Doug Wilson and the Association of Christian Classical Schools

The Association of Christian Classical Schools is a national organization headquartered in Moscow, Idaho. It was founded by Douglas Wilson in 1994, and “provides accreditation for CCE [Classical Christian Education] schools” (see “Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson” and the Christianity Today September 2019 cover story “The Rise of the Bible-Teaching, Plato-Loving, Homeschool Elitists“).

At present (March 2021) there are over 300 schools listed in their nationwide directory. A number of colleges and businesses are listed as “affiliates” and number of prominent evangelical figures “stand with ACCS” in including Albert Mohler, Eric Metaxas, John Piper, and Rod Dreher, as well as ministries like the Nehemiah Institute, and Desiring God.

In 2002, Preston Jones, professor of history at John Brown University, published an article on classical Christian schools (“Christian Classical Learning” pp. 12–13). Jones noted Wilson’s role in the classical Christian education movement and the founding of ACCS, but suggested that “If the Christian classical schools movement is going to be taken seriously in the academic world in the long run, its members would probably do well to distance themselves from some of their current leaders.” He noted Wilson’s views on southern slavery, and the book Southern Slavery as it Was, co-authored by “a neo-Confederate Presbyterian minister and League of the South leader named J. Steven Wilkins.” This book, published by Wilson’s publishing house Canon Press, “maintains, among other things, that the antebellum South was, literally, a holy land and that slavery bred mutual respect between the races— indeed, that relations between blacks and whites were never better than in the South before the Civil War.”

Jones noted that “Wilkins has been a speaker at major conferences of the ACCS, and at their national conference in Memphis last June were featured the wares of a neo-Confederate vendor.” He did note that “most of the parents who send their children to schools affiliated with the ACCS aren’t aware of the nature of some of the leaders’ views.”

In 2016 ACCS was denied accreditation in the state of Tennessee specifically because of Doug Wilson and his views on race, slavery, and other issues (“Bill yanked after school group founder’s views on slavery, homosexuals, adultery revealed”). However, it appears that in 2019, Tennessee reversed course and granted accreditation to ACCS member schools (Tennessee HB1392).

In 2016, the current president, David Goodwin, tried to address some of the controversy surrounding Wilson and create some distance between the organization and its founder (“A Response to ‘Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson’”). Though Rachel Miller’s article explicitly references Wilson’s views on “theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, and sex,” Goodwin chose to sidestep these issues, referring only generally to the “theological debates that have involved Mr. Wilson” and noting that “Mr. Wilson certainly offers food for thought.”

Goodwin says that Wilson, “takes specific care not to exert influence on the ACCS.” However, it is interesting to note that:

  • Wilson is listed as an “Educator in Residence” at ACCS.
  • Wilson is featured as a plenary speaker every year at their national “Repairing the Ruins” conference (here’s the 2021 lineup; past and future speakers include Al Mohler, Rosaria Butterfield, and Joel Beeke)
  • Three out of their top five  recommended books are by Wilson, more than any other author on the page. 
  • If you wish to know “What is CCE [Classical Christian Education]?” and click “Read About It” one of Wilson’s books is considered “Foundational for new teachers and parents.”
  • Doug Wilson’s affection for the white-supremacist Robert Lewis Dabney is also reflected in ACCS book recommendations, which includes the Canon Press republication of Dabney’s “Secularized Education.” (For those needing to get caught up, here’s “What’s So Bad About R.L. Dabney?”). However, some might think “just because someone has bad ideas in one area (white supremacy) doesn’t mean they can’t have good ideas in another (education).” Unfortunately, Dabney’s views of education were thoroughly influenced by his white supremacy. Sean Michael Lucas notes in his biography of Dabney that after the Civil War, Dabney opposed public education and particularly the education of the formerly enslaved people of the south. He thought public education was “heretical” because of its “leveling impulse” because “God had ordained a hierarchy of superiors and inferiors.” He also objected “for fears of racial mixing” and opposed the philosophy that “claims to make the blacks equal, socially and politically, to the most respectable whites” (Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, 182–86). It’s disturbing to see Dabney’s work on education recommended by the ACCS, though I’m sure this has been edited of any overtly racist sentiment before republishing.
  • Doug Wilson’s Omnibus curriculum is used in a number of ACCS schools (a quick search of of the school listing found schools from California, to Minnesota, to Missouri, to Maine using this curriculum). Consistent with Wilson’s views of southern slavery, the curriculum includes an assignment asking students to: “Write a letter to a friend in the North who thinks that all slaves are mistreated and beaten. Explain how your family treats your slaves well.” (Omnibus III).

Nearly twenty years after Preston Jones wondered if the Classical Christian Education movement might want to “distance themselves from some of their current leaders,” there are no signs of that happening. In fact, ACCS has become more and more mainstream and has found support from several prominent figures. Back in 2002, Jones assumed that Wilson’s views “aren’t widely taught in ACCS schools.” That may be true. Parents, however, may wish to do a little homework of their own, asking about the level of affiliation and influence of Doug Wilson before entrusting the formation of their children to an ACCS school.

(Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash)

John Piper, Desiring God, Jonathan Edwards, and Slavery

John Piper’s interest in Jonathan Edwards goes all the way back to his seminary days when Dan Fuller mentioned Edwards in class (see “Books That Have Influenced Me Most“). The resources on Edwards over at Desiring God start in the 1970s and include:

Few others, if any, have done as much as Pastor John to promote Jonathan Edwards to his generation.

