THE WORKS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS: Discourse on the Trinity – Volume 21

DISCOURSE ON THE TRINITY

Jonathan Edwards usually does not waste time in getting to his point.  This work is no exception.  He begins his discourse on the Trinity: “When we speak of God’s happiness, the account that we are wont to give of it is that God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, his own essence and perfections.”

Edwards continues in this vein: “God undoubtedly infinitely loves and delights in himself and is infinitely happy in the understanding and view of his own glorious essence … The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of his Son.”  Edwards maintains, “The sum of all God’s love is his love to himself.”

Edwards proceeds to unpack three key truths that pertain to the Son of God: (1) Christ is called the wisdom of God.  (2) Christ is called the logos of God.  (3) Christ is called the Amen, which is a Hebrew word that signifies truth.

Edwards argues that the essence of the Trinity is love (1 John 4:8).  “Now the sum of God’s temper or disposition is love, for he is infinite love … This is the divine disposition or nature that we are made partakers of; for our partaking or communion with God consists in the communion or partaking of the Holy  Ghost.”  The Spirit quickens, enlivens, and beautifies all things, and in the final analysis seeks to sanctify, comfort, and delight the people of God.

Standing with the historic position of the Western church and holds that the Son is begotten by the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and Son.  The members of this society or family are co-equal and co-eternal.

In typical Edwardsean fashion, our author reminds us of the beauty, majesty, and authority of the Triune God – “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

THE DOCTRINE OF THE WORD OF GOD – John Frame (2010)

In 1987, John Frame embarked on his series, A Theology of Lordship. He began with his first work, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.  Fifteen years later, he released The Doctrine of God.  In 2008, he completed The Doctrine of the Christian Life.  Each book is noteworthy in its own right.  However, I must add that outside of Scripture, Frame’s Doctrine of God is by far the most helpful and impressive book I have ever read.

Today I begin the final installment of the Theology of Lordship Series – The Doctrine of the Word of God. And the author inserts a bombshell in the preface: “And the more I think about it, the more I think this book is my best work ever.”  Quite a statement from an author who has already penned the most significant book in my life to date!

Here’s the deal.  When I dig into a Frame book, it is something akin to being invited to the White House.  The tour guide invites guests to explore all the rooms in the house.  “Take your time and enjoy yourself.  Make your self and home.  Stay as long as you like.”  Such an invitation would be both exhilarating and intimidating.  Welcome to the world of John Frame!

Frame divides his work into four parts which include, 1) Orientation, 2) God’s Word in Modern Theology, 3) The Nature of God’s Word, and 4) How the Word Comes to Us.  He includes (as in the other three volumes a very helpful analytical outline) which has helped me over the years in writing my own curriculum for theological education.  Additionally, Frame maintains these outlines help readers see the flow of argumentation throughout the book.

PART ONE: ORIENTATION

This section merely introduces readers to the theme of the book: “The main contention of this volume,” writes Frame, “is that God’s speech to man is real speech.  It is very much like one person speaking to another.  God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately.”  Frame, then,  articulates his thesis: “God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.”

Frame argues that our response to God’s revelation should be one of obedience that comes from the heart: “When God speaks, our role is to believe, obey, delight, repent, mourn – whatever he wants us to do.  Our response should be without reservation, from the heart.”

The author distinguishes the God of the Bible from other world religions.  He summarizes work previously set forth in The Doctrine of God (DG): As such, he is set forth as a God who is an absolute personality.  He is absolute in that he is unchangeable, eternal, and infinite.  Yet he is also personal (or as Frame puts it “tripersonal”).  His point is that some religions and worldviews acknowledge the existence of a personal god.  And others recognize gods who are absolute.  But only historic Christianity acknowledges and worships a God who is personal and absolute.

God is the Creator.  As such, the creation is set apart from the Creator; hence the Creator-creature distinction.  The creature is wholly dependent on the Creator (Acts 17:28).

