Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Goal of Atonement

"The goal of atonement, of redemption, is the rule of God over a kingdom wholly subject to the law of the covenant, and joyfully so....Without the dimension of law, life is denied the meaning and purpose of re-birth." ~R.J. Rushdoony

Saturday, May 12, 2012

John Calvin on the Gospel

(Quotes taken from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion)

“By the Gospel, I understand the clear manifestation of the mystery of Christ. I confess, indeed, that inasmuch as the term Gospel is applied by Paul to the doctrine of faith (1 Tim. 4:6), it includes all the promises by which God reconciles men to himself, and which occur throughout the Law. For Paul there opposes faith to those terrors which vex and torment the conscience when salvation is sought by means of works. Hence it follows that Gospel, taken in a large sense, comprehends the evidences of mercy and paternal favor which God bestowed on the Patriarchs. Still, by way of excellence, it is applied to the promulgation of the grace manifested in Christ.” (2.9.2)

“Paul, after calling the Gospel “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” shortly after adds, that it was “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” (Rom. 1:16; 3:21). And in the end of the same Epistle, though he describes “the preaching of Jesus Christ” as “the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began,” he modifies the expression by adding, that it is “now made manifest” “by the scriptures of the prophets,” (Rom. 16:25, 26). Hence we infer, that when the whole Law is spoken of, the Gospel differs from it only in respect of clearness of manifestation.” (2.9.4)

“The sum of the Gospel is, not without good reason, made to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins; and, therefore, where these two heads are omitted, any discussion concerning faith will be meager and defective, and indeed almost useless.” (3.3.1)

“Hence Paul designates faith as the obedience which is given to the Gospel (Rom. 1:5); and writing to the Philippians, he commends them for the obedience of faith (Phil. 2:17). For faith includes not merely the knowledge that God is, but also, nay chiefly, a perception of his will toward us.” (3.2.6)

“Moreover if it is true, and nothing can be more certain, than that a complete summary of the Gospel is included under these two heads—viz. repentance and the remission of sins, do we not see that the Lord justifies his people freely, and at the same time renews them to true holiness by the sanctification of his Spirit?” (3.3.19)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Books Update

And it's time for another book update! I love reading and I love it when I can share what I have been reading with others. Here is my attempt to briefly summarize my reading since January or so.

Books I have Read Recently:

The Greatness of the Great Commission by Ken Gentry
This book goes through the giving of the "Great Commission" (Matt. 28:16-20) in a very detailed way, showing its comprehensive nature. It is a great book dismantling dispensational/pietistic views of "soul saving" that don't really effect one's life and culture. Gives a good foundation for viewing Christ's redemption as saving the soul, body, person, life, culture, nations, etc... It especially focuses on the four alls of that passage: "All authority," "all nations," "all that I have commanded," and all times ("I am with you always, to the end of the age").

The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson
This book I read for the Wednesday night study that our church does mainly for training future church leaders. This book is the classic book on covenant theology done in the last hundred years. I think that the two most important doctrines for us to master in our day are the doctrines of the Trinity and of Covenant. The idea of covenant pervades and structures Scripture and history. It is the way God relates to man, and thus forms a central importance in creation, providence, and redemption. Because of covenant theology we can see the consistency between redemption in the Old and New Testaments, instead of seeing God dealing with sinners in separate ways in history. I think I benefited a little more from Joe Morecraft, Louis Berkhof, and Kevin Swanson than from Robertson on the subject of covenant theology, but it was still a good book laying out God's covenant relationship with His people throughout biblical history (and Morecraft and Swanson have drawn much from this book as well).

The Bible & War in America: A biblical view of an American obsession and steps to recover liberty
by Joel McDurmon
This is a short book on a very important topic in our day. It lays out a biblical view of war and military (especially using Deut. 17:14-20, 20:1-20, and 1 Sam. 8), then shows through American history the decline of the biblical view, and then shows the steps needed to recover a more biblical system in our day. I wish it was longer and more expanded in some parts. But I think the book is very needed in our day where Christianity is so mixed up with militaristic imperialism. 

Why I Believe God by Cornelius Van Til
This is the first thing written by Van Til that I have read (although I have read quite a bit that was heavily influenced by him and about him). Much of his writing involves heavy thinking, but this is a pretty simple paper written in a conversational style where he is talking to an unbeliever about why he believes God. You can read it here:

Born-Again Dirt: Farming to the Glory of God by Noah Sanders
This book cultivates a biblical vision for agriculture. The author, Noah Sanders, was interviewed on Generations Radio here: Farmer Boy 2012. We read much of the book out-loud on our way back from the Family Economics Conference where Noah spoke. When reading it I was struck with the many similarities with my book, even though I believe he read my book after he wrote his (and vice versa). I like it where he recognizes faults in both conventional farming and the alternative/organic farming, seeking solid biblical principles for farming. Another great thing about the book is Noah's humility in his writing, which I think I could learn from. A very practical book, whether you are a full time farmer or a gardener.

Federal Theology by John Girardeau
A small book written by Girardeau in 1881 defending "federal theology" (i.e. covenant theology, federal coming from the Latin word for covenant). He is mainly concerned with Christ's sacrifice and its application to us, especially against the Arminian view of salvation. Very good at comparing Adam's covenant headship and Christ's covenant headship.

