Monday, November 23, 2015

The Word Applied to Life

Murray Capill, The Heart Is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2015). 272pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Applicatory preaching is a vital topic. Murray Capill presents a holistic view of sermon application that aims to apply the whole sermon, to the whole man, to the whole of life (25-26). This book is a clear step-by-step guide to lead preachers to engage their audiences through their entire sermons. It helps readers wade through the minefield of debates on the subject with much needed biblical balance in an irenic spirit.

Capill’s approach to applicatory preaching is holistic. He aims at the entire human personality, which includes the mind, conscience, will, and affections (103). This approach prevents application from devolving into what he calls “bolt-on” statements that do not always flow from the text. He usefully grounds application in searching out the purpose of each text and in grounding application in the preacher’s personal godliness (chapters 2-3). This allows for a wider range of application than most preachers are accustomed to, including nine “arrows” for the preacher to aim at people’s hearts where a text itself admits them to do so (chapter 6). He walks readers through the process of preparing sermons, illustrating how to aim at application through indicatives, imperatives, and subjunctives throughout the sermon (esp. chapters 9-10). He also provides a positive model for taking the best of the redemptive historical approach to preaching without losing sight of biblical application (chapter 8). He makes this material concrete by illustrating how to apply his principles to diverse texts such as Haggai 1, Psalm 73, Eph. 1 (all on pp. 122-126, 145-149), and Romans 9 (166-170). These features will challenge ministers to rethink the process of sermon preparation and delivery.

Capill’s conclusions could be tightened through greater precision. For example, he urges readers to preach sermons in light of the theme of the kingdom of God (chapter 7). While this is a vital biblical theme, over-stressing it runs the risk of stressing Christ’s kingly office over his priestly and prophetic offices. To this reviewer’s knowledge, he also mentions prayer in the process of sermon preparation on only two occasions (46, 239). Yet prayer should be prominent throughout the entire process of preparing and preaching sermons. This emphasis should be more explicit in the material. Theologically, he gives the impression as well that salvation is virtually equal to conversion, instead of including the entire order of salvation (17).

However, the biggest set of difficulties stem from his definition of the heart as mind, conscience, will, and passions (103). While he shows ably that “heart” in Scripture often includes the entire person, he subsumes every faculty of the soul under the heart. This differs from classic divisions of faculty psychology into the basic components of mind, heart, and will. Historic Reformed authors ordinarily included the passions, or affections under the heart, under the will, or under aspects of both.

While Scripture rather than historical theology bind our thinking and practice, it is strange that he treats such a well-documented topic without evidence of interacting with the common literature on the subject. This results in a different model for sermon application than many Reformed predecessors. For example, most Puritans aimed, indirectly, at the will in preaching. The mind and the heart served as the means of addressing and moving the will. They viewed changing our thinking, informing our consciences, and redirecting our practices as acts of the will, informed by the mind and fueled by renewed affections. The heart was the target in preaching, but the will was the goal of preaching. This was also why Puritan application predominantly pressed meditation and changing the way people thought and felt. This means that some of Capill’s emphases require amendment or further reflection.

The Heart is the Target is one of the best available books on sermon application. Many preachers have learned his principles intuitively through trial and error. Others never fully discover how to connect Scripture adequately to their hearers. All preachers can benefit greatly by sharpening their thinking about preaching and by reorienting their hearts in preparing sermons by reading this book.



The preceding review is scheduled to appear soon in The Banner of Truth.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seminaries, Ministry, and the Church

Allan M. Harman, Preparation for Ministry (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2015). 117pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

How do you know if God is calling you into pastoral ministry? What should you do once you believe that the Lord is developing such a call in you? How should you to prepare for seminary and how should you act when you get there? How is seminary relevant to your future labors as a pastor, if that is what the Lord calls you to do? This book answers such questions concisely and clearly. It offers much-needed direction to anyone wrestling with the call to the ministry and to churches as they contemplate calling ministers.

Harman guides readers from conversion through choosing a seminary, studying well to the glory of God, and beginning and persevering in ministry faithfully. His chapters are brief and to the point. The author includes vital topics, such as the role of the church in the call to ministry (7), how our wives relate to our calling (10), the importance of the local church while in seminary (25-26), the need to prioritize our families in the ministry and in seminary (38), working as though we plan only to serve one congregation for the rest of our lives (41), how to begin preaching (53), and the importance of avoiding debt (17, 90). Roughly half of the book represents Harman’s reflections on such subjects. The other half includes appendices on suggested reading, “a short guide to sermon preparation,” a selection from Spurgeon on cultivating personal godliness, and Warfield’s article on “The Religious Life of Theological Students.” This material gives readers seed thoughts on a variety of important issues related to developing and pursuing a call to the ministry.

The book has some limitations both in form and content. The brevity of the work is a strength and a weakness simultaneously. While everything needed for discerning a call to the ministry is included, most students will require fuller direction regarding the role of the church in the call than Harman provides. In this reviewer’s opinion, the gifting of the Spirit coupled with the church’s recognition of these gifts are more vital than the internal call of the man himself. God’s commendation of a man through these means is a more reliable guide to developing a call to ministry than a commending himself based on his internal desires (2 Cor. 10:18). Men need to understand this dynamic well. If the church is involved properly in this process, then the situation Harman envisions where a man enters seminary without consulting his church should never happen (8-9). Moreover, he overstates the case when he writes that a wife should have “the same spiritual experiences” as her husband does in the call to the ministry (10). While a man should not enter the ministry without the support of his wife, he should not expect his wife to experience a call to the ministry since she is not being called into the ministry – her husband is. This caution applies equally to his suggestion of including wives on pastoral visits (33). This practice can be harmful to our wives and congregations, and it fosters the misconception of “the pastor’s wife” as a kind of unofficial church officer. This reviewer would also discourage readers from his counsel to use vacation time to read theological books (40). A minister should have a weekly day off with his family and he should use his vacation to rest from his labors with them. These are representative weaknesses in an otherwise valuable book.

