William Perkins: The Puritan Patriarch

William Perkins is considered the father of the Puritans, and rightfully so. He only lived forty-four years, from 1558-1602, and thus stands at a crucial point in the development of the Protestant tradition.

Over the past week, I have listened to the new conference lectures on William Perkins. William Perkins is considered the father of the Puritans, and rightfully so. He only lived forty-four years, from 1558-1602, and thus stands at a crucial point in the development of the Protestant tradition. (Links povided at the end of this post)

William Perkins is considered the father of the Puritans, and rightfully so. He only lived forty-four years, from 1558-1602, and thus stands at a crucial point in the development of the Protestant tradition. To get a sense of this, look at those dates. In 1558, Queen Elizabeth ascended the to the throne of England following the monstrous reign of “Bloody Mary.” Mary was so called because of her persecution of the Protestants in England, who were therefore forced to flee to the Continent (notably Geneva, where they sat under the teaching of Calvin, translated the Bible, and thought deeply about theology). The ascendance of a Protestant monarch bode well for the Protestant cause, and her longevity on the throne established a solid platform for their place in the kingdom until today. For the twenty previous years, the English had been through 4 monarchs and swung between Rome and Christianity.

What is missing from this brief and broad sketch is the problem accompanied the ascendance of the Elizabeth. The Protestants were excited to implement the theology of Scripture in their home church, the Church of England. However, Elizabeth sought a via media, a middle way between Rome and Christianity that allowed for the most freedom of both. Thus arose those who sought the purity of the Church, Puritans (distinguished from what were basically the same people but wished to separate from the church, called Separatists). Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, and so Perkins’ life spans, almost exactly, the reign of this important monarch for church history.

William Perkins was converted as a student in the 1580’s. He preached regularly at the jail and served in various important positions in and around Christ’s College at Cambridge. Multiple times in the conference, a phenomenon was referenced to show just how influential the man was. By the time he died, his books were outselling both Calvin and Beza, the most important Reformers of the preceding generation and the men whose work the Puritans sought to develop and employ.

The conference lectures are superb. Opening was Sinclair Ferguson on Perkins as the plain preacher. His is a great introduction to Perkins as a theologian and preacher, both throughout time and in his own time, and is the longest of the bunch at 1hr 15min. Next was Joel Beeke on Perkins’ view of assurance, a masterful balance that found its way into the Westminster Confession of Faith (and therefore the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689). In the middle was Geoff (pronounced Jeff) Thomas on Perkins’ view of the relationship between works and faith. Next was Stephen Yuille. He edited the 1st and 4th volumes of Perkin’s Works, a set that is being published presently (see below). He opens with a story of a man who came and asked him if Perkins was worth reading on Jude while Yuille was in the process of editing the volumes, to which he unhesitatingly answered “Yes!” What he wasn’t prepared for was the follow-up question: Why? This lecture is his answer to that question with 15 reasons, all drawn from Perkins’ work on Jude. Finally, Greg Salazar discussed the preaching of the Puritan movement as a whole.

This conference was held in connection to the aforementioned Works of William Perkins, a 10-volume set. Ferguson tells a story of the difficulty of finding Perkins’ works (and the interesting way he came by some), which is unthinkable based on the Puritan’s influence. Reformation Heritage Books, which is connected to Puritan and Reformed Theological Seminary up in Grand Rapids, is on an eight-year project to re-publish Perkins’ Works in a modern typeset with scholarly editors. The school hosted the “William Perkins Conference” in Cambridge. The fourth volume of the set is out now, which completes their publication of his exegetical works. Volume 1 is a redemptive history, exposition of Matthew 4:1-11, and exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. Volume 2 is an exposition of Galatians, Volume 3 an exposition of Hebrews 11, and Volume 4 his expositions of Jude and Revelation 1-3. The next set of volumes will be his doctrinal and polemical works (vols 5-7), and finally his practical works (vols 8-10). With the conclusion of the 4th volume and in conjunction with the conference, they are offering the first four volumes at a $70 discount ($130 instead of $200).

I hope to continue to learn about William Perkins, and I hope that you will too.

Links

Website covering the publication of the volumes

Videos of the conference

Volumes 1-4 ($130)

Volume 1 ($25)

Volume 2 ($38)

Volumes 1-2 ($62)

Volume 3 ($38)

Volume 4 ($38)

Biographies

William Perkins – Bitesize Biographies by Beeke & Yuille (116 pages) ($4.50)

William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England by W.B. Patterson ($90; $72.28 new and $45 used on Amazon)

The Purpose of the Seminary

What is a Seminary’s Purpose?

In 1917, in the 400th year of the Reformation, B. B. Warfield wrote a little article called “The Purpose of the Seminary” in which he describes exactly what the title suggests. Like everything I have read by Warfield, this has stirred my thoughts and demanded my reflection.

(Scroll to the bottom for a PDF copy of the article)

The Argument (With Some of My Thoughts Mixed In)

(Skipping over his connection of the seminary to the presbytery) Warfield’s argument is essentially that the purpose of a seminary is to train men for ministry. While this seems like a very simple and obvious definition, there are no less than two things to consider before deciding what training men for ministry entails. First, you must think about the nature of the church, and, second, you must think about the nature of the minister’s job in the church.