God is the Covenant Lord.  Frame is quick to remind readers that Lord “represents the Hebrew Yahweh, the name by which he wants his people to remember him.”  God is a covenental; he is the God of control, authority, and presence (what Frame calls the three lordship attributes; a theological reality that is teased out in DG).

Frame relates the lordship attributes to three perspectives respectively.  The situational perspective is the area where we teach and preach the authoritative Word.  The normative perspective focuses on how Scripture defines the word.  And the existential perspective is where God’s Word is transferred from the words we speak to our hearts.

PART TWO: GOD’S WORD IN MODERN THEOLOGY

Part two discusses modern views of revelation: “What distinguishes modern views of revelation from orthodox views is their affirmation of human autonomy in the realm of knowledge.  Intellectual autonomy is the view that human beings have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation.”  Autonomy is always irrational; always sinful.

Frame argues that when man seeks to become his own lord, he “denies God’s ultimate control, authority, and presence.”  He articulates the classic Van Til idea of irrationality/rationality: “Either he denies that there is such a Lord or he ascribes lordship to something in creation.  If he denies that there is a Lord, he embraces irrationalism, the view that there is no ultimate meaning in the universe.  If he ascribes lordship to something finite (i.e., idolatry), he embraces rationalism, the view that a godlike knowledge can be obtained from the creation alone.”

Frame’s conclusion is that “nothing can be validated by autonomous reason … for such reasoning leads to a rationalist-irrationalist dialectic, which destroys all knowledge.  For that pottage, much of the church has forsaken its birthright, God’s personal word.”

Anyone familiar with John Frame will recognize that he does not oppose reason itself.  Indeed, “reason itself is a good gift of God.”  This good gift, however, is “fallible … and affected by sin.”  Rather, he rightly reacts against two bedrock principles in liberal theology: (1) Autonomous human reason, and (2) The notion that autonomous reason provides the ultimate criteria of truth and error, right and wrong, “by which everything (including Scripture) is to be judged.”

The author argues that it is sinful to substitute human rationality, history, or a subjective event for the “ultimate authority of God’s personal words” a feat that has been virtually perfected by theological liberals.  Frame has not only identified a key marker of liberalism; he has his finger on some of the error that is creeping into biblically-minded churches and followers of Christ.  Liberals and conservatives alike should recognize that rationalism, historicism, and subjectivism are unable of dealing properly with God’s personal words, i.e. God’s revelation.

Friedrich Schleiermacher, the so-called “father of theology” is the name most associated with the subjective event which is substituted for the authority of God’s Word.  He view of revelation should be familiar to evangelicals because many fall into the ditch of liberalism and do not even realize their shoes are dirty.  Schleirmacher believes that “revelation is primarily subjective, not objective.  It is not objective truths, but our subjective responses to objective truths.”

PART THREE: THE NATURE OF GOD’S WORD

Frame defines the Word of God as (1) “God himself, understood as communicator,” and (2) “the sum total of his free communications with his creatures.”

He reiterates a central theme of the Lordship Series, namely, God speaks to us as Lord.  “We should therefore expect that is speech, like all his actions, will express his lordship attributes: his control, authority, and presence.” As such, Frame examines each lordship attribute respectively.

First, he explores the controlling power of the Word of God.  God’s Word exerts power over inanimate objects as well as creatures.  God’s Word is an instrument of judgment as well as grace/blessing.  In the final analysis, “God accomplishes all his works by his powerful word: creation, providence, judgment, grace.”  The efficacy of God’s Word is God’s sovereign prerogative.

Second, Frame examines the Word of God as his meaningful authority.  When God speaks, his words are meaningful, thus authoritative.  Consequently, God’s authoritative words create obligation on the part of the creature:  “When he questions us, we should answer.  When he expresses his grace, we are obligated to trust it.  When he tells us his desires, we should conform our lives to them.  When he shares with us his knowledge and intentions, we ought to believe that they are true.”