One area of concern arises from the appendix by Warfield. Warfield runs the risk of placing the public religious exercises of a seminary in competition with the local church. He counseled men to meet for daily morning and evening prayer as a seminary community and twice together for worship on the Lord’s Day. He concluded, “You will observe that I am not merely exhorting you to ‘go to church.’ … But what I am exhorting you to do is to go to your own church – to give your presence and active religious participation to every stated meeting for worship of the institution as an institution” (107). He implies that the seminary is a “church” and that it should function like a church in order to retain its spiritual vitality. This is problematic from a number of perspectives. In the Bible, “church” never refers to seminaries, but it refers primarily to the church, invisible, local, regional, ecumenical (the whole visible church), and as represented by her officers.

Many seminary students are married men. Coupled with family responsibilities, work responsibilities for some, and being involved in Sabbath worship, prayer meetings, and other activities of a local church, adding too many public meetings at the seminary places an intolerable burden on most students. A seminary should foster full participation in local churches without trying to act as though it is a church through excessive chapel services and prayer meetings. Such practices run the risk of creating the monastery-like setting that Warfield rejected vigorously early in his article. Seminaries should add very few public services to the practices of local churches. The primary ways of retaining the spiritual character of a seminary consist in fervent prayer, faithful service in the local church, and in promoting the experimental pastoral quality of lectures. All lecturers should be ministers of the church and subject to her discipline. All students should find the primary expression of their public worship in the church. They should not be pressured to replace the church with the seminary. Seminaries should be subject to the church rather the church to seminaries. Our practices should reflect this fact.

Preparing for the Ministry is a useful tool to help men think through a call to the ministry. All Christians should know something about this process, whether or not the Lord calls them to the ministry, since the church plays a vital role in such a call. This book leads us in the right direction.




This review is scheduled to appear in the January 2016 issue of the Puritan Reformed Journal.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Plain-Style Preaching – a Puritan Perspective, Part 2: Who Should Preach?

This article is the second in a series on the Puritan perspective on preaching. The first may be found here.

By Richard Holst

“Your conscience must judge of your willingness and the church of your ability.” — William Perkins, The Calling of The Ministry, 181)

The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God, in its chapter on Preaching the Word, handles a number of related questions: who should preach, how sermons should be made and the way in which they should be preached. Its advice, though occasionally detailed, is mainly in principle, and it mirrors William Perkins’s The Art of Prophesying (1558-1602). The present survey is concerned with the question of who should preach, with reference to calling, training and sending.

Calling

Acts 13 records how the Holy Spirit directed the church of Syrian Antioch to separate Saul and Barnabas to the work “to which I have called them.” The brethren “having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them...sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went.” Paul wrote, “If anyone desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good thing” (2Tim 3:1), but he reminds us that naked desire is not enough. In Romans 10:15 he asks “how shall they preach unless they are sent?” underscoring the need to be recognised and commissioned by the church. Perhaps he was reflecting on his personal experience first at Damascus and later at Syrian Antioch. Thus his work as a missionary depended not only on his personal desire but also on the correlation of church and the Spirit — as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul down to Seleucia” (Acts 13:1ff). 

In the same spirit but perhaps in more detail, the Puritans had a method of quality control to ensure that “... the work of ordination...be performed with all due care, wisdom, gravity, and solemnity.” The Directory itself presupposes “(according to the rules for ordination)” that “the minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service.” The rules presupposed are found in The Form of Presbyterial Church Government adopted by the Scottish church in 1645 (but not by the English). 

The part headed “The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers,” states that “NO man ought to take upon him the office of a minister of the Word without a lawful calling” and sets out the way that call might validated:

He that is to be ordained, being either nominated by the people, or otherwise commended to the presbytery, for any place, must address himself to the presbytery, and bring with him a testimonial...of his diligence and proficiency in his studies; what degrees he hath taken in the university, and what hath been the time of his abode there...especially of his life and conversation (conduct)...Which being considered by the presbytery, they are to proceed to enquire touching the grace of God in him, and whether he be of such holiness of life as is requisite in a minister of the gospel; and to examine him touching his learning and sufficiency, and touching the evidences of his calling to the holy ministry; and, in particular, his fair and direct calling to that place.

Against this background the WLC Q.58 asks, “By whom is the Word of God to be preached?” and gives the answer, “only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.” The question for us is not so much about what kind of detail is specified, important as this might be, but about why a procedure was thought necessary at all.

The necessity arose because of the existence of absentee clergy and the appointment of inadequate stand-in lay readers. John Penry (Martin Marprelate) wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth criticising non-resident ministers as “odious in the sight of God and man” because they kept the people from “the ordinary means of salvation, which was the word preached.” According to Strype, “the want of clergymen” in the Elizabethan period created the “inconvenience” of ordaining “illiterate men to be [lay] readers which likewise many were offended at” (Annals, 1824, 265). The problem was later exacerbated by an increasing number of sectarians, who preached without ordination. (Van Dixhoorn, Assembly Minutes 1: 275; Lightfoot, p. 91). The Puritans therefore devised their method of “quality control” to ensure that those selected were “apt to teach, able to divide the word of God aright, and ... deliver sound and wholesome doctrine...” (Barrow: True Description Of The Visible Church).

William Perkins
Perkins (1558–1602) stated that in order to know that one has been sent “it is necessary not only to ask one's own conscience but also the church: your conscience must judge of your willingness and the church of your ability. Just as you may not trust other men to judge your inclination or affection, so you may not trust your own judgement to judge your worthiness or adequacy.” Certainty regarding this office, he said, comes when “the inward calling of conscience and the outward calling of the church concur.” In that event “God himself calls and bids us ‘Go, and speak’” (Calling, 181).

Not all lay preachers are doctrinally illiterate or poorly motivated, but today struggling congregations are in the habit of filling their pulpits with whoever is willing to preach, without considering that the preacher, far from being lawfully called and sent, may be self-appointed, unaccountable and unedifying. Puritan anxiety about the ministry is less apparent today among evangelical churches, though the occasional voice reminds us that “recognition... [is] often referred to as the outward call [and that] it would be unusual for anyone to continue preaching without it.” (Stuart Olyott, Preaching Pure & Simple, 22) Exigencies might indeed demand exceptions, but for the Puritans the exception never became the rule.

