Studying out some of the verses from Ephesians 4, I came across the following from Paul Bayne, calling upon the saints to appreciate the diversity of Christ’s present gifts to the church. He speaks against the kind of pickiness that demands or critiques a certain kind of minister in accordance with one’s taste and choosing, rather than receives different kinds of ministers in accordance with Christ’s gracious giving. The language is more than a little archaic, but the point is clear. Bayne says that a
consideration of diversity of gifts doth reprove those that will take mislike at this or that kind, because it is not as they would have. If one speak treatably and stilly, though he lay down the truth soundly, if he apply not forcibly, he is nobody, as if every one should be an Elijah, or a son of thunder. If others, on some plain ground, belabour the conscience, Tush, he is not for them; he doth not go to the depth of his text. They could themselves, at first sight, observe as much; as if every barque that sailed did draw a like depth, yet all sorts carry their passengers safe to their haven. So in ministers, every one hath not a like insight into doctrine, yet all be God’s instruments to thy salvation. This is a malapert, itching humour, which, if you will be Christians indeed, you must lay aside. (Bayne on Ephesians, 258-259).
The Gospel Coalition recently launched a site entirely in Farsi, offering a small variety of resources translated into Farsi, among which was Anchored in Grace (see sidebar). I must confess that, while I recall someone at Cruciform Press mentioning the translation, I had rather lost sight of this. However, for those with an interest, either for themselves or for Farsi-speaking and -reading friends, here is the blurb from Cruciform:
We’re thrilled and honored to be part of The Gospel Coalition’s first “language landing site,” a website entirely in Persian/Farsi. As Bill Walsh of TGC International Outreach has said,
We’ve labored for a long time to get solid, biblical resources translated into this key language for sharing with Iranian Christians and the Persian diaspora around the world. Our hope is to…have [the site] serve as a prototype for other languages such as Arabic. The Internet has enormous capacity for reaching some of the hardest places to spread Christian content.
The site is currently offering seven foundational books in Farsi, one each from John Piper, R.C. Sproul, David Platt, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Chris Bruno, and our own Jeremy Walker (Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith). If you haven’t yet checked out Anchored in Grace, you really should.
I have a dear old godly friend. He will be 89 this year, if the Lord preserves him. I spent a couple of hours with him this morning in the sheltered accommodation where he lives, not far from the church building. He’s not a member of the church I serve, but a man who delights in God and in his word. He’s suffering from a chest infection at the moment, which adds to woes from a stroke of some sort last year, when he lost quite a lot of memory capacity and speech facility (especially on days when he is tired, as he is at present, because of his illness). One of his particular joys before all these afflictions was his singing, a joy of which he has now been robbed until Christ restores his body at the resurrection. All in all, you would say he is having quite a rough ride.
I sat with him and we read and talked through Psalm 1. How his eyes gleamed with joy when we talked about what it meant to be planted by rivers of water! How he wept when he thought of some of the other residents who are like the chaff, which the wind blows away! How he urged me to wait on and see if there would be an opportunity to speak with them later on! We talked about our love and prayers and words to those for whom we are concerned.
As we spoke and wept and prayed together, he told me that he was very thankful for the illnesses he has suffered. He was really struggling with his speech this morning, so I was not sure that I had got quite the right message. I checked. He insisted. He was grateful for what he had been through. I probably looked at him quizzically. He explained. He patted his Bible, his eyes gleaming once more.
“If it had not been for my illness last year,” he said, “I would not have been given the opportunity to learn this book all over again.”
Blessed indeed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in which law he meditates day and night. It makes us truly thankful, genuinely and lastingly happy, even in the midst of great affliction.
J. C. Ryle, as so often, has the knack of speaking plainly, even painfully, to our hearts, in these comments on Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verses 24-30:
Usefulness in the world and the Christian church, a humble readiness to do anything, a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ’s army is not the man who has rank and title and dignity and chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who is not concerned about himself but about other people. It is the man who is kind to everyone, tender to everyone, thoughtful toward everyone, ever helpful and sympathetic. It is the man who spends his time binding up the brokenhearted, befriending the friendless, comforting the sorrowful, and enlightening the ignorant. This is the truly great man in God’s sight. The world may ridicule his efforts and deny the sincerity of his motives, but while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.
For those able to get to the eastern part of Tennessee in the middle part of April …
There are a couple of interesting volumes that have been produced in recent months that Baptists might appreciate. But first, and more generally, may I draw your attention to a new bi-annual journal called Unio Cum Christo: International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life? Never knowingly undersold, it intends to show itself an international scholarly and practical journal for the global Reformed community; to encourage deeper fellowship, understanding, and growth in faith, hope, and love in the Reformed community at large; and, to support small and isolated Reformed witnesses in minority missional situations. It is a proper journal, weighing in at 332 pages, costing $20-35 for a year depending on your status, and sponsored by Westminster Theological Seminary and International Reformed Evangelical Seminary. The first number contains a long and stirring editorial by editor-in-chief Paul Wells, followed by sections on biblical studies (on the theme of witness), historical theology (covering a great deal of chronological and geographical territory), contemporary issues (persecution the topic du jour), an interview and a series of book reviews (including a stimulating brief review of Metaxas on Bonhoeffer by William Edgar). Surveying the contributors, one finds a few of the usual suspects, but also an interesting range of writers from a variety of backgrounds and differing degrees of reputation (not bad or good so much as better and less well known). Both the editorial committee and the board reveal a genuinely and refreshingly international scope (though it must be said that Baptists appear to be at a premium!). These strengths are evident in the opening number, and I hope will be sustained in coming years (the second number focuses on the text of Scripture). Those with the requisite interests, appetites and capacities are likely really to enjoy this new journal. I hope it does much good in its sphere, and holds its tone and line for as long as the Lord grants it life.