Jesus carries the fully weight of authority as he comes to bear witness to the truth and accomplish the redemptive act that was ordained in eternity past.  Frame concludes, “To hear the words of Jesus, then, is the same as hearing the words of the Father.  We are to hear the words of Jesus as Abraham heard the words of Yahweh, as words of supreme authority.  We are not in any position to find fault with the words of Jesus.  They rather create obligations on our part to hear, believe, obey, mediate, rejoice, mourn – whatever the words may demand of us.”

Lastly, Frame explores God’s Word as personal presence – the third lordship attribute.  The author presents nine practical ways that God manifests his presence in a special way to his people.

1. God’s nearness to his people is the nearness of his words.

2. Where the Word is, there is God’s Spirit.

3. God performs all his actions through speech.

4. God is distinguished from all other gods because he is the God who speaks.

5. The persons of the Trinity are distinguished  from one another in Scripture according to their role in the divine speech.

6. The speech of God has divine attributes.

7. The Word does things that only God can do.

8. The Word of God is an object of worship.

9. The Word is God.

The three lordship attributes of control, authority, and presence are inseparable.  In other words, when God exerts control, there is a corresponding authority and presence that complement one another.  Frame puts it this way: “So if God performs all his actions by powerful and authoritative speech, then his speech is never separated from his personal presence.”

PART FOUR: HOW THE WORD COMES TO US

Part four makes up the bulk of the work and is concerned primarily with how the Word of God gets into our hearts and minds.  Dr. Frame explains how God reveals himself via events and words (the divine voice, the apostles, and prophets).

Frame discusses Jesus’ and the apostles’ view of the Old Testament respectively.  He includes a helpful section on the canon of Scripture.  His treatment of inspiration is extremely valuable and encouraging.

The author tackles what he calls the content of Scripture and parallels it with the Hittite suzerainty treaty which unfolds as follows:

1. Name of the great king

2. Historical prologue

3. Stipulations (laws) and includes exclusive loyalty which is equivalent to love and specific requirements.

4. Sanctions (blessings and curses)

5. Administration.

Frame maintains the “covenantal model of canonicity is enormously helpful in dealing with questions concerning biblical authority, infallibility, and inerrancy.  On this model, God is the ultimate author of Scripture, and we vassals have no right to find fault with that document; rather, we are to be subject to it in all our thought and life.”    And he argues that the five sections also point to five types of revelation that emerges in Scripture respectively:

1. Revelation of the name of God

2. Revelation of God’s mighty acts in history

3. Revelation of God’s law including love and specific requirements

4. Revelation of God’s continuing presence to bless and curse

5. Revelation of God’s institutional provisions: Scripture, church, sacraments, discipline, etc.

Frame argues that the covenants  bolster  the unity of Scripture by their “pervasiveness, complementarity, and their perspectival relationship.”

The inerrancy of Scripture is explored in a thoughtful and comprehensive way.  Frame’s argument is convincing and compelling: “Scripture is both inerrant and infallible.  It is inerrant because it is infallible.  There are no errors because there can be no errors in the divine speech … Error arises from two sources: deceit and ignorance.  Deceit is intentional error, lying.  Ignorance may lead to unintentional error.  But God does not lie, and he is ignorant of nothing.  If Scripture is his Word, therefore, it contains no errors.  It is inerrant.”

Frame unpacks the clarity, necessity, comprehensiveness, sufficiency, and the transmission of Scripture.  Concerning the transmission of Scripture in particular, the author articulates the process as follows: the divine voice communicates via prophets and apostles which leads to the written word.  Frame argues “there is no decrease in power, authority, or divine presence, as we move from the divine voice, to the prophets and apostles, and to the written word.”  Additionally, the written Word proceeds through a number of processes before it reaches the human heart and mind.  These include copies, textual criticism, translations, teaching, preaching, sacraments, theology, confessions and creeds, interpretation, and assurance.

