The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

Posts Tagged ‘Sinclair Ferguson

Concerning the heart

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Q.1. What is the heart?

A. The heart is the central core and drive of my life intellectually (it involves my mind), affectionately (it shapes my soul), and totally (it provides the energy for my living).

Q.2. Is my heart healthy?

A. No. By nature I have a diseased heart. From birth, my heart is deformed and antagonistic to God. The intentions of its thoughts are evil continually.

Q.3. Can my diseased heart be healed?

A. Yes. God, in His grace, can give me a new heart to love Him and to desire to serve Him.

Q.4. How does God do this?

A. God does this through the work of the Lord Jesus for me and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me. He illumines my mind through the truth of the gospel, frees my enslaved will from its bondage to sin, cleanses my affections by His grace, and motivates me inwardly to live for Him by rewriting His law into my heart so that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”

Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?

A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”

Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?

A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.

Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word — reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.

Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.

Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace — and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.

So says Sinclair Ferguson. Read it all to see the context.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 January 2012 at 10:52

Posted in Christian living

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A preacher’s decalogue

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The latest edition of Themelios is available. As usual, I begin by cherry-picking the topics or names that look most promising. Top of the list on this occasion was Sinclair Ferguson providing a preacher’s decalogue:

  1. Know your Bible better.
  2. Be a man of prayer.
  3. Do not lose sight of Christ.
  4. Be deeply trinitarian.
  5. Use your imagination.
  6. Speak much of sin and grace.
  7. Use the “plain style.”
  8. Find your own voice.
  9. Learn how to transition.
  10. Love your people.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 August 2011 at 08:00

What parents breathe out

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Dr Sinclair Ferguson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, likes to say, ‘The children breathe in what the parents breathe out.’ In other words, the atmosphere of the home – what we value, how we treat each other, what priority we place on walking with the Lord – is impressed on the hearts and minds of our children.

Kenneth B. Wingate, A Father’s Gift (Banner of Truth, 2009), 119.

So, what are you breathing out? What are your children breathing in? Love for Christ Jesus, and the dynamics of the gospel in every part of life? A kind, loving, gracious spirit?

What about love for, delight in, and commitment to the body of Christ? Are our children breathing in that?

Gene Veith points to a European study (discussed here) suggesting that fathers in particular will have a massive impact on the attitude of their children to the church of Christ. The article is not suggesting that mothers do not need to go to church, and it may be that there lies behind the article some lack of clarity (are they equating mere church attendance with genuine Christianity?) but the implication is clear: the best way to teach our children to love Christ and his church is to love Christ and his church ourselves.

So, fathers and mothers, will you be there tomorrow, as often as you are able, willingly, cheerfully, eagerly, readily making your way to whatever place the saints will gather to meet with God? Will your demeanour and preparations this evening show that you are looking forward eagerly to the Lord’s day and getting everything in place for an early, unhindered start to the day?

May God grant that we breathe out a love for the Head of the church, and his body, and that our children should imbibe it from the heart.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 18 December 2010 at 16:14

The new Calvinism considered

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Note: for those interested in a more developed treatment of this same issue, you can find it beginning here.

A year or two ago it seemed that ‘the new Calvinism’ was all the rage.  Perhaps it has already reached and passed its peak.  Maybe the mission has already become a movement and will shortly become a museum.  Only time will tell.  Certainly the wild rush of the past few years has slowed a little; the river seems broader and flows more gently.  Consolidation has occurred around such organisations as the Gospel Coalition and there are nexuses (nexi?) like Together for the Gospel (T4G) and Acts 29 that also function as anchor points.  Not so long ago you could not read a book, website or news article in some Christian circles without coming up against one of a range of personalities.  The new orthodoxy needed one of a string of names to back it up: “Piper/Grudem/Carson says . . .” almost became the equivalent in some circles of, “The Holy Spirit told me . . .”  It seemed as if the new Calvinism was sweeping the board.  More conservative evangelicals felt the pressure, often ‘losing’ their young people to the heady atmosphere of the new movement.  There was a certain triumphalism in some quarters, a sense of having seen the working future.  In others, there was a sometimes uninhibited aggression.  However, there seemed to be little middle ground: you were either for or against, a committed friend or a committed foe.

I tried to understand what was taking place by immersing myself in the stream for a while: I read the books and the blogs and listened to the sermons and addresses.  I hoped that I got a fair and accurate understanding of this movement.  I found things that were attractive and stimulating and provocative and controversial and worrying.

At a little distance from the swirling storm of popularity and controversy, I recently saw a very brief list of those things which characterise the new Calvinism, written very much from within the movement.  Looking at that list, I thought, “Yes, but . . .” and began to sketch out some other qualities that, it seems to me, are embedded in the mass of new Calvinistic identity.  The list got reasonably long in the end, but I thought that I would work it up and put it out.  It may prove useful, or interesting, or controversial, or pointless.  I think that some new Calvinists would acknowledge and admit much of what follows, sometimes quite cheerfully, but not always.  They might not agree with all the labels I use, or with my own stance on them, but I have set out to be fair and accurate.

Some caveats: I have attempted not to identify and discuss individuals (except where obvious and necessary, and for occasional examples) because this is not about supporting or attacking any one individual.  I also recognise that there are exceptions to most if not all of these rules, hence the introductory wording to each suggestion: I am not trying to make out that the movement is more monolithic than is in fact the case.  Furthermore, I have not attempted to distinguish between the positive and the negative (which will differ depending on where you stand anyway!) but have rather lumped them all in together.  I have not attempted to list these characteristics in order of priority or significance.

That will probably do by way of introduction.  So, then . . .

1.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a desire for the glory of God.  In this sense, I do not think one can legitimately deny that this is a Reformed resurgence.  There is an evident, open, sincere aim at the glory of God in all things, and I think that God is much glorified in many ways by the words and works of many of my new Calvinist brothers and sisters, and I rejoice at it.

2.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by deep-rooted spiritual joy.  This may be one of the reasons why it is so attractive to so many, perhaps especially to those from more conservative Reformed circles who feel that this is one of the things that has been lacking in their spiritual experience.  It flows, no doubt, in large part from the emphasis on the grace of God (see below) and it may flow into some of its more exuberant expressions of worship.  Again, the public face of the new Calvinism is one in which men and women with their hearts made clean through the blood of the Lamb rejoice in their so-great salvation.

3.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by missonal zeal.  As with any vibrant gospel movement, the desire to take the good news into all the world is central.  Evangelising.  Witnessing to Christ.  Church strengthening.  Church planting.  Church rejuvenation.  Training pastors and preachers.  There is a Scriptural readiness to overcome or ignore the boundaries too readily established in the mind and the heart and to preach the gospel to every creature, and to use as many means as possible (although the Biblical legitimacy of some might be questioned) to promote the truth, propagate the gospel, and advance the kingdom of Christ Jesus.  As the movement has advanced, neither the local nor the international elements of this have been left behind.

4.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an emphasis on the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel.  Everything is ‘gospel’: New Calvinists do ‘gospel-this’ and ‘gospel-centred that’ and ‘gospel-cored the other’, sometimes to the point of inanity.  By that, I do not mean that the gospel ought not to be at the heart of things, but if we are genuinely evangelical then by definition the gospel should be at the heart of things, and the tendency to badge everything with the word ‘gospel’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gospel-soaked and gospel-centred, nor does it guarantee that it will be.  That aside, this is a movement that desires to preach the good news as good news, to proclaim the free and undeserved favour of God to sinners in a way that is engaging, fresh, real and powerful.  One of the great anathemas of new Calvinism is legalism.  Whether or not this is rightly or fully understood I will not argue here, but these friends are desperate to highlight and declare the primacy of grace.  Of course, this is intimately related to the joy they feel and the glory of God they pursue.

5.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by complementarianism.  We are told by these friends to distinguish between the theological equivalents of national boundaries and state boundaries, to appreciate the different between distinction and division.  At the same time, it appears that complementarianism is one of the new Calvinist shibboleths.  That does not mean it is wrong, of course, but it is interesting that of all the things that we are told do not matter in the consideration of unity and separation, complementarianism has become something of a sine qua non.

