Tuesday, December 18, 2012

History's Greatest Sermon


J. Stephen Yuille, Living Blessedly Forever: The Sermon on the Mount and the Puritan Piety of William Perkins. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012. 151 pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

This book is wonderfully devotional. It will greatly interest ministers and average Christians. It combines historical reflection on William Perkin’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount with contemporary application. This mixture makes this work particularly suited to helping ministers prepare sermons on this portion of Scripture.

The book consists of nine chapters. After a brief historical introduction including reasons why we should study Perkins, Yuille treats Perkins on the Sermon on the Mount in general. This chapter presents helpfully the general structure and flow of argument of Christ’s sermon. Chapters 3-8 unfold the bulk of Perkins’s treatise. These chapters summarize the material under the headings of blessedness, repentance, righteousness, sincerity, contentment, and faithfulness. The last of these synthesizes Perkins’s seven final observations under the rubric of “faithfulness.” This is the most analytical portion of Yuille’s investigation. He largely summarizes, digests, and condenses Perkins for a contemporary audience. Chapter 9 closes by exhorting us to lead godly lives that flow from our living union with Christ (143-144).

The greatest strength of this work is its potential to foster piety and sound preaching. It is well-written and gripping. Its use of a wide range of historical and contemporary sources serves as a compendium of sound material for understanding Christ’s sermon. Moreover, Perkins brought different theological assumptions to the text of Scripture than many do today. For instance, he assumed that the statement “you are the salt of the earth” applied primarily to ministers (41). He also applied Christ’s exhortation against casting our pearls before swine to church officers exercising disciple and excluding offenders from the public means of grace (116-117). The assumptions and assertions made by men of another age can challenge our interpretation of Scripture and even surprise us at times. This is one of the primary benefits of historical theology. The contrasts that Yuille draws between Perkins and modern interpreters are frequently illuminating. Whether or not Perkins is right or wrong, such observations make us ask fruitful questions that we might not consider otherwise.

The greatest weakness of this book is as a work of history. The primary problem is that it is often unclear whether the author is presenting Perkins’s thought, his own reflections, or those of contemporary authors. Failing to distinguish clearly between these elements makes it hard to distinguish between what is historical and what is contemporary. For example, after citing Calvin on page 42, Yuille refers to the view of “most commentators.” The reader does not know whether he means “most commentators” in Calvin’s time or most commentators since his time. This difficulty is prevalent through this work. The author complicates the matter by citing at least as many contemporary Bible commentators as he does Puritan authors. This means that readers with a historical interest will frequently be unable to distinguish Perkins from the rest of the material. However, this will not likely hinder readers whose primary goal is contemporary application. The book is still edifying and spiritually fruitful.

Read this book to help you preach on the Sermon on the Mount. Use it prayerfully to become a godlier Christian. And may the Lord bless it to drive us back to read spiritual giants such as William Perkins.


This review is scheduled to appear in The Puritan Reformed Journal  January 2013 issue.

Baptism in the Light of Old and New Testaments


Robert Letham, The Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism: The Water that Unites (Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2012). 120pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

It has been said that the doctrine of the sacraments serves as a litmus test for the strength or weakness of any system of theology. This is true because our theology of the sacraments draws upon our broader conception of the grace of the gospel and how the Triune God communicates Christ and the benefits of salvation to us (see pp. 102-104). In particular, the sacraments serve as a window into what are often referred to as “the means of grace.”

Robert Letham’s contribution to the new Christian’s Pocket Guide series is an outstanding addition to a series that promises to serve the church well for years to come. This short book is a great achievement. It is one of the most profound, simple, and compelling treatments of the subject of baptism in a short space that this reviewer has read. Letham’s treatment is comprehensive without being overwhelming. He has rooted the doctrine of baptism into an entire biblical theology that is confessionally Reformed and accessible to readers who have no prior knowledge of the subject, yet he addresses virtually all questions that are pertinent to his topic (including a refutation of Karl Barth and others in less than six pages! pp. 62-67).

The book consists of two primary sections and a conclusion that comprise nine brief chapters. The first two chapters address the theological method that we bring to reading our Bibles as well as how we view the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Then, using the Noahic covenant as an important precedent, Letham stresses in Chapter 3 the manner in which sacraments are God’s actions in making promises to us and not merely the badges of our professions of faith. Chapter 4 helpfully illustrates the relationship between individuals and the corporate body of the church. These four chapters masterfully set the stage for all that follows by challenging our Western individualism with the biblical balance between the corporate and the individual. The following two chapters demonstrate what baptism means in terms of cleansing from sin and union with Christ. Union with Christ encompasses every aspect and benefit of salvation, and this is what baptism signifies, seals, and applies in the lives of believers. After addressing the efficacy of the sacraments in light of several Reformed confessions in Chapter 7, Chapters 8 and 9 address the proper subjects of baptism as well as how Christians should regard and treat their children. Woven within these chapters are treatments of the mode of baptism, the relation of sacraments to faith and repentance, and virtually every other question that is relevant to this subject.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is that its treatment of the subjects of baptism is situated in a wider view of the both testaments of the Bible. The discussion of the baptism of infants clearly does not drive the discussion, but it is a natural outworking of God’s dealing with households throughout redemptive history. God has always dealt with his people and their households. In this regard, I have always told my congregation that I do not believe in infant baptism, but that I believe in household baptism. Households are mentioned in the New Testament in connection with baptism because households are the subjects of the Abrahamic covenant. Letham points out that the Baptist view of asking for express mention of the children in these examples would be entirely out of accord with the manner in which the Bible treats the households of believers in both testaments: “Since the household remains the basis of administering the covenant, there is no need to mention its individual constituent members unless there is a reason pertinent to the argument of the book. The first century apostles were not operating with modern Western individualistic assumptions” (86). The sections on the efficacy of the sacraments will also challenge many to realize that even Reformed churches have often lost a Reformed view of the manner in which the Spirit confers grace to those who use his means through faith (72, 77-78). This book will challenge you to consider whether you have come to the text of Scripture with biblical or non-biblical assumptions. (See pp. 103, 105.)

This work has a few minor flaws that should not detract from its overall value. One typographical problem is that while endnote 55 is listed in the text (68) it is absent entirely in the list of endnotes. Letham mistakenly asserts on page 60 that the grace of regeneration and union with Christ are received by faith. While this is true with regard to union with Christ, it is not true of regeneration which precedes faith and produces faith following our effectual calling. This appears to be an unintentional error in the text. On page 70, he asserts that while baptisms administered by non-ordained persons should not occur, they are nevertheless valid baptisms if they are Trinitarian. This is an unusual view among Reformed authors, both past and present. The primary problem with his assertion is that it appears in a section treating the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This implies that this is the confessional position, but there is no proof to this effect in that document.

This book should profit ministers in their teaching as well as every church member who has questions about baptism. Finally, I have found a brief inexpensive yet comprehensive book to give to people who do not understand the Reformed view of baptism. This work will not only help people recover what it means that baptism is a means of grace, but it will serve as a window into the entire Reformed view of how the Triune God meets with sinners through his own appointed means of grace.

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The preceding review is scheduled to appear in The Puritan Reformed Journal January 2013 issue.

Defending the Content of the Faith We Are Defending


Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Edition, ed. Scott K. Oliphint. Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008. Paperback. 427pp.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Reformed systematic theology and a Reformed method of apologetics are intertwined. In a changing world where the Reformed faith is challenged both from within and from without, it is more important than ever to be equipped to return to a defense of the Reformed faith that is rooted in Reformed theology. This makes this annotated reprint of Van Til’s Defense of the Faith timely.

I initially passed by this book largely because I had already read the third edition of the same book. This is a reprint of the entire first edition of the text with added explanatory notes by Dr. K. Scott Oliphint. What I had not realized was that the first edition was substantially longer than subsequent editions because the first edition was written largely in order to defend Van Til’s views against a string of critics connected with Calvin Theological Seminary. In many respects, this book is misnamed. Instead of a defense of the Christian faith, it contains primarily Van Til’s defense of why he defended the faith in the way that he did.

Rather than presenting a full critical review of the book itself, I will point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of the book for understanding Van Til’s method and how this book can help us think about apologetics in relation to the Reformed system of theology.

