The Many Sides of Martin Luther – L. Roper and R. Kolb

In this significant anniversary year of the great Reformation, inaugurated through the work of the German monk Martin Luther, books on this key figure abound.

A recently published one obtained for the seminary library is Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (Random House, 2017). Lutheran theologian and historian Robert Kolb wrote a brief review of this new title on the Gospel Coalition website, which I reference here today. Whole Kolb has good things to say about this fresh study of Luther, he is also not afraid to offer constructive criticism.

He introduces Lyndal’s book this way:

Lyndal Roper—professor of history at Oxford—has written a new biography of Martin Luther titled Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet.

Her goal is neither to “idolize” nor “denigrate” Luther, nor does she “wish to make him consistent.” She aims instead to understand him and the “convulsions” both he and Protestantism in general unleashed (xxx). Roper examines Luther’s relationships with family, mentors, and students; his theological and pastoral concerns; and his sociological context to give readers a fuller picture of the man and his time.

At another point he offers this criticism where the author treats Luther’s manifold relationships, including those with his students:

Further, her treatment of Luther’s students is curiously lopsided. Roper focuses on one student with whom he had severe difficulties, Johann Agricola. Though she doesn’t ignore the theological side of their rupture, she could’ve made clearer how serious Agricola’s confusion of law and gospel was for Luther. She doesn’t counterbalance this story with examples of the warm relationships Luther enjoyed with many students who adored him. The book also could’ve benefited from a more thorough examination of Luther’s complex relationship with Philip Melanchthon.

As we go through this year you are encouraged to find a good biography on Luther to refresh your Reformation history and to strengthen your appreciation for God’s work through frail and faulty but gifted servants such as this staunch German Reformer.

Source: The Many Sides of Martin Luther

Resurrection: The Benefits of a Reset – D. Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017This past Sunday I spent part of the day reading the last chapter in David Murray’s practical and profitable new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

You will recall that each chapter calls us (men in particular) to bring the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have us recheck and reset the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. The final chapter is headed by the words “Repair Bay 10,” but it is really a summary of all the benefits we receive when we reset our lives biblically. Which is why its main title is “Resurrection.”

There are so many good sections in this last chapter – just the headings give us men encouragement about the changes this reset can bring to our lives: new pace, new conscience, new honesty, new contentment, new selectivity, new energy, new joy, new theology, and so on. Let me quote from two of the sections that I find representative and encouraging.

The first is “new sensitivity,” where Murray writes in part:

Reset garage produces a much better and humbler understanding of our humanity. We now keep our eyes on the dashboard and know which warning lights to look out for and what they mean – warning signs that we previously would have ignored, minimized, or resented. We’re sensitive to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational changes, and collaborate more knowledgeably with the biological rhythms of our bodies. We sense the monthly mix, the weekly beat of six days of work and one day of rest, the daily cadence of work and sleep, the regular tempo of hunger and thirst, and even the pulses of dynamic energy that peak a few times a day, enabling us to find our flow state and do our best work. Going forward, we are much more attuned to this God-given rhythm, and, instead of fighting it, we have gotten with the groove and beat of God’s order in our lives [pp.180-81].

The second is the last section, “new horizon,” where the author points us to our great hope:

Prior to Reset garage, many of us hardly ever looked up. We just saw the next to-do item, put our heads down, and plowed through it. We saw the next meeting, the next report, the next business trip, the next sermon, the next book, the next counseling session, and so on. But we never saw the next life.

Reset garage has resurrected resurrection hope. The mini-resurrection we’ve experienced has given us a taste of the ultimate resurrection ahead, when every ache and pain, every cry and depression, every loss and weakness will be no more. It has also slowed our pace enough to allow us the time and space to look ahead and enjoy that view, to anticipate that final destination, where we will experience that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed’ (Rom.8:18). A grace-paced life transports us into a grace-and glory-filled eternity [pp190-91].

And with that in view, Murray calls us with the inspired apostle to run our race, so that we may receive the prize of sovereign grace – eternal life with our heavenly Father in Christ.

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

July 2017 “Standard Bearer” – Isaiah’s Vision of the Holy God

The July 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and is its custom, this is the annual PRC Synod issue.

