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.