Books I am reading:

In History:

Union 1812 by Langguth
A book on the War of 1812 that I got at the battle of Tippecanoe last year. It spends almost half the book talking about the time before the war started, which makes it hard since you feel like you are reading a really long introduction. Some of the bias of the author makes me unsatisfied with it, but it still has good information that I can use to piece together the history of this war and is pretty well written. After I'm done with this book I'll probably continue to look for "the book" I'd recommend to people interested in studying the war, but will still be glad I read.

Southern Presbyterian Leaders by Henry Alexander White
This book, written in 1911, covers the history of Southern Presbyterians from 1683 to 1911. It does a good job of piecing together this history and the accomplishments of Southern Presbyterians, although it doesn't get as deep as I would like, as it is more of a broad overview than a detailed examination of someone's life. I quoted from it here. You can read it on Google Books here.

In Theology/Philosophy: 

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof
I am reading this book for our church's Wednesday night meetings. I like Berkhof's clear and organized style that makes it relatively easy to read. Sometimes it feels a little too precise, and it's not as beautiful as Calvin's Institutes, but for the most part it is a great systematic theology. I especially like the part on the covenant. Right now we are going through the ordo salutis (i.e. the order of salvation).

Study Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith by G.I. Williamson
Again, this is for the Wednesday night meetings. It goes through the Westminster Confession of Faith, explaining it in simple writing. A classic work on the WCF that has been used by many to understand Biblical/Reformed/Presbyterian doctrine. I actually met the author at our presbytery last month and enjoyed talking to him. This June will be the 60th anniversary of his being ordained as a minister of the gospel.

Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly
Again, this is for the Wednesday night thing (there is a lot of reading for this). Of course, saying that doesn't mean the that I don't like these books; on the contrary, I love the opportunity to read all these books. This book teaches the early church's doctrines (from the Apostles to Chalcedon). A very well researched examination of the various debates and teachings during this time. Pastor Swanson really is inspiring a love for the early church fathers in these meetings, as they really help us see what the fundamentals have been over time.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
This I am reading for Shepherd Center, and reading it for the second time (the first was in 2009). We are going through the exposition of the moral law now. A classic work of Christianity, and one that I enjoy reading. Not merely is it a systematic theology, but it is also concerned with real practice and piety.

Institutes of Biblical Law by R.J. Rushdoony
This is probably one of the most important books written in the last one hundred years. We are reading this also for Shepherd Center (Pastor Buehner is teaching it). If you are not familiar with R.J. Rushdoony you should become familiar soon. He lived from 1916-2001 and had a huge influence on the following movements (in no particular order): presuppositional apologetics, creation science, Christian schools, homeschooling, theonomy, reformed and calvinistic theology, post-millenial eschatology, the "Christian Right," providential history, etc... If you have ever been influenced by ministries like Vision Forum, Generations with Vision, or American Vision, you probably have been influenced by this man. Even folks like Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry have acknowledged being influenced by Rushdoony. And he's the kind of guy that folks either really love or really hate. This book is considered his greatest work and contains an exposition of the Ten Commandments and many of their applications to life today.

The One and the Many by R.J. Rushdoony
Also by Rushdoony, I had been waiting to read this book for a while. You might have noticed me using the idea of the Christian "the One and the Many" before, and that was because I had read the first chapter before and had heard the idea taught by others. This book does go beyond "the One and the Many" into a history of philosophy from ancient Egypt to the present, especially noticing the effects of philosophy (Christian or otherwise) on social and political order. Takes some thinking, but a worthwhile read.

Joy at the End of the Tether by Douglas Wilson
I have just started reading this and am looking forward to it. It is a commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, which has been a favorite book-of-the-Bible of mine for at least six years. I knew I wanted to read it after Joe Morecraft told me that he thought highly of it (although he has problems with some other things Wilson has written). 

Authentic Christianity: An Exposition of the Theology and Ethics of the Westminster Larger Catechism, Volume II by Joseph Morecraft
And I'm still trying to get through Pastor Morecraft's five volume commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism. I have been slowing down, not because it's hard reading (I find it very easy to read), but because of the other books (above) that have a higher short-term priority.

Despite the evidence to the contrary, I don't really like reading many books at the same time. But I do like reading lots of books, and this is what happens. Hopefully I will be able to whittle this list down to a reasonable size soon. I hope you all are reading good books as well, and if you have read any particularly good books recently, tell me in the comments.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ralph Vaughan Williams on Hymnody

For those interested in Church music, I would recommend reading Ralph Vaughan Williams's Preface to the English Hymnal, 1906. There is wisdom in this short essay written by one of the better composers of the Edwardian era. I have found its recommendations helpful as I help my own church with its music. Here are a few favorite quotes from the Preface:

"No doubt it requires a certain effort to tune oneself to the moral atmosphere implied by a fine melody; and it is far easier to dwell in the miasma of the languishing and sentimental hymn tunes which so often disfigure our services."

"A tune has no more right to be dull than to be demoralizing."

"The congregation might be encouraged to sing and appreciate the finer melodies if a system of monthly congregational practices were held, at which the less known tunes could be made familiar..."

"The original rhythms of many of the old psalter tunes have also been restored, especially the long initial on the first syllable, which gives such a broad and dignified effect to these tunes. Attempts to adapt them to the procrustean bed of the nineteenth century hymn tune have merely taken away their character and made them appear dull."