Training

Richard Baxter held that “churches rise and fall as the ministry doth rise and fall” and that the quality of the ministry was as much a matter of training as of gift. Certainly not all training is helpful and in some circumstances it can be downright unhelpful: as one sage commented “the church is closing by degrees,” which was true at a time when most ministerial candidates were trained in liberal institutions. But it was different in the seventeenth century, when under Puritan influence, church and academy were in better, if not perfect, shape and free from the rationalising effects of the Enlightenment. Puritans were committed to the study of Hebrew, Greek and Latin (which was the teaching medium), Theology, Church History and related disciplines. They never saw it as inimical to being taught by the Spirit, nor did they think that because preaching is a gift, it cannot be instructed. Such was their understanding of the nature of Scripture and the way the Holy Spirit works that they placed “the reading of the Scriptures with godly fear [and] the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word” at the heart of public worship (WCF 21.V). In short, they believed that since preaching is “one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel” (DPW), a proper training was essential for true worship and the care of the flock.    

Christ's College - Cambridge University
Locally, an experienced minister would train up a young preacher by giving him opportunity to preach, subjecting him to helpful criticism and exposing him to the varied aspects of church life – akin to ministerial internships or apprenticeships. Candidates could also benefit from “prophesyings,” ministerial gatherings at which sermons were preached, comments made, interpretations considered and matters of ministry discussed.  As for the academy, Christ's College – Cambridge, was a center of Puritanism; and Emmanuel and Sidney Sussex colleges (1584 & 1596) were founded by Puritans expressly for the training of preachers. Many who passed through them were first-class biblical scholars and outstanding pastors.

Perkins was one such. A foremost advocate of training, his influence pervades the Directory's advice on preachers and preaching. His training manuals have been called “a new 'spiritual' model for preaching … that could be traced back to the examples of the great biblical prophets” (Sinclair Ferguson, Prophesying, Intro, viii). Although pre-dating the critical period of biblical studies, they are analytical, powerfully relevant, and full of sanctified common sense. In some parts of the Presbyterian Church, they are still prescribed reading for ministerial candidates.

Perkins saw preaching as instrumental for “gathering the church...bringing together the elect” and “driving away the wolves from the folds of the Lord.” The only content of preaching is the Word of God “in its perfection and inner consistency” and, in the nature of the case, “the only field in which the preacher is to labour” (Prophesying, 9). The principal interpreter of Scripture is its Author, the Holy Spirit, but the preacher must master three subordinate means of interpretation: the comparison or analogy of Scripture, the comparison or analogy of doctrine, and the circumstance of the text (context).

His ministry at Great St. Andrews, Cambridge, was extraordinarily blessed so that, thirteen years after his death, Thomas Goodwin reported that the town of Cambridge remained full of “the discourse of the power of Mr. Perkins, his ministry still fresh in men's memories” (Packer, Puritan Portraits, 131). His commitment was such that he wrote on the title page of all his manuscripts, “Thou art a Minister of the Word: Mind thy business” (Portraits, 134). 

Sending

The last stage of entry to the ministry is ordination, which consists of a final evaluation by the presbytery, followed by a representative act of appointment. The Form of Presbyterial Church Government vests authority for ordination in a presbytery consisting of “preaching presbyters orderly associated” (ruling elders excluded!). There is acknowledgement of “extraordinary occasion(s)” “for a way of ordination” different from the one recommended in the Form of Government, which they fully intended to address at a later stage. The Independents would not cede the right of ordination to the wider body, but nevertheless they considered it important, even if they identified it with the vote of the congregation. They were one with their Presbyterian brethren in emphasizing the need of proper training and formal recognition.

The “head” versus “heart” dichotomy formed no part of their thinking. Learning was as well done at the throne of grace as in the academy. A minister preparing to preach
“ought still to seek by prayer, and an humble heart, resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, whenever God shall make it known unto him. All which he is to make use of, and improve, in his private preparations, before he deliver in public what he has provided.”

The Independent and Separatist pastor Henry Barrow (b. 1593) might have differed from others in his view of the church but was at one with them in his view of the ministry. In A True Description of the Visible Church, he writes:

Their doctor or teacher must be a man apt to teach, able to divide the word of God aright, and to deliver sound and wholesome doctrine.... [H]e must be mighty in the Scriptures, able to convince the gain-sayers, and carefully to deliver his doctrine pure, sound and plain, not with curiosity or affectation, but so that it may edify the most simple.... [T]o feed the sheep of Christ in green and wholesome pastures of his word...he must guide and keep those sheep by that heavenly and pastoral staff of the word...discerning their diseases, and thereby curing them...that the church may increase with the increasing of God, and grow up into him which is the head, Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Silence?

By William Shishko

“If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” — Martin Luther

Some years ago I was speaking at a conference in a country in which “hate crimes” legislation had been enacted. Already some pastors and others in that country had been charged with discrimination or hate speech because they had spoken out about the truth that homosexual practice was contrary to the Word of God. Being well aware that such legislation was being considered in our nation, I was curious to find out how Reformed pastors in that country were responding to this challenge by the civil authorities and the dominant culture.

On the Saturday morning of the conference, I was asked to address a group of such pastors from a variety of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations in an informal interchange of questions and answers. Once the pastors had finished their questions of me, I asked them: How did they intend to deal with this challenge as ministers of the Word of God committed to make known the whole counsel of God “whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account” (OPC ordination vow #6 for ministers)? For several long seconds, pregnant with significance, there was no answer. Finally, one of the senior ministers in the group quietly offered: “We simply avoid the issue.”

I was stunned. I was shocked. And in a response that smacks very much of the New Yorker that I am (for whom tact too often takes a backseat to bluntness), I retorted: “Brothers, do you fear God?” And, to this day, I have no regrets for my New York bluntness. When fear of man replaces fear of God, particularly in the church communities that are to be known by their faithfulness to the Word of God, we are in big trouble.

The Situation in America

Rowen County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis jailed for defy court
order to issue same-sex marriage licenses
Now, as the threats of civil consequences for stands on such issues as “same-sex marriage” and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender” matters come close to our doorsteps in our own nation, I am deeply concerned about how our own confessionally faithful Reformed and Presbyterian churches will respond. And, yes, I am particularly concerned about the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in all of this. I am concerned for its pastors, teachers, chaplains, congregation members, local churches, presbyteries, and the General Assembly itself. Will we be silent when the Word of God compels us to speak?