Edwards and Slavery

It wasn’t until 1997 that Ken Minkema published “Jonathan Edwards on Slavery and the Slave Trade,” after discovering Edwards’s “Draft Letter on Slavery” in the archives of unpublished manuscripts. (You can find a link to Minkema’s article, and others, here: Jonathan Edwards and Slavery: A Bibliography). The letter was published in 1998 in volume 16 of Edwards’s works “Letters and Personal Writings.” Minkema followed up in 2002 with a lengthy article “Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” the result of five more years of study on the issue. Anyone wrestling with Edwards and slavery should start with this article.

2003 happened to be the 300th birthday of Edwards. George Marsden published his monumental Jonathan Edwards: A Life and made free use of this recent scholarship. Marsden was perhaps the first biographer to treat Edwards’s slaveholding in any detail.

After this rediscovery, the scholarship on Edwards began to adjust to wrestle with this new information. Ever since then, John Piper and Desiring God have similarly tried to grapple with this issue.

“Trusting the Theology of a Slave Owner”

In 2003 several commemorations were also held, including a national Desiring God conference held in October entirely devoted to Edwards. A book was published featuring the addresses from that conference (A God Entranced Vision of All Things), as well as some additional chapters, and Sherard Burns, an African American, was “assigned the difficult task of examining how Edwards could pursue a God-entranced vision of all things and yet own slaves” (God Entranced Vision, 16).

Burns begins his chapter lamenting that “Nothing has been more of a stain on our history than the institution and cruelty of slavery in America” and calls out “European ethnocentrism,” and “the belief that some has the authority to impose their rights on others in such a way that stealing men, women, and children from their native land, tearing families apart, and systematically dehumanizing them was condoned and rewarded” (145). Even worse, “one of the most troubling facts concerning slavery was its association with Christianity” and Edwards is a prime example of this (146).

Burns then works through the issue, drawing on the scholarship of Minkema, Marsden, and John Saillant, as well as wrestling with Edwards himself. He finds “theological compromise” (147), capitulation to culture (148), and the mindset of an “elite” member of society, for whom slaveholding was expected (150). Burns evaluates Edwards’s defense of slavery, including the inconsistency in condemning the slave trade (i.e. the trans-Atlantic aspect of it) while still owning slaves himself: “The dichotomy in all of this is that Edwards would ‘oppose the overseas trade, even though he had hitherto purchased his slaves through it.’ (Stout and Minkema, ‘The Edwardsean Tradition,’ 3) Thus, to condemn the trade and at the same time to participate in the selling and buying of slaves was a glaring contradiction” (153).

Burns wrestles with how Edwards could have compromised like this, and finds that “Edwards was a sinner saved by the grace of God, who still battled with the remaining effects of his fallen condition” (156). But Burns goes further and examines two excuses: the slaves were treated “humanely” and they were “Christianized.” Burns quotes Jonathan Edwards Jr. to dismantle the first excuse. “Should we be willing that the Africans or any other nation should purchase us, our wives and children, transport us into Africa and there sell us into perpetual and absolute slavery?” (Edwards Jr., Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and of the Slavery of Africans). Burns presses it further:

“let’s say someone came to your home and took away your child. For years you searched and after much agony found her location and her captor. You then say to him that you are going to press charges against him because he kidnapped your child, broke up your family, and caused much grief and despair. To your charge he responds ‘But I treated her well'” (158).

Burns then turns to answer the excuse that the slaves were “Christianized” by their masters, and the “inherent contradiction in offering Christ to men and women whom you hold in bondage, against their will, and on the basis of man-stealing” (159), before explicating clearly “the difference between sanctioned slavery in the Bible and the institution of slavery in America” (160).

Ironically, Edwards’s immediate followers–his protege Samuel Hopkins, his son Jonathan Edwards Jr., and Lemuel Haynes–became outspoken abolitionists. Whatever they saw in their mentor (and father!) it did not persuade them of American slavery’s legitimacy. In fact, Hopkins counted slave traders and slaveholders among “Satan’s followers” (162)!

Burns concludes by making the case for still reading Edwards, and wrestling with the tension of being “black and Reformed” (citing Tony Carter’s book On Being Black and Reformed.)

“Slavery was and still is a blemish upon America. Even after its abolition the residual effects are evident in the culture at large and regrettably within the church. As an African American who loves Reformed theology and Jonathan Edwards and who desires to see these truths embraced by all, especially those within the African-American context, I have to make sense of this hypocrisy. Edwards was only a small part of a much larger picture of Reformed thinkers and preachers. The theology I love so much is tainted with the stains of slavery, and my heroes–one of which is Jonathan Edwards–owned my ancestors and cared not to destroy the institution of slavery” (162).

“The agony and the ecstasy”

In 2009 John Piper made his first personal acknowledgement of Edwards’s slaveowning in an article pointing to Yale’s online archive (“Thank You, Yale, For This Gift“). Piper says: “The agony and the ecstasy of Jonathan Edwards is laid bare in this breathtaking availability of all that remains of him. From the bill of sale for a slave named Venus (the agony) to 68 titles on Heaven in the Miscellanies (the ecstasy), you can find it with the search engine built into the website.”