First, in some respects, this reader is undecided whether he likes better the fourth edition of The Defense of the Faith or one of the older and shorter versions of the same work. Dr. Oliphint’s notes are extremely valuable in explaining terms, but Van Til’s interaction with his critics reads as though the reader is overhearing parts of a conversation that has occurred behind closed doors. Other editions largely omit this material in an attempt to turn the book into a more positive statement of Reformed apologetics. In the full version, Van Til got off to a rocky start by beginning with a twenty-five page introduction which consists of little more than block quotations from his critics. The critics themselves are highly philosophical in their approach, which makes this one of Van Til’s more complicated works. However, lest I run the risk of dissuading the reader from picking up this book, it is important to note that the original introduction makes the remaining structure of the book clearer than later editions do. In the first major section, Van Til rehashed the basic structure of his apologetic in order to add clarity in the face of opposition. In the second section, he reviewed this apologetic structure again by confronting his critics head on. The later omissions explain why the structure was confusing to me when I read the third edition of the book. These editions come across as presenting a conflict without a context. Another interesting feature of this work is that it is largely Van Til’s own hand-selected compendium of his other major works, since he chose to defend himself largely by commenting upon what he had written already. This gives us a window into what he considered to be the most significant features of this method.

Second, this book is extremely valuable in clarifying many misconceptions that surround Van Til’s method to the present day. For instance, Van Til consistently argued that the Christian’s “point of contact” with the non-Christian resided in the fact that all men are created in the image of God and inescapably reveal their Creator. In this sense, they have an internal witness against themselves that the Triune God of the Bible created them. They “know him” through this internal witness, although the unregenerate will never acknowledge that this is the case. The non-Christian, whether he realizes it or not, presupposes that man is ultimate in determining the nature of reality, but because he is created in the image of God, he cannot live consistently with his principles. He does not know God truly because he is suppressing the knowledge of God that he has imprinted on his heart by nature. The Christian must show the non-Christian that any position that he holds will always be inconsistent because he has treated himself rather than the Triune God of Scripture as the ultimate first presupposition of his reasoning. The principles upon which he thinks are sinful and rebellious, and he needs to repent and believe in Christ. This is what Van Til meant when he asserted that we must begin our thinking with God. The only two choices for an ultimate (and presupposed) first principle of reality, knowledge, and ethics are either the Triune God of Scripture or the idea that man is the measure of all things. This is what makes this approach “presuppositional.”

In spite of this fact, a popular Reformed apologist asserted recently that beginning with God in our thinking is impossible because only God can begin thinking with God – therefore, I must begin thinking with myself. This speaker missed the fact that Van Til was not so much concerned with the manner in which we think as the principle upon which we ground the possibility of thinking itself. Van Til never taught that we cannot begin an apologetic conversation with a human subject rather than a divine subject. He wrote, “If then the human consciousness must, in the nature of the case, always be the proximate starting point, it remains true that God is always the most basic and therefore the ultimate or final reference point in human interpretation” (100). To this, Dr. Oliphint adds, “This point needs to be emphasized. Van Til affirms that the proximate starting point for all our thinking is, of necessity, the self. The apologetic point, however, is that the ultimate reference point with respect to predication is the triune God” (100, fn 31). Here, as in many cases, Van Til asserted the exact opposite of what he is accused of saying.

I have not yet read a critic of the basic tenets of Van Til’s method who has given sufficient evidence that he has carefully understood that method. Most arguments against him are a straw-man of one kind or another. With Oliphint’s help, this book has the potential to clear up several other misconceptions of the presuppositional approach. Examples include: To presuppose the Triune God of Scripture does not mean refusing to argue for the truth of the Christian faith. It means that without this presupposition, nothing else is (legitimately) intelligible. Also, reasoning within a circle (in this case the Christian world-view) is not the same thing as the fallacy of circular reasoning. Our view of the world is determined by our most fundamental (presuppositional) commitments. The Christian always presupposes the Triune God and the authority of his Word (though not perfectly in practice) and the non-Christian always presupposes that this same God does not exist and that He cannot speak to mankind (also imperfect in practice). These basic commitments determine what kind of system of thought we can hold to consistently. The heart of Van Til’s method, that is so widely misunderstood even at present, is that the basic unconscious presupposition of the non-Christian rests upon sinking sand, while the believe alone stands upon solid rock. It is our goal, apologetically, to show him that his presupposition is hopelessly untenable and that ours is necessary. This is an ethical problem that requires redemption in Christ and it is not simply an intellectual difficulty. Though Van Til’s writings can become clouded by philosophical terminology, this is the method that is essentially used every time the gospel is preached faithfully from a Reformed pulpit (read the book for more about this point).

Third, whatever readers think of Van Til’s apologetic method, we should commend him for seeking to develop an approach that is self-consciously Reformed. He developed his apologetic from a classic Reformed systematic theology and his approach is irreversibly dependent upon that Reformed system taken as a whole (see esp. chapter thirteen). In this writer’s view, his position is the only one that is consistent with classic Reformed systematic theology. If Van Til teaches us anything, it is that the manner in which we defend our faith must depend upon the content of the faith that we are defending: “Only in the Reformed faith is there an uncompromising statement of the main tenets of Christianity. All other statements are deformations. It is but to be expected that only in the Reformed faith will we find an uncompromising method of apologetics” (134. See also 273.). Later he added, “I seek to oppose Roman Catholicism and Arminianism in apologetics as I seek to oppose it in theology” (253. See also 299.). In a day where the system of Reformed theology is eroding in many instances, it will be a question as to whether or not Van Til’s method can survive. Recent Reformed systematic theologies have, among other things, denied the imputation of Adam’s sin, sought union with Greek Orthodoxy, radically restructured the very idea of systematic theology, or made systematic theology subservient to biblical theology. A Reformed system of apologetics will only be as strong as the Reformed system of theology upon which it is built. We cannot experience radical changes in our system of theology without radically changing our approach to everything. Van Til’s work should cause us to take pause, not only as we decide how we should defend the faith, but as we decide what that faith is that we hope to defend.

Lastly, in light of the modern renaissance of studies on the doctrine of the Trinity, Van Til’s method is explicitly and thoroughly Trinitarian. In contrast to other approaches to apologetics, the doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely essential to his apologetic method. In the seventeenth century, the Tri-unity of God was regarded as one of the principia, or first principles, of theology (Scripture is the other principium of Reformed theology). This says more than asserting that the Trinity is an essential doctrine. It means that the rest of the doctrines of the Reformed system rest upon the God who is Triune as a principle upon which every other doctrine rests. Over time, as the church began to argue for a generic conception of God from reason, the Trinity became something that was added later to the system of theology rather than standing as the very foundation of theology. Readers will need to consult a work such as Richard Muller’s Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics to fill out the details on this point. However, it could be argued that Van Til presented the first genuine practical development on the Reformed doctrine of the Trinity since the high period of Reformed orthodoxy. This means that Van Til has a lot to say, not only to modern apologetics, but to contemporary theology.


This review was first published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, July 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Historical Starting Point for Covenantal Theology Debates


Brian J. Lee. Johannes Cocceius and the Exegetical Roots of Federal Theology: Reformation Developments in the Interpretation of Hebrews 7-10. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009. 215pp.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) is one of the most controversial figures in post-Reformation theology. Brian Lee has noted that Cocceius’s covenant theology is not only difficult for modern students to grasp, but that his nuanced approach to defining covenant terminology in connection to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments often troubled and confused his contemporaries as well (179). Lee has not only sought to explain Cocceius’s theology of the covenant, but he has attempted to fill a significant gap in the study of the relationship between historic Reformed Orthodox theology and biblical exegesis (19). He contends that dogmatic explanations of the development of the covenant doctrine are either insufficient or misleading (14). He gives focus to his work by examining the vital importance of Hebrews 7:1-10:18 in Reformed theology and in Cocceius in particular. This book will help students better understand the exegetical development behind the formative period of Reformed covenant theology. This study is valuable for the history of exegesis, and it may contribute to contemporary discussions of the exegetical formulation of the doctrine.

The first part of this book develops the importance of Hebrews in Reformed exegesis. The second part explores the peculiar contribution of Johannes Cocceius. The purpose of Lee’s thesis is to examine Cocceius’s federal theology in light the questions that surrounded the text in his time. Hebrews 7:1-10:18 was the key locus of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century covenant theology for two reasons. First, Heb. 9:16 appears to use the term “covenant” in a manner that is inconsistent with Old Testament terminology (20). Second, Hebrews 8 was the standard text for discussing the differences between the Old and New Testaments. Lee wrote, “Hebrews is thus seen to be a key text both for Cocceius and the federal tradition in general” (21). Lee primarily examines Cocceius’s commentary on Hebrews and then he relates this commentary to his dogmatic works.

Chapter 2 addresses the development of covenant terminology in Reformed exegesis. The prominent difficulty was how the terms berith and diatheke relate (23). Lee interacts with several authors including Luther, the Latin Vulgate (28), Erasmus (29ff), Bullinger (31ff), the Roman Catholic Sebastian Castellio (37ff), Calvin (41ff), Beza (44ff), Junius (49ff), Gomarus (53ff), Pistcator (55ff), Cornelius a Lapide (56ff), Grotius (58ff), and prominent Socinians (60ff). He closes the chapter by examining Cocceius’s heavy interaction with Grotius and the Socinians on defining relevant Latin terminology (62-70). He concludes that whereas most of the Reformed viewed the Old and New Testaments in terms one unifying foedus that included a testamentary idea, Cocceius reversed this order, viewing the Scriptures in terms of one testamentum that is administered under various foedera (71). The significant point is that Cocceius distinguished covenant and testament into two concepts, and that testament took precedence over covenant.