SB-cover-July-2017

Prof. R. Dykstra  summarizes synod’s work and decisions with an editorial that points to the spiritual aspect. Titled “The Effectual Fervent Prayer… Synod 2017,” his article emphasizes how the diligent prayers of the delegates and of the churches’ members carried synod along in its deliberations, especially in those times of overwhelming labors and discussions.

Rev. G. Eriks, the president of the PRC Synod of 2016, delivered the pre-synodical sermon on Monday night, June 12, in Hudsonville PRC. His message from Isaiah 6:1-4 (“The Vision of the Holy God”) set the tone for synod, as you will see from this quotation:

In this vision, God gives us motivation. What we need more than anything else right now is to see the glory of our holy God. Without this, what we fall into is the motivation of doing things to please man or to seek our own glory and honor. This a danger also for the men who are being examined by synod. May the motivation in the answers you give be the glory and honor of the God who is holy, holy, holy.

In this vision, God sets before us what we must be most concerned with in all of our work and in all of our conduct as a synod – the glory of the thrice holy God. God is glorified when we do things His way. We must not be concerned when it comes to protests and appeal with who wins and who loses. We must be concerned with God’s glory. When we are concerned with the glory of God, we will do things in His way instead of attempting to manipulate or to get our way. God is glorified when we work together to understand and apply what God’s Word and the confessions say about the issues before us.

We need the knowledge of God’s holiness because seeing God’s glory qualifies us for the work. This is what qualified Isaiah to be His servant in Judah at this time. In the verses following the text, Isaiah goes from shattered to saying confidently, “Here am I; send me.

As delegates to synod, we also are forged by the living, holy God to be faithful servants of His with this vision of God’s holiness. We are qualified as those who know the holy God. We are qualified, not because we are gifted and wise enough, but because we are forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. The God who calls us to the work will equip and strengthen us for it. We are qualified as those who know God and His mercy. We are qualified as those who have been and are in the presence of this thrice holy God.

Sem-grad-7-1

Besides a special picture section of the delegates and work of Synod 2017 and the seven candidates who were examined, this issue contains a couple of letters and responses, and two articles from regular rubrics: “True Worship” by Rev. R. Kleyn (“Believing and Confessing”) and “The Reformation and the Lord’s Supper in Worship” by Rev. C. Griess (“O Come, Let Us Worship”).

To receive this issue or to subscribe to the SB, contact the publisher at the link above.

Biblical Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship – A. Mohler

One of the special articles in the July Tabletalk is the one quoted and linked below, in which Dr. Al Mohler comments on the rise of music as central in modern evangelical worship and the subsequent demise of the preaching of the gospel.

Toward the end of the article, after his criticism of contemporary worship music, Mohler begins to get at what should be “front and center” in evangelical worship:

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation. But even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music above all else as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship is the preaching of the Word of God.

Following which Mohler adds these significant paragraphs:

Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8, we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle—he simply and carefully proclaimed the Word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much of contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the Word of God. Where is this desire evident among today’s evangelicals?

And that leads him to conclude with these words:

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active Word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, opens eyes, and applies that Word to human hearts.

Let’s give thanks that at the center of our own Reformed worship remains the pure preaching of the gospel, not music or various forms of entertainment. But let’s also examine our own hearts to make sure that this is what we truly desire – in faithfulness to the Bible and the God of the Bible. Otherwise our own worship, though biblically right in form, is just as anemic as that practiced by others.

Source: The Antidote to Anemic Worship by Albert Mohler

Doctrine that “takes possession of the entire soul” – J. Calvin

Little-book-christian-life-calvinResponding to those “nominal Christians” who want the name but “possess nothing of Christ,” John Calvin wrote:

For true doctrine is not a matter of the tongue, but of life; neither is Christian doctrine grasped only by the intellect and memory, as truth is grasped in other fields of study. Rather, doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart. So let such people stop lying, or let them prove themselves worthy disciples of Christ, their teacher.

We have given priority to doctrine, which contains our religion, since it establishes our salvation. But in order for doctrine to be fruitful to us, it must overflow into our hearts, spread into our daily routines, and truly transform us within.

Even the philosophers rage against and reject those who profess an art that ought to govern one’s life, but who twist that art hypocritically into empty chatter. How much more then should we detest the foolish talk of those who give lip service to the gospel?

