Faithful theology has been likened to standing atop a mesa. A mesa, if you remember, is an isolated flat-topped hill with steep sides. There are many true things that one can affirm on the flat-top. But go too far in one direction and you’ll wind up plummeting off a cliff.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but it is helpful. The safest place (or perhaps I should say most true and faithful) is to be right in the center. Varying theologies tip-toe towards the cliffs but maintain orthodoxy.
But human nature is not such that we are drawn to the middle. Human nature, like a foolish lemming, wants to throw itself off a cliff. Given to ourselves we’ll take a truth and push it so far that we end up careening off the flat-top and into the jagged rocks below.
This is why we need mentors. We need people who have felt the pull of the plummet. We need those who have tasted the lustrous fruit and found it empty—men and women who know where the edge of the cliff is to be found.
John Newton was this to John Ryland, Jr. The latter, I believe, felt the pull of a Calvinism which got a bit close to the edge. A Calvinism which for some actually pushed them over the edge into the unorthodoxy of Hyper-Calvinism.
Ryland had been reading Solomon Stoddard and it looks as if he was drawn to his teaching. It sounded quite orthodox, but Newton looked through it as a pastor. Newton acknowledges that “some things he advances are worthy of attention” but cautioned Ryland that his teaching are “more likely to affright a soul from the Lord than to guide it to him”. (119)
Do you hear the warning? CLIFF AHEAD!
Newton went on to say this:
I think if Mr. Stoddard had been at Philippi, and the jailer had sprung trembling in to him (instead of Paul or Silas) with the same question he would have afforded him but cold comfort, and would have made him wait a few weeks or months to see how the prepartory work went on before he would have encouraged him to believe in Jesus. (Wise Counsel, 120)
Newton sees Ryland inching towards a cliff and he has the boldness to encourage him to run away. He saw in men like Stoddard (and many following him) a propensity to “confine the Holy Spirit to a system”.
He would rather Ryland, “read the Scripture and your own heart attentively” by doing so “you will have greatly the advantage of those who puzzle themselves by too closely copying the rules [you] find in other books”. (121)
I am a seminary student but not your traditional sort. I live about an hour and a half away and so I feel kind of like an outsider. I believe this disadvantages me on one hand, but gives me a leg up in another regard. I’m distanced enough to see some dangers.
We all need those like John Newton. Those who take the things we are learning and put them on the ground—those who help us see where the cliffs are. Good theology wrongly applied can lead you off a cliff just as quickly as bad theology.
Every believer needs someone like Newton to point out our inconsistency and to keep us from jumping off into unfaithfulness. Likewise, we should also be growing in our faith in such a way that we can be a Newton for someone else.
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The doctrine of sanctification has a reputation as justification’s puny little brother. In reality, however, sanctification has a lot of theological and practical importance. Sanctification demonstrates this well. The collection of essays combined in this volume offer a stimulating look at the breadth and depth of the doctrine’s value.
The book’s twelve authors combine a host of backgrounds and perspectives to further the conversation on the topic of sanctification. It is a topic that is currently undergoing a renewed interest. Kapic points to the popular level discussion already happening. Some Reformed readers might think immediately of the debates between Tchividjian and DeYoung at TGC. This volume, however, has no interest in the popular level discussion. Instead they are seeking to broaden the discussion. The essays are definitely of an academic theological nature, readers looking for more on the popular level conversation will be likely be overwhelmed. Readers, however, seeking to glance at the immense depth and complexity of the doctrine of sanctification will not be disappointed.
The book is not a unified presentation on the doctrine. As Kapic says:
No attempt has been made to provide a unified perspective on sanctification here – we are not presenting some new school of thought or anything like that, as some of the subtle disagreements even within this volume indicate. (11)
Think of the volume as its subtitle suggests: explorations in theology and practice. The bulk of this collection grew out of the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference and as such they are proposals, not fully formed and fleshed out theological compositions. Yet, several the essays offered incredibly insightful and thought provoking nuance to the doctrine of sanctification and its place in the church and Christian life.
The work can be broken down into three parts. Part one, “Sanctified By Grace Through Faith In Union With Christ”, consists of four diverse approaches to understanding the relationship between union with Christ, faith, and the agency of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. Bruce McCormack’s essay on Karl Barth and John Wesley was particularly interesting and insightful. Part two discusses “Human Agency And Sanctification’s Relationship To Ethics.” The three essays in this collection are unique and some of my favorite from whole volume, including the contributions by Michael Horton and Oliver O’Donovan. Part three rounds out the work with “Theological And Pastoral Meditations On Sanctification.” While the whole work is edited with an eye towards ecclesiology, this last section makes that interest particularly evident.
The book is definitely academic in nature, pulling together some the leading theologians within modern Reformed scholasticism. In that regard, some of the essays are more accessible than others. It is also largely confined to the views of Reformed theologians, but should be of interest to those of a wider theological background.