Bloodlines

In 2011, John Piper published Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. In the book he makes observations like this: “Race relations in America were plunged into ruin and destruction the day the first slave arrived in America, kidnapped for white gain against God’s law (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7)” (96).

He also acknowledges his indebtedness to Edwards: “I will put my theological cards on the table. I am a lover of the Reformed faith—the legacy of the Protestant Reformation expressed broadly in the writings of John Calvin and John Owen and Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, and contemporaries such as R. C. Sproul and J. I. Packer and John Frame” (129).

He acknowledges the stain on his own tradition: “I know that those white, Reformed, Puritan roots are contaminated with the poison of racist slavery” (247).

Yet, interestingly, he never puts all the pieces together explicitly. In the book devoted to racism and slavery, he doesn’t mention the fact that Edwards himself owned slaves. Maybe he thought he didn’t need to, since he said as much generally. Maybe he thought that the publication of Burns’s chapter several years previously had done the job. Whatever the case, it does seem odd that Edwards’s slaveowning wasn’t specifically acknowledged in the book devoted to the topic.

“Slavery is a great evil”

In 2012, Desiring God published a piece by Trevin Wax: “What Do We Do With Our Slavery-Affirming Theological Heroes?” Wax is “amazed” at the depth of Edwards theology, yet “astounded that these theological giants could justify the owning of slaves, support slavery as a system, and conform to the racial prejudice common in their day.” Wax confronts the “man of his times” argument: “The one thing we cannot do is to explain away our theological forebears’ attitudes and actions by appealing to the historical context of their time… we must make sure that as we point out the general social ethics of the day we do not diminish the sinfulness of their practice.” He concludes: “Slavery is a great evil, but even slavery cannot stand in the way of the grace and glory of the gospel,” and thinks we can learn lessons from their blind spots.

“Edwards’ Failure”

In 2013, Pastor John devoted an entire podcast episode to the issue of “Slavery and Jonathan Edwards.” John was asked “How does his slaveholding factor into your evaluation Jonathan Edwards’ theological legacy?” and he finds 5 responses:

  1. It warns me not to idolize or idealize any man except Jesus.
  2. It cautions me that if he had blind spots on that issue, he may well have had blind spots on other issues, which means that I am going to now read with some more care.
  3. It makes me marvel that God uses any of us.
  4. Edwards’ failure in that regard teaches me that sanctification has blank spots like knowledge has blind spots.
  5. Edwards’ failure here makes me pray for light on my life and on my day.

“Call Them Out”

In 2017, Piper revisited the question again, “How Do I Process the Moral Failures of My Historical Heroes?” including Jonathan Edwards. After emphasizing the need to address present day sin, he asks, “Now, what about those who are dead, who’ve written books that we have found helpful?” He has a few suggestions.

First, “We need to acknowledge and be ready to admit the worst. It’s possible that a person was unregenerate that we have admired. And I think we should hope for the best, and we should be slow to pass final judgment on a Luther or an Edwards or a King.”

Second, “We should be consciously aware of their sins and call them out. Call them out. Name them; don’t white-wash it. Say the sin. And we should take that sin and watch out for its effects in their books. And that’s really important. In other words, if we say, “Here is a man who is a racist,” what could have possibly, in his theology or in his sermons, been affected by that, so we don’t get contaminated by that?”

Third, Piper reminds us that “the Bible itself encourages us that God uses flawed people, even to write Scripture.”

In conclusion, “we should probably be slow to judge and yet never white-wash the sins of any pastor or any writer. Call them out on it. Be alert to how those sins might have influenced their writings, and then profit from the writings to the degree that they are in sync with Scripture.”

“Limits of Godliness”

In April 2018, Piper published a biographical article on Edwards: “His Head and Heart Were God’s.” In it, he devotes an entire section to “The Limits of Godliness.” After quoting another author on the “mythic picture” of Edwards, Piper turns to “aspects of Edwards’s life that do not fit with his ‘mythic picture.'” He acknowledges that “Edwards’s freedom from conformity to the fallen world did not include freedom from slaveholding. The eradication of slavery in the body of Christ, to which God had pointed in the New Testament (Matthew 7:12; 23:8–12; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; 5:14; Philippians 2:3–4; Colossians 3:11; Philemon 16; Revelation 5:9–10), was long overdue.” He points out the abolitionism of the second generation of Edwardseans, and links to several other resources, including Thabiti Anyabwile’s article.

“No one is helped by whitewashing our heroes”

In October 2018, in an interview with Justin Taylor, Piper wrestled with the purpose of Christian biography (“Friends You Need Are Buried in the Past
Q&A on Reading Christian Biographies“). He compares Iain Murray’s biography of Edwards (which doesn’t mention slavery), and George Marsden’s (which does). Yet, there were other biographers, even atheists, who didn’t mention his slavery either, and Piper posits that “Murray didn’t mention slavery may not be owing to a whitewash, but something else.” Now, that is a question for another post, exploring both Iain Murray’s enthusiasm for R.L. Dabney, and Banner of Truth’s devotion to the Southern Presbyterians.

