudes this week, and inevitably when you are memorizing something you notice something that clicks differently than when you’re taught it.  First, there’s an inclusio. This means that a passage is bracketed by similar language. So if you look at Matthew 5:3 and Matthew 5:10, you’ll see two things that aren’t in the other verses in between. Jesus’ words are in the present tense is (rather than future, as the others are). Second, the reward is the same: the kingdom of heaven. The other verses are comfort (v. 4), inherit the earth (5), satisfaction (6), mercy (7), sight of God (8), and adoption (9). “They shall” is “theirs is” in verses 3 and 10. This was taught in our Sunday School class, and I think it was referred back to the sermon by Pastor Mitch Chase, but it’s cemented into your thinking better when you see it yourself.

The things I really wanted to write this on are in the two verses following this group. The next two verses switch to the second person plural (“y’all”). He says:

Blessed are you [y’all] when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:11-12, ESV)

I want to work through a couple of thoughts on this. First, this last fall I went to a conference at the Seminary in which one speaker (I’m forgetting his name) said we need to develop a doctrine of diokology. That last word means “study of persecution/the persecuted” or something to that effect (diōkoō means “I persecute”). He based his presentation on this passage and highlighted the tendency of the church throughout the ages to emphasize the martyrs (martyrology), who are definitely deserving of honor, to the expense of the persecuted. What Jesus is doing here is pronouncing blessing on the persecuted. Notice, too, that the persecution is generally speech based. We normally think of persecution in terms of beatings and imprisonments which, again, is right but incomplete. Our brothers and sisters the world over who are in prison cells and work camps are definitely facing harsh persecution. Still, Jesus says that it is persecution “when others revile you and . . .  utter all kinds of evil against you falsely.” We have the tendency to see the great persecution of our brothers and sisters and conclude that reviling and evil speech against us is not persecution. This is a false conclusion, according to Jesus here.

Next, look at the second verse (beginning “Rejoice and be glad . . .”). Notice that Jesus gives us a foundation for rejoicing and then a foundation for that foundation. When we see the word “for” in the Bible, we should often think about a foundation for an argument (think of it as the word “because”). Jesus gives an imperative (which means “command”): “Rejoice and be glad.” This seems like an insane command, since he just said that the time of this rejoicing and gladness is during persecution. So, why should we “rejoice and be glad”? “For” or “Because” our reward is great in heaven. In our Sunday School class a few weeks ago, the teacher at the time pointed out the fact that we of want to buy into the philosophy of “good for simply being good,” that is, that we should not be concerned with any sort of reward for our good behavior. Jesus, however, grounds commands on the reward for behavior (see chapter 6 on prayer and giving).

Here he says that our rejoicing and gladness are to be fueled by a reward promised to us. Again, this may seem counterintuitive, to go against simple reasoning. If we were the ones blessed by God, those who should be expecting a reward in heaven, then surely we wouldn’t be those who are persecuted. But Jesus gives another foundation statement, this one grounds the fact that we have a reward. He says, “For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (emphasis added). We can be assured that there are those who have a great reward waiting for them, though they face persecution now, because the prophets were also persecuted. We might think of Moses, Elijah, or Jeremiah at this point (though we don’t often think of Moses as “persecuted” unless we are actually reading through Exodus-Deuteronomy at the time).

But look at what Jesus assumes his audience believes, what’s not in the text but assumed by the text. He assumes that they believe in heaven. He also assumes that they, his audience, believe that the prophets had gained the reward which is in heaven. This must be the case because he is grounding the argument that they also have a reward in heaven over which to rejoice in the midst of persecution on the experience of the previous saints, the prophets. Since the prophets endured persecution and faced a heavenly reward, the saints throughout the ages who face persecution should rejoice in the fact that they have a heavenly reward.

One final thought on this passage. Those of us who seek to help others read the Bible carefully (i.e. with care) often downplay applying the lives and experiences of Old Testament saints to our current situations. We want those we disciple to understand that there is a temporal and particular trajectory to Scripture, that the Old Testament ultimately points to Christ. We want them to see that David is not a type of me but of Christ. Still, what Jesus teaches us here that there is a way to look at the lives of the Old Testament saints and come away with application to me today. Christ was the ultimate Prophet to endure persecution, and the one who served as the antitype for all the prophets before him (“antitype” means the person or thing that the types point to, not “against types” or something like that). Still, Christ calls us to look to the prophets as types of our own experiences as well.

Book Review: Behold Our Sovereign God

Behold our sovereign GodDisclaimer: Mitch Chase is one of my elders at Kosmosdale Baptist Church.

Mitch Chase is the preaching pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church and an adjunct faculty member for Boyce College, the college at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. and a ThM from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX, and a PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Louisville, KY. His ThM and PhD are in Biblical Theology. He has be preaching for over 17 years, has written numerous articles, is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and blogs at

In his book, Behold Our Sovereign God, he lays out the biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God. He begins by looking at the sovereignty of God over creation. This, Chase shows, means that God has created all things and is in control of all things. He says, “God is running his world. He is in charge, and he is what keeps it going” (25). He later says, memorably, “God doesn’t forecast, he foreordains” (32). Nothing that happens in the normal course of the world is outside the providential, indeed sovereign, hand of God.

This leads to the inevitable question about evil and suffering. Chase carefully walks through the biblical evidence of God’s ordination of evil without his being culpable of sin. What is difficult about this topic is God’s transcendence, his “otherness.” In some way, God ordains (Chase is careful to warn against using the words “allow” or “permit” in order to avoid discomfort on page 54) sin without be the blameworthy agent. Evil is ordained by God but carried out by men.

Where do we see this most clearly? Well, Chase fittingly makes the cross the center of his book. In the cross of Christ we see the most evil act ever committed by man carried out according to God’s foreordination. Surely, if this is the case with the most heinous of all evils we can acknowledge its possibility in lesser evils (every evil is lesser than the murder of God’s Son).

In the penultimate chapter, Chase gets into the topic that is most controversial amongst Christians, and most anticipated in the book: predestination. His chapter on predestination deals carefully with the overwhelming evidence in Scripture of God’s pre-temporal choosing of some for salvation. While Chase does himself believe in double-predestination, the burden of the book requires that he spend his time on the single topic of predestination unto salvation.

Finally, he wraps up the book with a look at the sovereignty of God over the course of human history. God is sovereignly working all things together for the consummate recreation of heaven and earth. He says, “God is more than a responder to events- he is actively moving, directing, and propelling history” (118). Further, “God didn’t formulate his redemptive plan after the sinful actions of man but before” (123), so all of history is not some sort of plan B. Instead it is the outworking of God’s eternal plan.

This book is short, without lacking. Chase integrates his own struggle with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty which had occurred a decade before the book was written. He includes his own previous objections as well as the objections of others. Chase clearly wrote for the typical churchman who is, for one reason or another, looking for a clear treatment of an inexhaustible subject. While many books that are written for the average churchman are watered down or obscure the truth, this book is clear, biblical, and accessible. Chase does not push you, but he is clear enough that if you disagree at least you know what you’re disagreeing with. I commend anyone who wants to look at the topic of divine sovereignty to start here.

You may purchase the book at Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback here, or, if you live in Louisville, you may go to the LifeWay Bookstore at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.