I enjoyed the book as a whole. It was hard to get through at times, and took multiple readings to understand certain essays. While I might not recommend it to the average church member, to the mature theologian attempting to wrestle with the more complex features of the doctrine of sanctification, this will be a thought-provoking resource.
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Johnson, Terry. Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the History Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism. Evangelical Press: Grand Rapids, 2014.
There is significant talk these days of worship, but this talk generally centers on American pragmatism, a purpose/market-driven approach, and questions of socio-cultural preference. But what if the “worship wars” were nothing more than a trivial dispute over preference? And what if all this talk about worship, whether the “gospel” songs of the 60’s or the praise music of the 90’s are better suited for public worship, were equally fit for the rubbish dump? Terry Johnson blazes an accessible trail, for a popular audience, on this generally misunderstood issue of Christian worship. Johnson recognizes that that Christian theology is an integrated whole and that Christian worship flows from that theology. Worship reveals the state of our theology and practice. Historically, worship has also served a vital role in the defense of orthodoxy against heresy. This is especially the case for the Reformed branch of Christian worship.
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” Robert Frost
Worshipping with Calvin demands a concern for catholicity. The quote from Frost is pertinent to the reformation recovery of Christian worship. The reformation recovery of worship is not equivalent to the restorationist agenda. The church has had historic “fences” built up to state and defend orthodoxy, to mature the saints, to call the unconverted, etc. Instead, Reformation recovery meant the removal of medieval excess and a reordering or worship according to biblical principles. Quite the contrary to the restorationist, Reformed liturgists comb through Patristic and Reformation history, as well as through other Christian traditions, in order to maintain a greater unity. If we desire to amend historic Christian worship, then we need to look hard at why these extra-biblical practices were put into place. There is an irony at this point. Modern worship is rightly concerned to “reach” different groups, so it is often concerned with matters of cultural tastes, but this tendency may inadvertently destroy Christian unity. “Transculturality” is one of the great benefits of Reformed worship. Its music runs from the first centuries of Christianity and through what is best about the hymn movement in the 21st century. In this way, Reformed worship is best situated to maintain Christian unity and a multi-ethnic atmosphere.
Strengths: Johnson’s material on prayer was particularly good and I plan on referring to it again. His arguments for psalm singing were convincing. They were strengthened by his not taking an exclusive psalm singing position. Also, Johnson admirably demonstrated the order and simplicity of reformed worship.
Weaknesses: Johnson’s critique of modern worship shows up too frequently. While he offers many keen insights, the constant critique detracts from his overall goal. It would have been more beneficial to his project if he had used that space for a robustly biblical defense of reformed worship, and maybe some interaction with those otherwise reformed that Johnson takes issue with in several places. Additionally, I had expected to see more of Calvin on worship in this volume. Perhaps even an analysis of Calvin on each of the many vital points that Johnson addresses in this volume. Finally, while I found the discussion of the Lord’s Supper to be helpful, Johnson’s defense of Infant baptism leaves much to be desired.
One final word. Johnson quickly dismisses cultural contextualization. Reformed worship needs to take ethnodoxology seriously. The elements of Reformed worship ought to be present in all worship in all places. This does not mean, as Johnson seems to understand it, that Reformed worship can be air dropped anywhere around the world with little thought to the receiving culture. Johnson is right in his criticism but I wonder if there is not more to say on this topic. His treatment of emotion in worship also leaves much to be desired. While order is to be prized, Johnson makes emotion seem like adiaphora…take it or leave it. Aside from this final point, it is easy to recommend this volume on reformed worship.
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Right now I am reaching far back into the recesses of my brain for moments of inspiration. These inspirational moments are drawn from one of my favorite parts of T4G, the Band of Bloggers pre-conference.
Registration cost for Band of Bloggers is very low, usually around $30 and includes a sack lunch from Chick-fil-a. Each attendee receives a haul of book. This year it was 30 titles total! And of course, this pre-conference is held at Southern Seminary, so attendees have the pleasure of walking this historic and beautiful seminary campus.
Band of Bloggers meets in tandem with T4G. It is a gathering of those who are interested in what happens in the Christian blogosphere. At each meeting a panel discussion takes place. This year Collin Hansen, an editor for the Gospel Coalition web blog, moderated the discussion with panelists Justin Taylor, Trevin Wax, Joe Thorn, Denny Burk, and Tim Brister.
Here are seven reflections from this year’s Band of Bloggers.
1. Bloggers aren’t pixels; they’re people.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting any of the men on the panel, you would discover that they are kind and pious men, every one of them. Watching them on display, speaking with candor and enjoying hearty banter with one another, is a joy.