Some may be nervous about civil penalties when our proclamations and our practices run against the grain of faddish political correctness that increasingly seeks to impose itself by the force of law. Will you be charged with hate speech? With discrimination? With seeking to “convert” someone from a lifestyle for which God commands repentance and change? Will our churches lose their tax-exempt status if they seek to honor God rather than modern pundits (cf. Acts 5:29)? For some, this may be creating anxiety. In the face of that, will you become silent?

Others will retreat into what, according to my estimation, is a false view of church and state. According to this view, the state is a common sphere, and the church should never (or hardly ever) address it with what the Word of God says—even when it speaks to civil leaders (that is, magistrates)—who are meant to be “ministers of God to us for good” (Rom. 13:4). (In the face of this view, I am regularly struck by the sobering truth that arrogant civil leader Herod was struck down by an angel of the Lord “because he did not give God the glory” [Acts 12:23]).

Certainly the church should not try to impose on the civil realm those things that are distinctive to the church and its life, but when the creation ordinances, which are given to man as man—including marriage and procreation—and the moral law of God, which applies to “all men” (see Westminster Larger Catechism 95), are undermined and openly acted against by those in authority, are we being “steady on the battlefield” (to quote Martin Luther) or are we in “mere flight and disgrace” by flinching at that point? Will we be silent?

And for others (especially those of us who are in urban and suburban areas in which the winds of the trends of modern culture blow with particular force), there is the seeming tension between being faithful to all that God says in his Word and not wanting to appear inhospitable to those with “alternative lifestyles.” In short, we don’t want to offend the very people we are trying to reach with the gospel. I fear that this way of thinking is far more common than we want to admit.

Speaking the Truth in Love

I certainly agree that we must always be gracious and filled with the Spirit of the forgiving Christ, who bids all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him, that they might find rest for their souls (Matt. 11:28–30). But are we to do this in such a way that we tone down or eliminate altogether the very truths about human sinfulness that make people hunger and thirst for the saving Christ and his righteousness? That would be like a doctor who knows that his patient’s case is terminal unless the patient pursues a specific medical regimen, but does not want to offend his patient and so is less than fully honest in disclosing his patient’s condition and the horrible consequences of failure to immediately pursue the only effective path to a cure. Is this truly loving?

Consider the physical, social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences of patterns of life that are contrary to the Word of God. Many of us, I fear, have preferred to ignore these things, rather than allow ourselves to be impacted by the painful truth that “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15 KJV). When we are struck by these things, we know that it is not loving to be silent.

Is it loving to be silent when we know that certain sexual practices inevitably lead to some of the most painful and miserable forms of disease?

Is it loving to be silent when, by the vote of a slim majority of United States Supreme Court justices, the very nature of marriage, as an institution that is meant for human perpetuation and flourishing (as expressed so well in our own Confession of Faith, chap. 24), has been radically redefined for our nation?

Is it loving to be silent when the Scriptures declare unequivocally that certain patterns of conduct prohibit the unrepentant from entering the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10)?
Is this really love—or cowardice?

Randy Alcorn, in his article, “The Trend in the Church towards Silence” (www.epm.org/blog/2015/Mar/30/trend-church-silence), comments wisely on the call to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15):
As Christ-followers, we are not to choose between being loving and being truthful. We are to be both. And notice … that we are to speak. 
Yes, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). But we dare not embrace the ease of silence and turn our backs on the hard work of truth-telling done in love. 
When we believe and teach the Bible with courage and compassion, it’s guaranteed you and I will be seen as bigots—unless we either outright deny the Scriptures or are so quiet about our beliefs that no one finds us out. (Imagine an ambassador who lives in fear of divulging his King’s policies).  
Of course we will be mocked and despised by some. But our call is clear: in the balance of grace and truth, (we are) to follow the example of Peter and the Apostles, who told the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 
Yes, we are living in a time in which difficult ethical questions and issues are challenging churches. However, for that very reason alone we must not be silent. To be silent is to leave God’s people in bewilderment when they are most in need of bold yet gracious and carefully thought-out answers. 

This has always been the strength of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in its unashamed commitment to the final authority of the Word of God. Now is not the time to be silent. It is the time to think carefully and biblically, seek wise counsel from others, and then speak—regardless of the consequences. Our doomed culture needs that—and, above all, God requires that.

Why are we silent? Because we have too much fear of man, but too little fear of God; too much desire for the approval of the world, but too little desire for the approval of Christ; too much of the spirit of the age, but too little of the Spirit of God.

Silent soldiers on today’s battlefield? No!



The author is an adjunct professor at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is the pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, N.Y. He quotes the ESV unless otherwise indicated. This article first appeared in the OPC magazine, New Horizons, August-September, 2015. Used with permission.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Window into Reformed Orthodoxy

Bernardinus de Moor, Continuous Commentary on Johannes Marckius’ Didactico-Elenctic Comendium of Christian Theology, trans. Stephen Dilday, vol. 1, 7 vols. (Culpeper, VA: L & G Reformation Translation Center, 2014). 266 pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Some cities in the world today sit on the remnants of ancient civilizations. Ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, for example, stand as monuments to the foundations of modern culture. This is similar to the present state of Reformed theology, since most of the theological texts in our heritage are buried in Latin tomes inaccessible to most. In order to profit from this rich tradition, these works need to be resurrected and become a self-conscious part of English-speaking theology. Stephen Dilday’s translation of de Moor’s commentary on Marckius brings a significant piece of this literature to light for a new generation of Reformed readers. This can help bring both clarity and unity to Reformed thought as we search the Scriptures, engage in theology, and address a new generation. This review briefly treats the significance and structure of this work and its contents.