Seems simple enough. Except Warfield recognized that neither of these is readily defined. If the church is primarily a place to receive sacramental grace, then the minister is primarily a cog in the apparatus, and his training involves no more than teaching him the bare practice of delivering the sacramental graces to the people. If the church is primarily a social gathering or a lecture hall, then the minister’s job is to stir the people to action or teach them the method of ameliorating social ills. Depending on which of these two options is taken, the seminary’s job is either null because zealousness is the only requisite of a minister, or it is null because the minister’s purpose is to teach politics and literature and philosophy.

If the gospel is primary focus of the church, then the minister’s task is to apply the gospel in preaching, teaching, and counseling, and the purpose of the seminary is to train men to gain a first-hand knowledge of the gospel. They must learn the languages, and exegesis, and biblical theology, and systematic theology, and preaching, and counseling. Further, they must learn to defend their gospel and the history of the gospel’s work in the church. These men ought already to have been converted and received a basic education, and they are now in “finishing-school.” Though I’m giving away the ending, Warfield says, “What we need in our pulpits is scholar-saints become preachers. And it is the one business of the theological seminaries to make them.”

My Thoughts

One part that I skipped over (except for a short statement) was his emphasis on the fact that rudimentary education is not the responsibility of the seminary, nor is it the seminary’s responsibility to convert its student. (The second, about conversion, made me think of Paige Patterson’s rationale for admitting confessing unbelievers to Southwestern Seminary). The first of these has me questioning the very program in which I received my seminary education (seminary track), a program that is now being added to other schools. This program follows the practice of many universities in offering combined 5-year bachelor’s-master’s degrees. While I started the program as 24 year old with a family of 5 and two combat deployments behind me, there are many in the program fresh out of high school, and sometimes not quite 18. They may be ready to teach history to Middle School students when they have completed their education, but would we say that they are (at large) ready to lead a church? Would we say that they are ready to counsel the wandering and the dying, to “act as spiritual adviser of the community which he serves”? Would we say that they have had the opportunity to demonstrate that they “have made such progress in piety as ranks them with the especially pious men of the community”? This is not to diminish exceptions, or demand that our pastors all be 50 years old or above (which is the other tendency that crops up), but only to question the wisdom of 5-year seminary programs. They may be helpful and right for men who have been men for more than a month, but there are no age restrictions on the programs as they now stand. They may be helpful in a world of baptistic hierarchy, where Children’s Ministers are promoted to Youth Pastors, and from there to Family Pastors and Associate Pastors, before finally arriving at the top of the ecclesiastico-corporate ladder of Senior Pastor (or where we have “lay elders” and “staff elders” or “elders” and “*the* Pastor”), but is this right? Is it right according to Baptist polity, which has traditionally affirmed a strict two-office polity (in contrast to Anglicans and, to a lesser extent, Presbyterians) to design a degree program that supports this degradation of offices? Is it right to expect churches just to utilize these young men in the childrens’ departments until they’re 40 and ready to make use of their seminary training?

While I’m ruffling feathers, the second item of seminary education this article caused me to ponder is the current aim of seminaries and seminarians. If we agree with Warfield that the primary purpose of the seminary is to train ministers of the gospel (this being equivalent to pastors/elders), then I wonder how close the demographics of seminary student bodies is to reflecting that aim. How many people at seminary are looking at going into something other than pastoral ministry? Of course, we could say that all seminarians are looking at going into ministry, since all Christians can share the gospel and a seminary education further equips Christians in that task. But have we then redefined the purpose of the seminary? Have we made it an advanced Sunday School class? Have we turned it into a breeding ground of needless debt? I’m not saying that *only* men going into pastoral ministry ought to be allowed into seminary (though some schools do place that restriction on enrollment, and there may be wisdom in that). What I’m saying is that I wonder if our seminary student bodies represent a close connection between seminary training and pastoral ministry, and if not, could there be some way that our seminary structures have undermined their purpose?

This short post is not meant to come off snarky, and hopefully, I have not given the impression of a curmudgeon. My goal has not been to step on everyone’s toes, but to put into words some meandering thoughts following a great little article.

You can read the article in Benjamin B. Warfield: Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1, chapter 43, at Westminster Books here or Amazon here. Unfortunately, it was originally published in a magazine and has not made its way onto the internet through either a PDF or photocopy format. I think it is such a great little piece that I typed it out myself  (it’s open source since it came out in 1917), and attached it to this post. The Purpose of the Seminary by B. B. Warfield

The Essence of Saving Faith: Knowledge, Assent, and Faith

There are some theological terms that developed along the way for describing the essence, or the components, of saving faith. As usual, these terms have are originally in latin and are represented in English by the title of this post. In latin, the terms are notitia, assensus, and fiducia. This post will be a sort of historical survey of the testimony to these three components in understanding salvation through the Reformed consensus. First, some definitions (without examples).

Notitia– You might see the word “notice” in that term. Notitia has to do with knowledge of the facts of the gospel. It deals with knowing that the Christian message is about a God-man slain for sinners and resurrected in defeat of death.