Taylor followed up with the question: “How do we think about our heroes who not only are sinners as we all are — nobody should be surprised that our heroes sin — but what do we do with significant ongoing blind spots and sinfulness that is unrepented of.” Taylor specifically notes how differently white evangelicals treat the sins of Edwards versus the sins of someone like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pastor John comes out strong: “The first thing I would say is that no one is helped by whitewashing our heroes, your heroes. No one has been helped by it.” He repeats this: “you don’t benefit by whitewashing your heroes. You won’t ever ask yourself the hardest questions about life if the people you love are whitewashed and you don’t ever come to terms with their sinfulness.”

He then gives us a method for wrestling with this: “And another thought comes to my mind, namely, that if you see in Edwards, Luther, Dabney, if you see sin, you should flag it, wave it, acknowledge it. That’s why the book, 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy has the subtitle Faithful, Flawed, and Fruitful. “Flawed” — put that right on the cover. If you see it, you should wave the flag and then be alert. Where might that have infected the theology I love, right? So I love Jonathan Edwards’s theology, but his theology didn’t keep him from having blind spots. So why not? Is there something about his theology I could discern where it needs to be tweaked so that if he would have had that right, then he would have had this right? That’s a huge benefit from acknowledging the sins. It makes us intensify our vigilance over our appropriation of their theology.”

Passing the Baton

In 2013, Pastor John retired from preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Pastor Jason Meyer took his place (“Pastoral Transition After a 32-Year Ministry“). On issues of ethnic harmony, Pastor Jason picked up where John left off, preaching the yearly Ethnic Harmony Sunday sermons in January, and leading the congregations efforts to address issues of race.

Though he loves the theology of Jonathan Edwards, he too has not been afraid to confront the issue of his slavery, in:

In that article, for example, Pastor Jason talks about the two ditches of underreacting or overreacting. Underreacting happens when we:

  1. Ignore the Issue
  2. Minimize the Issue by Maximizing the Positive Impact Elsewhere
  3. Minimize the Issue by Making It Historically Understandable

He exhorts us to obey Romans 12:9: ““Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” He elaborates on this further: “It should be noted that abhorrence is something beyond awareness. We mustn’t stop short at the mere awareness that Edwards owned slaves. We should abhor it. This response requires a strong emotional reaction in keeping with the nature of the evil involved.” He then describes his own reaction as he confronted this issue in greater depth than ever before. The whole thing is really worth reading.

Conclusion

For over 15 years, John Piper and Desiring God have been wrestling with the flaws of one of their biggest heroes, Jonathan Edwards. They have not whitewashed him, but have tried to deal honestly with this legacy. Some will think they have gone too far (“why bring up the past?”); others think they haven’t gone far enough (“why read Edwards at all?”). I confess, I tend toward the latter category. But no one can accuse them of ignoring the issue, and no one can accuse them of “capitulating to culture” on this. Pastor John has been fighting for ethnic harmony (imperfectly, to be sure) for decades, and has inspired a new generation of evangelicals, of which I count myself, who are motivated to take that baton even further.

Observations on “Some Observations on William Carey’s Bible Translations”

H.L. Richard has just published a new article on the flaws in William Carey’s Bible translations in the International Bulletin of Mission Research: “Some Observations on William Carey’s Bible Translations,” (241–250). Here’s the abstract:

William Carey’s historic role in Bible translation is widely recognized. That Carey’s actual translations were of an inadequately low quality is not so widely known. This article, while not undermining Carey’s importance as a pioneer, points out five reasons why Carey’s translations were never widely used. Modern understandings of translation inform this paper, and Carey’s historical context explains many of his weaknesses. Not only is this article historical, but it concludes with the modern repercussions of inadequate Bible translations, calling for new translations in all major India languages that focus on people outside the church.

It’s a helpful and thought provoking article, and here are a few reflections.

First, it’s a helpful corrective to my perception of Carey. I had often been amazed and wondered how he translated the Bible into so many languages. It seemed too good to be true, and seemed to set a high and unrealistic bar for missionaries and Bible translators. Missionaries should certainly aspire to “attempt great things for God,” but must also be realistic. We are finite creatures, and if we try “to do too much” (shortcoming #3), we may not succeed in doing it well.

Shortcoming #1 was Carey’s “limited linguistic knowledge.” This is partly a produce of his time and the shortcomings of European studies of linguistics in general, but it is a factor nonetheless. Richard points out some specific aspects of this weakness, including assumptions about the development of Indian languages and their reliance on Sanskrit, assumptions which have since been shown to be false. The result was translations that were “strange and incomprehensible” (244).

Shortcoming #2 on “India’s undeveloped regional languages” mostly raised questions for me. The problem here was that “the vernacular languages in India during his time had not yet been standardized” (244). I wonder what can even be done about that? Perhaps there should be a concurrent effort to publish a variety of indigenous works alongside the Bible in order to “develop” the literary use of the language and move the language toward more stable footing?

The article made me interested to learn more about William Ward — “the best missiologist among the Serampore trio” (245). I know a bit about Carey, next to nothing about Ward.

Shortcoming #4 explores the “failings of the assistants.” Not that they were incompetent language helpers, but intercultural dynamics and the complexities of their relationship resulted in flattery (“this is perfect!”) rather than honest feedback and criticism.