Frame summarizes the essence of his thesis: “He [God] is our covenant Lord.  So his word to us reflects his lordship attributes of control, authority, and presence.  His word has a power that controls all things.  It has supreme authority, so that it creates obligations in its hearers: obligations to believe, obey, and otherwise participate in what he presents to us.  And the word is also the location of God’s very presence to us.”

SUMMARY STATEMENT

Finishing volume four of the Theology of Lordship Series marks the end of an incredible journey.  But in many ways, the journey is just beginning.  For followers of Christ recognize the mandate to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Indeed, our God is the God of control, authority, and presence.

I consider Dr. Frame’s Theology of Lordship Series a labor of love that the church will appreciate and benefit from for years to come.  Every young pastor should set a goal to purchase and thoroughly digest each volume in the Lordship series.  I count these four book among the most valuable resources in my theological library.

Many thanks to John Frame for courageous writing and his diligent approach to God’s Word.

5 stars

AS IRON SHARPENS IRON – Howard and William Hendricks

As Iron Sharpens Iron attempts to explain and sell the concept of mentoring.  The stated goal of the authors is to see thousands of readers develop mentoring relationships as a result of reading the material.  The authors hope to steer as many men as possible into vital relationships that produce and reproduce godly men.

The authors admit the difficulty of defining a “mentor” and note some distinguishing qualities between mentorship and discipleship.  The concept of discipleship is presented as a specific plan to nurture spiritual growth in the life of another man.  The idea of mentoring is presented as more of a broad scheme.  A mentor is fundamentally committed to helping another grow and realize specific life goals.  Therefore, the authors seek to build the case for utilizing mentoring as one of the primary means of bringing men to maturity.  Mentoring is meant to leave a lasting legacy on the life of another man.

The book is divided into two general parts.  Part one is devoted to men who seek a mentor.  The authors intend to help such a man find a mentor, provide qualities to look for in a mentor, give some basic strategies for growth, and offer tips in building a mentoring relationship.

Part two is devoted to men who intend to serve as a mentor to a younger man.  The authors lay the foundation by discussing the need for mentor-type relationships in our culture.  Further, the authors discuss the roles and responsibilities of a mentor.  Finally, the authors provide a host of “how-to’s” as well as a list of problems to avoid in a mentoring relationship.

As Iron Sharpens Iron is a worthwhile book that focuses on the practical rather than the theoretical.  A further strength worth mentioning is the holistic approach to a mentoring relationship.  The authors are careful to endorse a complete concept of mentoring that stresses the construction of the complete man including the spiritual, emotional, social, physical, and financial.  The book is well-balanced and thought-provoking.  As Iron Sharpens Iron is very encouraging and motivating.  One wonders how any reader could walk away from this material without calling up a potential protégé to start a mentoring relationship.

The only weakness I detected was a great deal of monotony.  Much of the material presented in part one is rehashed in part two.

This work shall prove to be a great help in my current ministry.  The concepts may be immediately implemented in a mentoring program in the local church.  Further, this book may be used as a stimulus to get other men interested in the mentoring process.  The possibilities are endless for any church that seeks to build life on life relationships for the purpose of godliness.

3.5 stars

A HISTORY OF MODERN RUSSIA – Robert Service (1997)

A History of Modern Russia by Robert Service is a fascinating account of the events that begin with Nicholas II and lead all the way to Vladimir Putin.

Sometimes a few sentences  is worth the price of the book.  The author contemplates the death of Stalin and describes the process of embalming and the funeral that took place.  Service adds, “A silence was meant to descend over Moscow.  But such was the crowd in the nearby streets that a commotion broke out.  The pressure of bodies led to dozens of fatalities.  From under the glass the chemically-treated corpse could still terminate innocent lives.”

A few lessons stand out:

1. Unchecked power corrupts people and nations

2. The power of an ideology or worldview does not terminate with the death of a  given leader

3. Never underestimate the power of an atheistic worldview

4. Never take freedom for granted

A History of Modern Russia is a terrific overview.  It honestly assesses the strengths and weaknesses of this fascinating country. 