6.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a return to a more Biblical masculinity.  One could argue that at times this has almost become a caricature (and I would agree, and it has indeed been parodied and caricatured), but it is a welcome if sometimes extreme reaction to the anaemic and limp manhood too often displayed elsewhere in the nominally or actually Christian world.  Alongside and arising from the complementarianism, dignified and vigorous male leadership has received a welcome fillip from the new Calvinism.  Like many gospel movements of the past, this one has been characterised in many respects by the salvation of men (often young men), the calling of men to preach, and a readiness by men to take the brunt and lead from the front.  This is not to say that women are excluded from the movement, but the Scriptural emphasis on male leadership has seen a welcome return.

7.         Again related to complementarianism, it seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the promotion of the family as a basic unit of church and social life.  Once again, such an emphasis can easily become an over-emphasis, but the evident loving affection for wives and sons and daughters that is characteristic of many of the leaders of the movement is an excellent testimony.  The re-establishment of the God-ordained family unit, the outworking of masculinity and femininity in the family sphere, an encouragement to family worship, a readiness to discuss and instruct concerning relationships between men and women, single and married, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and children, and the like, is often part and parcel of new Calvinism.

8.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by charismatic convictions with regard to spiritual gifts.  It seems as if the nature, extent and degree of the Spirit’s work in what some would say we cannot call post-apostolic times has become almost a moot point in new Calvinism.  What was for so long a genuine line of divide between Christians has seemed to be smoothed over with the rise of the so-called ‘Reformed Charismatic’, a label willingly embraced by many if not all of the leaders of new Calvinism, most of whom would be happy – to various degrees and in different ways – to acknowledge themselves to be continuationists, as the lingo has it.  Interestingly, this is one of the fault lines that seems likely to become apparent again, not least because of its significance.

9.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Calvinist soteriology, with some departures and aberrations.  Again, here is one of the areas where the claim to the name ‘Reformed’ is at stake and much debated.  Generally speaking, in line with the emphasis on the gospel of grace and the glory of God in salvation there has been a distinctively Calvinist take on this issue, and it is here – probably more than anywhere else – that the movement derives the ‘Calvinist’ part of its name.  At the same time, there is – in many of those who are at the forefront of this group – more than a hint of Amyraldism, so I am not sure to what extent this is going to hold water for long.  You will also note that I identify Calvinist soteriology as apart from other elements of historic Calvinism, many of which I think one could argue have been neglected, ignored, or abandoned by new Calvinists.

10.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a generally thoughtful ecumenism.  You only need to look at or think about the names that are at or clustering about the centre to see how broad a movement this is.  It has genuinely united Christians from a variety of backgrounds, and garnered sympathy from many who would nevertheless be unable to share all the distinctives of the movement as a whole.  Issues such as baptism, ecclesiology, the spiritual gifts, and worship have – to some extent – not been allowed to prevent the coming together of believers to serve God either in community or at the very least in co-operation.  Interestingly, though, this ecumenism seems to reach over the middle ground.  By this I mean that there is a readiness to receive and relate to (and receive critique and input from) those close to the inner core of the movement, and then a readiness to reach quite far out from that core for critique and input and relationship, leaving those in the middle ground somewhat isolated.  So, for example, consider the speaking list at some of the last few Desiring God conferences: where else would you find Piper, Dever, Driscoll, Warren, Wilson, Keller, Baucham, MacArthur, Sproul, Storms and Ferguson.  At points on that list you are moved to cheer.  At others, a very Scooby-Dooish cry of “Yoicks!” – mingled alarm and distress – rises from the lips.

11.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an often pragmatic ecclesiology.  I am glad that it is characterised by ecclesiology at all, that the church of Jesus Christ is in many respects given its rightful place in his plans and purposes for the kingdom.  At the same time, there is often more of the light of nature than the light of Scripture in some of the decisions that seem to be made.  This, then, is a movement in which statistics matter.  This is a movement in which, if you cannot keep up, you have to drop off.  Are you in the way of progress?  Then you are fired.  We are moving onward and upward, so we will hire a worship pastor used to larger crowds or able to generate them; we will hire a technology deacon to take our presentations within and without the services to a new level.  Are you not willing or able to move this fast?  Then goodbye, because you are holding up the advance.  Multi-campus doctrine is one of the examples of this pragmatism; branding and advertising are given a prominence beyond anything the Scripture provides for.  Everything is made to serve the growth of the church numerically and the advance of the mission as stated by the church.  At times the church seems less and less like an organic whole in which every member has her or his part and more like a business in which the chief executive and his team get to hire and fire at will, moulding the structure and its activity according to human will and purpose.  If the church were a business, would I fire some of her workers?  Sure.  But it is not, and I am not at liberty to decide who I want or do not want in or working for the advance of a kingdom that belongs to and is ruled by a sovereign King.  I should, however, add – in fairness – that perhaps at times others outside the movement have not been pragmatic enough, or dynamic enough, in seizing opportunities for gospel advance and employing means about which the Scriptures are silent (this comment is not about the regulative principle, by the way).  By the way, you have to love the names of the churches: all portentous, bastardised Greek or catchy, thrusting urban vim?  Fantastic!

12.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a neo-Kuyperian view of culture.  Here the mantra is that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”  There is much to be said for such a declaration, but it also needs to be read in terms of the already/not yet dichotomy.  In new Calvinist orthodoxy, it seems to be very much ‘already’ and this often means that culture is considered neutral, and all to be claimed for Jesus.  By extension, nothing seems to be out of bounds, and much that the world says and does can be tidied up, baptised, and brought into the service of Christ’s church.  Of course, it tends to be the culture from which the converts are drawn (see below) that comes into the church, and so we get our reference points and illustrations from all the hip and cool sources, or those made trendy by the movers and shakers.  Star Wars?  Check.  Lord of the Rings?  Check.  The Matrix?  Check.  So we get to be all funky and populist.  Then we get to name check Lewis and Chesterton and Dostoevsky and O’Connor and come over all literary and high-brow.  By and large, the new Calvinism seems ready to co-opt, co-operate with, and/or capture this culture now, without always making assessments about the origin, tendency and direction of particular elements.  Under this heading I am willing to place the whole issue of contextualization, although it might be considered worthy of its own heading.

13.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by doctrinal if not practical antinomianism.  Most of the movers and shakers appear ready to align themselves with New Covenant Theology in some form or other.  As so often, the Lord’s day Sabbath is the first point of contact and conflict on this issue.  However, the default position here, as – I believe – across broad evangelicalism as a whole – is that the moral law has no abiding relevance in the life of the new covenant believer.  That assumption is woven throughout many of the key texts and declarations of the new Calvinism, from the ESV Study Bible downwards (for example, consider these comments in the ESVSB on Romans 14.5: “The weak thought some days were more important than others. Given the Jewish background here (see v. 14), the day that is supremely in view is certainly the Sabbath. The strong think every day is the same. Both views are permissible. Each person must follow his own conscience. What is remarkable is that the Sabbath is no longer a binding commitment for Paul but a matter of one’s personal conviction. Unlike the other nine commandments in Ex. 20:1–17, the Sabbath commandment seems to have been part of the “ceremonial laws” of the Mosaic covenant, like the dietary laws and the laws about sacrifices, all of which are no longer binding on new covenant believers (see also Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16–17). However, it is still wise to take regular times of rest from work, and regular times of worship are commanded for Christians (Heb. 10:24–25; cf. Acts 20:7)”).  This is having and will continue to have implications perhaps not so much in the sphere of justification (though that will follow) as in the sphere of sanctification.  It is going to mean much for the development of true holiness, and it is only in the next two or three generations of the new Calvinists that these chickens will come home to roost.  Key names among the new Calvinists have laid the foundation for this widespread antinomianism, and it is for me one of the most concerning aspects of the whole movement.

14.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by contemporary worship.  By definition, all of the service ought to be worship, and by definition, anything done today is contemporary, however old-fashioned or new-fangled it may be considered, but you know what I mean.  I personally have no difficulty with songs and music written in the present day, but that is not the same as a willingness simply to co-opt the forms and patterns of the entertainment of the world for the worship of the church.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the sung worship of the church.  Into the mix here also come the charismatic and cultural convictions of many of the key figures.