Assensus– In this word you probably see the word “assent.” Assensus, or assent, is affirmation that the facts of the gospel are true. It is not simply saying that the Christian message is, but that it is true.

Fiducia– Maybe (hopefully) you see the word fide buried in there (as in sola fide or Semper Fidelis). This means that the contents of the gospel are true, but it also means that I trust Christ for the salvation of my soul and that I adore him as the focal point of my heart. It is confidence and an affectional term. This should become more clear as we move on.

Calvin

Right, so lets look at Calvin (since we’re limiting ourselves to broad brush strokes in the Reformed tradition). Calvin attacks the Schoolmen for making faith implicit, for claiming that all a person must do is submit their “feeling obediently to the church.” To this, Calvin says that, “Faith rests not on ignorance, but on knowledge” and “that it is not enough for a man implicitly to believe what he does not understand or even investigate.” (Institutes 3.2.3). Faith is grounded on knowledge rather than unthinking submission of the heart. Further, it is grounded on confidence in its veracity. He says,

Now, therefore, we hold faith to be a knowledge of God’s will toward us, perceived from his Word. But the foundation of this is a preconceived conviction of God’s truth. As for its certainty, so long as your mind is at war with itself, the Word will be of doubtful and weak authority, or rather of none. And it is not even enough to believe that God is trustworthy [cf. Rom. 3:3], who can neither deceive nor lie [cf. Titus 1:2], unless you hold to be beyond doubt that whatever proceeds from him is sacred and inviolable truth. (Institutes 3.2.6)

There is a real situation in which you can comprehend, i.e. understand, what’s be said without being confident in the veracity of the message that proceeds from God through his Word. Finally, Calvin provides a beautiful definition of faith:

Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Institutes 3.2.7

I need to make something of a sidebar remark lest I do a disservice to Calvin’s argument. His understanding of knowledge is much closer to the understanding (indeed, the same) as what is expressed in Scripture. He calls the knowledge of faith something beyond mere rational comprehension. It is higher and much more profound (cf. Institutes 3.2.14). You would do well to read all of his Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 2.

Owen

It is a little more difficult (read time consuming) to work through Owen’s expression of these things, but I will offer just a sampling of what I found in his works. Chapter 2 of his The Doctrine of Justification by Faith includes each of the three components, just in a different order. He says in 2.4.3 that the apprehension of the gospel presupposes the preaching of the gospel, i.e. the content. Preaching is the declaration of the facts; it is where

the Lord Christ and his mediation with God, the only way and means for the justification and salvation of lost convinced sinners, as the product and effect of divine wisdom, love, grace, and righteousness, is revealed, declared, proposed, and offered unto such sinners

Just prior to this, in 2.4.2, Owen had explained that “assent [is that] which respects the promises of the gospel, not as they contain, propose, and exhibit the Lord Christ and the benefits of his mediation unto us, but as divine revelations of infallible truth.” Assent is the belief that the things preached are true and from God.

Finally, I will pull his definition of faith from his “Greater Catechism.”

Q. 2. What is a justifying faith?

A. A gracious resting upon the free promises of God in Jesus Christ for mercy, with a firm persuasion of heart that God is a reconciled Father unto us in the Son of his love.

Also (not from the Catechism, but the same volume),

This is the distinguishing property and character of saving faith—it beholds the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;—it makes us to discern the manifestation of the glory of God in Christ, as declared in the Gospel. (Works, Vol. 1, 243)

and

This is the distinguishing property and character of saving faith—it beholds the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;—it makes us to discern the manifestation of the glory of God in Christ, as declared in the Gospel. (Works, Vol. 1, 243)

further

Our apprehension of this glory is the spring of all our obedience, consolation, and hope in this world. Faith discovering this manifestation of the glory of God in Christ, engageth the soul unto universal obedience (Works, Vol. 1, 243)

To have faith in God is to behold the glory of Christ, which commits us to obedience to him.

Gill

I’m not going to go through Gill’s exposition of these, but if you’d like to see what he has to say, look at his section “Of Conversion” in his Body of Practical Divinity. I will include a quote from his section called “Of Justification” from the same book:

3. He works faith in convinced and enlightened persons, to look at the righteousness of Christ, and take a view of its glories and excellences; to approve of it, desire it, and to lay hold on it, and receive it as their justifying righteousness. Such a faith is of the operation of God, of the Spirit of God; it is what he works in the saints, and enables them to exercise it; hence he is called the Spirit of Faith, Col. 2:13. (Gill, 75.)

Boyce

Boyce explains that faith is “based . . . upon the knowledge of this testimony [of our sinfulness and salvation in Christ] as given by our own consciences and the Word of God. It is consequently an act of the mind.” (Abstract, 347) Further, it includes (without being limited to) belief “so far as it refers to the acceptance of facts and statements, or of the veracity of a person.” (Abstract, 346) Faith is obviously more than this. It is believing facts and trusting a person. Christians who have faith “know whom they have believed, and why they should believe him.” (Abstract, 347) A little phrase that may have shown up somewhere else, but that I noticed in Boyce, was his definition of faith as “intelligent trust.” Boyce, on pages 349-352, goes through false ways of thinking about faith that I think is really helpful. In these he follows what the others have said, but he just seems to be more concise and lucid. I recommend looking at that.