This book provides a significant window into Reformed orthodox theology. Bernardinus de Moor was a professor at Leiden University in middle of the eighteenth-century. Richard Muller has categorized this period as “late orthodoxy,” in which Reformed theology struggled to maintain its historical form and content in light of shifting philosophical developments. De Moor maintained the best emphases of the so-called Dutch second Reformation by wedding biblical Reformed theology to fervent piety and devotion. He aimed to continue the work of his mentor, Johannes Marckius (1689-1731), who was a famous late orthodox author. As the title indicates, de Moor’s textbook is a commentary on Marckius’ Compendium of Didactic and Elenctic Christian Theology. Each chapter expounds a paragraph of Marckius’ text. The translator could have improved the text by providing chapter headings, rather than forcing readers to write them in as they progress. Rather than regurgitating the work of his mentor, de Moor explained this shorter work in seven volumes with rich expositions of Scripture, ample use of the church fathers and contemporary Dutch Reformed theologians, and evident piety. Dilday provides brief biographical sketches of all authors cited in the footnotes, making this book read partly like a “who’s who” of the period of Reformed orthodoxy.

The content of de Moor’s work provides a refreshing challenge to modern approaches to the study of theology. This first volume treats the nature and definition of true theology. In contrast to post-Enlightenment Reformed theology, but in accord with the Reformed orthodox tradition, de Moor denied that theology is a science (186). He argued that if we follow Scripture, this discipline encompasses an intellectual (intelligence) bent of the mind created by the Spirit of God, the knowledge of God’s being and works (science), wisdom in knowing how to worship him and live to His glory, prudence in practicing God’s law, and art in producing benefits to the church (187). Removing obedience and piety from definitions of theology was tantamount to transforming theology into speculative philosophy (175). The end of true theology is the glory of God, with the subordinate end of man’s salvation and enjoying the triune God forever (262). He argued that God Himself was the incomprehensible foundation of true theology (theologia achetypa; chapter 7) who communicates Himself pre-eminently through Christ’s human nature as the pattern of theology both for angels and men (theologia ectypa; chapters 8-10). This grounded the knowledge of God in Christ’s person and effected it by His work. This makes this entire book explicitly Trinitarian, since the Father reveals himself through his Son and makes us true theologians by His Spirit. This practical Trinitarianism, which is often painfully absent in post-Enlightenment theology, was commonplace in Reformed Latin theology. The older Reformed emphasis on the character of the true theologian in communion with God as part of the definition of true theology is precisely what the church needs today to revive the vitality of her theology by aiming at the hearts of all who undertake its study.

De Moor’s commentary on Marckius was written for future ministers. The modern pastor needs theological precision coupled with devotional warmth in order to be clearer and more effective in the pulpit. Read de Moor as a window into our theological heritage. He may even spur some of you on to learn Latin in order to open the treasure trove of historic Reformed theology.



The preceding is scheduled to be printed in an upcoming issue of The Banner of Truth.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Demythologizing the Prostestant Reformation

Peter Opitz, ed., The Myth of the Reformation, vol. 9, Refo500 Academic Studies (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013). 380pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

The provocative title of this volume will no doubt arrest the attention of many potential readers. Changing the title to the plural, “myths” rather than the singular, “myth,” may indicate better the aim of the work. This is to uncover common “myths” in Reformation scholarship regarding the personae, theology, and practices of the Reformation. The primary value of these essays is to present and evaluate up-to-date scholarship on a wide array of Reformation related subjects, while challenging some common viewpoints. Most of the time, its authors shed light on useful and neglected aspects of the Reformation, while occasionally they go too far in their attempts to challenge commonly accepted interpretations.

The bulk of the articles in this compilation usefully assess some neglected areas of Reformation scholarship. The first two contributions address whether the Protestant Reformation was primary German and the Catholic Reformation was primarily Spanish, respectively. Both authors argue for more nuanced origins of each movement. Other chapters treat topics such as the Reformation in Poland, the limits of Luther’s apocalyptic self-identity, the inability of modern scholarship to account for the spread of the Reformation without using sixteenth-century categories of conversion, seventeenth-century evaluations of the movement, church and state relations according to Musculus, Calvin as a lover of order, incipient congregationalism in Pierre Viret, Bullinger on the Reformed pastor, Lutheranism in Denmark, divine accommodation in Calvin, and uses of Cranmer’s martyrdom in Hungary. The last two chapters challenge the conception of Lutheranism as largely replacing images with the Word. The former does so generally and the latter in relation to Danish Lutheranism in particular. These essays help give readers a broader view of the narrative of the Reformation.

Some of these essays go too far by way of overcorrection. The most glaring example of this is John Balserak’s chapter entitled, “Examining the Myth of Calvin as a Lover of Order.” Balserak’s basic contention is that not only were John Calvin’s ideas subversive to social order, but that the man himself was also (160). In relation to Calvin’s Reform efforts in France, Balserak calls him, “the veritable Osama bin Laden of Sixteenth-century France” (161). In spite of his defense of this comparison, his arguments read like a prosecuting attorney of whom the court later learns had a personal vendetta against the accused. By marshaling evidence such as plots against the French crown via a lesser magistrate and statements such as Calvin asserting that, “We, therefore, are able boldly to overthrow the whole of the papacy” (160, 163, 171), he labels Calvin as “disturber of the peace” (166). He concludes that Calvin could not truly have loved peace and order, and that any country today would have imprisoned him for his actions in the sixteenth century (172). The element of truth in these assertions is that Calvin was not willing to achieve peace and order at the expense of his convictions. However, while the article is well-written, and could possibly win a conviction in a modern court of law, it fails to examine Calvin’s thought and actions in their historical context. For example, the citation about overthrowing the “whole of the papacy” refers, in context, to overthrowing the doctrinal foundation of the papacy as an institution through his exposition of Scripture. The essay comes across as impugning motives to Calvin through circumstantial evidence rather than engaging in sound scholarship with reference to his writings and in comparison with his contemporaries. This is a rare fault of this otherwise excellent volume.

As Daniel Timmerman notes in his contribution to this work, “historical research thrives on myths and the pursuit to demythologize them” (190). The Myth of the Reformation is not, in most cases, an attempt to recast radically our picture of the Protestant Reformation. Instead, it aims to bring the broader landscape of the Reformation into clearer focus. Its essays vindicate the editor’s assertion that one great myth of the Reformation is “that the Reformation era is a boring period where not much is left to discover behind the traditional myths” (5). This interesting volume admirably achieves this end.