Chapter 3 examines how the book of Hebrews became the key locus for developing covenant terminology in Reformed Orthodoxy. Protestant exegetes shared broadly agreed that sinners were saved by the gospel rather than by the law and they upheld the hermeneutical agreement between the Old and New Testaments (78). The primary question in Hebrews 7:1-10:18 was what law was abrogated under the New Testament (80). Most agreed that the abrogated law referred to the ceremonies of the Old Testament as well as to wrath due to sin (80). While there were nuances among the Reformed, they shared the idea that there was both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. Authors such as Bullinger and Calvin stressed continuity, whereas later writers such as Piscator and Junius allowed more room for discontinuity. Continuity consisted in a single covenant of grace; discontinuity allowed a different measure of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. However, Cocceius’s views were largely unique. Lee concludes, “Combining developments in terminology with more nuanced reflection about the covenants, Cocceius will deploy both covenants and testaments as different legal relations which enable him to localize with greater precision both continuity and discontinuity” (97. Emphasis original).

Chapter 4 expands the historical context of Cocceius’s exposition of Hebrews. He wrote the work in a polemical context, responding to Jews, Papists, and Socinians (102-103). His contemporary, Johannes Hoornbeeck, had responded to each of these groups under the loci theology. However, Cocceius intentionally responded primarily in his biblical commentaries, of which his work on Hebrews held first place (108, 111). His apologetic and polemic approach was to demonstrate that the New Testament was the perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (112). Lee observed that it is not correct to view Cocceius as an exegetical theologian in contrast to those who were polemic or scholastic theologians. Instead, Cocceius merged polemic and scholastic theology with his exegetical labors (164-165). While this observation is valid, it runs the risk of downplaying the uniqueness of Cocceius’s method, since most Reformed orthodox theologians included polemic and scholastic theology in their exegetical works.

Chapters 5 and 6 are the heart of Lee’s thesis. In it, he examines Cocceius’s view on what was abrogated according to Hebrews 7:1-10:18. The first thing that was abrogated was the Aaronic priesthood by virtue of Christ’s priesthood (115ff). Reformed theology agreed on this point. However, Cocceius added that the “weakness” of the old dispensation referred to the entire Mosaic order, and not simply to the ceremonial law (118). Due to the complexity of Lee’s analysis of Cocceius’s position, this reviewer will attempt to synthesize his findings below.

God made a testamentum in Christ by virtue of the eternal pactum salutis (118). Genesis 3:15 announced this testament, and it was propagated through various historically unfolding foedera (124). This testament is rooted in the unchangeable and eternal decree of God (121, 168). Testaments are unconditional and covenants are conditional. They are related in that the unconditional testament in Christ is administered through the various covenants of Scripture (177). The point of common ground between testament and covenant is Christ as the sponsor for his people in both (121-122, 148). Abraham received the eternal testament in Christ with a second testament added to it. While this additional testament did not require Israel to obey the covenant of works, staying in the land was contingent upon their repentance and obedience. However, they violated this testament by lacking faith. The New Testament provides faith as a gift under the administration of the new covenant (132). When the book of Hebrews contrasts the Old and New Testaments, what is in view is the additional testament given to Abraham regarding the land of Canaan and not the eternal testament that goes into effect through the death of Christ (125. See 130-132). In this sense, the Old Testament is abolished entirely (see pp. 151-156 for how this relates to Cocceius’s controversial doctrine of “abrogations”). The contrast in Hebrews 8 implies that the Old Testament saints had a promise of the forgiveness of sins only (paresis) without the actual removal of sins (aphesis) (156-158, 160. Lee does not adequately define these terms in his treatment). Lee does not clarify how or if Cocceius believed that the Old Testament saints entered heaven and experienced forgiveness of sins, but he notes that, in Cocceius’s view, the Old Testament saints had justifying faith and sanctification in a vague sense (147-148). The one eternal testament existed prior to the “Old Testament” and it is the unifying principle of Scripture. The various covenants (foedera) emphasize the discontinuity of the Old and New Testaments, including the additional “Old Testament” that God gave to Abraham (149, 179). While the Old Testament is not equated with the covenant of works, it pointed to the weakness of the flesh resulting from that covenant (152). The Decalogue is the standard of sanctification under both testaments, but the Golden Calf incident permanently transformed the Old Testament saints into a covenant-breaking people (129). Therefore, the New Testament in Christ abolished both the Old Testament and the covenant of works without confusing the two ideas. Lee rightly concludes, “Cocceius is almost more of a ‘testamentary theologian’ than a ‘federal theologian’” (166). While most of the Reformed orthodox taught that there was one covenant of grace that unified the Old and New Testaments, Cocceius believed that there was one eternal testament, one subordinate and temporary testament, one New Testament that brought the eternal testament to fruition, and diverse foedera in which the eternal testament was administered (177-179).

It is difficult to determine whether the lack of clarity in Cocceius’s federal theology resides in an inadequate explanation on the part of the author or in the inherent difficulty of Cocceius’s views. Lee notes that the complexity of Cocceius’ scheme made it difficult for his contemporaries to accept it. In addition, his Latin and scholastic style doomed his views to failure outside of the schools (179). This study is indispensable to those who desire to trace the roots of Reformed federal theology and the views of Cocceius in particular. As contemporary Reformed theology continues to debate the definition of the terminology of covenant theology, this volume provides a historical starting point for ongoing discussions.


This review was first published in Presbyterion, Fall 2012.

Monday, November 26, 2012

An Insight into 17th Century Christology


Mark Jones. Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Puritan Reformed Orthodox Theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680). Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2010. 255pp.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

This book has the honor of being the first published scholarly monograph on the theology of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680). Jones’s thesis is stated as follows: “The central argument of this study posits that Goodwin’s Christology is grounded in, and flows out of, the eternal covenant of redemption, also known as the pactum salutis or ‘counsel of peace’” (13). The work serves as a means of filling the gap in studies of seventeenth century Christology in general (33). Its aim is to demonstrate what Reformed Orthodox theologians said on this subject and why they said it (14). It is comprised of ten chapters and an appendix that treats Goodwin’s views regarding eternal justification. Jones’s work provides a masterfully crafted window into the nature and scope of Reformed Orthodox Christology in relation to a Trinitarian construct of the covenant of redemption.

After surveying briefly the scope of research on Goodwin, the author notes that most of this literature has suffered from a lack of contextualization (21). By comparing carefully the text of the seventeenth century five-volume edition of Goodwin’s Works with the nineteenth-century twelve-volume edition, the author demonstrates that the later (Nichols) edition took considerable editorial liberties, making the older edition superior (21). His methodology follows the “Cambridge School” as outlined by Quentin Skinner (34). In the introduction, he highlights the fact that chapter 6 is the “most significant” part of the work. This chapter stresses the manner in which Goodwin’s Trinitarian conception of the covenant of redemption was the reason behind why God became man (36).

Chapters 2 and 3 establish the historical context of Goodwin’s life and times, together with the influences that shaped his theology. Among other features, the first of these chapters draws attention to the neglect of Goodwin’s role in the Westminster Assembly (44-46). The same chapter closes with the reasons behind classifying Goodwin under the epithet of Reformed Orthodoxy, rather than under the more problematic categories of Puritan or Calvinist. The corresponding chapter notes the influences of Reformed authors (57ff), the church fathers (59ff), scholastic theologians (60ff), and pagan philosophers (62ff) upon Goodwin’s thought. This section is rounded out with Goodwin’s critical interaction with Socinianism and Arminianism (69-74).

The fourth chapter considers the basic structure of Goodwin’s covenant theology and the way in which covenant theology became virtually synonymous with Reformed theology (76). In contrast to some of his contemporaries, he viewed Adam’s promised reward under the covenant of works as continued earthly existence rather than heavenly life (78). As an earthly man, Adam could inherit an earthly life only, whereas heavenly life comes only through Christ, who is the heavenly man (80). This meant that the promises of the covenant of grace far exceeded those of the covenant of works. Under his description of the covenant of grace, Jones helpfully notes the regulative importance of Genesis 3:15 for Reformed covenant theology and for Goodwin in particular. This text places the idea of Christ in union with his people as the central theme of redemptive history (80-82). After noting the diversity in the Reformed tradition over the place of the Mosaic covenant in redemptive history, the author turns to the general question of Reformed Orthodox hermeneutics and the exposition of Scripture (83-86). He draws special attention to authority of Scripture (87), the Analogia Fidei (88), the sensus literalis of the text (90), the “soteric unity” of the Old and New Testaments (94), and the place of reason and the work of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of Scripture (95). This demonstrates the manner in which Reformed covenant theology both related to and influenced the understanding of Scripture. The section on the Analogia Fidei is flawed slightly, in that Jones conflates this concept with the Analogia Scriptura. Properly speaking, the former refers to the manner in which previously received doctrinal truths influence the exegesis of particular passages, and the latter describes how clear passages of Scripture affect the interpretation of texts that are less perspicuous.