15.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the driving force of several key personalities.  You know them: there is a centre circle reasonably well-defined, and then the concentric circles around them together and individually.  Piper.  Carson.  Mahaney.  Dever.  Mohler.  Driscoll.  Keller.  Grudem.  Chandler.  Anyabwile.  Harris.  DeYoung.  Chan.  Perhaps a little further out are Duncan and MacArthur and Sproul and Trueman.  Among the bloggers, Challies and Taylor and others.  Read long enough and widely enough and the same names will crop up time and time again.  You might place them more or less close to the centre, but they will be there or thereabouts.  My apologies to those who ought to be on the list and are not, and to the groupies who are now offended because I did not put their idol on the list.  Here you see more than a little of that ecumenism mentioned before.  No new Calvinist conference is complete without at least one and ideally more of these men on the platform.  Each is a little chief in the centre of his fiefdom, many of which overlap.  Of course, it can all seem a little nepotistic, even incestuous at times, as these figures read, invite, commend, and endorse one another in ever-decreasing circles.  Again, God usually works by men in the world, and those men naturally attain to a right and reasonable prominence, but the concentration on a few key personalities, especially in the early days of the movement, was distinctive.  Of course, some of those names are already second-generation names, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

16.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the ready embrace and employment of new technologies and media and the platforms that they provide.  The new Calvinism is, to a large degree, an internet phenomenon.  Sermons, videos, blogs, other social media, swirl around ceaselessly in this milieu.  The exchange and discussion of ideas takes place largely online.  Conferences are broadcast and live-blogged, and the lines and colours are laid down by a thousand artists simultaneously, often painting on the same canvas.  Cross-reference and self-reference generate a stupendous amount of traffic.  Look at some of the key blogs, for example, and you will find that they all tend to highlight the same books, events, people and things at almost precisely the same time.  All these platforms nevertheless provide a potent thrust for new Calvinist dogma and praxis, and where others are left behind, the new Calvinism is often at the cutting edge, adopting and co-opting the latest technology (hardware and software) in order to promote either Christ or his servants, depending on your take on particular individuals and circles.  Of course, we must state here that no self-respecting new Calvinist would be found dead using a PC.  The Apple Macintosh and its related accessories are the technological sine qua non of the true new Calvinist.  (I deleted the next bit because it counted as mockery, but let’s just say that it went in the direction of cool glasses and coffee shops, tattoos and T-shirts.)

17.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a concentration on a younger, more urban demographic.  I recall one new Calvinist church-planting leader voicing his concern at how many church-planter/ing applications he saw targeted precisely the same group as all the others: the young, trendy, hip (when did this admittedly serviceable but not especially remarkable joint become so popular?), urban crowd.  Although some of its leaders are getting old enough to be in them, you will not find much of the new Calvinism catering to the full range of society.  It tends to be quite selective.  I know of a number of churches that – when they began going in this direction – did begin to attract far larger numbers of a certain type and age, but they also began to lose many others.  Again, you can only ride the crest of the wave for so long: what happens to the water ahead, and the waves coming in behind?  This is one area where the willingness to preach the gospel to every creature perhaps needs to take account of the fact that every creature doesn’t like the same fashion, music, art, style, clothes, and approach as those who have made new Calvinism what it is.

18.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the desire to be big and to have a seat at culture’s table.  Bigness does seem to be a great concern for many.  Bigness – size and numbers – as a by-product of the pursuit of right things in a right way and for the glory of God is perfectly acceptable, but bigness as an end in itself is not something that the Bible promotes in isolation.  Alongside of this goes what sometimes looks like an obsession with being accepted and heard in wider society.  Consider the orgiastic and ecstatic applause and self-congratulation when the big names get on national television, or when the movement gets name-checked by Time magazine.  Is there a danger here that the movement is too concerned with the applause and adulation and recognition of the world?  Does this tie in with the attitude to culture, and what may be a failure to recognise that in this present evil age we are strangers in a strange land?

19.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an ambivalent relationship to church history.  I know we all tend to pick and choose the bits that appear or tend to support what we now believe, but it is right there on the surface of the new Calvinist vehicle.  Sometimes there is what I can only call a chronological snobbery.  This is not meant to sound as pejorative as it does.  It is part of the laudable enthusiasm of the movement.  What I mean is that there is a freshness of discovery that excites us: we feel, if I may work through Wodehouse back to Keats,

. . . like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

However, just because I have recently discovered some theological gem does not mean that it has never been discovered before, or that I therefore become the sole guardian and interpreter of the tradition.  There may be a whole bunch of trekker’s rubbish upon that peak in Darien from those who have been and camped before.  Neither does the popularity or promotion of our discovery entitle us to be the arbiters of the canon.  Anyway, there is a tendency among new Calvinists either to claim that ground long-broken has been only recently broken by them, or that it has never been broken before and now needs to be broken by them, or because they have broken it no one else is allowed to set foot on it, or that there is no other way of it being broken.  In this way, the great and the good of the past all become proto-new Calvinists.  Take a bow, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Cowper, Calvin, Lewis, Owen, Augustine, etc. etc.  Of course, all this demands quite a bit of historical revision, of which there is perhaps no finer example than C. S. Lewis, one of the new Calvinism’s patron saints.  I am not suggesting that these intelligent and well-read men are not aware of it, but at least let us not pretend nor give the impression that Lewis fits seamlessly into the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy!

20.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by sensitivity to the judicial and social aspects of the gospel at work in society.  Perhaps in part because there is a left-wing as well as right-wing political input to new Calvinism, it is nevertheless a recovery of emphasis on the God who defends and protects the widow and the fatherless and the stranger, who is concerned for righteousness and justice in heaven and on earth, who takes note of the presence or absence of ethical integrity in the thoughts, words and deeds of men.  Of course, this is very easily dismissed as politically correct or touchy-feely nonsense, but there is, perhaps, more of it in the Scriptures than others have always been ready to admit.  So, on such matters as abortion, adoption, euthanasia, care for the poor and hungry, help for the homeless, and so on, there is a welcome re-engagement and re-appraisal.  Confusion still exists (as, no doubt, it always will) about the relative roles of the church and the individual Christian citizen or subject (two kingdoms theology, anyone?), but there is an awareness of and sensitivity to these issues that is welcome.

21.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Americocentrism.  Here let me bother with another caveat: this is not an instance of cultural jealousy or bitterness, nor is it in and of itself intended as a condemnation.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and of course the movement spills over, especially into the UK and Australia, where the linguistic heritage is shared (so perhaps I should speak more of ‘the West’ that I do of ‘the States’, although I think it is fair to say that America is probably the dominant Western culture, having more influence on others in the West than they have on it).  However, while there are adherents, some of them prominent, outside the USA, the movement has its spiritual and cultural home in the States.  Could this be where some of its cultural distinctive and pragmatic attitudes derive?  Is this part of the reason for its determination and enthusiasm and can-do mentality?  Is this driving the concentration on technology and the referents and foci of the movement?  Time after time we hear men and women happily cradled in the bosom of American/Western culture assure us that the future of the church is in the so-called Third or Developing World.  Is new Calvinism in danger of exporting more of America/the West than it is of Jesus?  By definition, we are to some extent products of our culture, and that is part of God’s sovereign design for our sphere of influence and usefulness.  But could it be that there is sometimes a lack of cultural awareness and a degree of cultural supremacism that penetrates new Calvinism further than we are aware?  This, I acknowledge, is nebulous, easy both to defend and attack precisely because it is so hard to quantify, but it seems to me that this is an inherently Western movement, if not an inherently American one, a movement very much of a certain time and place.  That does not make it inherently bad, but it certainly does call into the question the degree to which it can both last and spread beyond its immediate environs.

At this point, I see no reason to change the assessment I made several months ago, after reading Collin Hansen’s survey of the movement, although I hope I have a better grasp on the whole: “There is much that is splendid about the movement . . . but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects.  Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. . . . observers and participants [need] to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but [they] should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.”

So there you have it.  Do you agree or disagree?  Is there anything to add or remove?  I should be interested to know what you have to say.