This review will appear in print in the January 2016 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Learning Luther

Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and L’ubomir Batka, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 662pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in world history in the past five hundred years. This is true in the West, even where his influence serves as an underappreciated backdrop to western theology and culture. It is true even in the East, where Christianity is expanding explosively and eastern Christians begin to grapple with the western part of their Christian heritage. This reviewer is not a Luther scholar, but a student of seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy, with special interest in its continuities and discontinuities with Medieval scholastic theology and the Reformation. Martin Luther is a vital link in this historical milieu, and it is to their detriment if Reformed students of historical theology ignore his theology and influence.

The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology is a useful comprehensive introductory text that will both challenge scholars and introduce beginners to current research on Luther’s theology. Reformed readers will find much here that is familiar and much that is foreign to their thinking. Both of these facts make this handbook a useful tool to enable readers to understand better the broader Protestant tradition and to evaluate it in light of Scripture and our respective confessional traditions.

This book is well-organized, well-researched, and comprehensive in scope. Forty-four recognized scholars in various fields of Luther research contributed to its chapters. The reader is led in seven sections through Luther’s life, the Medieval backgrounds of his thought, his hermeneutical principles, the traditional loci of theology, Christian living, the genres of his theological expression, and his impact of subsequent theological and philosophical reflection. Of particular interest to this reviewer are the treatments of Luther’s appropriations and rejections of Medieval theology and method in Section 2. The picture that emerges is that while Luther was overtly anti-scholastic regarding theological method, he inescapably appropriated portions of it from his context and education. Moreover, in contrast to seventeenth-century Lutheran and Reformed orthodox theologians, who incorporated aspects of scholastic methodology into their theological systems, Luther placed greater emphasis on reforming strains of monastic mystical piety and methodology (esp. Chapter 3).

Several of the essays in this volume helpfully present opposing views in Luther research, such as continuity and discontinuity with Medieval thought (chapters 7-8) and the Finish school on Luther’s views of union with Christ and justification (chapters 17-18). The latter example highlights poignantly where Reformed scholars will find the material both familiar and foreign. The Finish school presents the familiar concept of union with Christ in salvation, while mitigating the forensic aspects of Luther’s view of justification. However, the opposing essay maintains the decidedly forensic character of his teaching, but maintains that Luther taught a passive and an active justification. In this view, passive justification referred to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner, while active justification referred to the gradual transformation of the Christian life from unrighteousness to holiness. This latter aspect of this analysis will be jarring to most Reformed readers, who subsume this teaching under the doctrine of sanctification. The remaining chapters present a well-rounded view of Luther’s theological development in a way that will lead readers to helpful theological reflection.

One drawback of the comprehensiveness of this book is that it devotes more than 25 per cent of its pages to the reception of Luther’s theology from the seventeenth through twentieth centuries. While this feature enlightens readers as to what people have done with Luther’s thought, it threatens to diminish the character of the carefully wrought historical theology that marks the other three fourths of the work. The most glaring example of this danger is Chapter 31, which treats “Luther as a resource for dialogue with other world religions.” While the author recognizes that Luther was closed to dialogue with world religions based on the exclusive character of the gospel, he argues that modern readers can use Luther’s solas to uphold theological distinctions while building on his simuls (e.g. simultaneously sinner and saint, etc.) to open the door to ecumenical dialog with other religions. He concludes with the historically untenable conclusion, “Had Luther experienced the profound religious diversity and pluralism of today’s world, he probably would have recast the nuances of his dialectic differently for a positive engagement with the world’s religions” (444). The problem is that Luther is a historical figure who can neither be divorced from his times nor from his convictions. The historical Luther is the only Luther that exists, and this Luther would most certainly not have entertained such modern ideas of ecumenicity. His solas demanded an exclusive gospel grounded in the Scriptures, and his simuls described the application of that gospel to believers in Christ exclusively. However, chapters such as those treating Marxist evaluations of Luther (Chapter 42) and the reception of Luther in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Chapters 45-47) illustrate how the modern world, rightly or wrongly, has appropriated, rejected, or transformed Luther’s theology. The chapter addressing “Luther’s abiding significance for world Protestantism” (Chapter 44) is particularly eye-opening in showing Luther’s inescapable impact on modern Christianity, even where his shadow is unnoticed by many.

This comprehensive collection of essays is a useful aid in helping historians and contemporary theologians to ground theological reflection in an informed historical theology. It has much to offer to Lutherans, Reformed theologians, and beyond.



This review will appear in print in the January 2016 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

An Expert's Tour through the Westminster Confession

Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, 2014.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Chad van Dixhoorn once described a dream of his in which he was puzzling over the handwriting of the original minutes of the Westminster Assembly. In his dream, as he agonized over making out the writing, Samuel Rutherford put his arm around his shoulder and comforted him by promising to help him work through the documents. The next best thing to having Rutherford, or another member of the Assembly, guide you through its proceedings would be to have Chad van Dixhoorn lead you by the hand through the Westminster Confession of Faith. Van Dixhoorn is an internationally respected scholar on the theology of the Westminster Assembly who has likely spent more time with the writings of the members of the Assembly than anyone living. In Confessing the Faith, he combines his expertise as a scholar with his skill as a pastor to produce a layperson’s guide to understanding and using the Westminster Confession in light of Scripture. This makes this a must-have volume for anyone desiring to study the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The text of this book follows the 33 chapters of the Confession itself. While Van Dixhoorn limits his citations of primary sources, his explanation of what the Confession means draws from his extensive knowledge of this material. He teaches the theology of the Confession from the proof texts that the divines used themselves. It has become a widespread half-truth to say that we should not make too much of the proof texts in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms because Parliament required the Westminster divines to include proof texts against their wishes. However, many people miss the fact that after settling each doctrinal expression, the Westminster Assembly debated what proof texts of Scripture were most appropriate to substantiate each proposition. Their reticence to fulfill Parliament’s mandate did not result in hastily chosen Scripture passages destined to puzzle modern readers, but they were concerned that each Scripture citation required careful explanation (xxv). Van Dixhoorn’s method of teaching the theology of the Confession using these texts both enables readers to understand how its authors understood Scripture and why they used it rightly and how each doctrine and text applies to believers today. This makes Van Dixhoorn’s book deceptively simple and ideally suited to leading church classes on the Confession of Faith and for devotional purposes.