I feel a little bit of tension regarding point #5 “Misplaced focus on words and word order.” As an American evangelical who holds to verbal plenary inspiration, I have a predisposition that the words do matter. But I realize that translation is much more complex and nuanced than a 1/1 code of word for word, or even phrase for phrase. This is an undeveloped area of thought for me. This tension reminds me of that articulated by John Piper (he got it from Andrew Walls) between imposing foreign categories and adopting indigenous categories: “Don’t aim to preach only in categories of thought that can be readily understood by this generation. Aim at creating biblical categories of thought that are not present.” I wonder to what degree this applies to syntax and even words as well as theological categories. There is give and take between languages in the process of translation. Even our English translations contain transliteration. However, it is helpful to be reminded of the ditch on the side of an over-emphasis on words at the cost of meaning.

In his conclusion Richard describes how a new language was created by Carey’s translations, what is called “Christian Bengali” (247). Such a language is fine for those who use it (they even take pride in it), but creates a barrier to evangelizing anyone outside the linguistic bubble. I’ve seen a similar dynamic in English among those who use the KJV exclusively. I personally found the archaic language a significant barrier to evangelism and discipleship which was an important factor in my switch to NKJV a few years ago.

Anyway, tolle lege! This is a great article. Thanks to Dr. Travis Myers for bringing it to my attention.

(Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash)

Charles Spurgeon and Textual Criticism

Elijah Hixson has a fascinating article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society titled, “New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” (JETS 57/3 (2014) 555–70) I found a pdf here. In it he notes that “one of the most paradigm-shifting events in the discipline of NT textual criticism happened during Spurgeon’s ministry: the publication of Westcott and Hort’s NT in the Original Greek [1881]” (555). It was Hort who “dethroned the Textus Receptus,”and Spurgeon found himself having to account for this shift.

Spurgeon offered this in Commenting and Commentaries: “Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it for all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, distrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct where correction must be made for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your critical ability.”

Hixson then gives examples from 9 texts containing significant variants and how Spurgeon handled them. Sometimes Spurgeon kept with the traditional reading (the longer ending of Mark), other times he went with the “oldest manuscripts.” In one case, he preached a whole sermon point on a variant that he rejected as original. (“In Christ No Condemnation,” point III.): “Now we come to the third point, upon which we shall speak only briefly, because this part of my text is not a true portion of Holy Scripture.” It reminds me of John Piper’s approach to texts like John 7:53–8:11.

At one point Spurgeon preached an entire sermon on a textual variant: “And We Are: A Jewel from the Revised Version.”

Spurgeon preached eight sermons from Mark 16:9–20, and four expositions (Hixson, 562).

Hixson concludes with three observations: “First, Spurgeon was an independent, critical thinker, knowledgable in the discipline of NT textual criticism, and he weighed the evidence and made his own judgments, rather than taking the word of any one individual… Second, Spurgeon only discussed variants when necessary… Finally, to Spurgeon, evangelistic preaching of the gospel of Christ was preeminent. NT textual criticism was merely a servant to this goal” (568).

He closes with a quote which is worth repeating in full. The sermon was from Luke 4:18 which Spurgeon did not believe contained the full quotation from Isaiah 61:1. “Spurgeon’s solution to this problem was simple: rather than preaching from the text in Luke, he preached from the same text in Isa 61:1” (562):

“Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and the Authorized Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. For many years Baptists have insisted upon it that we ought to have the Word of God translated in the best possible manner, whether it would confirm certain religious opinions and practices, or work against them. All we want is the exact mind of the Spirit as far as we can get it. Beyond all other Christians we are concerned in this, seeing we have no other sacred Book. We have no Prayer Book or binding creed, or authoritative minutes of conferences. We have nothing but the Bible and we would have that as pure as ever we can get it. By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found, we desire that the common version may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, addition of human ignorance or human knowledge so that the Word of God may come to us as it came from His own hand. I confess that it looks a grievous thing to part with words which we thought were part and parcel of Luke, but as they are not in the oldest copies and must be given up, we will make capital out of their omission by seeing in that fact the wisdom of the great Preacher who did not speak upon cheering Truths of God when they were not needed and might have overlaid His seasonable rebuke. Although we have not the sentence in Luke, we do have it in Isaiah, and that is quite enough for me.

The whole article by Hixson is fascinating, and I commend it to anyone interested in textual criticism or Charles Spurgeon.

Review: What Saint Paul Really Said

What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? by N.T. Wright

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Read for Yourself!

I have a friend who is really into N.T. Wright. I decided I needed to get caught up and set him straight on a few things, so I printed out the bibliography from The Future of Justification and decided to start with one of the most referenced (and shorter) books, What Saint Paul Really Said. I had my nit-picking glasses on, and a pen in hand.

I didn’t get past the preface before making a note that Wright is, “quite engaging and very enjoyable to read.” All the more need to be careful, of course. Chapter 1 is a history of the last 100 years of Pauline scholarship, covering SchweitzerBultmannDaviesKasemann, and of course Sanders. At the end of this chapter, I felt like I was “all caught up” on the theological situation, had a good overview of 20th century New Testament studies, and a sense of a Wright’s “big picture” theological strategy.  I was also enjoying his writing style more and more. When people say that N.T. Wright is a master communicator, it’s true. His writing is simply a delight to read.