2. We further Jesus’s platform like John the Baptist or Paul did.
One of the early points out the gate that Trevin Wax made is that we should not try to learn from how Jesus built His platform. If so, we’d be innately self-serving, because that is precisely what Jesus does and should do. His greatest joy is to make much of Himself. Our greatest joy is to make much of Him. Thus, we should learn from John the Baptist or Paul’s example. We must decrease so that He might increase.
3. Christian bloggers should be qualified and tested voices.
The panelists didn’t go so far as to say that Christian bloggers should be called to ministry, but they should be able handlers of the Word and qualified teachers. Anyone can start a blog and have a voice, but is that voice worthy of listeners. Readers should look at the qualifications of the blogger. Is the blogger theologically trained? Is the blogger a pastor or professor? Does the blogger have a reliable voice tested by time?
4. Blogs should be extensions of real life ministry with real life people.
Many of the bloggers on the panel explained how their blog started and continues as an extension of their ministry. Some of their key audience is their congregation or the classroom they influence in real life. If what is written in the digital world does not translate into help for the real world, then it fails the test of praxis. Theory must become practice.
5. Freedom and risk is attached to independent bloggers.
Independent bloggers have more freedom to speak to certain issues because they are not expected to represent an organization. This can be advantageous because independent bloggers have a freer voice. Sometimes this is the manner in which a blogger emerges out of anonymity. They give a timely word about a timely issue. They may even critique that which bloggers connected to an organization might wish to critique but have not the freedom to do so because of a tie to a tribe or organization.
Of course, with this freedom comes a lack of accountability. Independent bloggers should seek accountability with others who might hold them accountable for what they say.
6. Social media conscientiousness is important.
Possibly the most entertaining, used, and discussed bit from this years Band of Bloggers is spawned from Hansen’s last question directed to the panel. Should we ReTweet compliments? Justin Taylor brought this immediately into the arena of sin, by calling it just that. It is a manner of consciousness that should be addressed. It’s sin that must be put under the heel.
Too few of us think about these issues, whether one is a broadcaster, influencer, or participant. Our digital words have eternal consequences. Thank you Justin for bringing this to our attention.
7. Bloggers selflessly serve others with their writing.
This is something that implicitly came out of the panel discussion. These guys took a couple hours to share with others something they care about. They didn’t have to do this with their time. They did it to serve others.
For the most part, people, even the panelists, don’t earn a living blogging. It is actually a costly practice. For most, it serves as an outlet of thinking and an extension of ministry. They do this to edify others. Their aim is our holiness.
Before we callously troll around a blog and tear apart someone’s writing, we should consider why it is written. Bloggers write to help. Bloggers write to divide right from wrong, truth from error. Bloggers write to serve.
This message came across in every way in which the panelists postured their responses. They wanted to further a discussion and guide the course of a movement in a beneficial, healthy, and orderly fashion.
If you want to listen to the discussion between Trevin Wax, Justin Taylor, Dr. Denny Burk, Joe Thorn and Collin Hansen please go here: http://www.sbts.edu/resources/conferences/band-of-bloggers-panel-discussion/
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This is our weekly roundup of posts for 3/17/2014-3/22/2014. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it. Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.
Church Series: I didn’t want to go to church anymore (but I was wrong) by Aaron Armstrong http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-i-didnt-want-to-go-to-church-anymore-but-i-was-wrong/
Church Series: The Church: Gospel, Worship, and Mission by Mathew Sims http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-the-church-gospel-worship-mission/
Church Series: Church Discipline and the Mercy of the Good Shepherd by Grant Castleberry http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-church-discipline-and-the-mercy-of-the-good-shepherd/
Church Series: The Bridge of Christ by Mike Boiling servantsofgrace.org/church-series-bride-christ/
4 Steps to Ensure You’ll Have No Local Church by Joey Cochran http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-four-steps-to-ensure-youll-have-no-local-church/
Church Series: Why You Need Your Local Church Every Week by Dan Darling http://servantsofgrace.org/why-you-need-your-local-church-every-week/
Sermon: Defiled Worship from Malachi 1:6-14 by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/2-defiledworshipsermon/
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This is our weekly roundup of posts for 3/10/2014-3/15/2014. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it. Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.
Church Series: The Importance of Church Membership by Matthew Fretwell http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-the-importance-of-church-membership/
Church Series: Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-growing-together-towards-love-and-good-deeds/
Church Series: Why Your Spiritual Growth Matters to the Community by Dan Darling http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-why-your-spiritual-growth-matters-to-the-community
Church Series: What does it mean to “one another” in the New Testament? by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-mean-one-another-new-testament/
Church Series: A Better Way to Discern by Dan Darling http://servantsofgrace.org/church-series-a-better-way-to-discern/
Sermon: Mirror of this age from Malachi 1:1-5 by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/1-mirror-of-this-agesermon/
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