Wider reading

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In By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me (Reformation Trust, 2010) we see Sinclair Ferguson in his best clothes, as pastor-preacher.  In this companion volume to In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, 2007) we find nothing novel but much that is fresh and sweet.  Taking the hymn of African pastor Emmanuel T. Sibomana (“O how the grace of God/Amazes me”) as his Rough Guide to Christian truth and experience, the author guides us with a Scripture map more closely through God’s gracious dealings with sinners.  Addressing readers of all situations and circumstances, the exegesis is simple and thorough with occasional particular insights to ponder, and profundities into which we gaze, humbled.  This is more than a mere study of doctrine by a disinterested observer: a man captured by grace calls on us to know and feel the truth in its power – to taste, enjoy and live relying on God’s amazing grace in Christ.  Warmly recommended for those needing to arrive at or return to first things.  (Westminster Bookstore/Amazon)

Despite sounding like an invitation to some kind of evangelical Iron Man event, The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard D. Phillips (Reformation Trust, 2010) is an excellent contribution to the literature on Biblical manliness.  Phillips helpfully begins by considering man as man, called to ‘work’ and ‘keep’ as God’s image bearers on earth.  Only then does he consider that calling in the context of marriage, child-discipling and friendship, then more broadly in the church, making the book useful for men of different character and circumstance.  Phillips avoids the current trend in some circles to call upon men to summon up their inner cage-fighter, and produces a sane, balanced, and Scriptural approach in fairly brief scope that will be of help to many.  (Westminster Bookstore/Amazon)

In The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief (Moody Publishers, 2010), author James S. Spiegel sets out not so much to shift the goalposts as to choose a new playing field.  The aim is to get behind the protestations of intellectual difficulty to the (im)moral underpinnings of atheism.  With a thesis that may be familiar from more in-depth considerations of the motives and appetites of intellectuals of various stripes, Spiegel suggests that atheism involves a wilful rejection of God, often precipitated by immoral indulgences and typically a damaged or broken paternal relationship.  Atheism is revealed as a moral rather than rational stance which increasingly blinds the eyes and deadens the conscience over time.  The Scriptural basis for such assertions receives only a brief treatment, and for the most part the writer seeks to turn atheism’s guns back on itself.  Certain throwaway comments also raise the question of exactly what kind of Christianity the author would be inviting an atheist to.  Nevertheless, a provocative little book that may help Christians to look beyond the appearances and protestations of modern atheism and then to consider and address the folly in the heart of the natural man.  (Westminster Bookstore/Amazon)

A little cheesed off with material on bringing up children that seemed to miss, neglect or even bypass the gospel, I wondered if Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting by William Farley (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2009) would provide the answer.  There are helpful principles and wise counsel to be found here.  The material on legalism and moralism hits the spot, and the positive treatment of the fear of God, the power of example, and real holiness are profitable.  At the same time, I was left feeling that the book had missed its mark.  It was difficult at times to gauge the author’s assumptions about children (for example, when distinguishing between the converted and unconverted), and at times it seemed that the main concern for our children is to have them inherit a worldview rather than trust a Saviour.  Useful in parts, but not as satisfying as one would hope.  (Westminster Bookstore/Amazon)

No one will read C. H. Spurgeon’s Sermons Beyond Volume 63 (DayOne, 2010) and retain the idea that Spurgeon was merely a genial Victorian pulpiteer.  I would go so far as to suggest that there is an unusual degree of bite and drive in these sermons, with the cutting edge sharp and the pleading earnest.  All Spurgeon’s strengths and many of his idiosyncrasies are on display.  Hopefully very minor quibbles with the formatting of some sermon divisions can be cleared up in another printing.  Never just a collector’s item for those looking for a complete set, this is an excellent and highly-profitable showcase for the kind of trenchant, memorable, gospel-soaked sermons that Iain Murray was commending in the February 2010 edition of The Banner of Truth magazine (Issue #557).  If we read to profit, our souls will be fed.  (Amazon)

R. B. Jones: Gospel Ministry in Turbulent Times by Noel Gibbard (Bryntirion Press, 2009) is, for the most part, straight history.  The author seems to suspend the exercise of any critical faculty for the bulk of the book, concentrating on data without much analysis.  The result is a stream of information, some facts and anecdotes seeming more to impede than assist the flow.  We see determination and vigour, committed holiness and evangelistic zeal, and distinctive views (especially on sanctification, revival, and Christ’s return) vigorously defended by the subject.  Though few readers might agree with all those distinctive views, none will deny that here was a man of conviction, whose life reflected his faith.  Given the period in question (1869-1933) it is interesting to consider to what extent the context is formed by the consequences of the evangelical decline known as the Downgrade.  The critical faculty stutters into life in the final chapter, but gently and sometimes defensively of this “enlightened fundamentalist,” at heart a preacher, teacher and evangelist.  An interesting book on a singular man, probably most appealing to students of Welsh evangelical history.

Pastors looking for help in counselling might appreciate CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet (New Growth Press, 2009).    The author’s aim is to carry the man of God beyond shallow and temporary prescriptions of limited help for struggling men and women – considered as sufferers, sinners and/or saints – to a richer appreciation and application of Scriptural truth, seeing and pressing home the overlap between “the story of God” and “the stories of people.”  Emphasizing the redemptive-historical approach, the writing is clear and the suggestions are straightforward.  This book will help ministers of others (including but not exclusively pastors) to understand and relate truth to those who need it in particular ways, an approach at which the best Puritans were true masters.  However, despite the excitable flood of exclamation marks employed, the substance can feel a trifle obvious.  A useful primer, though perhaps not as profound as it hopes.  (Westminster Bookstore/Amazon)

This new edition of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, confidently ascribed to Edward Fisher (Christian Focus, 2009) is excellent.  Although the book may be well-known to some, the new format is of great help in reading.  The main text is clear; broad margins contain both shorter notes by Thomas Boston and references to his longer contributions, which are helpfully broken out into their own sections.  This assists the reader to follow the flow of the author’s main argument while benefitting as required from Boston’s elucidations.  Neither does one have to agree with every nuance of the author’s convictions to appreciate the rich substance of the book.  Written in the form of a conversation between a true minister of the gospel, a new convert, an antinomian and a neonomian, the whole is for the most part pitch-perfect, putting words into the mouths of the various contributors that sound as fresh and as accurate today as they did in the seventeenth and succeeding centuries.  This continues to be a vital contribution to a perpetual debate, and ministers would do well to advance their appreciation and understanding of the gospel by means of this Scriptural tuning-fork.  (Westminster Bookstore/Amazon)

By grace alone

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Sinclair Ferguson’s new book is out from Ligonier.  You can order it here, and probably half a hundred other places.  Ligonier’s blurb:

Are you truly amazed by God’s grace? Or have you grown accustomed to it? Yes, we sing of God’s “Amazing Grace,” but do you truly understand what you as a Christian have experienced in receiving the grace of God? Or do you take divine grace for granted?

In By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson laments that “we have lost the joy and energy that is experienced when grace seems truly ‘amazing.’” In an effort to restore the wonder of divine grace, he reflects on it from seven angles, each built around a stanza from a rich but little-known hymn, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me,” written by Emmanuel T. Sibomana, a pastor in the African nation of Burundi.

This book poses probing questions for today’s believer: “If I am not amazed by God’s grace, can I really be living in it? Can I really be tasting, and savoring, and delighting in it?” But those willing to delve into God’s Word with Dr. Ferguson will come away with a deeper astonishment at the depths of God’s grace.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 February 2010 at 10:24

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Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

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A couple of helpful resources, the first of which I found by way of recommendation many moons ago, and the second of which I just found today.

While I would recommend tracking down audio of this material (which I think he has preached at a Banner of Truth Conference in the US), Ted Donnelly has given nine directives (the first version I heard had only six, so he is obviously developing this as he goes) that help us to preach Christ from the Old Testament:

  1. Face up to the predispositions.
  2. Follow the pattern.
  3. Cultivate the perspective.
  4. Grasp the plot.
  5. Look for the promise.
  6. Explore the parallels.
  7. Apply the precedents.
  8. Watch the pendulum.
  9. Love the person.

