April 17, 2010
I’ve been reading Tom Nettles’ stirring history of The Baptists vol. 2 Beginnings in America. One of the most edifying chapters is a biographical sketch with theological anaysis of Ann Judson. In a section in which Nettles explains how Ann learned Divine love in place of mere human romance, he quotes a portion of a letter that Adoniram Judson wrote to Ann’s father, John Hasseltine, asking for Ann’s hand in marriage. The manner of his request is instructive both to young Christian couples contemplating life together with Christ and to parents contemplating the best future for their children. Do I have such a heart for Christ, for the glory of God, for the nations? May God stir such passions in me. Do I have enough love for my children to encourage them to take up their cross and follow hard after Christ?
I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern clime of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness, brightened by acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal wo [sic] and despair?
James D. Knowles, ed. Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson (Boston, 1829), 17. Quoted in Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity vol. 2 Beginnings in America (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 195-96.
March 14, 2010
How does someone saturated with Scripture and filled with the Holy Spirit “psycho-analyze” (that is, study the condition of a person’s soul), so as to diagnose a person’s problem and prescribe the remedy? For a model of this read John Owen’s pastoral theology in The Mortification of Sin in Believers. Owen counsels us on how to overcome sin, even those dogged, besetting sins that seem to cling to our souls. The majority of the work is devoted to the preparation for putting sin to death. When he comes to the final address on “the work itself” he is very brief. His opening words deserve meditation:
Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet.
The Mortification of Sin in Believers and two other related works can be found in a readable edition, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, entitled Overcoming Sin and Temptation, published by Crossway. In this edition Owen’s occasional Latin is translated to English in the text, while the original is relegated to a footnote. In addition, footnotes are used to clarify some of the vocabulary that is obscure to many modern readers.
March 13, 2010
At the end of part 2 of the Mortification of Sin, John Owen responds to the question: “When God speaks it, we must receive it, that is true; but how shall we know when He speaks?” To which Owen responds –
There is, if I may so say, a secret instinct in faith, whereby it knows the voice of Christ when He speaks indeed; as the babe leaped in the womb when the blessed Virgin came to Elizabeth [Luke 1:44], faith leaps in the heart when Christ indeed draws nigh to it. ‘My sheep,’ says Christ, ‘know my voice’ (John 10:4)–“They know my voice; they are used to the sound of it,” and they know when His lips are opened to them and are full of grace. The spouse was in a sad condition (Song 5:2)–asleep in security; but yet as soon as Christ speaks, she cries, ‘It is the voice of my beloved that speaks!’ She know His voice, and was so acquainted with communion with Him, that instantly she discovers Him; and so will you also. If you exercise yourself to acquaintance and communion with Him, you will easily discern between His voice and the voice of a stranger. And take this criterion with you: When He does speak, He speaks as never man spoke; He speaks with power, and one way or other will make your ‘hearts burn within you,’ as He did to the disciples (Luke 24:32). He does it by ‘putting his hand at the hole of the door’ (Song 5:4)–His Spirit into your hearts to seize on you.
January 15, 2010
Justin Nale led the ENC Founders Fraternal in a thoughtful discussion about corporate worship. While we looked briefly at several elements of corporate worship, such as preaching, prayer, and public reading of Scripture, we spent the majority of the time discussing music. There is a great reservoir of richly theological music. While we are accustomed to acknowledging the richness of hymns from the reformation and second reformation era’s, we are not always as ready to acknowledge the rich hymnody being written in our own generation. But the fact that people like Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty are making their contributions demonstrates God’s faithfulness in every generation.
October 12, 2009
I am currently reading the book Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, edited by David Dockery. Most of the material in the book was presented at Baptist Identity conferences at Union University. Since these chapters have been published, even more has been written on the subject. I would like to generate some discussion about this topic by summarizing each chapter and offering some of my own thoughts. So here goes.
In the introduction, “Southern Baptists in the Twenty-first Century,” David Dockery demonstrates the need for clarification about Baptist Identity by briefly explaining how that identity was defined in the twentieth century and why that is not sufficient today.
According to Dockery “for almost five decades, during the middle of the twentieth century, Southern Baptists followed the same organizational patterns, the same programs, and the same Sunday school lessons. These practices were to Southern Baptists what the Latin Mass was to Roman Catholics” (13). He names some of these programs as Bible drills, GAs, RAs, Training Union, WMU, Brotherhood, Sunday School, and similar worship patterns such as the Baptist Hymnal. Dockery uses the words cultural and programmatic to describe Baptist identity during these years. He states that this unified identity gave Southern Baptists its pervasive influence particularly in southern white culture.
