Monthly Archives: October 2014

Review: Christians – A Chosen Generation . . .

Christians: A Chosen Generation, A Royal Priesthood, an Holy Nation, and a Peculiar People by Jonathan Edwards

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Another gem from the Great Awakening

This is a sermon that was preached from 2 Peter 2:9 “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

Edwards takes each of phrases and expounds them. “Chosen,” “generation,” “royal,” “priesthood,” “holy,” “nation,” “peculiar people” all get expounded, and he also offers “reflections” at a couple points during the sermon.

The first section expounds the Biblical doctrine of election at length, using the word “chosen” as a springboard for developing the doctrine with reference to dozens of other texts in the Bible. The same method applies to the other points as well.

This is a great verse explaining the identity of a believer. Chosen by God, begotten as his people, made holy, given authority, separated from the world, and “peculiar” in the sense of the unique value God places on His people.

There was nothing particularly “Edwardsian” about this sermon, just a straightforward exposition of the doctrines referenced in the text. It is a great sermon for understanding who we are as God’s people.

It can also be found in Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2

“Baptist” or “Evangelical”?

We moved to the heart of Minneapolis this summer and immediately found ourselves surrounded by Somali immigrants. There is a Somali ‘mall’ directly across the street, including a mosque, and many of the local shops are owned by and cater to Somalis.

The first week we were here, I stopped in one particular deli and ordered a large Americano (from a Somali deli, I know). Since then, I’ve stopped in about twice a week and ordered the same thing. It’s cheaper than Starbucks, and I think I like it even better.

I’ve gotten to know the shop-owner by name, and at this point he starts making my drink before I even have to order it. I’m starting to care about him as a person, and pray for his salvation.

This morning I asked if he was religious (of course — 99.9% of Somalis are Muslim) and he reciprocated the question. It seems like Somalis love to talk about religion — there was no guardedness about him at all, actually an eagerness to compare our beliefs, and in a very friendly manner.

When I told him I was Christian, he asked what kind, Catholic . . . ? I froze for a second. What label could I give him that would mean anything to him? I didn’t know, and I grabbed “Baptist”. We talked for a couple minutes about the Torah, the Injil (New Testament) and the Quran. “What to Baptists believe about the Quran?” he asked at one point, and I briefly told him. It was a good, if brief, conversation, and I think the door is wide open to go further. Pray for this man if you think of it.

I kept thinking, and I’m not satisfied with “Baptist” — I wish I would have said “evangelical” instead. It’s not that “evangelical” would be any more meaningful to him than “Baptist” but using “evangelical” would give me a straight and direct excuse to talk about the evangel that defines me as a Christian, rather than the mode of Baptism that distinguishes me from other Christians. For evangelistic purposes, one term keeps us focused on the gospel, the other opens up rabbit trails that are totally meaningless at this point. Even in encounters with Americans, I think “evangelical” is a more useful term. Regardless of how the broader culture defines (or vilifies) a particular label, we define the terms for the people we interact with. “I thought evangelicals were _______, but I know Daniel, and he says he’s an evangelical.”

I’m not ashamed of being a Baptist. I’m as strong in that conviction as I have ever been. Yet, I’ve determined that for purposes of evangelism, I need to identify as an evangelical.

Review: Jonathan Edwards: A Life

Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden

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Historical Biography as Exquisite Art

I have heard this book highly praised by anyone who has read it. It’s been called “one of the best biographies ever written.” I’ve read a fair amount of Edwards, and decided it was time to get the full picture of his life. What an incredible experience!

Marsden says, “one of my goals has been to understand him as a real person in his own time.” (p. 2) He succeeds marvelously. I am guilty of gross historical inaccuracies in my thinking. I generally read my own circumstances back into the events of the past in more ways than I can even begin to realize: geography, population, theology, politics, education, etc. Marsden brings 18th century New England alive, and it is very different from what we are used to. In particular, he highlights the Englishness of pre-revolutionary New England, in contrast to our own Americanism. They had family based hierarchies. Boston was the hub, New York was just getting going. Schools that we view as ancient (Princeton) were just being born. The western edge of Massachusetts was the western edge of the “civilized world”! People were literally being kidnapped and killed by Indians, and the wars with the French were a constant tension. After reading this biography, I feel like I know the history of the period like I never have before. I understand the founding era of our country like I never have before. Combined with The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders, I feel like I have a grasp of the facts, not just the popular simplifications of today.

More important than early New England history, though, is that I now know Edwards, and he is inspiring. Marsden portrays him in all his depths. The depth and development of his thought is explored at length, in particular his philosophy and his theology. I was stretched intellectually by this treatment of Edwards’s intellect. But this is not at all at the expense of the depth of his heart and his affections. I was moved to rapturous worship reading this biography. Edwards combined deep thinking about God with equally deep love and delight in God, and this shines through.

The events of his life are given full detailed treatment all the way through. Even if you are familiar with most of the key events, this brings them to life like no conference message can. His character is displayed. He was a great christian, but he was also a sinner. This is no hagiography. The good shines forth brilliantly, and the sin (which Edwards himself deeply lamented) is shown as well.

Lastly, I must comment on Marsden’s writing, which overlaps with his scholarship as well. This is an example of historical biography as exquisite art. Reading this book was at times a deeply aesthetic experience to be savored the whole way through. This is one of those books where 50 pages in you wish the book was twice as long, and realize that you will need to take care to relish every page.

On so many levels, these and others as well, this book is a masterpiece. It’s as good as everyone says it is — one of the best books I have ever read.