The next chapter (5) is an insightful analysis of the knowledge of God as triune. There is very little secondary literature currently available on seventeenth century Trinitarianism. This chapter contributes to this field with significant insight and clarity. After illustrating the English polemical context as well as the basic doctrinal and exegetical foundations of the doctrine (99-106), the author deals with the mutual indwelling of the persons (circumincessio), the distinction of the persons in the works of God, and the thorny question of the eternal generation of the Son. He argues that most Reformed theologians considered the phrase “God of God” as an unchanging activity in the divine essence which entails an eternal communication of the divine essence, and not simply the personhood of the Son, as Calvin taught (111-112). While some theologians followed Calvin in asserting that the personal subsistence of the Son alone was eternally begotten by the Father, and other such as Ursinus denied that the Son was a se ipso, most of the Reformed adopted a “hybrid” position between these two poles (113). What this entailed was that each divine person was God in and of himself, but that the essence and personhood of both the Son and Spirit were rooted in the being as well as the personality of the Father. We cannot separate being and personhood in God. Because it is essential to the divine nature to be self-existent, each divine person must be divine a se. Yet because the persons that are begotten and spirated are divine persons, then this involves the eternal communication both of being and of personality. Jones concludes, “That most of the Reformed Orthodox were both ‘Nicenists’ and ‘Autotheanites’ seems to be a fairly accurate description in light of the evidence above” (116). This insight adds remarkable clarity to a complex seventeenth century question. Jones concludes with a treatment of the reception of the filoque clause of the Nicene Creed in Reformed theology (116-122).

Chapter 6 draws attention to the development of the pactum salutis or covenant of redemption. As noted above, the author views this chapter as central to his thesis (36). This covenant provides the ad intra basis in the Trinity for the plan of salvation (123). Goodwin’s development of the concept was explicitly Trinitarian and he commenced his treatment of Christology on this basis (127-128). Contra Carl Trueman’s assertions, Goodwin rejected the notion of eternal justification (131. See the appendix). Contrary to his friend John Owen, whose viewed changed over time, Goodwin rejected the absolute necessity of the atonement, making the manner of redemption dependent solely on the divine and sovereign will rather than upon divine justice (132-133). Christ accepted the terms of the covenant of redemption voluntarily, taking the elect as his promised reward (135-139). Goodwin’s significant contribution to the idea of the pactum salutis lay in his treatment of the role of the Holy Spirit in this arrangement. Because the works of God ad extra reflect his works ad intra, this covenant is a work of the entire Trinity (139-144). This chapter useful highlights the development of the growing Trinitarian implications of the covenant of redemption in the seventeenth century.

Chapter 7 details how Goodwin’s Trinitarian concept of the covenant of redemption shaped his views of the person of Christ. The temporal relationship between the Father and the Son in the economy of redemption reflects the pre-temporal Father/Son relationship (152). The inter-Trinitarian covenant demands the divinity of the mediator (154), and the fact that the Son is the middle person in the Trinity requires that he should be the mediator between God and men (155). Strangely, Jones contends that in contrast to John Owen, Goodwin rooted the adoption of believers in union with Christ’s person rather than in his work (156). However, in Communion with God, Owen includes adoption under the concept of union with Christ in his “personal grace,” which is a consequence of union with Christ in his “purchased grace.” Jones next sets forth the theological reasons why Christ must be God and man in one person for man’s redemption, together with the reason why the community of divine and human attributes in the incarnate Son, coupled with the unity of operation of both natures makes redemption possible. (156-165). He closed the chapter with the work of the Holy Spirit on the human nature of Christ in which the divine nature of Christ does not act immediately but immediately through the Spirit (165-168).

In the eighth chapter, Jones shows readers the importance of Christ’s vicarious work as the Second Adam and representative head of his people. This flows naturally from the previous two chapters on the covenant of redemption and the person of Christ. The treatments of the debates concerning the imputation of Christ’s active obedience at the Westminster Assembly (179ff) as well as the imputed merit of Christ’s obedience (184-185) are particularly noteworthy for their historical value. After briefly rooting Goodwin’s view of the extent of the atonement in the covenant of redemption (186-187), the author addresses Christ’s victory over evil and Satan (188-195). This is followed by Christ’s threefold office, believers’ union with Christ in his resurrection and ascension, and his continual intercession for them (196-201).

The last two chapters (nine and ten) move towards a conclusion. Chapter 9 notes Goodwin’s teaching on Christ’s native and his mediatorial glory, which are distinct, yet inseparable. This treatment ties together much of what precedes, serving as a prelude to the concluding chapter, which summarizes and analyzes Jones’s findings. He concludes, “Seventeenth-century Reformed orthodox Christology finds its most erudite expression in the two Congregationalist theologians, John Owen and Thomas Goodwin. This study has focused on the more neglected of the two – Goodwin” (229).

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the serious study of seventeenth century Christology, Trinitarianism, and the development of Reformed covenant theology. It should simultaneously serve as a future starting point for studies on Thomas Goodwin and it provides a vital piece of research in the growing field of Reformed Orthodoxy or Protestant Scholasticism.


This review was first published in the Calvin Theological Journal, April 2012, Vol. 47, No. 1. pp. 159-162. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Doctrine Applied: A Reformed Perspective on Ministerial Discourse

By Richard Holst

The awesome wonder of the ministry is that God uses ordinary men to save and sanctify sinners. When Paul charged Timothy “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ” to “preach the word,” he laid him under an obligation that was solemn, sublime and supremely challenging![i] The pleasure of preaching is wedded to a great responsibility, as has been recognized by Reformed people across the centuries. Commenting on the sending out of the Twelve, Calvin writes, “No one is qualified to become a teacher of heavenly doctrine, unless his feelings respecting it be such that he is distressed and agonized when it is treated with contempt.”[ii] The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God describes the public ministry as a “weighty service” not to be undertaken lightly or without due preparation. The Larger Catechism urges us to execute the ministry painfully, plainly, faithfully, wisely, gravely, with loving affection and as taught of God — never in a spirit of self-confidence.[iii]  The Scottish preacher  who was asked if he trembled to ascend the steps of the gallows answered that he trembled less than when he ascended the steps of the pulpit. For R.L. Dabney, this weightiness is identified in the fact that preaching aims to persuade the mind and move the affections by means of faithful proclamation and persuasive application.[iv]

If all this is true, isn’t it important for preachers to get a right perspective on the ministry and on themselves? Though we may harbour thoughts of “greatness,” we know that if all were “great,” all would be ordinary. That there are and have been great preachers suggests that most of us really are more or less ordinary, entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit and always in need of improvement. This is no bad thing. It helps keep us humble and, if it stirs us up to improve, is not of itself discouraging. As Paul puts it in 1Timothy 4:16, it is good if it stirs us up to take heed to ourselves and the doctrine. The treasure is in a clay pot for the best of reasons; that the excellence of the power might be of God and not us and that we might never become smug and self-satisfied. Calvin wrote, “Those that intrude themselves confidently [into the ministry], and in a spirit much elated, or who discharge the ministry of the word with an easy mind, as though they were equal to the task, are ignorant at once of themselves and of the task.”[v]  The pulpit is holy ground, and, interestingly, in Korea, it is still customary for preachers to remove their shoes before entering the pulpit.

Despite the weightiness of the task, as John Piper argues it, is possible for men to enter the ministry for quite the wrong reasons, among them the hope of personal advancement.[vi] It might feel good to attract the admiration of those around us, but we should remember: there is something misleading about being a big fish in a small pond. Our Lord said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”[vii]
 
The apostle Paul had not the slightest interest in human adulation. That being said, his ministry was truly exceptional and effective. In a way that many of us cannot, he could discourse “off the cuff” with great power and incisiveness. Also, in a way that we might fail to grasp, he was well trained. We do not know what happened in his Arabian years, but we do know that he knew his Old Testament and was familiar with the beliefs of his opponents. We also know that he received from the Lord what he afterwards delivered to others – the apostolic tradition, that he served as part of a “ministry team” in the church at Syrian Antioch, and that after having tested his gift and having his call confirmed, he began the work to which he was called. 

His discourses, not just the summary accounts in Acts, but also those contained in his epistles, show that he was scripturally faithful, logically coherent, spiritually insightful, doctrinally comprehensive, and passionately persuasive. In these and other ways, he sets an example for all would-be preachers to follow, all who seek to discharge their ministry not “with an easy mind, as though equal to the task” but always in dependence on God and with an acute awareness of personal inadequacy. 