Sinclair Ferguson has also written a Proclamation Trust pamphlet on this topic, subtitled “Developing a Christ-centred instinct.”  Insisting that you need an instinct for this rather than a formula, he provides four pointers:

  1. The relationship between promise and fulfilment.
  2. The relationship between type and antitype.
  3. The relationship between the covenant and Christ.
  4. Proleptic [anticipatory] participation and subsequent realisation.

Having preached yesterday on Exodus 17, I am at once corrected and directed and encouraged by the insights of these masters of their craft.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 August 2009 at 12:00

Evangelical Movement of Wales addresses

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Martin Downes points us to several superb series of sermons delivered at the English-speaking Aberystwyth conferences of the Evangelical Movement of Wales in past years.

From 1996, Sinclair Ferguson on Ruth:

From 1993, Ted Donnelly on the servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53):

From 2001, Ted Donnelly on union with Christ (see also here):

Please note: If you download the sermons you are allowed to make one copy for your personal use. Please don’t redistribute copies of these sermons without first asking permission.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 25 June 2009 at 13:36

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“The Marrow of Modern Divinity”

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Marrow of Modern Divinity (Fisher)

Martin Downes lets us know that a new edition of this classic work is being published by Christian Focus:

A dialogue between a minister of the gospel and a young Christian. Both legalism and antinomianism are perennial dangers for the church and for individual Christians. When we begin to think of the Christian life primarily as a list of ‘do’s and ‘dont’s’, we are under the sway of legalism. When we begin to think that it is okay for us to go ahead and sin because God will forgive us anyway, we are feeling the temptation of antinomianism. The Marrow of Modern Divinity proclaims a gospel that can rescue us from both of these dangers.

After many years of being out of print this work is coming back in a clearly laid out edition, with explanatory notes by Thomas Boston and an introduction by Philip Ryken.  He has been blogging Boston for those who want more.

Martin also reminds us of a series of addresses on the neglected but vitally important pastoral issues in the Marrow controversy by Sinclair Ferguson.  I can heartily second Martin’s recommendation.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 25 June 2009 at 13:09

John Owen considers Calvin

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Amidst all the other Calvin-related business and bustle, the John Owen Centre at the London Theological Seminary is hosting a Calvin Conference toward the end of this year.  It will run on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th September 2009, and will cost £50 for the two days.

  • Calvin the Revolutionary: Christian living in a fallen world (Joel Beeke)
  • Calvin’s Way of Doing Theology: Exploring the Institutes (Tony Lane)
  • Calvin and Union with Christ: The Heart of Christian Doctrine (Paul Wells)
  • Calvin the Man: A Heart Aflame (Sinclair Ferguson) - Lloyd-Jones Memorial Lecture
  • Calvin the Reformer (Ian Hamilton)
  • Calvin and Christian Experience: The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Christian (Sinclair Ferguson)
  • Calvin and Preaching: The Power of the Word (Joel Beeke)

Get booking information from the John Owen Centre.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 5 June 2009 at 15:30

“Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church”

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Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church by Martin Downes

Christian Focus, 2009 (247pp, pbk)

As a reasonably dedicated follower of Ferguson, the misguided counsel given by the normally erudite Scot in the foreword to this volume left me profoundly uncomfortable:

So, put some logs, or coal, or peat, on the fire; make (or fix) yourself a pot of tea or coffee; settle back into your favorite chair – and spend an evening or a rainy afternoon in the company of Martin Downes (11-12).

All well and good, Sinclair, but I read this book during the warmest day of the year in the UK so far.  Whatever one thinks about the British weather (which Prof. Ferguson knows well), I can give assurance that roaring fires and warm drinks are far from what is required under such circumstances, and you can wait a good four or five days for a rainy afternoon during some of our summers.

Most of the other advice in this book you can safely take.

My only minor gripes are a number of editing glitches, and the fact that almost all the quotes in the book come without references, which can be frustrating if you wish to read more, or put the words in context.  Neither is there an index.

Risking the Truth (Downes)Those slight grievances aside, this is an outstanding book, characterised by clear thinking and straight talking.  Its basic premise is simple: the compiler, Martin Downes, conducted a series of interviews with some well-known senior statesmen of Christ’s church, most of whom are serving God in the UK or the US, with the exception of Conrad Mbewe (Zambia) – his environment reminds the reader that different situations involve different challenges, and we should beware an oversimplification of ‘the issues facing us today.’  Each contributor was asked questions concerning false teaching and flawed living with a view to instructing today’s church about prevalent errors and heresies.  The conversations focus on appropriate ways of handling and responding to these poisons.  Downes sets the scene in his introduction, explaining the apostolic concern that false teaching and false teachers be identified and addressed, lest damage be done to the body of Jesus Christ.  There follows a brief overview of the nature, origin, attraction, effects and persistence of heresy, setting us up for the interviews themselves.

As one reads through these dialogues, a number of distinctions become apparent.  Some of these are reflective of the character of the contributor.  Although there is often a pleasantly chatty, even casual tone to all the conversations, some interviews have longer, more developed answers and others quite terse responses.  In only a few of the conversations is there much technical language, but in general the language is clear and popular.

Other differences have to do with the nature of the interview.  In some, various specialists are quizzed on particular topics: Ligon Duncan deals almost exclusively with the New Perspective; Kim Riddlebarger addresses eschatology; Gary Johnson is quizzed about Norman Shepherd’s initial exposure and subsequent effect; Robert Peterson discusses the doctrine of hell; and, Greg Beale answers questions on inerrancy.

Other interviews are more general, and often have the same basic framework (and even identical questions).  Sometimes, the interviewee’s individual concerns provide shifts of focus; on other occasions, perceptive questions highlight a particular area of expertise.  In these more wide-ranging discussions it is the varied emphasis and nuance of answer that interests: there are few outright contradictions of other contributors, but a variety of perspective that is illuminating.

In reading, one senses care, insight and structure in the questions – whether they are more generic or directed at specific issues – with a view to drawing out relevant and helpful answers.  The reader is reminded that wise men can differ.  For example, some advocate that the pastor take pains to keep abreast of theological developments and deviations, others dismiss making too much of such a practice.  Sometimes shared principle gives rise to subtly-differentiated practice, demonstrating legitimate variety as to how one goes about the business of feeding the sheep while driving off the wolves.

However, there are also clear patterns in the book.  Along the way there are some brilliant gems to be collected, pithy nuggets of truth dropped almost casually into the individual conversation, including a good number of practical, pastoral counsels to be gleaned.  While these random jewels are worth collecting, it is the developing seams of emphasis that are more worth tracing.  Several notes are sounded repeatedly: the importance of firmly grasping the cardinal doctrines of Christian orthodoxy; the value of the historic confessions of faith that have served past generations so well as frameworks of truth; the need of clear conviction regarding the Scriptures as the very word of the living God; the helpfulness of a genuine historical awareness and insight – a clear and sound sense of where the church has come from and what she has already encountered along the way; the significance of the local church, and the part that membership of a healthy local congregation plays in preserving truth, and preserving from error; the value of clear, systematic, expository ministry.  That these notes chime so often, in different language, in different contexts, from different men, in response to different questions, suggests the weight that ought to be attached to these issues.

With regard to error itself, there are also valuable patterns to observe.  It is interesting that only Conrad Mbewe (with R. Scott Clark receiving an honourable mention) highlights the issue of charismatic teaching: is this an indication of a change of stance or emphasis further west?  Has the prominence of ‘Reformed Charismatics’ in the resurgence of ‘the New Calvinism’ had an effect?  For most of these men, the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision are at the forefront of the issues that need to be confronted in the church today (including on the ground in the life of local churches).  These issues, and the related web of errors that sit within and alongside them, crop up repeatedly.  What distresses without particularly surprising is how many of the cardinal doctrines of historic Reformed Christianity are once more considered up for grabs.  These are not new battles, though, and much is to be learned from those who have gone before.

Another thread concerns the shortness of the distance from orthodoxy to heterodoxy: no chasm this, but rather a hair’s breadth.  Falsehood is most effective when it is perverted or exaggerated truth.  The ease with which it is possible to slip into error is a constant warning, and the necessity of sometimes fine and accurate distinctions is always before us.

