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 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.

Entertainment and Worship – July 2017 “Tabletalk”

The July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment,” and though I am just getting started with the articles in it, I have profited from what I have read so far about this complex and difficult subject.

In his editorial “Discerning Entertainment” Burk Parsons touches on the proper place of entertainment as well the dangers of it for the Christian:

Entertainment of all sorts can be a wonderful way to rest and recuperate from the busyness, noise, and struggles of life. Entertainment allows our imaginations to travel the world and explore the universe, to go on adventures with hobbits and knights in shining armor, to go back in time and experience history, and to better understand people and our culture. But we must always guard our eyes and our hearts. For we cannot even begin to understand all the ways that Hollywood has affected us. Entertainment affects our minds, our homes, our culture, and our churches. Consequently, we must be vigilant as we use discernment in how we enjoy entertainment—looking to the light of God’s Word to guide us and inform our consciences.

In Joe Thorn’s article linked here for the rubric “Pastor’s Perspective,” he addresses the danger of bringing entertainment into our worship of God.

Below is part of what he has to say about the current trends found in the church today and what our focus ought to be when we enter the Lord’s presence:

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at. Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

To read the rest, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Entertainment and Worship by Joe Thorn

I might also add that the daily devotionals this month are on the Reformed-biblical view of the law, or as the issue has it in its introduction to the devotions, “The Right Use of God’s Law.”

Herman Hoeksema on the Twofold Kingdom | The Heidelblog

This interesting quotation from Robert Swierenga’s article, “Herman Hoeksema and the ‘Flag in Church’ Controversy,” was first published in Origins, the Christian Reformed Church archives-history periodical.

R. Scott Clark quoted a section from it on his blog last Friday (June 30, 2017), which I reference here. While Clark uses it in support of the Reformed “two kingdom view,” I find it also significant in connection with the Reformed view of church and state in light of our celebration of the U.S.A’s 241st birthday yesterday.

Here is a small portion of the quotation as found on “The Heidelblog”:

Hoeksema insisted that the Christian church, “as the manifestation of Christ’s body on earth, is universal in character; hence the church as an institution could not raise the American flag nor sing the national hymns.” The flag could be flown in the church edifice during choir concerts, Christian school graduation exercises, and similar events, but not during worship services. Members should also raise the flag at home, on the streets, and on all public and Christian school buildings. Hoeksema insisted that his congregants, as Christian citizens, “are duty bound to be loyal to their country” and to answer the call when needed for military service. Finally, he declared, “anyone who is pro-German in our time has no right to the name of Calvinist and is a rebel and traitor to his government.”

For the rest of the quotation by Clark, visit the link below.

I also did a post on this when this same article by Swierenga was republished in Leben magazine (the full article is now found online there). For that post, visit this link.

Source: Herman Hoeksema On The Twofold Kingdom | The Heidelblog

Jesus Christ: the True Fountain of Our Holiness

JCalvin1To prompt us toward righteousness more effectively, Scripture tells us that God the Father, who has reconciled us to Himself in His Anointed One, Jesus Christ, has given us in Christ a model to which we should conform our lives. You will not find a better model in the philosophers – in whom many expect to find the only correct and orderly treatment of moral philosophy. They, while doing their best to encourage us to be virtuous, have nothing to say except that we should live ‘ according to nature.’

Scripture, however, draws its encouragement from the true fountain. Its teaches us to contemplate our lives in relation to God, our Author, to whom we are bound. And, having taught us that we have fallen from the true state and condition of our original creation, Scripture adds that Christ, through whom we have been restored to favor with God, is set before us as a model whose form and beauty should be reflected in our lives.

What can be more effective than this? Indeed, what more is needed than this? We have been adopted by the Lord as children with this understanding – that in our lives we should mirror Christ who is the bond of our adoption. And truly, unless we are devoted – even addicted – to righteousness, we will faithlessly abandon our Creator and disown Him as our Savior.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken 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.8-9 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.

Spring 2017 PRT Journal Available

The Spring 2017 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal is now available in print form and in multiple digital forms (Vol.50, No.2).

PRTJ-cover-April-2017-2

As you will see from the cover image, this issue contains a variety of significant Reformed reading material.

Prof. R. Cammenga, editor of the PRTJ, gives these “notes” at the beginning in summary of this issue:

This is the second and last issue of the fiftieth volume of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal.  We welcome our readers to its pages.  Included are several articles.  The Rev. Thomas Reid favors us with the transcript of the second of two speeches that he gave last spring before the faculty, student body, and area Protestant Reformed ministers.  The article highlights the labors and contributions of a recent French Reformed theologian, Auguste Lecerf.  PRCA pastor, Rev. Thomas C. Miersma, contributes an article on the special offices and gifts in the New Testament church.  He asks whether these gifts and offices continue in the church today, and if not, why not?  The undersigned has two contributions to the issue.  The first is the second part of my examination of the teaching of common grace in light of the five solas of the Reformation.  The contention of the series is that the doctrine of common grace vitiates the five solas that constitute the Reformation’s enduring contribution to the New Testament church.  The second contribution is another installment of the “John Calvin Research Bibliography.”  A number of our readers have expressed appreciation for the bibliography as a useful tool for doing research into all the main areas of Calvin’s theology.  The bibliography arose out of my work in crafting a special interim course on the theology of John Calvin.  The course is scheduled to be taught once again as the winter interim between the two semesters of the 2017-18 school year.