This leads us to the subject of improvement. While The Directory presumes that preachers are “in some good measure gifted,” it urges us to improve “in private preparations before [we] deliver in public what [we have] provided.”  Though some despise training, it is clear that we will always need to study to show ourselves approved by God. If being able to discourse like Paul is a proper aim, improvement is not an option; and the moment we think it is, we will be guilty of telling God and ourselves that we have “arrived” and have nothing more to learn. This is not an endorsement of standard theological training but an appeal for improvement and development in emphatically spiritual, biblical, and Reformed terms. Communication skills are requisite but not first in order of importance. To strive for an anointing is not requisite, but to understand the word and to faithfully deliver it in dependence on the Holy Spirit are. Being creative and interesting are not requisite, but speaking the truth in love and applying it consistently are. Moreover, the whole concept of mentoring, which seems to have applied in some way at Syrian Antioch and certainly did with Jesus and the Twelve, ought to be a component of all ministerial training, bearing in mind that those also who have been preaching for years still have something to learn from their fellows.

What else makes the ministry of the Word a weighty service? A particular challenge is the comprehensive or multi-faceted character of ministerial discourse. 2 Timothy 4:2, reminds us that preaching, reproof, rebuke and exhortation are included, a combination of didache and parenesis, declaration and exhortation. The minister should be “in some good measure gifted” in all aspects, not just in preaching, which is a “big ask.” We can imagine Timothy quaking as he read or heard the words of the apostle, doubtless asking himself the question posed earlier by his mentor, “Who is sufficient for these things?” If we answer, as we must, that our sufficiency is only of God, we do so mindful of the need for continuing application and discipleship in the school of Christ. Actually, the public ministry is a specialized branch of sanctification, something in which we must strive to advance, lest through failing to do so we go backwards.

Preaching the word comes at the head of the list. Heralding Christ always confronts our mediocrity but what a comfort to know that we do not preach ourselves! Christ is the power and wisdom of God [viii] and in the Pastoral Epistles, the “Word” is the great “given” of preaching content. It is that fixed body of truth identified as the gospel (2:9), the antithesis of the words of false teachers, who dispute over words while denying basic doctrines like the resurrection, (2:18) and whose teachings bring ruin to their hearers. Preaching stands at the head of everything, because it is God’s power to salvation (Rom. 1:16) and the Word of His grace, which is able to build us up and provide us with an inheritance among those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32). It never fails, never returns empty to the God Who gave it, being an aroma of life for life and death for death among those to whom it is proclaimed.

This is the Word we must be ready to proclaim twenty-four/seven! The adverbs “timely” and “untimely,” according to Calvin, apply equally to pastor and people.[ix] Reproof or correction follows preaching and is both declarative and persuasive.[x] Rebuke follows from reproof, and exhortation takes us that step further into “appeal,” as, for example, in Romans 12:1. This hortatory or parenetic ministry is always grounded in theological, historical, and experiential indicatives, reminding us of the essential relationship between doctrine and practice. We see it in Paul’s instruction to Timothy to exhort with “all long-suffering and doctrine because teaching provides the indicative out of which the imperative springs, providing the biblical rationale for everything urged upon our hearers. According to Calvin, “reproofs either fall through their own violence or vanish into smoke, if they do not rest on doctrine.”[xi]  The Directory for Public Worship puts it the other way around: “the doctrine is to be expressed in plain terms … and applied to the purpose in hand.”[xii] In our regular ministry, if it is well-rounded, we will revisit essential truths many times over in the hope that with every revolution of the spiral curriculum our hearers will advance understanding and have a more solid foundation for their Christian lives. 

Patience is also requisite. In general ministry as well as individual counselling, discouragement and frustration will be our frequent companions. Dullness, defensiveness, obduracy and deceitfulness in the sheep will frustrate and discourage and lead us to wonder if we are “beating the air.” According to Calvin, patience enables us to “submit to the many annoyances and insults, which nevertheless must be digested, if we are desirous to be useful. Let severity be therefore mingled with this seasoning of gentleness….”[xiii]
 
Doctrine is essential, not only for motivating recalcitrant sheep but also for encouraging dispirited and confused under-shepherds. If we wish to avoid our exhortations vanishing into smoke, we must preach and counsel with the great indicatives, but we will do no justice to the indicatives, if we fail to express “the doctrine in plain terms … and [apply it] to the purpose in hand.”[xiv] The first lesson to be learnt is that we must deliver what we have first received, to proclaim saving truth in propositional form. Paul’s discourses are full of indicatives, some majestic, others mundane, some literal-historical, others metaphorical, experiential and principial. Yet they all serve the purpose of giving the parenesis (exhortation) an appropriate rationale. 

Since “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves nor alike clear to all,” [xv] the prerequisite of proclamation is sound exegesis. A working knowledge of the languages, an understanding of appropriate interpretive methods and an ability to use commentaries in a discerning way are all necessities. The workman approved by God cuts a straight path through God’s Word not by instinct, but by method. [xvi] Intuitive exegesis is usually misinformed.  

Exegesis cannot be an end in itself; therefore, all the above is to the end that the argument provides for “persuasion,” as Dabney puts it.[xvii] To aim for persuasion without argument is to violate the scriptural order, for “the presentation of evidence must in every discourse be the foundation of all true effect.”[xviii] The Directory puts it this way: “Arguments or reasons are to be solid, and, as much as may be, convincing.” But to become absorbed in textual minutiae is to go “over the top” in one aspect of a two-fold task. In opening our mouths, our hearts should be enlarged towards our hearers (2 Cor. 6:11) the argument having reached us first so that in ministering to others we can neither “perform” nor be dispassionate. It is what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called “logic on fire.” Our aim should be to “persuade through the dynamic of the text ….” [xix]
 
“How is the Word of God to be preached by those called thereunto?” 
“They that are called to labour in the ministry of the word are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season, plainly, not in enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God, wisely applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people, sincerely aiming at his glory and their conversion, edification and salvation.”[xx]

____________________________________________________________

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Holst, B.A., Dip. Soc., Cert. Ed., M.Phil.; retired pastor Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England & Wales; sometime lecturer in New Testament Exegesis, Wales Evangelical School of Theology 
 

[i] 2 Timothy 4:1-2
[ii] Commentaries: Matthew, Mark & Luke Part 1. 417, tr. John King 1847, reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2007
[iii] WLC 159
[iv] Evangelical Eloquence 233, Banner of Truth, 1999
[v] Commentary, 1 Cor. 99
[vi] BROTHERS WE ARE NOT PROFESSIONALS, Broadman & Holdan, 2002
[vii] Luke 6:26 
[viii] 1 Cor 1:24  
[ix] “To the pastor, that he may not devote himself … merely at … his own convenience… As regards the people, there is constancy and earnestness, when they (the pastors) arouse those who are asleep, when they lay their hands on those who are hurrying in a wrong direction, and when they correct the trivial occupations of the world.” Commentary: Timothy, Titus & Philemon 
[x] Also in 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:9; 13; & Titus 2:15, with the consistent meaning of to expose someone’s sins with a view to convicting him. 1Timothy 5:20 brings reproof into the sphere of the assembled ekklesia; closely parallels our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18:15-16. 
[xi] Commentary on Timothy, Titus & Philemon 
[xii] Section on Preaching, point 6 
[xiii] Commentary: Timothy, Titus & Philemon. It is worth noting that Calvin thought that his besetting weakness was impatience.
[xiv] Directory Section on Preaching, point 6
[xv] WCF 1.VII
[xvi] 2 Timothy 2:15
[xvii] ELOQUENCE, 233
[xviii] idem 19
[xix] Grant Osborn, Hermeneutical Spiral, 353, IVP, 1991
[xx] WLC 159

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Forgotten Member of the Trinity

John D. Harvey. Anointed with the Spirit and Power: The Holy Spirit’s Empowering Presence, Explorations in Biblical Theology. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008. Paperback. 219 pp.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
 
The Holy Spirit has often been called the forgotten member of the Trinity. In this work, John Harvey seeks to remedy the widespread of neglect of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Reformed circles by drawing attention to the manner in which He empowers the people of God for obedience and service. His primary assertion is: “The Holy Spirit alone has been, is today, and always will be the source of empowerment God uses to accomplish his purposes through his people” (4, 176). This book is a part of a series on Biblical Theology that aims to reach a broad audience by producing books that are simple in style, contain few footnotes, and which seek to lead readers through the entire Bible in relation to particular doctrines or books of Scripture (ix-x). Harvey’s contribution to this series is well written, clear, and practical. It is suitable both for pastors and for discussion groups among church members. His work fills a need that is particularly important in Reformed circles by demonstrating our utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit for every aspect of Christian living and service.