The gospel’s power ought to penetrate the innermost affections of the heart, sink down into the soul, and inspire the whole man a hundred times more than the lifeless teachings of the philosophers.

Taken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017), pp.14-15 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.

“The Benefit of Christ” – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – S. Carr

In this year of noting and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we may well judge that nothing significant came out of Italy for the Protestant cause. We might think that, with Italy being the bastion of Roman Catholicism, no Reformers arose and no reforming work was carried on. But this would be a mistake and would short-change the work of God’s mighty grace in His church, also in this Catholic stronghold. Shall we forget men such as Peter Martyr Vermigli and Bernardino Ochino?

As noted author (especially of children’s literature) Simonetta Carr points out in this brief article posted on the “Place for Truth” website (under “Cloud of Witnesses”), there was another influential Italian man – Benedetto da Mantova (1495-1556), “an obscure Benedictine monk,” who penned a very significant book for that time – perhaps “the most influential book you have never read,” or even heard of.

Listen to what Carr has to say about this man and his book:

It was 1543. North of the Alps, Protestant reformers were busy publishing books. In Rome, the papacy was busy banning them. Still, the publishers in Venice, a proudly independent republic with a reputation of opposition to the pope, were persistent. That year’s best-seller was an Italian essay by a characteristically long name: Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesù Cristo crocifisso verso i cristiani (Most useful treatise on the benefit of Jesus Christ crucified for Christians). It was called, for short, IlBeneficio di Cristo (The Benefit of Christ).

A Much Hated Best-Seller

According to the Italian theologian Pier Paolo Vergerio (1498-1565), the book sold 40,000 copies in six years in Venice alone – an impressive number at that time. It was an immediate success, especially among the group of Italian reformers – including high-ranking nobles and cardinals – who had been unsuccessfully trying to fight Rome’s corruption and promote a return to the original Scriptures (ad fontes). In this 70-page treatise, they found a concise explanation of important doctrines on which the church had not yet reached an official consensus, such as justification by faith alone.

Want to know more about Benedetto and his banned book? Read on at the link below. Or read The Benefit of Christ yourself at this link.

And marvel at and celebrate what God worked through this minor Italian reformer. Ah, the power of the pen – and the truth of the gospel!

Source: The Benefit of Christ – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – Place for Truth

The Presbyterian Philosopher: Gordon H. Clark (4)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017It has been a few months since we considered the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.). Today let’s return to it, looking at chapter 3 – “Gordon Clark and the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

In this chapter Douma traces the great theological battles that took place in the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) in the early part of the 20th century, the fundamentalist-modernist battles that were going on in all the major Protestant denominations.

This battle in the PCUSA would lead to the departure of sound Presbyterian defenders of the Westminster Confession such as J. Gresham Machen, H. McAllister Griffiths, Murray F. Thompson, as well as Clark himself in the 1930s. Led by Machen, these defenders of the Presbyterian faith would begin a new seminary – Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia, and a new denomination (first named the Presbyterian Church in America [PCA]), which would become known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Early in that fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the PCUSA Clark would speak to the fundamental issue, the inerrancy of holy Scripture. Douma addresses that in his own words as well as those of Clark:

When the Auburn Affirmation first appeared in print [the modernist statement adopted in 1924 in response to the five fundamentals adopted by the conservatives in 1923], Clark was an undergraduate senior at the University of Pennsylvania and a ruling elder in the PCUSA. Though Clark opposed the Affirmation from the moment he read it, he only attacked it in print ten years later in an article that redubbed it the ‘Auburn Heresy’ and described it as a ‘vicious attack on the Word of God.’ Clark knew the Auburn Affirmation challenged a critical doctrine of Christianity: the inerrancy of Scripture. In his view, it was absurd to argue that the doctrine of inerrancy impaired or weakened the biblical message. [Something the modernists claimed.] In fact, it was contradiction, he thought, to say that something truly inspired by God also contained error. On this point Clark wrote, ‘If [the signers of the Affirmation] say that they believe the Bible is the Word of God, and at the same time claim that the Bible contains error, it follows, does it not, that they call God a liar, since He has spoken falsely?’ Ultimately for Clark, the Auburn Affirmation was a sign that the modernists had ‘excommunicated the orthodox.’ This, he felt, necessitated action on the part of the fundamentalists to recover the orthodoxy of the church. [pp26-27].