20th Century

In the twentieth century there seemed to arise within the commonly used theologies (Strong and Berkhof) a reluctance to use the distinctions, even though they included them. An extremely helpful historical theology was also provided by Bavinck. He works through many of the issues in the Reformed and Lutheran communities over how many elements to include in saving faith and their relationship to one another. I will not include his points here, but draw on them at the end as I offer concluding observations. You can read the whole thing (highly recommended) in his Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pp. 110-132.

1689 LBCF and Concluding Remarks

I thought about including some thoughts from twenty-first century works, such as Frame’s Systematic Theology or Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian. These are helpful, and could be consulted as well (I included the relevant page numbers in their sections of the bibliography). I also thought about working through the biblical testimony on this issue, but that would require a lot more time and any of the sources that I’ve already mentioned could be used for their footnotes to the biblical texts. Instead, let’s work through the 1689 and some conclusions.

1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 14: Of Saving Faith (I am using the text from http://www.1689.com/confession.html#Ch.%2014 though I have taken out the Bible references for the sake of space)

Paragraph 1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.

In this first paragraph, we see that faith is “ordinarily wrought” through the declarative means of grace. These actions provide the content on which saving faith is based.

Paragraph 2. By this faith a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself, and also apprehends an excellency therein above all other writings and all things in the world, as it bears forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations: and so is enabled to cast his soul upon the truth consequently believed; and also acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come; but the principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

Next, we see that the Christian “believes as true” the message of God contained in the Word. He recognizes its veracity, in relationship to each Person of the Holy Trinity (cf. Boyce’s Abstract on faith being in each Person). We see that it is also the ability cast the soul upon the truths believed. There is, at minimum, a twofold breakdown of this paragraph. It is 1) apprehension of truth as truth from God about God and all things, and 2) casting oneself on Christ in trust.

Paragraph 3. This faith, although it be in different stages, and may be weak or strong, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, as is all other saving grace, from the faith and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

Finally, true faith is differentiated from temporary faith, which is evident in those who fall away. This is a paragraph of great hope for the believers who struggle, who cry, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Concluding Thoughts

These three categories are helpful for thinking through elements of saving faith, and they are also helpful in thinking through elements of unbelief. We’ll take them in reverse order.

There are those who know the facts of the gospel and do not believe them to be true or relevant. We might think of atheists, agnostics, “nones,” or adherents to other damning religions. Not everyone has a knowledge of the facts of the gospel, and because of this we evangelize and send out missionaries and evangelists. But there are many, especially in the West, who do know the facts of the gospel and simply don’t believe them.

There are also those who believe the facts of the gospel in what is called by many of the writers referenced above a “historical manner.” They believe the veracity of the gospel facts, but have not trusted and loved Christ rightly. We might think of many children, who believe the facts of the gospel as true without having saving faith, or of Papists.

Finally, there are those who love God, or some version of him, but this is not based on apprehension of true facts. Boyce says, “It is as though, with our belief in the Bible, we should say that one who believes the Bible is saved, whether he knows its contents or not… But the whole hope of salvation and faith, in every other respect which is effective and operative, is in what we believe, not in the fact that it is true, but in the knowledge which the fact that it is true conveys to us. Our salvation does not rest in the belief that the books of the Bible teach truth, but in belief of the things which they teach.” (Abstract, 349) To believe a God we know nothing about is the height of idolatry.

The way that these things relate to saving faith is quite different. They are not so easily disjointed, but rather distinguished. To know the facts of the gospel in Calvin’s thought is to know them with the intimacy of the soul being connected to the Source of those facts. It is to believe them and love them and trust them and adore them. To believe them as true is to have a real knowledge of them that issues in hopeful adoration. To trust and love the God of the gospel is to know him in your soul as the most trustworthy Truth you could ever encounter. Distinction does not imply division. The task of theology is to recognize the distinctions so that our doxology might be grounded in truth. Let us proceed accordingly.


Bibliography

Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008, 110-132.

Boyce, James P. Abstract of Systematic Theology. Louisville, KY: SBTS Press, 2013.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2013. (cf. pp. 952-54)

Gill, John. A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity: Or A System of Evangelical Truths, Deduced from the Sacred Scriptures, New Edition., vol. 2. Tegg & Company, 1839.

Owen, John The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 1. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Owen, John. The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Sproul, R. C. Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014. (cf. pp. 238-39)

The Hidden Danger: Postliberalism

Christians have been battling against liberalism for around two hundred years, and it may just die out at some point, at least in its explicit form. Machen wrote a famous book called, Christianity and Liberalism, highlighting the fact that the liberals were holding to a different gospel, and therefore not Christian. So what happened? Well, it would take a long (boring?) time to work through the history, but I’m going to generalize and step on toes and misrepresent through simplification.

