Monday, June 27, 2016

In Translatiōne

Franciscus Gomarus on Roman Catholic Baptism

By Dr. Ryan McGraw (from The Confessional Presbyterian)

Introduction and Background

Franciscus Gomarus (1563–1641) was one of the leading Dutch Reformed theologians of the period of Reformed orthodoxy. He was one of the primary theological opponents of Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and a prominent member of the Synod of Dort. He served both as a Reformed minister and as a professor of theology at the University of Leiden.

The translation presented here of his treatment of Roman Catholic baptism is taken from his theological disputations, which were based on material that he taught to his students at Leiden. He did not write the material himself, but these disputations are brief abstracts gathered together from his lectures. This means that the arguments presented in these disputations are necessarily brief and each of them requires further development. This selection is historically important because it is one of the few examples outside of sixteenth century Scotland in which a Reformed orthodox author explicitly rejected Roman Catholic baptism. The Scots Confession of 1560 is the only major Reformed confessional document that explicitly stated that Roman Catholic baptism was invalid (because it is not administered by “lawful ministers,” or “in the elements and manner which God has appointed; and thus “we abandon the teaching of the Roman Church and withdraw from its sacraments;” Chapter 22). Gomarus provides evidence of this opinion continuing and reappearing elsewhere in the period of Reformed orthodoxy.

How to Research and Write a Theological Paper

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research, by Michael Kibbe. Downer's Grove, Il: IVP Academic, 2016, 152pp, $12.00, Paper.
Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw
Theological papers and sermons often share in common that they hover around a topic without a clear aim in view. Both theological students and pastors need to develop the skill to tell people what they are doing, how they plan to do it, and why they are doing it. This easy-to-read book by Michael Kibbe gives theological students needed help to do just that. It is a must read for theological students and for those seeking to write and to teach more effectively in the church.
Kibbe places theological research on the right footing. He asserts that those doing theological research must confess their unworthiness to know God, trust in the Spirit to help their labors, rest in God’s self-revelation in Christ, and submit to God’s authority (27-28).
He also exemplifies focused writing in the flow and structure of his book. He breaks down the task of theological research into finding direction, gathering sources, understanding issues, entering discussion, and establishing a position (43-44). He illustrates his principles helpfully in light of widely differing sample research projects related to the kingdom of God in Mark and the doctrine of divine accommodation in John Calvin (e.g., 50-52).
The appendices, which treat a range of research-related issues, are invaluable. This is true particularly of the sections on ten things not to do in writing a theological paper and in his introduction to the indispensible Zotero bibliographic software. He furnishes readers with much needed help to learn how to argue for positions rather than merely present information.
Kibbe overstates his case slightly at one point when he says that we must read the Bible as we do any other book and that one’s view of the divine inspiration of Scripture has no bearing on hermeneutical methods (21). The primary difference that he overlooks is that, unlike human authors, the Lord is aware of every consequence of His words. While it is true that we should read the Bible grammatically and in its context, it is also true that we must piece together theological consequences from Scripture in order to conclude things such as God’s Tri-unity and Christ’s two natures. Such doctrines revealed by God in Scripture as clearly as are express statements in particular texts and they provide the backdrop without which the message of Scripture would unravel. While this principle does not allow for wild private interpretations of Scripture, it also distinguishes the Bible from any other book. And although the methods of theological research overlap substantially with other disciplines, theology remains a unique discipline in these respects.

This book is precisely the tool that both seminary professors and students need to make the task of writing papers an exercise in developing a skill instead of completing an assignment. By teaching readers how to research and to write well, Kibbe teaches them how to think and to communicate better. The church needs men in the pulpit who are clear and interesting. While preaching sermons and writing papers are very different tasks, they are not unrelated, since they both require students to make a point clearly and persuasively. This reviewer hopes that this book will be useful to the church by teaching men how to think and to express themselves better in the seminary so that they might communicate more effectively in the pulpit.

Lifting the Church's Gaze Concerning the Law of God

Divine Rule Maintained: Anthony Burgess, Covenant Theology, and the Place of the Law in Reformed Scholasticism, by Stephen J. Casselli. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016, 188pages, $30.00, Hardcover.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

The function God’s law in Scripture has always raised difficult theological questions. With the advent of modern exegesis and theological methods, the proposed options for understanding divine law have only multiplied. In this climate, historical theology often challenges contemporary assumptions and pushes us beyond the bounds of current proposals. StephenCasselli’s work on Anthony Burgess does all of these things and more. Since Burgess was a prominent member of the Westminster Assembly, this book helps explain the teaching of the Westminster Standards on God’s law, bringing a vital strand of the Reformed tradition into contemporary debates.

Casselli’s book is a useful introduction to Westminster’s teaching on God’s law. In six concise chapters, he introduces his topic, sets Burgess in his historical context, and then treats, in order, creation and law, the law in the Mosaic covenant, and the law/gospel distinction, followed by a conclusion. His findings include ideas such as the law as an expression of God’s nature, natural law and moral law, the threefold division of God’s law, the threefold use of God’s law, the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace, and the law and the gospel as expressing primarily the relationship between the Old Testament and the New. He delves deeply and broadly into British Reformed theology, introducing English readers to a wide array of important resources.