3.5 stars

GROUNDED IN THE GOSPEL: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way – J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett (2010)

J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett are concerned about the current condition of the church.  They have written Grounded in the Gospel in order to reignite a passion for catechizing believers in the Christian faith.

The practice of catechesis finds its roots in the Old Testament: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7, ESV).  And the catechetical imperatives clearly emerge in the New Testament (1 Tim. 4:11, 16; 6:2-4; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 4:2-3; Tit. 2:1, 15). This imperative reaches a crescendo in the imperative that Christ sets forth (Matt. 28:20).

Packer and Parrett remind readers that the central feature of pastoral ministry is one of rigorous teaching and preaching.  And they rightly argue that regenerate people “will welcome this kind of ongoing instruction in which attention is focused on the self-revealed Triune God: who and what he is; what he has done, is doing, and will do; his works, ways, will, wisdom, and how he wants to be worshipped; in short, everything he shows us with regard to himself throughout the Scripture.”

Grounded in the Gospel is an excellent introduction to the rationale behind creeds and catechisms and should spark creative ways of doing discipleship, namely, returning to the old paths.

3.5 stars

THE EROSION OF THE CHRISTIAN MIND

Erosion occurs in the Christian mind when we do not carefully evaluate the propositions that bombard us.  And make no mistake.  The mental assault is relentless and subtle.  For instance, consider one of the central statements in the movie, Megamind“Destiny is not the path given to us but the path we choose for ourselves.”

How does this square with Scripture and a well-informed Christian worldview?  The statement runs contrary to Scripture because God ordains everything that comes to pass.  This sweeping theological reality shines brightly in Ephesians 1:11 and speaks of God “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) adds, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass …”  In other words, God is in sovereign control over all things – including free decisions.  It is critical to note that these decisions are “free” in the sense that they are compatible with God’s eternal decree.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21, ESV).

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD;
he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Prov. 21:1, ESV).

“The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11).

Spurgeon believed in meticulous Providence and expressed it this way: “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.  The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.  He that believes in God must believe this truth.  There is no standing-point between this and atheism.  There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all.  A God that can not do as he pleases – a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and can not be a God.  I could not believe in a God as that” (Spurgeon Sermons – Volume 2, God’s Providence, p. 201).

Ever since the Fall, sinful people have been doubting and contradicting God’s Word.  In postmodern culture, it is in vogue to trifle with and reject God’s Word.  But contradicting God’s Word is sinful activity.  Denying the authority of Scripture is tantamount to cosmic treason. When one contradicts the Word of God, one sets himself up as the autonomous man – the man who makes decisions and sets forth propositions that are not in keeping with the truth of God’s Word.  John Frame says, “Intellectual autonomy is the view that human beings have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation” (The Doctrine of the Word of God, 16).

The Christian mind erodes when we do not subject every proposition to the teaching of Scripture.  So heed the subtle warning in the sign: “Keep on the trail that is consistent with the Christian worldview … to prevent further erosion and harm to the Christian mind.”  And pay close attention to the imperative in Scripture to love God with all our minds.  Jesus reminds us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, ESV).

LETTERS TO A YOUNG CALVINIST – James K.A. Smith (2010)

Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K.A. Smith reminds me of the last time I went to see the San Francisco Giants play baseball.  I remember purchasing the tickets with my Dad, approaching the park, and watching the Giants play the Dodgers in what was then, Candlestick Park.  This is a great memory from my childhood because I got a chance to see some of the Dodger greats like Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Pedro Guerrero.  This is a day I’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, what I remember most about that day was the frigid cold weather that sent our family to the parking lot by the beginning of the seventh inning.  I never knew it could get so cold in the summer months — in California!

So how is James K.A. Smith’s book like that fateful day in San Francisco?  First, the positive.  Smith’s idea of writing short letters to a rookie Reformed theologian is brilliant.  He understands the pitfalls and vulnerabilities to newcomers to the Reformed faith.  He patiently admonishes his friend to avoid pride and challenges him to pursue a path of humility.