Basically, Liberals realized that their syncretism with Enlightenment philosophy was a failure (particularly in light of the world wars) and their distorted post-millennial hopes were dashed (I’m not bashing post-millennialism at this point, just its distortion). But, praise be to imagined providence (I’m not bashing providence, just its distortion), a new philosophy came along called Postmodernism. What’s Postmodernism? It’s the belief that we are all held to a received text, that we interpret the world according to our cultural traditions and so

What’s Postmodernism? It’s the belief that we are all held to a received text, that we interpret the world according to our cultural traditions and so truth is somewhat, and ultimately, relative. What happened? Well, this meant that Liberals could have their language back (which they had given up to philosophy and humanistic science), and they could just focus on the love of being Christian. No need to have debates over propositions anymore, over truth claims and intellectual coherency. That’s “so Enlightenment.” Instead, we just need to feel God. You see, the new liberalism isn’t the old liberalism, but it is.

So, why have I titled this post with so ominous a statement as, “The Hidden Danger”? Because Liberals, in their modified (though not new) clothes are able to use language and reasoning now that sounds like orthodox Christianity. We read words like “Reformed” and “providence” and see references to men like Calvin and Augustine, we see theologians and philosophers despising the Enlightenment, and our little, often naïve, heart flutter with joy. We say, “These are our people.” But they’re not. They’ve gone off the rails of liberalism in some sense, but they have not converted. They’re still running around with the same beliefs, despising the same gospel, one that is preached and taught, one that makes assertions and claims ultimate allegiance. Christianity is not merely shared practices; it is shared beliefs, shared doctrine. That doctrine, those words, mean something eternal. They mean something that they meant to the Lord, and to the Apostles, and to the Fathers, and to the Reformers, and to the Puritans. They mean the same thing that they mean to the faithful reformed today. We don’t need to re-think our Christianity; they need to come to Christ. That looks like something, absolutely, but it also means something. Be careful of those who sound like us, but are simply hijacking Christian language.

Bible Reading Plan 2017

I worked out a Bible reading plan that I’m gonna try this year. As with most “Bible-in-a-year” plans, it’s 4 chapters per day (with a few that are less and a few that are more). This plan is designed to take you straight through the Bible once, through Psalms twice, and through Proverbs four times. What that means is that January 1st, you read Genesis 1-2, Psalm 1, and Proverbs 1. Proverbs is read in January, March, July, and October (31-day months matching the 31 chapters). Psalm 119 is by itself (no other reading for the day), and you finish with the Psalms (the first time) on May 30th. You pick it up again on August 4th, which is 150 days from the end of the year. You’ll notice that Obadiah and 2-3 John each have their own days and that the scheduled reading essentially stops at Christmas Eve (except Psalms). This means that you have at least 11 “catch up” days during the year. Some caveats: 1) I simply went through and put in a certain number of chapters per day, so this doesn’t account for chapter length (except Psalm 119) and it doesn’t account for natural breaks in the book (except Romans). Some days you’ll read the end of a book and the first chapter(s) of another book (e.g. April 28th), but this only happens when the books were meant to be read together (1 Samuel-2 Kings, Ezrah-Nehemiah). 2) I didn’t try to get it nicely formatted. I just created an Excel document and put books/chapters in the days and messed around with it a little. If you try to print it out, you may find yourself needing to adjust it to fit the pages better. If you have any questions or find something that needs to be fixed, let me know. Here it is: Bible Reading Plan 2017

Is it a 6 or a 9? Basics of the Christian Claim

Is it all about perspective? In some sense. Are we being arrogant when we make claims from the Bible? No.

Maybe you’ve seen the images above on Facebook, or somewhere else, as I have a few times recently, and you’ve wondered how to respond? Usually, there’s a caption with something like, “Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean they’re wrong,” or “It’s all about perspective.”  These are, in many ways, a new take on an old story about an elephant. The story goes that a group of blind men all came across an elephant and touched a different part of it. One felt the leg and said that it was a tree, another the side and said it was a wall, and so on. The moral of the story is similar to (though slightly different than) these: there’s now way to grasp truth from a single perspective. These are even more subversive because they claim that there is no complete meaning, just perspectival truth.

So what do we make of these? When we see them on the internet, or when we hear similar claims in conversation? Is it all about perspective? Well, first I want to say that there are times when various perspectives are the key to growth, such as when approaching a work or school project or facing a difficult decision. Still, I think that what we’ll find in these situations is not that the presence of multiple perspectives itself is what was helpful, but the presence of a particular perspective, one based on knowledge or experience, that was otherwise absent. So, what does this have to do with Christianity? Everything.

When we look at the pictures above, there is something (someone) missing. There was someone who drew the 6 (or 9) and there was someone who laid the lumber. This person would be the ultimate determiner of truth. He could say, “No, when I was drawing it, I was facing this way and so it is a 9. It is there so that you know that the address is ‘9 Main St., Normaltown, USA.’ not ‘6 Main St.'” When we approach ambiguous things in context, the ambiguity often vanishes. 6’s and 9’s lying in the presence of nothing are ambiguous, but as soon as they are placed in a context, such as a sentence or an address or a string of numbers (except when the other numbers are 0’s), we know that it would be wrong to maintain that they are ambiguous. Even when they do lay alone, there is an individual that has determined what the number is.