The simplicity and brevity that constitute the strengths of this work result in some unintended weaknesses. The largest difficulty is that while Van Dixhoorn states, “This is not a book intended to reflect the author’s own theological interests or preferred emphases” (xiv), he also notes, “this commentary does, from time to time, first state the assembly’s own perspective on an issue and then argue against it” (xxi-xxii). The book reads as though the author is writing and teaching theology to a modern audience. Though his method is purportedly historical, as the statement above and the general style of the book indicate, it is not purely historical. Both perspectives are needed, but it is often difficult for readers to distinguish them in this work. While this reviewer can think of no more reliable guide than Van Dixhoorn to lead a reader through the Westminster Confession of Faith, the absence of footnotes directing to primary sources gives the impression that we must simply take his word for it that his comments are historically accurate. Documenting his sources would have made this book much longer. Moreover, this reviewer is biased to believe that a scholar such as Van Dixhoorn has things right. Professing to present the historical meaning of the Confession with little proof as to why this is what its authors meant requires great faith from readers. Van Dixhoorn has earned a high degree of trust in this area, but he is not infallible and he deprives readers of the tools needed to test his assertions.

Even with this rather serious criticism, Van Dixhoorn’s work is (surprisingly) the first full-scale commentary on the text of the Westminster Confession from an historical perspective. In a time when the church needs desperately to recover historical clarity regarding her teaching coupled with rediscovering the biblical foundations on which her teaching alone rests its authority, this study is not only much needed, but long overdue.



This review first appeared in the July 2015 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Plain-Style Preaching – a Puritan Perspective


This article is the first in a series on the Puritan perspective on preaching. It is a brief contextual sketch in which to set a consideration of what the Directory says about preachers and preaching.

By Richard Holst

1. The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God

Among the documents produced by the Westminster Assembly is the DIRECTORY FOR THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD. On June 12, 1643, the English Parliament commissioned the Westminster Assembly to settle “the government and liturgy of the Church of England, and ... the clearing of the doctrine of the said church from all false calumnies and aspersions.” The Assembly’s initial task was to revise the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, but with the breakdown of order and the signing the Solemn League & Covenant by the Scottish and English parliaments, the original task was abandoned in favour of a more root-and-branch reformation of national reformation.

The first step towards this was the Directory for the Public Worship of God, which appeared in December 1644. Publication occurred in January 1645 followed by endorsement by the English and Scottish parliaments in February and March respectively. The aim or “meaning” of the Directory ... “[was] that the general heads, the sense and scope of the prayer s, and other parts of publick worship, being known to all, there may be a consent of all the churches in those things that contain the substance of the service and worship of God; and the ministers may be [thereby] directed, in their administrations, to keep like soundness in doctrine and prayer, and may, if need be, have some help and furniture.” The Directory was an attempt to create uniformity of faith and practice throughout the British Isles and to provide “help and furniture” in the conduct of public worship.

The aim was to expound the general heads of the parts or elements of worship and, at the same time, remove any ground of excuse for ministers to “become ... slothful and negligent in stirring up the gifts of Christ in them.” The intention was to “furnish [their] heart and tongue with further or other materials of prayer and exhortation, as shall be needful upon all occasions,” but not in the form of set prayers, which tended to encourage “an idle and unedifying ministry, which contented itself with set forms made to their hands by others, without putting forth themselves to exercise the gift of prayer, with which our Lord Jesus Christ doth please to furnish all his servants whom he calls to that office.” Stanford Reid argues that “the principle of freedom has been followed consistently” and that “there is not one prayer set down in full” (The Westminster Assembly's Directory of Worship, Bible Christianity 1938, 3). In reality the Directory is unclear about whether its directives are suggestions or prescriptions and words like “necessary,” “requisite,” “expedient,” “convenient” and “sufficient” appear throughout. (Van Dixhoorn, in Pastors, Preachers and Ambassadors). However, the amount of detail there is shows that public worship was a matter of the greatest importance to the Assembly.

Many evangelicals, especially in Western Europe have an anti-liturgical bias and therefore would wonder about the necessity of a directory, just as they wonder about the necessity of a confession of faith. On this point Carl Trueman attributes this bias to an “innate mysticism and pragmatism that instinctively rejects external authority in favour of 'what is true for me.” (Creedal Imperative, 38-43) Creeds, confessions and directories certainly are human compositions, conditioned by the circumstances in which they were composed and lacking the direct authority of Scripture. Indeed, in the eyes of some, the thought that the Westminster standards were written at the behest of the political authority might only add doubt to their validity. On the other hand, it is simplistic to assume that human compositions are unbiblical. The authors of the Directory tell us that they did their work “according to the rules of Christian prudence [ensuring that everything was] agreeable to the general rules of the word of God.” The crucial point is that the elements of worship identified are of “divine institution.” The Directory suggests no new element of worship but simply identifies and expounds those found in Scripture, while helping us to understand with John 4:24 that God seeks a certain kind of worship from a certain kind of worshipper.

We cannot say that there is necessity for a directory, since we have the Word of God. But it is a help, which is what the authors intended it to be. In an age of creativity, innovation, forgetfulness and individualism, it is helpful to have the elements identified and brought together in an ordered fashion so that worship does not descend into a free-for-all. It by no means removes an appropriate freedom. For example, the Puritans differed from one another on the use of set or free prayer.  Baxter approved of set prayers but felt free to extemporise. Owen felt that men should not prescribe anything. Regarding the order and beauty of worship, he wrote, “God himself is the proper judge” (Works IX, 76ff). Yet even by saying this, Owen upheld in essence the regulative principle of worship.

By producing a directory, the men of Westminster did not overlook what the Bible says about worship as a thing of the heart. Nor were they being inconsistent by removing the Book of Common Prayer and appearing to put something similar in its place. Their complaint against the Prayer Book was that it was too prescriptive and that it marginalised preaching in favour of ceremonies. They also understood that in the matter of what is acceptable to God, God is the proper judge; and that in the matter of what worship is, the principle of reciprocity applies. God speaks to His people in the greeting, call to worship, reading and preaching of Scripture, sacrament and benediction. His people respond in the elements of praise, prayer, the offering and the “conscionable hearing” of the Word.