      Included in this issue is what we hope will be a regular feature from the seminary’s librarian, Mr. Charles Terpstra.  Mr. Terpstra highlights the significant recent additions to the seminary library.  We include this not merely for the information of our readers.  But we invite our readers to make use of our library for study and research.  We are even open to loaning our books to our constituency and friends.

      And, of course, we have our section of book reviews—a goodly number of reviews in this issue.  We want to do what we can to inform our readers of new books of special interest that are being published.

      Read and enjoy!

    Soli Deo Gloria!                                                                                                      —RLC

If you wish to receive a free print copy of this issue, or to be added to our mailing list, contact our secretary at the email found on our home page. To download free print edition, use the link given above.

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The Courage to Be Reformed – Burk Parsons

The May 2017 issue of Tabletalk magazine is a special one, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

As pointed out in a previous post this month, featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

It is that final article that I reference today, as we consider some of the thoughts of the editor (Burk Parsons) on what it means to be courageously Reformed in our day. For one thing, it means being like the Reformers of the sixteenth century:

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, along with their fifteenth-century forerunners and their seventeenth-century descendants, did not teach and defend their doctrine because it was cool or popular, but because it was biblical, and they put their lives on the line for it. They were not only willing to die for the theology of Scripture, they were willing to live for it, to suffer for it, and to be considered fools for it. Make no mistake: the Reformers were bold and courageous not on account of their self-confidence and self-reliance but on account of the fact that they had been humbled by the gospel. They were courageous because they had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit and equipped to proclaim the light of truth in a dark age of lies. The truth they preached was not new; it was ancient. It was the doctrine of the martyrs, the fathers, the Apostles, and the patriarchs—it was the doctrine of God set forth in sacred Scripture.

And so, Parsons calls us to be courageous – not as “closet Calvinists” – but as  truly confessional Calvinists, who love and live the Reformed faith in all of life – and not with the lip service of some in the Reformed and Presbyterian camp:

Reformed theology is also an all-encompassing theology. It changes not only what we know, it changes how we know what we know. It not only changes our understanding of God, it changes our understanding of ourselves. Indeed, it not only changes our view of salvation, it changes how we worship, how we evangelize, how we raise our children, how we treat the church, how we pray, how we study Scripture—it changes how we live, move, and have our being. Reformed theology is not a theology that we can hide, and it is not a theology to which we can merely pay lip service. For that has been the habit of heretics and theological progressives throughout history. They claim to adhere to their Reformed confessions, but they never actually confess them. They claim to be Reformed only when they are on the defensive—when their progressive (albeit popular) theology is called into question, and, if they are pastors, only when their jobs are on the line. While theological liberals might be in churches and denominations that identify as “Reformed,” they are ashamed of such an identity and have come to believe that being known as “Reformed” is a stumbling block to some and an offense to others.

That gives us good food for thought as we move into this new week as Reformed Christians. Are you and am I “TR” – truly Reformed – or is it just a hollow badge? And if we are truly Reformed in confession, does it show in all we say and do?

Source: The Courage to Be Reformed by Burk Parsons

Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future

This month (May 2017) Tabletalk magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special issue. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

Featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

In his editorial, Parson writes about the nature of the magazine as Reformed:

Tabletalk is Reformed, and we mean it. We are not ashamed of being distinctively Reformed in all that we do. We are Reformed because we believe that to be Reformed is to be biblical. To be Reformed is not only to stand firmly on the same doctrine as our Reformation forefathers, it is to stand firmly on the Word of God. To be Reformed is not only to believe that God is sovereign over salvation, but to believe that He is sovereign over everything. To be Reformed isn’t simply to accept the doctrines of grace, but to take great comfort in them, to teach them graciously, and to defend them courageously. To be Reformed is to believe that God has one glorious covenantal plan of redemption, and that He is carrying out that plan. To be Reformed is not to give mere lip service to the historic Reformed confessional standards, but to affirm them heartily and study them diligently. To be Reformed means not only that we are professing members of a local Reformed church but that we are regular, active worshipers and participants in the life, community, and mission of our local churches as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. To be Reformed is not to be a complacent, smug, arrogant, or apathetic people, but to be a gracious, dependent, humble, prayerful, evangelistic, joyful, loving people who believe that God not only ordains the end of all things but that He ordains the means of all ends in us and through us by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit for His glory alone.

In the final article of this issue various editors answer questions about the magazine. The opening one gives a bit of the history:

TT: How did Tabletalk begin? How has the magazine changed over the years?