So, is it right that people would claim we can’t know absolute truth, particularly since we are equals (i.e. humans), and none of us “drew” truth? Sure. None of us can claim to know absolutely on our own. We are dependent on deduction, induction, and collaboration. We look at things and say, “well, from my vantage point, it looks like that act was evil (or righteous)” and we continue in conversation with others for input. Problem? We all know that we are 1) fallible (able to make mistakes) and 2) sinful. Our fallibility means that however sure we are of something we figured out ourselves, we may be corrected by further information. Our sinfulness means that however pious we claim to be as we make assertions, we know that they are at least sprinkled with (if not completely soaked in) self-serving motives.

Is it hopeless then? Should we just give up on making claims of absolutes? Should we proceed with the motto “live and let live” since everyone is just doing this whole life thing from their personal vantage point? In a word, no. You see, the Christian claim is that there is a person who “drew” truth and “laid” the foundations of the world. Further, he is not some absent artist or careless carpenter. No, he is a fully (i.e. omni-) present Father who has made himself known. No one can claim ignorance of this fact (just read Romans 1 or Acts 17 or Psalm 19). When we make truth claims from the Bible, we are making truth claims from the Source of truth, from God himself. Jesus claims to be the truth (John 14:6) and the Bible claims to be the sufficient Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In fact, the Bible even understands that man can’t give this truth, since only the source of truth has that ability, and so God himself must be the one who wrote it (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Are we being arrogant when we make claims from the Bible? No. We are not saying, “I have the truth” (in the sense that it originates with me, or even with the church). We are instead saying that God has the truth and has made it known here (in the Bible) for everyone to know, and that is why we proclaim it. It’s easy to mix logical thinking with biblical claims (maybe in the realm of economics and public policy), but we must admit what the absolute truth is and what we think is necessary based on that truth. We might say, “Absolute truth is that we work to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and so we think that means we should not provide food stamps.” Someone might claim that this goes against the absolute truth teaching on caring for the poor and destitute (read the whole Bible), and so we think that we should just put everyone but the 1% on welfare. Of course, these are hyperbolic (though, unfortunately, not always) examples, but I hope they strengthen the point. There is absolute truth (only Jesus is Lord, salvation is not for non-Christians, church is necessary, God is Trinity, etc.) and these are claims made by God himself. That means they are not open to any perception but his own. Using his revealed truth, we think deeply about how to apply it in a way that reflects his teaching.

To read more about this, look at Acts 17:10-34 (Paul goes to Berea and they compare his teaching to what has already been revealed by God; he goes to Athens and explains the absolute revealed will of God). Also, look Romans 1:18-32 (everyone knows about God, but they revolt). Look at the texts in 2 Timothy 3 and 2 Peter 1 that I referenced above. Check out, and think deeply, about the opening to Hebrews (1:1-3). Meditate on Deuteronomy 29:29 and 30:11-14. These are all basic texts, which is another way of saying foundational texts, for our thinking and stance as Christians.

Finally, I am going to recommend a book that I haven’t actually read. I have the book Naming the Elephant by James Sire, and I intend to read it in about a month. I’ve read his Universe Next Door, and this book is intended to be a follow-up volume to that. It’s not available on Westminster Books, but you can get it on Amazon here. This should help you think about how to respond to non-Christian truth claims.

Christianity is an Educated Faith

It’s an interesting situation that exists in the Christian religion today. We have an abundance of individuals with undergraduate certificates to Doctorates in biblical, theological, and church history degrees. On the other end, we have those who “just believe” and decide to pay no attention to the thinking portion of their faith. Some are locked away in Bible colleges and seminaries debating the nuanced definitions of theological terms as used in various periods of church history, and others attend church on occasion when they need an uplifting word or counsel on a specific area of life. In this short post, I want to explain just why we must consider the Christian faith as one that we think through.

Let’s think about the Great Commission. The Lord is preparing to ascend to his Father’s right hand, and he tells the disciples something. He tells them to make more disciples. It might be easy if we just think about what it means to be a “disciple.” It means, simply, to be the student at the feet of a teacher. We are to learn something and, as Christians, we are to teach something. What are we to teach? Well, while the simple gospel call is definitely part of it (turn from your sin and place your trust in Christ), he says that we are to teach “all” that Jesus has commanded. Whether we’re in an educational silo (only me and my student peers) or a lifestyle silo (I think about Jesus occasionally, but it’s not part of my life), we are abandoning this command. We who are called to teach are not obeying, and we who are called to learn (which is everyone) are not obeying.

What about the connection between thinking deeply about the Bible and what it says and our living? We can think about the Great Commission for that as well, and we can also look at Romans 12:1-2. Making disciples has an initial action on the part of the new believer: baptism. Our thinking (and feeling) leads to the act of baptism (cf. Romans 10:9 where it is knowledge and heart transformation). But it doesn’t end there. They are told to teach commands. Commands demand action. Sometimes, the action is worship or a new (proper) way of thinking about God. Sometimes, the action is confession of particular sins or being a better father/mother/spouse/child. These actions aren’t always easily separated, and the former (worship/thinking about God) should always be present.