Worship
The dynamic of worship is not only God-centred but God-directed, and when it is both, there is a meeting of heaven and earth. This is the “order and beauty of worship” that God walks and talks with his people and permits them to talk to him but as in every family, in a proper way, with proper respect and an acceptable protocol, which under the power of the Spirit allows the miracle to happen and the earthly place to become the house of God and gate of heaven — all through the mediation of Christ by whom we have access to the Father.



The preceding was first published in The Presbyterian Network, Summer edition, 2015.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Will of God and the Will of Man

Jeongmo Yoo, John Edwards (1637-1716) on Human Free Choice and Divine Necessity: The Debate on the Relation Between Divine Necessity and Human Freedom in Late Seventeenth-Century and Early Eighteenth-Century England, vol. 22 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013). 311pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan M. McGraw

The relationship between human volition and God’s sovereignty has generated much theological controversy. Jeongmoo Yoo examines John Edwards’s teaching as representative of classic Reformed teaching on this subject. Edwards was an Anglican Reformed minister who was one of the few remaining Reformed orthodox theologians in a church increasingly dominated by Arminianism. Yoo explains Edwards’s teaching on the relationship between human choice and divine necessity and he challenges ably theological and historical caricatures of Reformed theology as a philosophically deterministic system. This book clarifies this complex issue and it should prevent caricatures of Reformed teaching on the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

Yoo treats free choice in Edwards’s thought in relation to predestination, foreknowledge, providence, the origin of sin, and conversion. He sets Edwards in his seventeenth and early eighteenth century British context, though with less emphasis on the international character of Reformed orthodoxy at that time other than giving evidence that scholastic distinctions diminished in the eighteenth century (151). However, Yoo draws from an impressive array of primary source material from both continental and British authors. His primary contention is that secondary literature has largely caricatured Reformed theology as a deterministic system. He argues instead that Reformed theologians, such as Edwards, taught that God ordained free and contingent causes freely and contingently without offering violence to the will of the creatures. Yoo proves his thesis so abundantly that the citations from Reformed authors become almost monotonous. Edwards breaks this monotony at one point with the surprising suggestion that there are possible exceptions to the divine decree infallibly and unchangeably determining all actions (131-133). It is difficult to see how such as a view is compatible with his otherwise standard Reformed theology. For these reasons, this work is useful to both systematic and historical theologians in their quest better to grasp Reformed orthodoxy.

The primary drawback of this volume relates to its style. There are a surprising number of typos and grammatical errors throughout the book. This includes frequent and obvious misspellings both of English and Latin terms, using the definite article in superfluous and awkward ways, confusing singular and plural nouns, and an inordinate number of superfluous sentences that increase the length of the book. The text reads as though the author is not at home expressing himself in the English language. It is more surprising that the publishers did not ensure that the author obtain help fixing these problems. While the work also expresses clearly the content of Edwards’s Reformed theology, there is very little analysis of the formulation and significance of that theology.

In short, Yoo’s work is a well-researched but simple book on a complex issue in Reformed theology. It is simple in that its arguments are clear, but perhaps too simple in its analysis. However, his research will likely help many readers better understand Reformed teaching on divine sovereignty and human freedom.



The preceding review was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Calvin Theological Journal.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Breaking New Ground in Historial Theology

Edwin E. M. Tay, The Priesthood of Christ: Atonement in the Theology of John Owen (1616-1683), Studies in Christian History and Thought (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2014). 207pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan M. McGraw

John Owen
John Owen is one of the most significant British theologians of the Reformed orthodox period. His Death of Death in the Death of Christ is also one of the most significant treatments of the Reformed doctrine of the atonement, which is vital to Reformed gospel-preaching. Edwin Tay argues clearly, concisely, and convincingly that Owen’s doctrine of Christ’s oblation and intercession in relation to his priesthood “lies at the heart of his atonement theology” (23). His clear and concise analysis is very readable and will be useful for both historical and contemporary theological discussions.

In Chapter 1, Tay outlines the need for this study and sketches Owen’s teaching on the atonement from the Death of Death. However, he rightly acknowledges the need to develop Owen’s atonement theology in the context of his larger theological context. Tay chooses wisely to draw primarily from Owen’s multi-volume Hebrews commentary, which represents his most mature thinking and draws from all of his earlier major treatises. The Hebrews material has the additional advantage of demonstrating how Owen intertwined precise theology with careful exegesis. The subsequent chapters expand this theme in terms of the Triune God as the agent of redemption, what it means for Christ to be the Mediator between God and man, Christ’s priestly office, and his satisfaction for sin. Tay’s superb analysis of Owen’s theology treats a wide array of vital themes, such as the covenant of redemption, the incarnation and two natures of Christ, Christ’s active and passive obedience, and union with Christ. This book is well-written and takes careful account of the major contextual issues contributing to Owen’s theology.

Though this is an outstanding analysis of Owen’s theology in its international theological context, there is one significant drawback to the work. Tay does not cite the original text of any Latin theological works. He cites many translations of primary source literature, and he analyzes it well; but for a serious historical work of this kind, consulting the Latin originals is absolutely essential. This is both because these are the works that Owen most definitely read and influenced him, and because translations often suffer from limitations. The most glaring example is his reliance on Westcott’s translation of Owen’s Theologoumena Pantodapa, which is a very loose interpretation of the Latin text. This reviewer has noted elsewhere many places where Westcott repeatedly loses clear Trinitarian emphases found in the original text. This procedure is acceptable for a general readership, but consulting primary sources is a must for this level of scholarship. Moreover, many of the most significant works that Owen read and relied upon have not been translated into English. One of the benefits of scholarly literature on Reformed orthodox theology should be to draw from this international theological context in order to benefit those without the same skill level.

Tay’s study of Owen’s atonement theology breaks new ground in historical theology. It is precisely this kind of study that is needed in augmenting, and at times correcting, contemporary theological discussions. Though the work has some drawbacks as a scholarly work, it is a pleasure to read and will potentially benefit a broader audience.



The preceding review was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Calvin Theological Journal.