Then, on to Baptist books. The first is called Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk), edited by Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman. This is a spirited study and defence of a robust and well-defined church polity (authority structures and government) from Baptist convictions. It is neither brief nor shallow, but substantial and thorough, academic in timbre. It is nevertheless both enjoyable and profitable.
An array of historians and theologians – many of whom are also pastors – blend their notes within and among the nineteen essays that make up this work. Five broad elements are addressed: congregationalism, ordinances, membership and discipline, elders and deacons, and inter-church relationships. In reading, careful attention must be given to definitions, which should not be assumed. For example, the mantra of “congregational rule that is elder led” must be fairly handled. Indeed, the tensions between those two phrases are evident in the book itself. British readers should also recognise that the book arises primarily out of a Southern Baptist environment, which means some strands of the discussion are less relevant in a conservative evangelical British context.
Even so, what we have here drives us back to first principles. From a careful hermeneutic base it offers a fairly coherent, consistent, cohesive pattern for Baptist churches without being overly prescriptive. It is deeply-rooted Baptist high churchmanship, sometimes wrestling with difficult questions (such as the nature of apostolicity). It gives the lie to crass assertions or accusations casually tossed off that Baptists have no ecclesiology, while poking a necessary finger in the eye of those Baptists who have not bothered to cultivate it.
This is, then, a volume that will both confirm and challenge those of Baptist convictions especially. We must work through and work out the principles and practices raised here if we are to be faithful to God’s word and our heritage.
The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement, edited by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn and Michael A. G. Haykin (amazon.com / amazon.co.uk) is another work of a more academic tone, but of a very different outlook, being intended primarily – as far as I can tell – for students within American (Southern) Baptist seminaries, and more in light of the so-called Reformed resurgence. This is one of those catch-all introductions to a subject, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre, buttressed and mollified or undermined and exaggerated by the qualities of the editors and contributors. In this case, the strengths are more buttressed and the weaknesses less exaggerated, but all present and correct.
The book is divided into four sections, covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the nineteenth century, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and Baptist beliefs. The three editors each take the reins for a particular period, and then, presumably, combine for the rest. With minimal footnotes, and with a brisk tone and at a good pace, the book carries us through the events, personalities, sermons, churches, tensions and efforts of Baptist history. Excerpts from sermons and documents are scattered throughout to give some flavour from primary sources. There are even a few pictures for those who weary of words. Depending on your appetites and predilections, you will either be delighted or devastated at the inclusions or exclusions. The recommended reading must fill in the gaps.
Sadly, Baptists outside America will find the book less and less useful as it advances, because the focus is more and more on the States and its distinctive groups, denominations, interests and battles. In addition, the concern for ‘balance’ sometimes leads to the inclusion of what seem to me to be rabbit trails or aberrations of greater or lesser degree. Although the closing historical chapters make every effort to give a global sense, it is still a survey through American eyes. Of course, as the stream of Baptist history broadens, one has to sit on a particular island in order to take one’s view – the ever-widening topic makes a complete and thorough survey almost impossible in a book of this order.
The chapter on identity and distinctives is also fascinating. After a little to-ing and fro-ing on the Baptist attitudes to confessions of faith, the authors suggest that Baptists are marked by regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, congregational polity, local church autonomy, religious freedom. To all of which the only answer can be, “Yes, but …”. It is undeniably true that many Baptists (especially the kind of Baptists who are likely to be reading this book) do hold to such distinctives, and those who give others this textbook might think that they should. However, the issues over what these things look like in practice, and who embraces them, and how many are embraced at any particular point and in what way, even by those who call themselves Baptists, make this a quite surprising absolutism. I don’t disagree that it should be so, more or less, but I query whether or not it is so. The conclusion suggests that promoting liberty of conscience, following Christ’s will in our individual lives and churches, and proclaiming the gospel everywhere, are the three interrelated themes of Baptist history that crop up again and again. Again, that’s frustratingly exclusive and maddeningly broad at the same time. Up to a point, it is indisputable; in other respects, it leaves much to be desired.
So much for the inherent strengths and weaknesses of books like this and this book in particular. It is an introduction to its topic, and should not be assumed to be anything more. If you are an American Baptist history student, or indeed a student of American Baptist history, this will be a fine volume for you. Others will find much of real value and genuine interest, but will feel more as if we are looking over the wall than playing the game.