One helpful emphasis concerns the purpose of confronting error: it is not point-scoring, nor scalp-hunting.  Rather, we are to seek, in love, to win back the wanderers.  While we find a fundamental hope that all can be recovered, there is a note of practical pessimism as several experienced men lament how few individuals and institutions, once they have left the old paths, have been recovered to them.  Alongside of this is another warning note: the dangers of pride on account of an orthodox reputation, and therefore the need to walk closely with God if we are not to slip into error or heresy ourselves, or to become calloused and crass, making ourselves more an aggressive watchdog than a righteous watchman, notching our belts over how many errorists we blew out of the water with our last sermonic broadside.

That brings us to the final chapters, in which Martin Downes returns to warn against making the hunt for heresy the defining feature of any ministry.  This is developed in a brief treatment of 1 Timothy, reflecting on dealing with false teachers and teaching.  In the face of errors connected with revelation and interpretation, Downes marshals the apostolic evidence for making our ministries substantively positive.  Singular truth, identified and displayed in all its beauty, by its very nature exposes and condemns multiform and manifold error.  Here, the identification and exposure of error becomes almost incidental, natural, appropriate, and balanced.  Constant controversy is a bad school for character development: far better to bring the truth always to light, and let that light fall as required into the dark places.  John Owen concludes with typically wise and weighty counsel: it is one thing to be against heresies, but it is essential that we be for truth, not in a merely intellectual sense, but with a true apprehension of that truth in our minds and hearts:

Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in out [sic] own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with Him (247).

There are few volumes around that have this book’s distinctive character and purpose.  An impressive variety of men of God bend their collective minds to a single concern of broad relevance and great importance, and – prompted by some careful probing – give us the concentrated fruit of their thinking in clear and robust terms.  It is a repository of much wisdom, but of a certain kind.  You will not find here a Wallace sword 2catalogue of errors and heresies with cross-referenced responses.  Neither will you find all-out attacks on particular issues in the church.  What you will find is counsel as much on the method and manner of holding to truth and assaulting falsehood as the matter of truth itself.  You will not agree with all the details, but you will find a swathe of common opinion that is vigorously orthodox.  You will be stimulated, pointed in the right direction, made aware of issues and helped in where to start with and how to handle those issues.  Above and behind all, there lies a clear desire for the glory of God and the good of the church, a love for the truth and a concern for the lost and confused, and a clear-sighted awareness of what is at stake with a calm determination to hold the line and help others to do the same.  Whether already engaged in fighting a particular battle, or simply seeking to keep honed the edge of your Jerusalem blade, here you will find a good whetstone.

Scotland

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A fairly busy few days.  After plenty going on last week, I flew to Edinburgh first thing Saturday morning, and spent the day at the Scottish Reformed Conference, listening to Sinclair Ferguson and Eric Alexander (sermons here).  Sinclair preached the first and last sessions, sandwiching what was – for me – the outstanding message of the day, Eric Alexander on the glory of Christ.  It is not that Sinclair was bad, it is just that Eric Alexander was – I believe – unusually helped by the Spirit of God.  Maybe it is simply that this was what I needed to hear.

On the Lord’s day I was preaching morning and evening at Penicuik Baptist Church, meeting some old friends and gracious saints (mainly both simultaneously!).  On the Monday I spent a few hours at the Banner of Truth offices in Edinburgh, generally getting in the way and making a distracting nuisance of myself.  I flew home Monday evening, and spent most of the day afterward in a stupour before heading out to Ashford, where I preached at a meeting for the Sovereign Grace Union on the unchanging gospel.  I got home late and slept long.  I think I am catching up.  This weekend I have all three ministries here, and am trying to get my act together with these and many other bits.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 May 2009 at 09:04

“Risking the Truth”

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Martin Downes posts Sinclair Ferguson’s introduction to Risking the Truth (Martin’s upcoming book).  I am looking forward to getting this.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 7 April 2009 at 19:51

“In Christ alone”

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in-christ-aloneA few months ago I reviewed a recent title by Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone.  Ligonier have now posted an extended interview with Sinclair about his book.  His insightful answers to intelligent questions are well worth reading and pondering.  For example, on the misrepresentation of the person and work of Christ in the modern church:

Our “Jesus” is actually a reflection of ourselves. This is the constant danger when we don’t simply open the Scriptures and listen to their testimony about Jesus: we make a Jesus in our own image, usually domesticated. Sadly, much that dominates the Christian media seems to fall foul here. Any Jesus who isn’t both Savior and Lord, Sacrificial Lamb of God and Reigning King, cannot be the Jesus of the Gospels. And any Jesus who does not call us to radical, sacrificial, and yes, painful, discipleship, cannot be the real Jesus. I sometimes think that our danger as evangelicals is that we use what I sometimes tongue-in-cheek call the “Find Waldo Method” of reading the Gospels. Remember Waldo — the little fellow in the red and white sweater in the midst of the vast crowds? The whole point of the Waldo books was to try to find him. Many people read the Gospels that way, always asking “What does this have to say about me?” But that means that at the end of the day we’re looking for what they have to say about me, and my life, and my improvement. Yes, the Gospels have much to say to me. But they aren’t about me… they’re about Christ. And we need to listen to them and master them, or better be mastered by them and by the Christ they describe.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 5 March 2009 at 07:45

Twice on Sundays

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Iain D Campbell asks – and helpfully begins to answer – the question as to why anyone would bother going (or, indeed, wish to go) to worship God at church twice on Sunday.

Here is his conclusion:

Ultimately, the issue is not so much about our views of church, but about our views of Christ. He commands us in Scripture not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. He promises to be present in the assembly of his people, where as few as two gather in his name. He promises to enrich his people through his Word and by his Spirit.

If that is the case, then we ought to put a premium on such occasions. While contemporary culture squeezes religion out, by putting pressure on families and on children to be involved in many different activities on the Lord’s Day, there ought, surely, to be something non-negotiable about gathering for worship with the people of God week by week.

Sinclair Ferguson is reputed to have said at a recent conference, in response to the very question about why evening worship is necessary on the Lord’s Day, that if an attractive girl asked a boy to meet her at a particular hour, he would be there. The Bible offers us something better than that: the one who is the chief among ten thousand asks poor sinners to meet him at a particular hour, as he promises to be present in the gathered assembly of his people.

It is a foolish person who passes up a golden opportunity to meet with the risen Lord. Which is why I shall shout loud that Christians should worship together twice on Sundays. At the very least.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 January 2009 at 09:32

The silence of the Substitute

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Justin Taylor gives us a taster from Sinclair Ferguson’s forthcoming chapter in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God:

[Christ] our Savior is our Exemplar. But he is not only, nor is he first of all, an Exemplar. To be that, he needed first to become our Savior. All this is part of the grand vision of Isaiah’s Servant Songs (so influential in Jesus’ own reception of God’s word!). The Father opened the ear of his Son; the Son was not rebellious. He was willing to be “oppressed and afflicted.” As he experienced this in his trial and condemnation, “he opened not his mouth . . .” (Isa. 53:7).

Why was Jesus silent? Is there more to this than meets the eyes?

Indeed there is!

He was silent because of every word that has proceeded from your lips; because of every word that provides adequate reason for God to damn you for all eternity, because you have cursed him or his image.

The Lord Jesus came into the world to bear the judgment of God against the sin of our tongues. When he stood before the High Priest and the judgment seat of Pontius Pilate, he accepted a sentence of guilt. But that was my guilt. He bore in his body on the tree the sins of my lips and my tongue.

Do you wish you could control your tongue better? Do you want to follow the example of Jesus? Then you need to understand that he is Savior first, and then he is Example. You need to come, conscious of the sin of your lips, and say:

God be merciful to me a sinner.
I thank you that Jesus came and was silent
in order that he might bear the penalty of all my misuse of my tongue.

And when you know that he has taken God’s judgment and wrath against your every sinful word, you cannot but come to him and say:

O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.

He is able to answer that prayer, and its companion petition:

Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.

All the guilt can be cleansed away! Christ can deliver you from the misuse of the tongue. And when you come to him conscious of that sin, you discover what a glorious Savior he is. Delivered-albeit not yet perfected and glorified-your tongue now shows forth his praises. Taken out of the pit and from the miry clay on your lips is now a new song of praise to your God. Then people not only hear a different vocabulary, but they hear you speak with a different accent. That is what leaves the lasting impression of the power of Christ and the transformation of grace in your life.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 January 2009 at 22:43

Blog blizzard

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The following is not a series of recommendations in itself, more a bundle of interesting posts from the blogosphere over last few days: putting it here is for my own benefit as much as for anyone else

Santa Christ?