The author has divided his material into eight chapters. The first two address the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament in empowering Israel’s leaders and prophets. The next four chapters connect the work of the Spirit to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is both the foundation for and the prototype of the work of the Holy Spirit in believers. These four chapters are particularly important, since the connection between the work of the Spirit upon the human nature of Christ and His work in the lives of believers is often neglected. The last two chapters consider the manner in which the Holy Spirit empowered the early church to fulfill its mission in the Book of Acts as well as the manner in which the New Testament epistles set forth the continued work of the Spirit in the church today. These chapters are followed by a very useful conclusion that ties together the data of the entire book and directs it to rich pastoral application.

The primary value of this work is the manner in which Harvey directs the reader to listen to the text of Scripture. Moreover, by walking through the work of the Spirit in empowering the people of God from Genesis through Revelation, readers will begin to draw remarkable parallels. For instance, the Spirit’s work in Moses, Samson, Samuel, and Ezekiel all foreshadow elements of the manner in which the Spirit equipped both John the Baptist and Jesus for their earthly ministries. The advantage of treating the work of Spirit-empowerment in a biblical theological progression is that readers will better appreciate the unity of the Spirit’s work in the entire Bible.

While this work is very useful and this reviewer recommends it highly, it contains one theological problem. On page sixty-nine, after the author asserts unambiguously that Jesus is fully divine and fully human in one person, he states that Jesus “voluntarily limited his own omniscience” as well as His “omnipotence.” This important question moves from biblical theology to systematic theology. While the Scriptures clearly assert that there were some things that Jesus did not know (Matt. 24:36), yet “limited omniscience” is a contradiction in terms. As divine, Jesus could not limit His knowledge without ceasing to be the eternal and unchangeable Second Person on the Trinity. As man, Jesus could not know all things without ceasing to be a finite creature. Therefore, we must assert that in one Person, Jesus Christ was both fully omniscient and limited in His knowledge, according to His deity and humanity respectively. This may defy our understanding, but it does better justice to the evidence of Scripture concerning the person of Christ. Ignorance would destroy His deity just as much as omniscience would abolish his humanity. Harvey does not intend in the least to derogate either nature of Christ, but his choice of language is not an adequate solution to an admittedly complex question. This illustrates the necessity of relying upon the broader distinctions of Systematic Theology in order to properly direct and limit Biblical Theology.

This book is an excellent piece of Biblical Theology on one aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is my prayer that Dr. Harvey’s book would help produce a generation of pastor’s and lay people who recognize that they cannot be useful in godliness or service unless they are “anointed with the Spirit and power.”



This review first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

The Academic Pastor

John Piper and D. A. Carson. The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. 124pp. Paperback. $9.99.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
  
I came to this book with high expectations from its authors. This is a captivating read that actually exceeded my expectations. Instead of merely treating the relationship between the pastorate and academia, this work presents largely biographical sketches of two leaders in American evangelicalism. It is full of sound wisdom, valuable insights into personal piety, and guidance with reference to the increasingly thorny question of the relationship between the church and the academy. The title of the book is somewhat misleading. Instead of blending what are commonly treated as two distinct vocations, it is about learned men serving in the pastorate and pastorally oriented men serving in seminaries. This book helps to promote learned piety both in the pastorate and in the seminary. At the same time, it leaves much room for further refinement and continued discussion. After setting forth the contents of this book briefly, this review will add some reflection upon the proper relationship between the pastorate and academia.

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor was difficult to put down. It is divided into four parts. Owen Strachan and David Mathis wrote a brief introduction and a conclusion respectively in order to set the tone for the topic at hand. The main text of the volume consists of two long chapters by John Piper and D. A. Carson. Piper’s chapter presents the journey of a young man who was a slow reader and who experienced complete paralysis when trying to speak before a group of any size (26, 29) into academia and then into the pastorate. Carson’s life followed the opposite track: he is a man who loves the pastorate yet who was led by the unexpected providence of God to teach in a seminary for over thirty years (80). It was Piper’s desire to proclaim God’s glory with passion rather than to describe him in a sterile academic manner that led him away from teaching at the college level into the ministry. It was Carson’s desire to remain in the pastorate and to serve the church that has made him such a warmhearted, godly, and useful scholar (see pg. 81, where two other professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School implored him at one stage not to leave the seminary in order to return to the pastorate). By the end of the book, it is clear that Piper’s pursuit of learning fuels his passion for the God of Scripture, and that Carson’s excellence as a scholar is driven by his love for Christ and for His church (108).

The ongoing discussion of the relationship between the pastor and the scholar is often ambiguous. Most of the difficulty (as Carson notes on pages 71-73) surrounds how we define the term “scholar.” If “scholar” refers to someone who is an academic at a university by vocation, then unless they are bi-vocational, pastors would be excluded from the term by definition. In addition, whether or not a pastor should be a “scholar” depends upon what kind of scholarship is in view. Are pastor-scholars men who seek academic recognition while serving in the pastorate? If so, then this desire can become a snare and a temptation both to the ministry and to their souls. Another question is that if the term “scholar” refers to someone who holds a professorship, then is the seminary or the university in view? Both authors have recognized these inherent vagaries in their assigned topic.

In this reviewer’s opinion, we should distinguish between seminaries and universities. Seminaries should grow out of the church and the need to train ministers for the service of the church. While scholarship in a seminary should learn from academia, its agenda should be set by the church and her needs. When seminary studies are shaped by academia rather than by the church and the pastorate, then they often distort their purpose and their effectiveness in serving the church. They will likely produce scholars rather than learned ministers. Seminaries should learn from the rigors of the university and they should require the same if not higher excellence in learning, but they should not be concerned with whether or not their conclusions are academically acceptable. This is a fine line. If the seminary and the pastors of the church are not concerned about gaining academic recognition, then the danger is that both become less rigorous and diligent in their labors. I suspect that the primary reason for this is that most of us assume that academic rigor is equated with being dull, detached, and devoid of spiritual vitality. However, in addition to the fact that truth and godliness are never detached in Scripture, we should remember the tremendous theological output from men such as Calvin, Owen, Boston, Edwards, Thornwell, and many others in the context of the pastorate under the motive of deep love for Christ and for His people.

Some examples from the book will illustrate how this tension between academia and piety works itself out today. Piper makes reference to George Eldon Ladd being virtually ruined emotionally and professionally upon reading a critical review of one of his early books by a professor at the University of Chicago (37. Carson later warns against this very attitude on pg. 89). My first thought upon reading this was, “Who cares what an unbelieving professor at the University of Chicago thinks about your book on the Kingdom of God?” In an earlier part of his chapter, Piper cites the autobiography of F. F. Bruce in which Bruce states that he intentionally said very little about the things that mattered most to him, even in his autobiography. Piper responded, “My first reaction when I read this was to say, ‘No wonder I have found his commentaries so dry’ – helpful in significant ways, but personally and theologically anemic” (22-23). Similarly, I have little sympathy with a seminary professor or a pastor whose primary concern is to maintain a good reputation in the academic world (see Carson, pg. 84). Why should we expect unbelieving, or at least non-Reformed scholars, to approve of our academic output? They share neither our presuppositions nor our theology. On the other hand, Carson warns us that we should avoid the subtle temptation to pride through loving the applause of a particular faction that spurns academia and that looks to people like us simply to bolster their own cause (90).

Both Piper and Carson hint at the fact that while the level of our study, learning, and writing should excel in every respect, yet our goals should differ widely from academia. This does not mean that Christian ministers cannot write works of academic excellence that are accepted in the scholarly community (for instance, Mark Jones or Brian Lee among many others, each of whom are pastors who have written academic volumes in historical theology for a series by Vandenhoek and Ruprecht). However, we should remember two things: the importance of our work does not depend inherently upon academic approval, and academic approval a more realistic possibility in the area of historical theology than in other areas.

In light of the excellent food for thought that this volume provides, I offer the following thoughts to plot the course ahead:
  1. Let our seminaries grow around the needs and goals of the church, rather than the academy. Piper believed that his work was less immediately relevant to the church and was frustrated when he taught New Testament at a college instead of at a seminary (44). Carson has found great satisfaction in mentoring students in the seminary precisely because they were going on to serve in the ministry (92-94). Our seminaries should serve the church while learning from the academy, rather than serve the academy while learning from the church.
  2. We should aim at producing less of a discrepancy between ministers and professors. Gifts differ widely even among ministers (see 95-98). Not every minister should be forced into the same mold. Yet the discrepancy between the seminary and the church should not be as wide as it currently appears to be. We do not have the liberty to use some of our talents and not others. Ministers must trade with all of the talents that they have. They must aim for an intelligent piety. In the history of the church, the church has often chosen those men who were the best and most learned ministers to teach in theological seminaries. Not all ministers should train the next generation of pastors, but the pastorate and the professorship should be marked more by continuity than by discontinuity on both sides.
  3. Communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit should be the goal of all Christian scholarship as well as of the pastorate. We must pursue what is good for ourselves and for others (1 Thess. 5:15). The best thing that we can pursue in this respect is that both we and those whom we interact with would know the love of the Father, through the grace of Christ, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14). The Triune God gave His people a book that must be studied (see Piper, 63-66) and that has been studied by His people through the assistance of the Holy Spirit over many centuries. This means that we must study the history of what the church has done with God’s book as well. This should make pastoral piety more scholarly and studious. Yet the Triune God has also made scholars in the image of God. All genuine scholarship should lead Christians into closer communion with their Lord, especially in the seminary, where this should be scholarship’s primary goal.
May the Lord use this little but mighty book to help both pastors and scholars be what Christ has designed them to be.