Though Casselli writes historical theology, he does so with his finger on the pulse of today’s church by singling out law and creation (including the nature of natural law), law and covenant, and law and gospel (139-143). One of the most useful features of his analysis is his observation that Burgess distinguished between the law as a reflection of God’s character and the law as a covenant (61). This distinction undoubtedly undergirds chapter 19 in the Westminster Confession of Faith (“On the Law of God”). The tendency in much modern theology to ignore or to deny this distinction renders this chapter in the Confession virtually unintelligible.

Though Divine Rule Maintained is well written and useful, some points require greater clarity. For example, Casselli treated natural law as virtually synonymous with moral law. Yet James Bruce shows helpfully in his recent work on Francis Turretin that natural law referred to natural relationships between God and people and between people and one another as created by God. The content of moral law was identical with natural law, but the relationship between them is that of underlying principle and its outward expression. A related issue is how Casselli classifies Reformed uses of law. Though he notes most of the vital components of Reformed teaching, such as the threefold division of law (moral, ceremonial, and judicial), the threefold use of the law, the law as a covenant of works, the law as the Old Testament, and the law as distinct from the gospel, he does not always distinguish these categories clearly. The most prominent example of this is his chapter on the law and the gospel, in which he states without explanation that Burgess treated the law as the Old Testament and the gospel as the New. While hinting at the fact that Lutherans dichotomized law and gospel regarding justification and showing that Reformed authors agreed with them over this point, he does not illustrate adequately how and why Reformed authors modified the law/gospel distinction.

This reviewer has written elsewhere that Reformed authors treated the law as reflecting God’s character, which led to natural law as reflecting God’s relation to his creatures, which then led to moral law as its outward expression. This moral law was the bedrock of the three divisions and three uses of law. The gospel created these uses and divisions of the law. This raises the related issue that in Reformed theology, law as opposed to gospel referred to various things. It could refer to the covenant of works as opposed to the covenant of grace. It could refer to the Old Testament versus the New Testament. Or, it could refer to the Mosaic covenant versus the new covenant. The complexity of treating the law in Reformed theology reflected the diversity of the uses of law in Scripture. What Casselli highlights rightly is the close relationship between the law and covenant theology. However, his study raises a number of unanswered questions regarding the above Reformed uses of law. This may result from the virtual absence of Latin Reformed dogmatic works, without which readers lose some of the precise distinctions within Reformed orthodoxy as well as its international character.

Casselli’s book on Anthony Burgess on the nature and function of divine law cannot solve today’s theological difficulties. Scripture alone can serve this purpose. However, his work shows us that contemporary voices on the subject are not the only ones worth hearing. The church needs books like this one in order to help her read the Bible better by lifting her gaze from her current outlook to the horizon of church history. Though the church is not infallible, yet since Christ continues to direct her “by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture” (WCF 1.10), we do well to hear what she has had to say.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pastoral Burnout and the Neglect of Godly Living

Albert N. Martin, YouLift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013). 143pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Who we are as Christians is the decisive factor in determining our usefulness to others as servants of Christ. Al Martin’s You Lift Me Up shows the connection between perseverance and usefulness in the ministry and a conscientious and consistent application of the principles of Christian living. This is one of the best books that I have ever read on the Christian ministry. The reason for this is that it grounds an effective ministry in the general contours and disciplines of the Christian life. Martin shows that lack of effectiveness and burnout in the ministry almost always stems from neglect of the basic components of godly living.

The title to this book is tragically misleading. Its might suggest that the author addresses depressed ministers or presents case studies of pastoral dilemmas. Instead, he treats the all-too-common problems of ministerial backsliding, burnout, and what he calls washout. Martin addresses vital topics and common pitfalls, such as being distracted in our devotions, neglecting “generic Christian duties,” maintaining a good conscience, isolating ourselves from the friendship of the congregation, becoming enslaved to people who are overly dependent on us, limiting our studies to sermon preparation, hiding our genuine humanity, obesity among ministers, and the neglect of exercise and proper diet. This reviewer wishes that every chapter of this book and virtually every line of its pages could be burned into the hearts of every seminary student and minister of the gospel. Almost all of these areas are commonly neglected, and all of them are essential to a healthy Christian life, let alone an effective Christian ministry.

People often want to know how to be good spouses, godly parents, faithful students, diligent employees, and many other special areas of interest the Christian life. While it is useful to target all kinds of people and to apply the word to them specifically, the secret of godly living lies in learning to apply one set of biblical principles to every area of life. A man’s character in relation to the Triune God determines how he will serve as a minister. This make this book profitable to everyone, and not to ministers only. There are many books on the market today. If all books were a “must read,” then none of them would be. Among modern works on pastoral theology, this reviewer must say of You Lift Me Up as David did of Goliath’s sword, “There is none like it, give it to me.” Read it and buy a copy for a friend in the ministry whom you care for and love dearly.

The preceding was published in New Horizons.