Dockery maintains that this identity no longer suffices because Southern Baptists have become more regionally and ethnically diverse, and often look outside of the SBC for church models and heroes. We must move toward “consensus and renewal.” This will include “convictional and confessional beliefs” and “collaborative and cooperative service.” In summary of the first, Dockery says “we need an authentically confessional faith, grounded in Scripture and the best of our Baptist heritage, a convictional faith that will not give in to this secular age with a spirit of defeat” (17). Under the section “Collaborative and Cooperative Service,” the author emphasizes that Christian love and cooperation authenticate our confession. He advocates a compassionate sense of cooperation.
He closes the introduction with 12 “initial steps toward renewal. I’ll list them without his explanations for the sake of space.
1. We must begin afresh to appreciate the best of Baptist history/heritage.
2. We must balance commitment to the material principle of the gospel and the formal principle of inspired Scripture.
3. The new consensus must be built upon a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture, which affirms that only those beliefs and practices that rest firmly on scriptural foundations can be regarded as binding on Southern Baptists.
4. Defining the circumference is necessary, but we should not expect or demand uniformity, lest we impose a straightjacked on our fellow Southern Baptists.
5. We must recognize that a confession of the Bible’s truthfulness is an important safeguard, a necessary, albeit an insufficient, statement for the SBC to maintain consistent evangelical instruction and theological method, which is needed for an orthodox statement on matters of Christology, the doctrine of God, and salvation.
6. A model of dynamic orthodoxy must be reclaimed.
7. We must recognize that Southern Baptists have historically reflected considerable diversity.
8. We must take seriously the biblical call to unity in accord with the Nicene affirmation of the oneness and universality of the church, as reflected in the Orthodox confession (1678).
9. We need to be reminded of where Southern Baptist might be were it not for the conservative resurgence — as well as a recognition of where we could be if we ever become untethered to Holy Scripture.
10. We need a new spirit of mutual respect and humility to serve together with those with whom we have differences of conviction and opinion.
11. We want to begin to build a new and much-needed consensus around the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
12. Twenty-first-century Southern Baptists need not only to affirm the Bible’s truthfulness and the saving power of the gospel, but we need to evidence our concern for these matters by careful biblical interpretation and theological reflection, faithful churchmanship, proclamation, worship, repentance, and prayer.
I have three concerns about this introduction. First, I’m not convinced that SBC identity was ever fundamentally programmatic. Nor am I convinced that we are as culturally diverse today as Dockery suggests. If SBC identity did once revolve around having the same programs and orders of worship then shame on us. And we should not seek to correct this identity problem simply because it doesn’t work anymore, but because it is a wrong basis for unity and a sad basis for identity.
Second, though Dockery does issue several calls for unity in confession, there is no call to the centrality of the glory of God. Point 6, calling for dynamic orthodoxy sounds good, but it is not enough. The list of conversation partners makes me wonder what is meant by “orthodoxy.” (He lists Nicea, Chalcedon, Augustine, Bernard, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, the Pietists, and the revivalists.) It is not enough to have an orthodox doctrine of God. Our doctrine of God must make us God-centered in theology and practice. Our goals must all be subordinate to the chief end of glorifying and enjoying God.
Third, the call to consensus around the gospel is good, but there is no definition of what is meant by gospel. When talking about ecclesiology he names specific points (“We must also clearly affirm the importance of worship, regenerate church membership, and local church autonomy and cooperation, as well as believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” 19) But when calling for gospel consensus the most that is said is “Jesus Christ and his atoning death for sinners” (20).
I very much appreciate his remark about getting the gospel right as prior to missions and evangelism. “We need to take a step back, not just to commit ourselves afresh to missions and evangelism, as important as that is. We need to commit ourselves foremost to the gospel, the message of missions and evangelism, the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and his atoning death for sinners” (20).
October 12, 2009
As an example of a good Christian theologian, John Owen observed two controlling principles (among others) that are instructive to all pastors, according to Dr. Rick Daniels. For one, he brought his theology to bear on the needs of the time. The pastor-theologian asks “What implications does this truth have for the lives of my people at this time?” Secondly, and more importantly because it will impact every other question, is the necessity to relate every truth to the Bible’s exposition of Christ. Dr. Daniels stated that Owen’s entire theological system is an exposition of Christ. Owen’s commitment to these two principles, and the way that he faithfully brings them together in treatises and sermons, is a model for contemporary pastor-theologians. We must see every truth in relation to Jesus Christ before bringing it to bear on the lives of His people.