The next 8 chapters are Wright’s brief attempt to show Paul in light of his 1st century Jewish context. He covers Paul’s own Pharisaic background, his encounter on the Damascus road, what realizing Jesus is the Messiah would have done to Paul’s whole theological framework, what that means for pagans. Jews, justification, the future and The Gospel. The final chapter is a critical review of A.N. Wilson’s Paul: The Mind of the Apostle. In the back is an excellent annotated bibliography, including all of the classic works on Paul, the New Perspective (as of 1997), and a good sampling of the classic reformation view of Paul.

My final analysis? I find Wright to be incredibly stimulating, and I find the 1st century context to be shedding fresh light on how I read the Bible and think about theology. There are depths to the message of Christ that are incredible, and in order to dig deeper, we must understand its own actual context, and not read our own (or our favorite theologian’s) back onto it. Wright helps us see the incredible forest, not just our favorite trees.

That said, I think Wright’s portrayal of the forest leaves a few bare patches, justification and imputation being a couple. I’m not ready to go all the way with him here, though I have been stimulated to think deeply again about these issues. There just isn’t space in such a short work to lay out all the groundwork that goes into Wright’s formulation of these doctrines — that’s what his larger books are for. For most, I don’t think this abbreviated treatment will be convincing, but I don’t think it warrants the shrill charges of “heresy” either. To understand Wright, you really need to read further than this.

Wright’s work can be divided into two categories, I think: His massive scholarly work, and his popularizations. This fits into the latter. If you want to understand Wright, I recommend reading the shorter popular works and getting a sense of his general themes before diving in over your head. I would personally recommend The Challenge of Jesus first, then What Saint Paul Really Said, and then dig into his larger works from there. After reading Wright, I am getting more fresh light from the Bible than I have in a long time. I am excited to read the Bible like I haven’t always been. I am seeing depths of who Jesus the Messiah Is that I’ve never seen before.

Don’t just read the reviews, critical or otherwise; read Wright, and see for yourself.

Review: The Hole in Our Holiness

The Hole in Our Holiness: by Kevin DeYoung

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Balanced, Biblical, and Encouraging Book on Holiness

This is another good book from Kevin DeYoung, this time on Holiness. Kevin is a great blend of a mind full of historic Christian doctrine, a background of stereotypical American evangelicalism, a great sense of humor, and a very readable style. This book is a brief formulation of a much misunderstood teaching in the Bible. Surrounded by antinomianism (however you define it) sinless perfectionism, “perpetually struggling” -ism, and external formalism, where is true holiness to be found? DeYoung starts with salvation and works all the way through.

He deals with several apparent paradoxes (“aren’t we already holy?”), and the often confusing relationship of the Christian to The Law (“His commandments are not burdensome.”)

Two of my favorite sections where “‘Effort’ is not a four letter word,” on the role of Christian striving after holiness, through the power of the Spirit. In other words “working out because God is working in us.” This short summary of his 2012 T4G message is pure gold (the message is classic, too). This aspect of the Christian’s holiness is often neglected, but absolutely vital. I highly recommend anyone wondering how all this works together do a word study on the greek word “energeo” in the New Testament – great, great stuff.

His section on true repentance, distinguished from the false, was also extremely helpful, sorting out the various responses a person has to their sin.

All along the way he draws on Lloyd-JonesThomas BrooksJohn MurrayJ.C. RyleJ.I. PackerJerry Bridges, and John Piper. He does a great job of drawing from the stream of all these great teachers, and applying it to today’s audience.

I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants a short, balanced, practical, Biblical, pointed, sometimes humorous and definitely encouraging book on Holiness.

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 6: Cessationism Quenches the Spirit

“Therefore, we may say emphatically that Lloyd-Jones was not a Warfieldian cessationist.

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then. (The Fight of Faith, 786; Joy Unspeakable, 246)

And when he speaks of the need for revival and for the baptism with the Holy Spirit and for a mighty attestation for the word of God today, it is crystal clear in Lloyd-Jones, he meant the same sort of thing as was meant in Acts 14:3, signs and wonders attesting to the Word of God. “It is perfectly clear…” – (Everything is perfectly clear to Martyn Lloyd-Jones) –

It is perfectly clear that in New Testament times, the gospel was authenticated in this way by signs, wonders and miracles of various characters and descriptions … Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! – (you can hear him saying it, can’t you?) – There is no such statement anywhere. (The Sovereign Spirit, 31-32)

He deals with cessationist arguments, and says some mighty powerful things, that I can’t imagine Iain Murray would leave out of his biography, which he did. “To hold such a view as Warfield held is simply to quench the Spirit (SS, 46).  Because Iain Murray was publishing it [Warfield] at the time.  Pushing it.  These views, according to their dear father, Dr. Jones, is the quenching of the Holy Spirit!  and he didn’t want to lose his friends any more than he already was losing them, probably, and so he didn’t want them published until he was gone.

~From “A Passion for Christ Exalting Power

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 5: Signs and Wonders

“And now, note, next step, we’re just moving closer and closer in to power evangelism.  Spiritual gifts, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, the whole area of signs and wonders, Lloyd-Jones is talking about power evangelism in terms more careful, more clear, more strong than John Wimber ever has, before John Wimber ever thought of it.