Next, let’s think about Romans 12:1-2. The Word says that readers are to offer their blood-bought lives as sacrifices of worship. What does this look like? It looks like verse 2. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” So it means thinking differently, differently than you used to and differently than the world. God’s mind is given in his Word, and as our minds are changed by it, we are transformed from conformity to the world to conformity to Christ. It is neither simply thinking through doctrine intellectually, nor blind behavior modification. Instead, our minds manifest themselves in our living. Our minds must be saturated with the Word, transformed by the Word, tested by the Word, and the consequence will be living in accord with the Word. We must examine our lives and examine our thinking.

Christianity is an educated faith, that is, it is a faith built around teaching. We go to church on Sundays to be taught the Word in Sunday School and sermons and through spiritual conversation with our believing brothers and sisters. We wake up in the morning and devote our time to reading and understanding the Word and the demands (commands) of God on our life. We gather our families around the table and teach our wives and children about our God. We look at the news and the media and consider (think about) how their message aligns with the message of the Bible. This is not solely the job of pastors. This is not only a way of thinking found in Bible colleges and seminaries. This should be the way of thinking (and living) for every believer. Let us be those who are serious enough to think about what we say we believe.

What Now? Some Post-Election Counsel

If you followed the election last night you found out that things were different than anyone had assumed. Most people were thinking that it was virtually impossible for Donald Trump to win the election, but as the numbers came in and the battleground states were called in his favor things changed quickly. There is some counsel that I would like to give following this election cycle, counsel that’s as much for myself as others.

Remember Who’s King

You may have seen this many times, and it can become trite after a while, but we must guard ourselves against seeing it as anything less than a bold declaration from Scripture. There have been and will be many kings (and presidents) over the course of history, but there is only one who is King of kings and Lord of lords. When we look to Christ and remember that we are in his kingdom, we are sure to find ultimate comfort, even in the midst of earthly tumult.

Remember the Rulers

We are called in Scripture to honor those who rule over us, and the overall tenor of Scripture is that we seek always to be faithful to them. It is easier when they are ruling according to our ideals, but when we remember the first point we can follow this one more faithfully. God is in charge of history and ensures that his choices for leaders end up where they do. We must pray, then, that those rulers will rule well according to his standard. We must pray, also, that they have the strength to do the task set before them. Remember that the rulers are Donald Trump and the various Senators that were elected. When we pray, we ought to do so with the real individual in mind and guard against generic statements. 

Remember Your Souls

It is easy to think that when laws and leaders change our circumstance will change. We buy into the assumption that because our circumstances are materially better, our lives will be spiritually better. We must not think this way. No matter who is in office, we are called to love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We get before him in prayer and Bible reading and meditation. We gather with the people of God for corporate worship of the Triune God of the universe. We seek to admonish and help one another in living a life of pleasant fragrance before him. Circumstances can make some of these things more difficult, but they can not stop them. Circumstances can make these things easier, but they cannot cause them. We must seek, in whatever circumstance we are in, to live unto the Lord.

Remember Your Neighbor

Over the entire election cycle, we have seen just how strained our relationships are with one another, and we saw last night just how people are feeling. Some of our neighbors are scared of what awaits. Others are angry and bloodthirsty for the changes that have been promised. Others are sad, disappointed, confused, and hopeless. These are our neighbors, family members, coworkers, and friends. These are people that need love from Christians. These are people that need to know about the sure foundation of Christ, the hope-giving Spirit, and the sovereign God. We must seek to walk beside those around us, caring for their souls and showing them Christ. Invite them to church, where songs are sung of the reigning Savior. Invite them to your home, where gentle assurance is displayed. Invite them to eat, where holy conversation is maintained. We know that our country is divided, at war with itself ideologically, and Christians ought to be the first people to demonstrate a peacemaking attitude. Our hope is sure, our foundation unshakeable, our Example humble, our Father loving, and our Seal secured. Our God we proclaim in this age and forever. Amen.

Continuity and Discontinuity, or What was the Reformation?

The term “continuity and discontinuity” is one that refers to the Old and New Testaments, or covenants, and is often a subject of major discussion, debate, and disagreement. There is a steady spectrum of theological thought that ranges from extreme continuity in the Roman and Eastern Churches and many “messianic” groups to extreme discontinuity in Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology, and heresies that deny the Old Testament. For all that could be said about these things, and this is an important issue, I am actually going to spend this post talking about a different kind of continuity and discontinuity.

All over the world, as people send their children out dressed as princesses or superheroes in search of sugar highs and thrills, excitement amongst many Protestants will be focused somewhere else: the Reformation of the 16th century. So that you may know what the fuss is about, and hopefully join in the celebration, I would like to give you a short history lesson. This will take place by means of a brief explanation, followed by an outline of what we (Protestants) perceive as continuity, and what we perceive as discontinuity associated with the event.