Smith’s overview of Reformed theology, while short, is done in a winsome and insightful way.  He also gives good historical background and laces his treatment with reading suggestions for his friend.

Smith’s summary of Kuyper’s brand of Calvinism is worth the price of the book.  He explores Kuyper’s explanation of Calvinism as a “life-system” or “worldview.”  The Dutch statesman is cited approvingly: “There is not a single square inch of creation concerning which Christ does not say, ‘Mine!'”  Smith adds, “This is just another way of saying that Christ is not only Lord of our souls, but Lord of our bodies, Lord of our families, Lord of our commerce and recreation and education.  He is the Lord of science and art, dance and dipthongs, eating, and drinking.  There’s no corner of creation that is immune from his lordship, no ‘secular’ sphere of life that is neutral with respect to the Creator’s sovereignty.”

The author continues to affirm the goodness of God’s creation (a reality that is forgotten by many evangelicals): “Christ’s redemption is cosmic – it effects not only the redemption of our souls but the redemption of every aspect of this entire groaning creation.”

The author shatters the neo-gnostic view that some evangelicals hold:  “God is not only interested in soul-saving; God is interested in ‘nation-building,’ calling and re-creating a people, making a people out of individuals who were not otherwise a ‘people.'”

However, this work has some troubling themes that need to be explored; themes that remind me of the wind and rain in Candlestick Park. In a post-script, Smith makes reference to the egalitarian/complementarian controversy.  In a shocking statement, he argues that the “Reformed hermeneutic” led him to embrace egalitarianism.  The author is clearly out of step with a majority of Reformed theologians.  He undoubtedly understands this and makes the following appeal at the end of his letter: ” … I only hope you might appreciate how someone could take this position [egalitarianism], not as a “liberal” departure from the Reformed tradition, but actually as a concrete working-out of a Reformed understanding of Scripture.”

In another  post-script, the author surprisingly makes reference to the New Perspective on Paul controversy.  He remarks, “… For the record, it seems to me that Wright’s account of justification resonates with covenant theology.”  Again, such a remark is out of step with the general consensus among Reformed thinkers.  The author at this point seems like he has an axe to grind.  This “axe” does not fit into the overall scope of his otherwise excellent and creative book.  It has an awkward “edginess” that detracts from the main themes and purpose of the book.

The author continues to swing his “axe” in an unfair swipe against Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He maintains that Southern has “absorbed Calvinism without it affecting the shape of their worship or polity.”  One wonders when this pettiness will stop!  Perhaps the author ought to take a few swings against false teachers instead of chopping his fellow Calvinists!

The promotion of egalitarianism and the New Perspective on Paul are deeply disturbing, not to mention the petty comments about Southern Seminary.  One wonders how such a creative book could turn into a mini-treatise that promotes a personal agenda and theological views which are outside the pale of Reformed theology.

I was originally excited to read this creative introduction to Reformed theology.  While making it to the end, I was tempted to leave at the bottom of the seventh inning.  At least I didn’t get wet!

POCKET HISTORY OF THE CHURCH – D. Jeffrey Bingham (2002)

I believe Christians need to read church history from time to time whether they want to or not – a strange thought for someone who formerly broke out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of church history.  Thankfully, men like R.C. Sproul and John Hannah brought church history to life and awakened me from my dogmatic slumbers!

D. Jeffrey Bingham also has a passion for church history.  Pocket History of the Church is a readable volume that circles the globe in less than 200 pages.  He skillfully “skips” a handful of stones over the over the waters of church history, spanning from the 1st century to the present.

Part One – Diamonds: The Early Church

The author begins with an overview of the early church.  The church fathers are explored and special emphasis is given to Ignatius.  This hero of the Christian church “stepped into the ring” and pummeled the heresy of Docetism.  Ignatius also spoke a great deal about unity in the church and sought with all his heart to bring like-minded believers together for the sake of the gospel.