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santa-christScott Clark points us to Sinclair Ferguson at Ligonier on a Santa Claus Christology.  This brief essay is excerpted from Professor Ferguson’s outstanding book, In Christ  Alone (see review).

Ferguson writes:

The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

Read the whole article for an antidote to saccharine sentiment and skewed supernaturalism this Christmas.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 1 December 2008 at 20:44

Godly living, James-style

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Justin Taylor and the Desiring God blog draw attention to a list of 20 resolutions drawn from the book of James, as given by Sinclair Ferguson at the latest Desiring God conference.  We might profitably go to God on the basis of number 18 (Jas 5.15) , and then set out to live a more godly life in prayerful dependence on the Spirit of the Christ.

  • James 1:5 To ask God for wisdom to speak and with a single mind
  • James 1:9-10 To boast only in exaltation in Christ, & humiliation in world
  • James 1:13 To set a watch over my mouth
  • James 1:19 To be constantly quick to hear, slow to speak
  • James 2:1-4 To learn the gospel way of speaking to poor and the rich
  • James 2:12 To speak always in the consciousness of the final judgment
  • James 2:16 To never stand on anyone’s face with my words
  • James 3:14 To never claim as reality something I do not experience
  • James 4:1 To resist quarrelsome words in order to mortify a quarrelsome heart
  • James 4:11 To never speak evil of another
  • James 4:13 To never boast in what I will accomplish
  • James 4:15 To always speak as one subject to the providences of God
  • James 5:9 To never grumble, knowing that the Judge is at the door
  • James 5:12 To never allow anything but total integrity in my speech
  • James 5:13 To speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer
  • James 5:14 To sing praises to God whenever I am cheerful
  • James 5:14 To ask for the prayers of others when I am sick
  • James 5:15 To confess it freely whenever I have failed
  • James 5:15 To pray with and for one another when I am together with others
  • James 5:19 To speak words of restoration when I see another wander

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 27 September 2008 at 10:08

“Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah”

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Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah by Sinclair B Ferguson

Banner of Truth, 2008 (112pp, pbk)

Regular readers of this blog will doubtless be delighted to discover that I was able to obtain this volume without sacrificing my second-best pair of trousers.

A slim 100+ pages, this book consists of eleven brief chapters outlining the history of Jonah.  We are first introduced to the prophet, a man whose past ministry was owned of God (2Kgs 14).  We see him turning tail on God and his call, and heading in the opposite direction.  We wonder at how God used the rebellious prophet even in his disobedience, and marvel at the great grace of a great God (more marvellous than the greatness of Jonah’s fish).  We trace the change of heart that Jonah had in the belly of the fish as God deals with him in merciful wrath.  We consider the sign of Jonah, the foreshadowing of Christ that is seen in him.  We observe the Word of God running powerfully through Nineveh as the repentant prophet declares God’s impending judgment, and watch as a city falls to its knees before the Almighty.  We crease our brows in bewilderment as an angry prophet butts heads with God himself, the vengefulness, selfishness and bitterness of his heart erupting at the moment of grace’s great triumph.  We gaze at God’s further lessons to this man wrestling with the corruptions of his own heart.  Then, finally, we pause at the tantalising open-endedness of this history and face the uncomfortable demand that we answer the question that God puts to Jonah: we find ourselves at the end in the prophet’s painful shoes, facing the same God, and probed by the same challenge.

The author sets out plainly the discovery that Jonah makes of the heart of God, a discovery that often discomfits and angers him, only to find the same grace that he resents being shown to others rebuking, guiding, correcting and restoring him.  With wit, insight and sensitivity both to the mind and heart of his subject and his readers, Ferguson guides us through the experience of the prophet, teaching us directly and incidentally about God and men, and pulling back the curtain of our own hearts in ways necessary if not always pleasant.  There are few Christians who have not had their Jonah moments, or even Jonah months and years, and here we find fresh grounds for repentance, and lessons to learn that we not walk that foolish way again, God helping us.

Preachers will need to be careful in their use of this volume: like so many apparently simple treatments of Biblical books, you start off with a guide and end up with a master.  It is the sort of book that might leave you wondering, “How could I be clearer or better structured than that?  What other applications might I want to make?”  A wonderful resource, one would wish to be helped rather than hogtied by its sense and structure.

I had some questions about the author’s discussion of ‘revival’ in Nineveh.  I would suggest that it was Jonah who was in degree revived and restored to fellowship with God while in the belly of the fish.  I do not wish to pick holes, but the work of God among the heathen city that Jonah describes may be a wonderful and deeply desirable effect of true revival, but it is not itself revival.  It was the revived Jonah (though with much work still to be done in his heart!) who preached, and saw the grace of God having a stupendous effect on previously utterly stony hearts: Nineveh was not revived, but converted!  This is a minor gripe, but I make it because too often the church of Christ seems smugly to imagine that we are healthy and vibrant (I by no means accuse Sinclair Ferguson of such an error), and that revival is something that happens to the unsaved out there somewhere.  This is not the case: revival is the often painful, always humbling, utterly God-exalting reality of God drawing near to his people, of their seeing their sin and his majesty, his glory shining in the face of Christ Jesus.  One of the effects of a revived church is generally kingdom expansion, as restored and reinvigorated saints preach a gospel known and felt: in that sense, Nineveh enjoyed the fruits of one man’s revival.  But the world benefits when the church is revived, and – in that – I stand with the author in his hope.

It may be that you would need to sell your second-best pair of trousers to obtain this book.  Do not pause for long before you accept that it would be a price worth paying, for the good of your own soul, and – God willing – the extension of Christ’s kingdom.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 8 August 2008 at 08:13

“The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction”

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The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Banner of Truth, 1981 (218pp, pbk)

The premise of this volume is that Christians need a firm and accurate grasp upon the basic doctrines of our faith, the fundamental realities of true religion, in order to lead lives that bring glory to God: “how we think is one of the great determining factors in how we live” (2).  Nothing is more practical than doctrine.

With this underpinning principle established, the author carries us on through a total of 18 chapters in what is, in effect, a slightly expanded treatment of the ordo salutis (the order of salvation, or sequence in which the saving benefits of Christ’s death are applied in the experience of a child of God).  He begins with the context in which salvation is necessary – ‘God’s broken image’ – before outlining the plan of grace and working through the elements of God’s plan.  There is more than a passing nod to the outstanding treatment of Professor John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, but Professor Ferguson’s treatment is more popular and slightly broader.  For example, the chapter titles are less technical (Murray’s ‘Effectual calling’ is Ferguson’s ‘Called by God, for ‘Regeneration’ is given ‘Born again’, in place of ‘Adoption’ we have ‘Sons of God’) and the style more friendly for the average reader.  Furthermore, the material is less dense and more developed, more expansive, more fully explained and applied.  For example, there are chapters on conviction of sin and election woven in; there are chapters on both faith and repentance that make plain the connections between the two while treating each in its own right.  The saint’s pursuit of holiness and increasing conformity to Christ are addressed in three chapters on the end of sin’s dominion, Christian conflict with sin, and crucifying sin.  Before addressing glorification, we are given instruction on falling asleep in Christ.

This is systematic theology at its most accessible and profitable.  Step by step, Professor Ferguson leads us along the wonderful tapestry of God’s dealings with us in Christ, pointing out the details, pausing to admire the handiwork, and not ceasing to make plain that these are not boxes to be ticked as a matter of dry orthodoxy, but truths to be lived.  As a parent might first chew meat to soften it up for an infant to eat and digest, so this is chewed-up soteriology suitable for an audience not theologically astute or untrained.  I do not mean by that to suggest that this is a book for children alone: rather, these are truths made accessible for everyone, and it would do many saints of mature years much good to use this as a means to maturity of understanding.  That said, it would be ideal material for older and adult Sunday School classes, family worship for couples or those with older children, as well as simple instructional and devotional reading.