This Christocentric principle meant that Owen rejected other alternatives that were adopted by some ministers of his time. He rejected both rationalism and mysticism because they are not tied to the revelation of the Christ of Scripture. The rationalist’s knowledge of God is restricted to the application of human reason to his limited perception as he observes the natural order. The mystic’s knowledge of God is restricted to the applictaion of human imagination and existential experience. The exposition of Jesus Christ that leads to saving knowledge of God requires something beyond these restrictions, something from outside of the subject, namely Divine special revelation. Owen also rejected moralism, which marginalizes Christology while emphasizing practical Christian living. Owen laid the foundation for practical Christian living in the knowledge of Christ.
By application of this Christocentric principle, Owen saw that everything edifying would be founded in Christ. All of God’s involvement with creation is through the mediation of the Son. All theology is, therefore, Christ-centered. Indeed, Dr. Daniels affirmed, for Owen a truly Trinitarian Theology is Christocentric. We may only use the creation rightly in relation to Christ. Providence is expounded in the light of Christ. The gifts of ministry are fruits of the tomb of Christ. Our approach to God through Christ our Mediator is made possible by the incarnation of Christ in humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection and ascension).
Whether we are seeking the conversion of sinners, the sanctification of the saints, or the maturation of the church, let’s bring the truth to bear through our Lord Jesus Christ.
October 11, 2009
Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008) is a fairly easy-to-read apologetic for the Christian faith. It is written to the skeptic, so it is not intended to be an apologetics textbook or training course for believers. Though it would serve as a good example of presuppositional apologetics for students of Christian philosophy.
The book is divided into two parts: The Leap of Doubt and The Reasons for Faith. The first part deals with common objections to belief in God in general and Christianity in particular. The second part is an introduction to essentials of Christian teaching. The author acknowledges his dependence on C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards, though his adherence to the former is more discernible than to the latter.
The author has a congenial and often sympathetic tone throughout the book. His assertions are tempered with the acknowledgment that he is arguing in the realm of probabilities, not certain proofs. Hence, it is quite refreshing when he comes to the positive presentation of the gospel and sets aside Pascal’s wager.
Creationists will cringe at his answer to Darwinian objections. Instead of exposing the presuppositions of naturalism, he suggests that Christians are divided on the question of origins, so skeptics should not allow an internal debate to hinder them from considering Christianity. He points out that certain early fundamentalists, including B. B. Warfield believed that God used the mechanism of natural selection to bring about the world we know today. He personally believes that Genesis 1 is a song on the order of Exodus 15 or Judges 5, and therefore is not narrative history but poetic celebration (93-94).
He does a good job of refuting radical historical critics that deny the historical reliability of the gospels. However, he does not offer any such argument for the Old Testament.
Keller’s dependence on Lewis is most evident in his explanation of hell. “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?” says Keller (79). Keller doesn’t outright deny Divine retribution, but if he believes that God is angry about sin you would not know it from reading this chapter. God looks remarkably more like a 21st century postmodern than the righteous judge of all the earth who does what is right, not necessarily what we might deem “fair.” Keller avoids the biblical descriptions of hell, preferring instead the modern psychological “hell” of self-absorption.
Part 2 introduces the reader to the essentials of Christianity. Keller skillfully retells the metanarrative of the gospel and makes helpful distinction, such as distinguishing between man’s quest for God and God’s revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He discuses the problem of sin, the answer of the cross, and the resurrection of Christ.
His last chapter “The Dance of God” is a helpful exploration of the doctrine of the Trinity. In this chapter he explores the God-centeredness of God. But he focuses on the person-to-person love of the Persons of the Trinity. In this way, Keller argues that God’s God-centeredness is not self-centered, but other-centered as each Person of the Godhead seeks the glory of the other Persons. Even in God’s command to creatures to praise Him, Keller argues that this is not ultimately for God’s pleasure, but so that God may please us. Unlike John Piper, who also argues that we find our ultimate joy in glorifying God, Keller makes the worship of God subordinate to human fulfillment. Again, this is essentially Lewis’ position. Keller does not seem to think that it is right and fitting that God should command praise for Himself simply because He is God and is worthy of such praise.
Keller successfully demonstrates that Christianity is intellectually satisfying. I am grateful that he devoted half of the book to a presentation of the Christian faith. After all, the gospel, and not human reason alone, is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.