TT: To answer that question, we have to go back to Martin Luther. Luther was a great teacher. He taught from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by writing books. But, like any good teacher, he taught in the ordinary moments of his life. He taught when fellowshipping with believers. These teachings, gathered by his students over a lifetime of ministry, became the first Table Talk. Table Talk was a book, a collection of sayings. These sayings came from conversations that were often had while talking over a table—that is, while sharing a meal with Martin Luther.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is also a great teacher. Every moment with him is an opportunity for learning. Casting a backward glance at Luther’s Table Talk, Dr. Sproul began Tabletalk in 1977, after the Ligonier Valley Study Center had been in existence for several years. It began as a newsletter with Dr. Sproul’s column, Right Now Counts Forever, and an assortment of other content. It was black and white, and it came in a large newsletter format. Then, in 1989, Tabletalk became a daily Bible study magazine and changed to a digest format. Now, forty years from its start, Tabletalk continues. Today, the magazine enjoys a circulation of more than one hundred thousand and a readership of more than 250,000 people, and it still serves as a tool for teaching the Bible to people around the world.

For more on this issue and its special articles, visit the link below or this one.

Source: Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future by The Editors of Tabletalk

Luther: Bold Reformer – Reforming Our View of God

bold-reformer-steeleIn the sixteenth century, Luther identified the areas where the church needed to be reformed. The word reformation comes from the Latin verb, reformo, which means ‘to form again, mold anew, or revive.’ In our day, there is an ongoing need for the church to be remolded and revived. There is urgent need for reformation in the church of Jesus Christ.

…Three specific areas need reformation.

First, our view of God must be reformed. We live in a culture where the doctrine of God is constantly under fire. Open theists attack God’s comprehensive foreknowledge. Modalists deny the distinctions in the Trinity and denounce the Trinity. Inclusivists reject the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. And many evangelicals embrace a vision of God that is captivated by his love but casts aside any notion of wrath or eternal judgment.

…Four strategic initiatives will help ensure our view of God is always reforming:

  1. Recover Our Vision of God’s Greatness.
  2. Recover Our Thirst for God’s holiness.
  3. Recover Our Passion for God’s Glory.
  4. Recover Our Holy Fear of God

…One way we can recover our holy fear of God is by preaching and teaching about the wrath of God. Once again, Trueman casts light on this important subject. He highlights the reluctance of our culture to acknowledge that God is holy and deserves to be feared. He adds, “‘Luther’s doctrine of justification depends upon two things: the constant preaching of the wrath of God in the face of sin; and the realization that every Christian is at once righteous and a sinner, thus needing the hammer of the law to terrify and break the sinful conscience.’ [Quoted from Luther on the Christian Life by Carl R. Trueman]. Sadly, some Christians shy away from this God-centered counsel and minimize God’s wrath or even discard it all together. The net result is a devastating blow to the cause of Christ. To remove God’s wrath is tantamount to theological treason.

Our view of God must be reformed by recovering our vision of God’s greatness, recovering our thirst for God’s holiness, recovering our passion for God’s glory, and recovering our holy fear of God. A key aspect of this commitment is to warn sinners that God is angry with sin and will unleash his wrath on the unrepentant.

Read today in part of Chapter Two, “Bold Reformers Recognize the Need for Reform,” in Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther by David S. Steele (Kindle ed.).

The Presbyterian Philosopher: Gordon H. Clark (3)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today we take another look at 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.).

Last time we considered some of the material in chapter 1 (“The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark”); today let’s consider part of chapter 2 – “Gordon Clark’s Intellectual Influences.”

Here Douma addresses first of all Clark’s philosophical influences, showing that as both a student and a professor (at the University of Pennsylvania) Clark read the classic Greek philosophers, and was influenced especially by Plato and Plotinus. Concerning that latter, Douma writes that Clark rejected Plotinus’ view of God and taught a proper biblical view of “divine simplicity.”

But then Douma asserts that Clark’s largest influence came from the classic Christian and Reformed thinkers – Augustine, Calvin, and the Westminster standards. This is part of what he says in that connection:

Far above Plato or Plotinus, it was thinkers in the tradition of Reformed Christianity that influenced Clark’s life and thought. Like many theologians of the Reformation, Clark was in large part an Augustinian – a follower of St. Augustine (AD 354-430) – and as such, took many of his ideas directly from the ancient church father. Clark was reading Augustine in depth soon after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1932, he sought the advice of Ned Stonehouse, professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, on a question regarding Augustine, and in 1934, he wrote again to Stonehouse, mentioning that he was ‘slowly ploughing through 511 pages of double columns’ of Augustine’s City of God. According to Clark’s former student Dr. Kenneth Talbot, ‘Dr. Clark always spoke to me about his earliest influences of St. Augustine. He believed any theological or philosophical student needed to read Augustine’s writings.’ [pp.19-20]

Later in the chapter, Douma points to Calvin as a major influence on the thought of Clark:

…Yet among Reformation thinkers, it was not Martin Luther but John Calvin (1509-1564) who most influenced Clark. Clark praised Calvin as ‘Paul’s’ best interpreter.’ In Calvin, as exemplified in The Institutes, Clark found a thoroughly systematic and consistent Christianity which he embraced. Furthermore, Clark saw Calvin’s epistemology as akin to his own in that Calvin looked to Scripture as the sole source of knowledge [p.21].

Next time we will explore Clark’s association with J. Gresham Machen and his involvement in the Presbyterian conflict that led to the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).