The prayerful and attentive reader will be well served by this volume.  You walk away from each chapter not only persuaded that doctrine should make a difference, but that it does and how it does – the difference that this particular element of the plan of salvation will make to you in your life.  This is indeed an outstanding doctrinal introduction, and one which should gladden the heart of every earnest child of God.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 1 August 2008 at 10:11

C.J. Mahaney interviews Sinclair Ferguson

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I know that this has been around for a while, but I have just been enjoying listening again to C.J. Mahaney interviewing Sinclair Ferguson.  There are transcribed sections of the interview available, and four audio tracks (ranging from some 12 minutes to 44 minutes).  Listening to the audio tracks is like sitting at a table in a restaurant and being able to drink in a conversation between two other people – a polite sort of earwigging.  In fact, because it was partly recorded in a restaurant, it’s hard not to imagine that you are sitting in one with them.

The conversation is wide-ranging, and in the course of it you get not just truth but character.  Listen and enjoy.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 19 July 2008 at 17:20

“In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life”

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In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Reformation Trust, 2007 (241 pp, hbk)

B. B. Warfield defines Calvinism as lying in “a profound apprehension of God in his majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature.”[1] That being an accurate statement, and recognizing that true Calvinism is by definition experimental, this collection provides a simple yet profound introduction to and example of genuine Calvinism.

Fifty brief chapters – drawn from two decades of brief articles for two periodicals, Eternity Magazine and Tabletalk – lie between the covers of this book.  The whole volume centers about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, revealing the consistently Christocentric substance of Professor Ferguson’s thought and ministry, as well as particular emphases that are plainly close to his heart.  The book is clearly and neatly set out, and well-edited, the only slight gripe being that the margins are quite narrow, leaving little space for annotated engagement with the text!

The book is split into six fairly even sections: ‘The Word Became Flesh,’ ‘The Heart of the Matter,’ ‘The Spirit of Christ,’ ‘The Privileges of Grace,’ ‘A Life of Wisdom,’ and ‘Faithful to the End.’  The weight toward the beginning seems to lie with indicatives, and shifts toward imperatives as we progress through the volume.  This slight shift in balance is sufficiently subtle that one only notices it when the holy punches start to fall harder and with greater regularity.  That is not to say that there is no application toward the beginning of the book.  On the contrary, almost every chapter ends with a single thrust, a nail driven home into the heart and mind with one swift blow.  Rather, the more the book develops, the more the author unpacks our hearts and exposes us to the truth, enforcing the quoted distinction made by John Owen between the knowledge of the truth and the knowledge of the power of the truth.

Certain notes are sounded, and certain themes develop.  Professor Ferguson has the happy knack and particular gift of being able to step back from the Scriptures and view a whole book or letter with freshness and clarity, not crippled by the uninspired chapter divisions.  At the same time, he discerns patterns and developments in thought and direction.  Taken together, these capacities allow him to throw light both on the broad scheme and the particular details of the inspired page.  The reader is led by a guide who is able to display the panorama of the whole building and identify its overall structure as well as zoom in on the detail and show its artistry and beauty, often in combination.  In this collection, the Gospel of John, and the letters to the Romans and the Hebrews, particularly benefit from this treatment, although there are also helpful insights on the letter of James.  Given the nature of the material, there is sometimes overlap between chapters, but rarely redundancy.

Neither is Professor Ferguson shy of dealing with debated issues.  In the course of the profound and gripping pneumatological section, he plainly but irenically addresses such matters as the continuity of elements of the Pentecostal realities, and the cessation of others.  At the same time, it is plain that the book is not about point-scoring: Reformed believers are presented – and often – with penetrating questions and vigorous challenges.

There is a lot of personality in the book, and an unashamed humanity.  Judicious anecdotes draw us in to the reality of the subject matter, and spark our interest.  Those who have heard Professor Ferguson preach or lecture will often hear his voice in their heads as they read.  As one would expect from a scholar of his stature, he is aided by apposite quotes from or allusions to Calvin, Owen, and Luther, as well as references to several well-known hymns.  The style is at once accessible without being condescending, intelligent without being highbrow, accurate without being pedantic.  In these respects the style of writing is eminently worthy of emulation, to say nothing of its substance.  Depth of thinking, clarity of purpose, and warmth of intent are all in evidence, without the reader feeling patronised, manipulated, or browbeaten.  The author’s learning is not paraded, but employed in servant’s garb.

However, the simplicity of the writing and real clarity in the substance do not mask the searching profundity of the material.  The stance of the true Calvinist is plain: the author is a man unpretentiously awed by the grace of God in Christ, and we are called to the same awareness, the same profound apprehension of God as he is revealed in Christ’s person and work.  Whether teaching, reproving, correcting, or instructing in righteousness, Professor Ferguson brings us time and again to consider the excellency and wonder of Christ the Son of God, in his complete deity and perfect humanity. We come face to face with our Redeemer, the Conqueror, our Prophet, Priest and King.  We wonder at the ministry of Christ’s Spirit in his relation both to him and to us.  We marvel at what it means to be born again, and to enjoy union with the Lord Christ himself.  We feel the challenges of a life lived out as a true disciple of the Saviour.  We are faced with the realities of kingdom life in a fallen world; of pilgrims, strangers in the earth, who need to know the commandments of God, who need to have our unmortified affections for the stuff of this life drowned in the blood of Christ, overwhelmed by our ever-increasing love for him who loved us and gave himself for us.

There is no magic here.  There is nothing simplistic or shallow.  It is a simple yet profound declaration of the substantive realities of God’s truth, a call to consider with deeper insight and warmer heart the unseen and eternal verities.  Gospel ministers will wish to read this volume as Christians, as theologians and as preachers.  As Christians, for who does not need to be brought back repeatedly to first things, and to have our hearts burn within us again at the wonder of God’s grace in Christ to sinners like us?  As theologians, for who would not wish to be better instructed in God’s merciful dealings with sinners through his Son, Jesus Christ?  As preachers, for who has spoken of the person and work of our Saviour with anything like a satisfactory clarity and fullness, and does not need to learn how to do so with ever greater warmth and force?

In these respects, we would do well to spend careful and prayerful time with this book.  Pastors will find their minds and hearts enlarged, will come away prompted as to how they might preach from a particular topic or passage, will rise from their reading chairs – and perhaps from their knees – with a greater determination to be more Christlike undershepherds of the Good Shepherd’s precious flock, and to call those committed to their care to a deeper and higher appreciation of Christ the Lord than they have yet attained.  They could do worse than to begin by commending this book.


[1] B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 5 in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (1931; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 354.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 May 2008 at 09:10

“Man Overboard!: The Story of Jonah”

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Sinclair Ferguson’s study of Jonah, entitled Man Overboard!, is being republished by the Banner of Truth. I have yet to read anything by Professor Ferguson that was not worth reading. I was looking for this book a few months ago, and eventually found a couple of copies on a well-known book purchasing website. I promptly wrote to the stores selling this title to suggest that they had made an error in their listing, and could I have the book for £10.40 or £12.70, as surely it wasn’t selling for £104 and £127. A note from one seller confirmed that the comedy pricing was accurate, so – with an electronic snort of indignation – I ditched the notion of a quick purchase.

Needless to say, I am delighted that the Banner are republishing this, and at the slightly more reasonable price of $12 (probably about £6). I don’t doubt that this will be worth getting, reading, and digesting. I can’t remember whose book recommendation suggested that one should sell his second-best pair of trousers to buy a given volume, but at least now you won’t have to put your entire wardrobe on Ebay in order to get this particular treat.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 May 2008 at 08:42

Posted in Book notices

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The law and the gospel

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With thanks to Martin Downes, this snippet from Iain D. Campbell punches above its weight. In his slim but profound treatment of The Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), Sinclair Ferguson states clearly that Jesus makes plain “that our attitude to the law of God is an index of our attitude to God himself. If we treat the law lightly and encourage others to do so (if we have a settled and consistent attitude of antagonism toward it), we show that we are strangers to the promise of the new covenant in Christ. But if we love and keep even the least of the Lord’s commandments, and we encourage others to do so as well (if we have a settled attitude of obedience), that is a sure mark that we love Christ and belong to his kingdom” (77).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 6 May 2008 at 15:19

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