Bingham summarizes a handful of important apologists of the 2nd century.  He notes that while Rome threatened the church externally,  false teachers were emerging within the church.  Irenaeus fought against the heresy of Gnosticism and wrote five polemic books as a counter-punch.  Additionally, Irenaeus battled Marcion in his Against Heresies.

The author surveys the Trinitarian and Christological controversies and places specific emphasis on key heretics such as Arius and important heroes such as Athanasius of Alexandria.  He makes an observation that was true hundreds of years ago and equally true today: “Church leaders must first be the church’s theologians.”  Tragically, many would disagree with his assertion and the church has and will continue to pay a steep price for neglecting the importance of theology.

Part Two – Emeralds: The Church in the Middle Ages

Bingham includes a helpful discussion that pertains to the rise of the papacy and the baggage that accompanied the power.  He overviews Monasticism and the daily activity of the monk.  He gives Scholasticism a fair treatment and also includes a general discussion concerning mysticism.

Part Three – Gold Sovereigns: The Church in the Protestant Reformation

Part three includes a broad survey of Reformation thought and history.  Christian Humanism is contrasted with Scholasticism.  The author spends a great deal of time (and rightly so) examining Luther’s views on soteriology and ecclesiology.

Part Four – Chains of Spanish Silver: The Church in the Modern Era

Empiricism is contrasted with Rationalism and the views of various proponents are examined.  Obviously, both views are seriously flawed.  The author presents a quick summary statement that accurately confronts both worldviews: “We need to remember that faith is ultimately our submission to God’s revelation.”

The Great Awakenings and Revivals are examined.  Thankfully, the author is quick to acknowledge the roles of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.  He also delivers a necessary blow to Charles Finney who denied the bondage of the will and the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

Pocket History of the Church is a great way to survey the major movements throughout church history.  For a more comprehensive treatment, I recommend Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley or Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine by John Hannah.

4 stars


BY GRACE ALONE: How the Grace of God Amazes Me – Sinclair Ferguson (2010)

Sinclair Ferguson unpacks God’s amazing grace in his newest book, By Grace Alone.  He traces the depth of God’s grace by means of the general themes of E.T. Sibomana’s excellent hymn, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me.”

Ferguson chronicles how the grace of God transforms the people of God.  His approach is rooted in Reformed theology which is Christ-centered and cross saturated throughout.  He lingers on key doctrinal areas which magnify the grace of God.

By Grace Alone reminds us of sola gratia, one of the five sola’s that was revived by the Protestant Reformers.  It reminds us of depths of the Gospel and the freedom and forgiveness that Christ promises for anyone who repents of sin and believes.

4 stars

WELCOME TO A REFORMED CHURCH – Daniel Hyde (2010)

Welcome to a Reformed Church is a superb introduction to ecclesiology and Reformed theology. Daniel Hyde clearly describes the history and tenets of a church that stands in the Reformation stream.

The author provides the context for the Reformation and walks readers through the confessional history of the Reformed church.  Hyde summarizes the sola’s of the Reformation (sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo gloria). Additionally, the author skillfully explains critical doctrines such as justification by faith and sanctification.

Hyde discusses the distinguishing marks of a reformed church, namely, faithful preaching, the administration of the two ordinances, and church discipline.

While the book proves valuable, I have personal qualms with a few of the positions that are typical proclaimed as Reformed.  First, infant baptism is promoted, a view that does not have biblical support.  Second, the author endorses the so-called Regulative Principle, the view that maintains Christians ought to worship God “in the manner he has commanded us in his Word.”  On face value, this view seems credible.  Who would promote a view that embraces anything other than what God has commanded?  The problem here appears to be a cultural issue. For example,  reformed thinkers would be mistaken to marginalize what Sovereign Grace ministries is accomplishing.  Reformed theology and contemporary God-centered worship is difficult to argue with!  Clearly, these are debatable matters that can be discussed in a thoughtful and civil way.

Overall, Welcome to a Reformed Church is a worthwhile read.

Semper Reformanda!