The rest of the history of the formation of the OPC and its early struggles, especially after the sudden death of Machen in early 1937, make for fascinating reading. Part of that early struggle involved the significant Clark – VanTil controversy, into which Herman Hoeksema would enter because it involved the doctrine of common grace vs. particular grace. Douma has more on this later in the book, but mentions the beginning of it in this chapter.

Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. ClarkI might also mention that Douma has also contributed to a second volume on Gordon Clark, this one focusing on his correspondence: Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark. For more information on that title and to purchase it (I ordered two copies today, one for the seminary library and one for the bookstore), visit this website.

Reset: Relate, or Why Our Relationships Are Important

Reset-DMurray-2017This Spring and Summer we are looking at the practical and profitable thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Writing especially with men in view, Murray, in each chapter, has us take the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have our lives rechecked and reset.

Today we consider “Repair Bay 9,”“Relate” – where Murray talks to us about the importance of relationships, in order of priority – God, wife, children, pastor/elders, and friends. For our purposes in this post, we will focus on that last relationship – friends.

At the end of the section on relating to pastors and elders, the author lays the ground work for the importance of friendships for men:

We all need men in our lives who deal lovingly and faithfully with us, who watch for our souls and speak into our lives when we need that. Although this requires us to make ourselves vulnerable, and that takes tremendous courage, doing so is a wise and safe act, especially as we mature or succeed and perhaps become more self-confident and self-sufficient.

Murray then discusses why men often fail in finding and making good friends. He gives these “reasons” (which are really amount to excuses):

  • We’re too selfish – What’s in it for me?
  • We’re too functional – friends are good at the clubhouse, but not in real life.
  • We’re too proud – friends are for wimps!
  • We’re too safe – we don’t handle rejection well.
  • We’re too superficial – shallow contact and superficial talks are ok, but don’t ask me to go deep!
  • We’re too brainwashed – we have bought into Hollywood’s idea of masculinity.

So what is the answer? He points us to the Triune God and to Jesus Christ, the Friend of sinners, and then gives us these guidelines for establishing biblical friendships:

  • Prioritize friendships – that is, make them a priority.
  • Cultivate the greatest friendship – know and model Christ’s friendship.
  • Build unselfish friendships – not ones that benefit your career or network.
  • Beware of substitutes – not social media relationships but face-to-face ones.
  • Prepare for disappointments – you will get hurt, but you will also gain faithful friends.
  • Cultivate transparency – be a “to know and be known” friend.
  • Make spiritual growth central – our friendships “must have at its core a desire to do spiritual good to one another.”
  • Recognize your limitations – we can’t be friends with everyone, so strive to make the best ones.

Sound counsel from a trusted friend in Christ, even if a distant one. How would you evaluate your friendships in the light of these guidelines?

The Goal of Reading the Bible: White-Hot Worship

It’s Monday. We returned to our work-week today. We were busy in our daily callings. High things and mundane things. Important things and small things.

But worship must still be on our minds. The worship of yesterday in God’s house. The worship of today in serving the Lord with our work and tasks. The worship of reading the Bible and prayer, personally and with our wives and families.

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017And it ought to be “white-hot worship”, as John Piper points out in his new book Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017). For this is the purpose God Himself gives us for revealing Himself in His Word, that we might read about His great glory and might worship Him with “supremely authentic and intense” worship.

This is how Piper puts it in Chapter 2, “Reading the Bible toward White-Hot Worship”:

Our ultimate aim in reading the Bible, I am arguing, is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship. When I use the phrase ‘white-hot-worship,’ I am calling out the visceral implications of the words ‘supremely authentic and intense.’ ‘The reason words like these are important is that there is a correlation between the measure of our intensity in worship and the degree to which we exhibit the value of the glory of God. Lukewarm affection for God gives the impression that he is moderately pleasing. He is not moderately pleasing. He is infinitely pleasing. If we are not intensely pleased, we need forgiveness and healing. Which, of course, we do [p.59-60].

May we keep that in mind as we read God’s Word this week. How “hot” is our worship of God? How much do we value His glory as revealed in that Word we read?