This review first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

Fruit Lost, Fruit Gained

J. V Fesko, The Fruit of the Spirit is . . . . Evangelical Press, 2011. Softcover. 80pp.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
 
This short work gives a call for personal holiness in a Christ centered manner and by tying together the teaching of the whole Bible. It is not simply an exposition of the “fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22-23. Fesko sets the discussion of the fruit of the Spirit in the context of what the first Adam lost on our behalf and what the last Adam regained for us (chapter one). Then he establishes the Old Testament background for what it means to walk by the Spirit (chapter two), the fruitfulness that should have characterized Israel, and that would characterize the Messiah Himself (chapter three). After examining each of the seven fruits of the Spirit (chapter four), the author closes by directing readers to use the ordinary means of grace to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit (chapter five). This book is well worth reading because it reaches a popular audience with valuable material that can otherwise become buried in technical works on biblical theology and exegesis, making them inaccessible to the average reader. The following features are particularly noteworthy.
  1. The Old Testament biblical theology in this volume sets it apart above all other features. In chapter two, Fesko demonstrates that in the Exodus, God designed Israel to walk by the Spirit in faith and obedience in the wilderness. Chapter three connects every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit to the coming Servant of the Lord in the prophecies of Isaiah, making Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of the fruit of the Spirit. In a valuable insight, Fesko argues that living according to the works of the flesh or growing in the fruit of the Spirit declares our allegiance to one of two kings in one of two kingdoms. The works of the flesh declare our affiliation Adam as fallen. The works of the Spirit declare our identity with the kingly reign of Christ (56). Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit as they participate in the new heavens and the new earth even in this life. However, this pursuit does not turn the gospel into a “new law.” “Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is the work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, not of man” (56). The manner in which Fesko has tied these themes to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ illustrates the glorious unity of the entire Bible as well as the fullness of the provisions of the covenant of grace.
  2. This work reflects a large amount of study and scholarship without bogging down a popular audience with footnotes. Readers who are familiar with Fesko’s other writings will see traces of several of them here. The author has drawn from his breadth of learning and he has skillfully woven together biblical and systematic theology, all in a way that ministers to the average person in the pew. Since this study began as a series of sermons, this fact points to the value of a well-educated ministry for clear, instructive, and heart-warming preaching.
  3. The book is implicitly Trinitarian throughout. Several recent authors have complained that the church is not as thoroughly Trinitarian in her thinking as she ought to be. Fesko’s work helps remedy this problem in that he ties all three persons of the Godhead to every doctrine that he sets forth. This provides a good model of Trinitarian thinking and piety. Hopefully readers will begin to think more intentionally about the work of all three persons in the Godhead as they read this material.
Towards the end of the book, Fesko includes a very pastoral section on the sanctifying effects of our temptations and trials (74-77). This is coupled with a very practical section on using the Word, sacraments, and prayer as the concrete divinely-appointed means for cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. The result is that this work is well-balanced in rooting personal godliness in a robust Christ-centered and Trinitarian faith, which expresses itself and grows through divinely appointed means.



The review first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

Reformed Worship: In the Spendor of Holiness


Jon D. Payne. In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century. Whitehall, WV: Tolle Lege Press, 2008. Hardcover. $16.95.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
This book fulfills a great need that many people are not aware that they have. Are you looking for a short book on Reformed worship that you can give to visitors and to lay-people that leads them step by step through the entire service? Jon Payne’s work, In the Splendor of Holiness, is one of the few works available that does this adequately. It is too often the case that books on Reformed worship set forth principles only and then they develop the elements of preaching, prayer, and singing while cramming the rest of the service into one short section. The result is that most people in Reformed churches do not know what we are doing or why during elements such as the call to worship, the public reading of Scripture, confession of sin and assurance of pardon, reciting creeds and confessions, collecting the tithes and offerings, and receiving the benediction.

This is one of the greatest oversights in books on Reformed worship. While we claim that we are not permitted to include any elements of worship that are not prescribed in Holy Scripture, most of our churches include elements that are truly biblical with little to no understanding of why they are such, and much less how to participate in them. How many for instance treat the benediction as a prayer that closes the service rather than as a proclamation from God himself that we must receive by faith? How many ministers are guilty of replacing the benediction (“the Lord bless you . . .”) with a doxology (“now to Him . . .)? In this climate of confusion over Reformed worship, is it any surprise that we have begun to see the introduction of extra-biblical elements such as drama and dance? If we do not know what are we are doing in our worship, then our people will sense that worship is largely non-participation. The result is that they seek out new elements in which they believe they can participate better. Payne’s book corrects such misconceptions by providing a biblical description of what each element is and how to participate in it.

This book is short, but it is precise. The author has not sacrificed clarity for brevity and simplicity. The two appendices on the Lord’s Day and the sufficiency of Scripture are valuable in their own right as well. This work does not remedy every gap in our understanding. For instance, the divine mandate for including baptism, the offering, and the benediction in public worship require further development. Yet this reviewer cannot recommend this book too highly. He is thankful as well to have learned from the author that it has been translated into several languages and that it is going into a second printing. This book will help you become a participant in every element of a Reformed worship service instead of being a spectator.



This review first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Worshipful Disciple's Scholarship on the Gospel of John