Academic Envy

I read an interesting post yesterday, that got me thinking about envy. It’s hard to see someone who has something that we don’t have, but wish we did. Academic training is one area that I’ve had to deal with, after dropping out of college eight-and-a-half years ago. I would see other young men pursuing and getting degrees in areas that I was interested in, and envy would rear its ugly head.

There are sinful ways of dealing with sin, and I’ve indulged them. One way of dealing with academic envy is to denigrate the character of the other person – “they’re too intellectual”; set up zero-sum games – “too much knowledge makes you less caring (or less useful, or . . .)”; quote verses – “knowledge puffs up”; attack the institutions – “colleges/seminaries can’t teach you everything”; inflate yourself in comparison – “I could learn everything they’re learning (maybe even in a better and more balanced way)”; throw pejoratives – “ivory tower”, “intellectualism”, “academia” (said with a good dose of snark).

Some of these may even be true. They’re just terrible ways of dealing with the sin of envy. The answer to envy is not to downgrade the good that the other has, but to be genuinely content with what you have (and do not have). It guts contentment of real significance to say “what I don’t have isn’t really worth having anyway.” Contentment shows itself as a strong virtue in the face of real, genuine good that you don’t have for yourself.

Further, envy is a total failure to rejoice with those who have received gifts from God that you haven’t received, including the gift of a seminary education, or a PhD. Be genuinely glad that God has given these gifts to people, even if He hasn’t given them to you. Thank Him for their  gifts, and for yours. Pray that he would use them and help them to be faithful with what they have.

At the root of envy is a dissatisfaction with God, and a failure to trust His plan for your life and for theirs. Envy ultimately denigrates God’s character, and as such, is utterly wicked. I praise God Jesus died for my sins of academic envy.

Review: Putting Amazing Back into Grace

Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton

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Disappointed By This One

I know lots of people have read this book and absolutely loved it. I had seen it recommended by at least two sources that I highly respect, so I expected it to be great. The truth is, I had to force myself to finish it, and really didn’t enjoy it at all.

It wasn’t the theological perspective. I’m highly sympathetic to Horton’s theology, with the exception of his paedo-baptism. It’s not that I think his book is “unscriptural”. In fact, he quotes hundreds and hundreds of scriptures throughout the book. It’s not that it was difficult to read. Other reviewers, and even J.I. Packer in the foreward, refer to this as “pumping intellectual iron.” (p. 8) I didn’t find it very stimulating at all, and it is curious to me that so many have described it that way.

It seems that it is intended to be a primer of Reformation Theology, put in accessible terms. The 5 points of Calvinism are sprinkled throughout, though given different names. The 5 Solas get their piece. A presbyterian view of the sacraments gets a chapter (infant baptism, the “spiritual presence” of Christ in communion). He concludes with an chapter on amillenial eschatology. Throughout the book Luther is referred to much more frequently than Calvin (hardly at all), though the doctrine is definitely Calvinist and not Lutheran.

One big disappointment for me, was that it felt so canned and pre-packaged. Instead of really digging into the texts of scripture, dozens of texts are simply referenced, and then smothered with thick layer of Systematic Reformation interpretation. It’s not even that I disagree with Reformed Theology, or a systematic approach. Something about the way it was done here was, frankly, kind of boring, and I labored to keep getting through it.

What annoyed me most was the condescending tone toward his own evangelical background. All along the way, he took potshots at what he was taught during his upbringing, with the sense that “I’m so much smarter than that now.” I didn’t think it was necessary, and it detracted from his project.

I understand that this was one of the first books that Horton wrote as a younger man, and so this may just reflect where he was at, at the time. I’m currently reading his Pilgrim Theology and am enjoying it, so I know it’s not the author, probably just this one book.

An introduction to theology that I like better is John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord. Frame is irenic where Horton seems chippy. I found Salvation . . . delightful to read where Putting . . . was a chore for me.

“Not bad for a bunch of five-point Calvinists”

This is a fantastic post at Tim Brister’s blog: What Happened to the Young, Restless, and Reformed in the SBC?

“I came to a realization that the best apologetic for what I believed was not having a high-trafficked blog or even winning arguments. It was going to be the outcome of my life and work in the local church, in the trenches, doing what God has called me to do.”

The breakdown of “where they are now” gave me chills.

Review: Study is Hard Work

Study is Hard Work by William H. Armstron

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“Before the gates of excellence, the high gods have placed sweat.”

This is an old-school book on how to study. Armstrong starts in general with cultivating a desire to learn, becoming a better listener, and time management. He then goes into detail covering how to get more from reading assignments, increasing vocabulary, systematizing the material in your mind, how to use a library, how to write papers, learn foreign languages, study mathematics, science, history and take tests.

The book is filled with great quotes at the head of each chapter. The introduction is lead by “Before the gates of excellence, the high gods have placed sweat.” (Hesiod).

There is no “new technique” given here for “today’s students.” He is old-school and over and over again explains how it takes effort to get anything out of your classes. The book is helpful in reorienting a student’s mindset from “what do I have to do to pacify my teacher and pass this class?” to “how can I most effectively make use of the great favor my teacher is doing me, and increase my knowledge and understanding?”

He does lay out good systems for studying, and explains why other systems are ineffective. For example, first survey a chapter so you have an idea what you’re going to encounter, instead of plunging right in. The short amount of time up front will save you much more later.

I had never thought of hand-written work as an opportunity to display excellence in the very aesthetic appearance of your writing, not just the content. This was enlightening, though of somewhat limited value in the days of word processors.

Much of this is elementary. It would be excellent for a student entering high school, and to review again their junior year. I would hope one would have the ability to tackle How to Read a Book before entering college.