He says that spiritual gifts are a part of the authenticating work of revival and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We need the result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is spiritual gifts in their sign form, and it is a “supernatural authentication of the message” (The Sovereign Spirit, 24).

Now, I’m going to back off for a minute, and reflect with you for a minute about what we reformed types have to come to terms with when we love the Word of God and esteem its uniqueness in power.  When we hear Paul say, “Jews desire signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but  WE PREACH!” I can hear people saying that to Wimber, “WE PREACH! You desire signs, we preach, which is the power of God.” and I can hear them quote Romans 1:16: “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  DON’T DILUTE THE POWER OF GOSPEL BY COMPROMISING IT WITH YOUR SIGNS AND WONDERS AS THOUGH THE GOSPEL WERE TOO WEAK TO SAVE SINNERS!” Do you hear that coming out of Banner of Truth?

Well, it isn’t that simple, is it. And the issue here is not contemporary Vineyard, Third Wave versus Paul; the issue is Paul versus Paul.  Let me try to explain.  Evidently Peter and Paul and Stephen and Philip, who, would you agree with me, were the greatest preachers that the world has ever known.  Evidently they did not think that the attestation of signs and wonders alongside their unparalleled powerful preaching compromised the integrity or the sufficiency or uniqueness of the power of God through the gospel. (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:4). Evidently they didn’t.

Lloyd-Jones is really impressed by this fact.  He says, “If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (SS, 46). And when he said that , he did not mean simply the power of the word. He meant the power of spiritual gifts. And I’ll show you that from a quote:

[Before Pentecost the apostles] were not yet fit to be witnesses … [They] had been with the Lord during the three years of his ministry. They had heard his sermons, they had seen his miracles, they had seen him crucified on the cross, they had seen him dead and buried,  they had seen him after he had risen literally in the body from the grave. These were the men who had been with him in the upper room at Jerusalem after his resurrection to whom he had expounded the Scriptures, and yet it is to these men he says that they must tarry at Jerusalem until they are endued with power from on high. The special purpose, the specific purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to enable us to witness, to bear testimony, and one of the ways in which that happens is through the giving of spiritual gifts. (SS, 120)

Now here’s my answer, I wish Lloyd-Jones had given his but I couldn’t find it.  here’s my answer to the question that we must come to terms with, it is utterly essential, of how the power of the Word of God relates to the authenticating function of signs and wonders.  First of all notice the Bible teaches that the Gospel preached is the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:23) the Gospel preached is the power of God (Rom 1:16) but, the Bible also says that Paul and Barnabas “remained a long time in Iconium speaking boldly for the Lord,”  Would you dare to equate anybody’s preaching today with that preaching?  That was powerful preaching! They were preaching in Iconium with power, speaking boldly for the Lord, “Who, bore witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”

Take all the conflicts today, go back to the New Testament and deal with them there. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s today versus the New Testament.  The issue is, how could preaching and signs and wonders not compromise each other then, not now. Forget now! Forget Wimber, forget everything in the 20th Century, explain Acts.  Explain how you could have the best preaching that ever was preached, described as the power of God unto salvation, and have alongside it God bearing witness with signs and wonders attesting to His word of grace, without saying by that, “My word is insufficient by itself.” Why did God compromise His word, by showing off His power physically? That’s the issue, not today.  Who cares about today, it’s the Bible that matters.

Now here is my effort to understand the Bible, which then maybe would help us today. Could we not say, in putting all this together, that signs and wonders – that is, I mean, healings, exorcisms, and so on – signs and wonders function in relation to the word of God, as a striking, wakening channel for the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the gospel? That may be the most important sentence I’ll give you.  Let me say it again: “Could it be, that signs and wonders function as a striking, wakening, channel, along which, through which, the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the Gospel moves, arrives.  I say emphatically, signs and wonders do not save. I say emphatically, signs and wonders do not transform the heart. I say emphatically, the glory of Christ seen in the gospel is the only power that regenerates, converts, transforms the heart, I base that on 2 Cor. 3:18-4:6. But, evidently, God chooses at times to use signs and wonders along side the regenerating word to win a hearing, to shatter the shell of disinterest, to shatter the shell of cynicism, to shatter the shell of false religion, and to help the heart fix its gaze on the glory of Christ in the gospel (see note 42).  Which, as 2 Cor. 4:4 says, is then like God saying “Let there be light” and boom, there is a new creature.

That’s my best effort at how to account, not for what’s happening today, but for what was happening in Paul’s life, and Philip’s life, and Stephen’s life, and Barnabas’s life, and Peter’s life.  The greatest preaching accompanied by signs and wonders.  Not the greatest preaching, so great it doesn’t need signs and wonders.”

~From “A Passion for Christ Exalting Power

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 4: Some Mighty Demonstration

Baptism With the Holy Spirit is an Authentication of the Gospel

“Now watch this – it comes visibly, he says. It is not just a quiet subjective experience of the church. Things happen, he says,  that make the world sit up and take notice. And now this was tremendously important to Lloyd-Jones. He felt almost overwhelmed by the corruption of the world and by the impotence of the church. And he believed that the only hope was something stunningStunning!  “The Christian church today is failing, and failing lamentably.” He preached these sermons in the fall of ’64 to the spring of ’65, near the end of his ministry, four years before he retired.  I hear, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, a growing disillusionment in Martyn Lloyd-Jones with the effectiveness of the church, even his own church.