Andreas J. Kostenberger. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2009. Hardcover. 652pp. $39.99.
Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw
This book represents one of the most exhaustive treatments of John’s Gospel and letters from the standpoint of Biblical Theology. It is the first installation in a series entitled, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, which shall be comprised of eight large volumes and of which Dr. Kostenberger is the series editor (26). The yet-undisclosed author of each volume has written at least one commentary or major monograph related to their field of study. Andreas Kostenberger fills this criterion abundantly, having written a commentary on John, a book on John’s theology of missions, co-authored a book on John’s Trinitarian theology, and numerous other monographs and articles. The result is a thorough treatment of the Apostle John’s contribution to New Testament Biblical Theology that is without peer in its field, written by a conservative scholar with an evident and refreshing devotion to Jesus Christ, who honors the divine authorship and authority of Scripture. The book is actually larger than it appears to be due to its irregular textbook size, thus addressing its subject matter in exhaustive fashion. This monumental work ought to serve as a benchmark for studies in Johanine theology for years to come, including up to date scholarly discussions along with rich material that will assist ministers in preaching through John’s Gospel and Letters.
Each author is the series is charged with presenting “a survey of recent scholarship and of the state of research, a treatment of the relevant introductory issues, a thematic commentary following the narrative flow of the document(s), a treatment of important individual themes, [and] a discussion of the relationship between particular writings and the rest of the New Testament and the Bible” (26). This series aims to provide a model “showing how Biblical Theology ought to be conducted” as well. Kostenberger follows this stated purpose closely, dividing his material into four major parts, sixteen chapters, and thirty-five sections.
Part I addresses the “historical framework for Johanine theology,” which includes a brief statement of the state of scholarship in relation John’s writings in the field of Biblical Theology, including a capable defense of Johanine authorship and the historical setting of his Gospel and letters (ch. 1, pp. 37-100. The book of Revelation shall be dealt with in a separate volume in this series). His bibliography (pp. 568-614) is impressive and demonstrates the extent of research lying behind Kostenberger’s text. Part II treats “literary foundations for Johanine theology,” including genre, style, vocabulary, literary devices, and structure (chs. 2-3, pp. 101-174). This is followed by a highly insightful literary-theological reading of John’s Gospel and letters (chs. 4 and 5, respectively, pp. 175-272). Part III focuses upon “major themes in Johanine theology.” It by far the largest section of the work and delves into Biblical Theology proper. This heading addresses John’s worldview and use of (Old Testament) Scripture (ch. 6, pp. 273-310), the importance of the seven “signs” for interpreting John’s Gospel (ch. 7, pp. 311-335), the relationship between Jesus as the divine Word and creation/new creation (ch. 8, pp. 336-354), John’s Trinitarianism (ch. 9, pp. 355-402), the place of John’s writings in the unfolding plan of redemptive history (ch. 10, pp. 403-435), the “cosmic trial motif” (ch. 11, pp. 436-456), the constitution of the New Messianic community as a replacement of Israel with a treatment of divine election and human responsibility (ch. 12. pp. 457-508), “the Johanine love ethic” (ch. 13, pp. 509-524), “John’s theology of the cross” as both a revelation of God and as a substitutionary atonement (ch. 14, pp. 525-538), and “John’s Trinitarian mission theology” (ch. 15, pp. 539-546). Part IV, which closes the work, relates the findings of Johanine theology to the remainder of the New Testament (ch. 16, pp. 547-565). This is followed by a brief conclusion (pp. 566-567). This brief survey indicates the breadth and scope of this book at a glance.
Any review of such an extensive work must of necessity be limited in scope. For this reason, this author shall single out some noteworthy features as well as a few critical observations. First, Kostenberger’s treatment of John’s presentation of the Triune nature of God is very insightful, particularly in light of the contemporary resurgence of interest in Trinitarianism. Trinitarian references pervade the book and the author consistently demonstrates the manner in which John presented his Gospel in terms of all three Persons of the Godhead. For example, the important Johanine concepts of “truth” (p. 288) and “glory” (p. 295) are rooted in the revelation of all three Persons, both together and distinctly. In addition to this pervasive emphasis, chapters nine and fifteen explore this topic in its own right. The former addresses allusions to the Shema and Jewish monotheism in John’s Gospel, followed by a discussion of the nature and function of each divine Person distinctly both in respect to being and to economy in the revelation and work of redemption. Kostenberger’s treatment of God the Father is more full than most and it serves as the basis of the interrelationship of the three Persons as well as the corresponding relationship between the Triune God and believers (370-379). Chapter fifteen, “John’s Trinitarian mission theology,” makes the important point that the overarching goal of John’s Trinitarianism is to establish the pattern and the necessity of the mission of the Christian Church to an unbelieving world. Just as the Father sent the Son into a hostile and unbelieving world so that whosoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16), so Jesus sends His disciples into the same world with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (who is sent by the Father and the Son) in order to spread His Gospel. While the mission of Christ is both unique and foundational, it provides a pattern for the subsequent mission of the Church, which has the privilege of extending the message of salvation to all at the initiative of the Triune God (pp. 539-546).
Second, the section treating the importance of Jesus’ “signs” for the proper interpretation of John’s Gospel yield fruitful insights. While most scholars are agree as to the importance of the major “signs” in John’s Gospel, there is no consensus regarding the number of those signs. While six great “signs” are agreed upon (i.e., changing water into wine, healing the nobleman’s son, healing the lame man, feeding the multitude, healing the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus), some, such as Leon Morris, make Jesus’ walking on water a seventh sign, whereas others, such as D.A. Carson, include the resurrection as the greatest sign of all (324). Kostenberger argues that the primary problem is one of definition. Building upon the foundation of the Old Testament, he argues that signs are not necessarily to be equated with miracles, but that they “function to authenticate the divine messengers” (325). Based upon this fact, he proposes three criteria for Johanine signs: they must be public works of Jesus, they must be explicitly identified as “signs” in John’s Gospel, and they reveal the glory of God in Jesus “as God’s authentic representative” (326-327).  For this reason, he suggests that the temple clearing of chapter two should be included as the seventh sign, since it meets all three criteria (333). Walking on water, while miraculous, is ruled out because it was neither public nor was it referred to as a “sign.” Jesus’ resurrection is not a “sign,” but rather the thing that is signified by the resurrection of Lazarus. The importance of including the temple clearing among the Johanine “signs” is that points to the fact that Jesus replaces the Jewish temple as God’s divine representative and that Jesus has now become the central “location” or focus of divine worship (333-335). This notion blends together well with the author’s assertion that part of the purpose of the Gospel of John was an effective evangelistic appeal to Jews following the destruction of their temple in AD 70 after hope of rebuilding had been abandoned (60-72).
Third, Kostenberger includes a masterful discussion of John’s salvation-historical perspective in chapter ten. With heavy dependence on John’s use of Old Testament events, imagery, and festal symbolism, he demonstrates that John held together the unity of biblical revelation and redemptive history as culminated in the Person and work of Christ (esp. pp. 403, 422). He notes that this “is at best a minority position” in present scholarship (403). Nevertheless, the weight of evidence presented in this chapter is decisive and it ought to serve as a starting point for future discussions of this important theme. This chapter expands the idea of Jesus as the replacement of the Jewish temple as well (422-435).
This reviewer’s criticism of this masterful work shall be reduced to a single head that highlights the potentially inherent limitations of Biblical Theology as a discipline. While being vital to biblical interpretation, mere exegesis and Biblical Theology can have unintended negative consequences. Exegesis explains biblical data in individual contexts. Biblical Theology expands this process by summarizing the findings of biblical data with respect to a particular book or collection of books from Scripture. However, failing to draw systematic conclusions from this data, which is admittedly beyond the scope of Biblical Theology to some extent, often results in ambiguity or potential error. For instance, chapter nine (“God: Father, Son, and Spirit), in spite of all of the strengths mentioned above, is an inadequate presentation of the Triune nature of God. It is not incorrect or unorthodox, but it is liable to various interpretations due to its failure formulate a systematic definition of the doctrine of the Trinity. The author clearly establishes the fact that Jewish monotheism is the foundation of John’s theology, that each of the Three Persons is treated as divine, and that interrelationship between the Persons with the resultant economic order of operation is irreversible. This fails to rule out historical heresies such as Modalism, in which each of the three Persons are divine and follow as distinct economic order of operation in history, yet which denies the reality of three distinct personal subsistences (although the distinction of Persons is vindicated somewhat on pp. 541-543). It could be demonstrated that Modalism is contrary to the data of the Gospel of John, but not without making further distinctions and theological definitions that are of necessity derived from Systematic and Historical Theology. Kostenberger seems to recognize this fact implicitly by his very use of the term “Trinity,” which is not Johanine but originated with the early Church father, Tertullian.
A similar problem exists in Kostenberger’s treatment of election, the new birth, and faith. He maintains first that election in John precedes faith, and that it is not based upon even a foreseen faith (458). Then, he asserts that the new birth follows and results from faith (460). Next, he argues that the statement regarding being drawn to the Christ in John six refers to predestination (461), which both implicitly contradicts his earlier statements concerning election and predestination as the eternal plan of God and confuses predestination with what is ordinarily referred to as “effectual calling.” In the following discussion, he notes that the Holy Spirit “moves a person to faith in Christ” (462) and that “spiritual birth is not the result of human initiative, but of supernatural origin” (472). Finally, in footnote sixty of the same page, he gives mild approval to the idea that regeneration logically precedes faith, followed by a denial of the entire discussion by an appeal to the fact that John did not intend there to be any temporal order of events in the application of salvation. In spite of this last qualification, the fact that Kostenberger saw the need to address on the basis of his interaction with the text of John’s Gospel the question of the logical (not temporal) order in which salvation is applied is very telling. Does the text itself imply the need to address the question of an ordo salutis, which is typically a question addressed by Systematic Theology? Surprisingly, he seems to miss the rather obvious observation (in light of the rest of this book) that “seeing” in John refers to the removal of spiritual blindness through faith in Christ (John 9:35-41). Therefore, when Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is first born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God, the necessary conclusion is that the new birth is necessary in order to believe in Jesus Christ. In this case, admitting an order salutis would have helped and clarified exegesis rather than hindered it.
The point is that it seems unhealthy to detach Biblical Theology (or any other branch of theological study) from the rest of the theological disciplines. While it is necessary and valuable to treat each discipline separately, it is neither helpful nor desirable to sever them completely. Exegesis and Biblical Theology without at least some Systematic Theology and the analogia scriptura with other biblical authors is like building the foundation of a structure followed by the skeleton of the building without ever finishing the project. The work may be stable and able to sustain a magnificent building, but it will ever remain incomplete and unfit for use.  After all, is it not our doctrinal and systematic conclusions that we drawn from exegesis and Biblical Theology that make us Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopaleans, and, even more fundamentally, Christians?
This book is a necessary starting point for any serious study of Johanine theology. It should be particularly helpful to those who plan to teach or to preach through the Gospel of John as a preliminary study. Ministers who struggle to find the time to plan ahead would do well to read this book either before or during a sermon series on John’s Gospel or letters, thus providing them with a theological overview and plan that will provide them with direction through the whole book. Moreover, Kostenberger is a devout believer in Jesus Christ and his closing sentence is worth citing: “Thank you for joining me on this journey, embarked on not primarily by a scholar seeking to master the gospel but by a worshiper and disciple longing to be mastered by it. Soli Deo Gloria!” (567).



The review above was first published in The Mid-America Journal of Theology, vol. 22 (2011): 209-21.