The Short of It

In the year 1516, 500 years ago this year, the humanist Erasmus published a version of the Greek New Testament. An Augustinian monk named Martin Luther got his hands on it and began to work through it, while at the same time he was working through his theology (he was a professor as well). The following year, in 1517, he posted a series of theses regarding the sale of indulgences on the church door there in Wittenberg (the church door functioned as a sort of community bulletin board at the time). While he had written it in Latin so that it could be a matter of academic theological discussion and debate, some of his students translated it into German and passed it around to the world. Over the course of the next few decades there arose three major versions what was called “Protestant” Christianity (they were protesting the Roman Church). These three theological groups were called “Reformed” (often referred to as Calvinist after the teacher that is associated with that group, John Calvin), “Radical” (most notably the Anabaptists who are seen in Mennonite and Amish groups today), and “Lutheran.” Two quick things should be noted immediately in order to avoid confusion. 1) “Radical” is not meant the same was as it is today. It comes from the Latin radix which means root. That group wanted to start Christianity afresh, from the root as it were, and essentially ditch the 1500 year Christian tradition that had been passed down. 2) “Anabaptist” should not be directly associated with current Baptists. The current Baptists actually arise out of the Puritan movement, which were English Calvinists. This is seen most obviously in the fact that the most influential confession of faith for Baptists, the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, was modeled directly (and often without any modification) on the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, a document prepared by the Puritans.

In short, the churches across Europe, and particularly in Germany, Switzerland, and England, moved away from the control of Rome and committed to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. This doctrine, which means “Scripture Alone,” means that the people were committed to reforming the church in accordance with the Scripture. While some, like the Radicals, attempted to start from scratch, most compared the traditions that had been passed down to the teaching of Scripture and consequently abandoned many of them and re-formed the others to the commands of God.

Continuity

At this point, I would like to explain what I am calling “Continuity.” Both the Protestants and the Roman Catholics claimed continuity, but their claims were different. The Protestants attempted to remain faithful to the Scripture and, thus, continuous with the people of God from righteous Abel to Apostles. They also wanted to remain continuous with the early church, which took as its authority the Scripture. Rome attempted to maintain continuity by virtue of the office of the Pope, who is seen as the continuation of the apostolic office from Peter to today. The church, it was claimed, could not err, and so the traditions of the church were every bit as authoritative as the Scripture. While Scripture is infallible and inerrant, according to Protestant doctrine the past gives wisdom and strength for helping us understand the Scripture and the faith. According to the Roman faith, however, the past gives infallible and inerrant instruction on par with the Scripture. This means that tradition was (is) often the basis for mandating things that were not mandated by the Word, and withholding from the people the surety of their faith. We (Protestants), like our brothers in the faith before us for the past 2,000 years, look to the Scripture for the doctrines we must believe and the behaviors we must practice. We ask our brothers from previous centuries, by reading their works, to help us interpret what the Word is saying. At no point do they become the magisterial authority on it. This means that they are only correct insofar as they are conveying the true meaning of Scripture (called ministerial). In this way, our continuity is one of brotherhood.

Discontinuity

Any study of the Christian church’s history will also contain elements of discontinuity, and this is especially evident in the case of the Reformation. When Rome was falling and the Western Church was in danger, the Bishop of Rome acquired a higher level of authority than he had previously. That bishop has always been seen as something important because of its relationship to the founding of the faith (both Peter and Paul were martyred there and it played a special part in the opening of the Christian age). However, as time progressed, twists and turns in Western history occurred, the Roman bishop gained more authority until it became the papacy we see today. The intermingling of church and political affairs also lead to tensions in the social and ecclesiastical spheres. Eventually, you ended up with undeniable moral bankruptcy in the church and oppression of the people. Reform was needed.

As reformation broke out and people began to assert that the Bible’s authority is above any pope or council, and that the Bible’s teaching is clearly that salvation is the free grace of God through faith alone in Christ alone, those making such claims were labeled heretics and excommunicated from the church. They were often burned for their beliefs and (because of the ties between church and state) wars broke out between Papist and Protestant countries. There was a clear discontinuity between what had developed from the medieval age and the church of the reformers.

Take Aways

The Roman Church has held people in bondage even to this day. It continues to maintain the doctrines that undermine Scripture that it did 499 years ago, and the idolatry has only gotten worse. You see it in the way that the Virgin Mary is worshiped (whatever they officially say that they are doing), as well as the saints, the Pope, and the Eucharist. They have diminished the gospel by denying justification by faith alone (they collapse what we refer to as justification and sanctification), believing that you can lose what Christ accomplished. More recently (at the Second Vatican Council), they have expanded the attainment of salvation to all the ends of the earth, to every good heathen that exists, at which point it is unnecessary to call people to an exclusive faith in Christ. They may stand beside our brothers and sisters in courtrooms and at murder mills (abortion clinics), but they are not our friends in the gospel. They need to hear of the saving grace of Christ. They need to know that salvation is sure for all who cast themselves upon the Rock. They need to be called to repent from their idolatry and trust in the only Mediator between God and Man. They need to be told that the cross of Calvary accomplished our redemption and that it is not necessary to be re-presented, but remembered and rejoiced in, and the communal meal taken with Christ and his people. They need to be converted.

As we approach the anniversary of this great event of history, when the chains that held back the light of the gospel from the people of God were broken, I remind you to rejoice for the boldness of the men who went before us. I call you to walk in their footsteps, standing strong for the gospel in a world of hurt feelings and safe spaces. There is no safe space in this universe for the sinner who has not been covered by the blood of Christ. There is no dangerous place in this universe for the one who has been born again. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

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.