The Christian church today is failing, and failing lamentably.It is not enough even to be orthodox. You must, of course, be orthodox, otherwise you have not got a message … We need authority and we need authentication … Is it not clear that we are living in an age when we need some special authentication—in other words, we need revival.  (The Sovereign Spirit, 25)

In other words, revival for Lloyd-Jones was a power demonstration that would authenticate the truth of the gospel to desperately hardened world. In fact his description of that world is remarkably contemporary, referring to the demonic and to new age kinds of things, and then at the end of that quote he says:

This is why I believe we are in urgent need of some manifestation, some demonstration, of the power of the Holy Spirit. (SS, 25)

Now, to be fair, he cautioned against excessive preoccupation with revival.  He warns against being too interested in the exceptional and the unusual, he said, “don’t despise the day of small things.  Don’t despise the regular work of the church and the regular work of the Spirit.” (The Fight of Faith, 384)

But.

I hear that caution as a gesture, that’s called for by reality, but not the heartbeat of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He was increasingly disillusioned with the “regular” work of the church, so that he goes on now, I think, and says things like this:

[We] can produce a number of converts, thank God for that, and that goes on regularly in evangelical churches every Sunday. But the need today is much too great for that.

In other words, he rejects steady state regular work as adequate.

The need today is for an authentication of God, of the supernatural, of the spiritual, of the eternal, and this can only be answered by God graciously hearing our cry and shedding forth again his Spirit upon us and filling us as he kept filling the early church. (Joy Unspeakable, 278)

What is needed is some mighty demonstration of the power of God, some enactment of the Almighty, that will compel people to pay attention, and to look, and to listen. And the history of all the revivals of the past indicates so clearly that that is invariably the effect of revival… When God acts, he can do more in one minute that man with his organizing can do in fifty years. (Revival, 121-2)

And I can’t help but wonder if he meant, “my fifty years.”

He so wanted to see this.

What lies so heavily on Lloyd-Jones’ heart is that the name of God be vindicated and the glory of the Lord manifested in the world. “We should be anxious to see something happening that will arrest the nations, all the peoples, and cause them to stop and think again” (Revival, 120). And that was the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose, the main function of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, is … to enable God’s people to witness in such a manner that it becomes a phenomenon and people are arrested and are attracted. (JU, 84; SS 17, 35, 120)

~From “A Passion for Christ Exalting Power

Piper on Lloyd-Jones, part 3: “Picks him up, showers His love upon him”

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit Gives Exceptional Assurance and Joy

Let’s talk about the baptism of the Holy Spirit now.  He believes that this view discourages us, this current evangelical view that equates it with regeneration, discourages us from seeking what the church so desperately needs today, namely, “The greatest need at the present time,” he says, “is for Christian people who are assured of their salvation.” But now, he distinguishes, and he uses Thomas Goodwin here, the “customary assurance,” from the extraordinary, or “unusual” (Joy Unspeakable, 38) or “full assurance” of faith. (JU, 41)

“When Christians are baptized by the Holy Spirit, they have a sense of  power and the presence of God that they have never known before —and this is the greatest possible form of assurance.” (JU, 97).

Now let me give you the best illustration in the book Joy Unspeakable that liberated my people last spring when I was preaching on this, and they were shaking in their pews, wondering what in the world was becoming of me.  This was a kind of watershed Sunday morning** when I shared this illustration.  He get’s it straight from Thomas Goodwin, the puritan.  This is an illustration of the difference between a customary, happy, good walk with God as a regenerate, Spirit-indwelt person, and a person who has been baptized with the Spirit:

“A man and his little child [are] walking down the road and they are walking hand in hand, and the child knows that he is the child of his father [this God and the Christian], and he knows that his father loves him, and he rejoices in that, and he is happy in it. There is no uncertainty about it all, but suddenly the father, moved by some impulse, takes hold of the child, picks him up, fondles him in his arms, kisses him, embraces him, and showers his love upon him, and then he puts him down again and they go  walking on their way.”

That’s it! The child knew before that his father loved him, and he knew that he was his child. But oh! the loving embrace, this extra outpouring of love, this unusual manifestation of it—that is the kind of thing. The Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (JU, 95-6).

And so he says in another place, the baptism of the Holy Spirit carries us, “not only from doubt to belief but to certainty, to awareness of the presence and the glory of God (JU, 87).

Now this is revival:

The difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and a revival is simply one of the number of people affected. I would define a revival as a large number, a group of people, being baptized by the Holy Spirit at the same time; or the Holy Spirit falling upon, coming upon a number of people assembled together. It can happen in a district, it can happen in a country (JU, 51).

** John Piper, “You Shall Receive Power till Jesus Comes,” from Acts: What Jesus Did After the Beginning, 1990

“And now let me step back here and give you an illustration to help.  This seemed to help Tuesday night with the deacons.  we were here till almost midnight talking about these things, Tuesday night. And this was real precious, and God was there, it was a wonderful meeting.   I love those deacons. Oh! One of the joys of my life is the ruling counsel in this church, the counsel of deacons. We were just – you were there, weren’t you?  It was great.  Sort of bleary eyed the next morning.

Here’s the illustration, I took it from Martyn Lloyd-Jones…”