Welcoming Bach Among the Theologians

The great Yale professor of church history, Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006), known for his massive The Christian TraditionA History of the Development of Doctrine and his editorship of the English translation of the works of Martin Luther, also wrote a small volume studying the relationship between the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and biblical doctrine.

Bach Among the Theologians appeared first in 1946 and represents Pelikan’s devoted foray into the world of Bach scholarship. His work truly is a labor of love for both Bach and Bach’s Lutheran heritage.

Patrick Kavanaugh, is his memorable Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, explains Bach’s connection to Luther:

Bach spent his entire life in Germany, working primarily as a church musician. For the two centuries prior, this region had been permeated by the legacy of Martin Luther, with his radical emphasis on a living, personal, BIble-based Christianity. Luther himself had been a musician, declaring music to be second only to the Gospel itself. Bach was to be the reformer’s greatest musical disciple.

In Pelikan’s Bach Among the Theologians, he explains that Bach operated under the conviction that “the highest activity of the human spirit was the praise of God, but that such praise involved the total activity of the spirit.” In other words, as one of Bach’s biographers summarizes,

Music is an act of worship with Bach …. for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance.

In a simple way, such consecration is seen in Bach’s own hand. As he started each composition, he would mark “J. J.” at the top of each page as an abbreviation for Jesu Juva or “Help me, Jesus.” Once he completed the work, Bach routinely concluded with the initials “S. D. G.” representing Soli Deo Gloria or “To God alone, the glory.”

Indeed, as Kevin Vanhoozer explains in his recent Biblical Authority After Babel, the Reformation idea of “Five Solas” actually only formalized until after these compositions by Bach:

While books today commonly treat the five solas together, it was not until the twentieth century that they were mentioned collectively …. To be precise, sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura can be found in the sixteenth century Reformers’ writnigs, but solus Christus and soli Deo gloria appeared somewhat later–the latter on a regular basis in the compositions of J. S. Bach (26).

While Vanhoozer rightly explains that “the absence of the actual phrase does not imply the lack of the concept, and I would argue that all five solas reflect core Reformation theological convictions,” Bach’s influence on how we think of the Reformation and the theology of the Reformation should not go unnoticed, especially in this 500th Anniversary Year.

Likewise, nor should Bach’s practice of dedication and consecration.

As the seminary where I serve soon arrives at the end of term, it occurred to me again that Bach’s approach to musical composition serves as a worthy model for the academic enterprise of theological education.

As faculty and students convene together to study and renew their minds (Romans 12:2) they should also grow in their love and worship of God with all their hearts (Matthew 22:37).

Bach rightly saw the eternal nature of all his work, and those preparing (and those teaching the ones preparing) for a future ministry should see their current academic pursuits not as a temporal means-to-an-end but rather as something that will not perish and will be examined (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Each year as we embark on a new term of study, Bach gives us all a fitting starting point. On our knees, confessing that apart from God alone, we can do nothing (John 15:5), we state simply Jesu Juva.

Then as the minutes, days, months, year(s), or degree program(s) conclude, we can pause to say Soli Deo Gloria with “praise too deep for utterance” for the faithful nearness of God’s sanctifying work and presence in minds and our hearts.

In this year of Reformation reflection and renewal, and as the academic term ends and a new one begins, let’s welcome Bach among the theologians.

———–

By way of personal testimony, the music of J. S. Bach served as my constant companion throughout my seminary studies and remains today as one of my favorite accompanists while working late into the night or early in the morning. I recommend his Mass in B Minor as well as his Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Particularly this version performed by Mstislav Rostropovich.

In addition, for a limited time the performance at the 2015 Proms of the Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma is available for listening via the wonderful BBC Radio 3 program, Through The Night.

This article has been updated and revised from an earlier reflection published in Baptist Press in September 2013.

Defending Substitution According to the Scriptures

“Scholars have proposed a number of possible explanations for why Paul says Christ’s death and resurrection on the third day each take place ‘according to the Scriptures’ …. One of the most important ingredients for 1 Corinthians 15:3, however, is Isaiah 53.

As we shall see, Paul knows the passage, referring to it elsewhere. The suffering servant, as the only human instance of vicarious death ‘according to the Scriptures,’ is the closest model for Christ’s death. There are similarities in the structure of the formula as well as in the language of ‘death’ and ‘sins.’ […]

First chapter 53 must be read within the wider framework of the surrounding chapters in Isaiah. The people of Israel are hard-hearted and in a state of disobedience; they refuse to repent and be gathered to God [….]

Second, despite this, God undertakes to redeem them. he gives them words of comfort in chapter 40, he promises in chapter 44 (vs. 21) that he has not forgotten Israel, and he even insists that in the absence of repentance on Israel’s part, he will accomplish it himself (chap. 46).

Third, we see how this will happen. As these chapters (the 40s and 50s in Isaiah) go on, it becomes clearer that God is raising up a servant who is distinct within the nation: the servant is not just a way of talking about Israel as a whole but is an individual who is going to be instrumental in saving the people. This character is the one who suffers in chapter 53. He is cruelly forsaken by the nation as a whole, and yet the Israelites later come to realize that he had accomplished their salvation [….]

There is considerable debate in scholarly circles about whether there is a ‘center’ to Paul’s thought. Among those who think there is one, there is debate about what that center is …. We may not have a ‘center’ here in 1 Corinthians 15, but we do clearly have a statement that the gospel, consisting of Christ’s substitutionary death and his resurrection is primary in Paul’s proclamation.

This is what Paul means by saying that he passed it on to the Corinthians ‘first’ or ‘as of first importance’ in verse 3. It may be difficult to discover which concept occupied the center of a dead person’s brain, but Paul himself tells us that the gospel as summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 does have primacy in his preaching.

–Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker, 2015).

Dr. Gathercole’s Defending Substitution has received wide acclaim since its initial publication. Helpful reviews can be found at 9Marks, Reformation21, TGC, and in Themelios.

Also, Dr. Gathercole will be giving the Sizemore Lectures this week at Midwestern. You can learn more or find a link to the live stream here.

‘Out of His Grave, Fresh as the Dawning Light’ – On the 350th Anniversary of ‘Paradise Lost’

In April 1667, John Milton first published the greatest work of epic poetry in English. 350 years ago this month, Paradise Lost arrived to an initial quiet reception, but soon it would gain worldwide acclaim and influence.

That this anniversary occurs at Eastertime this year is also significant for while Milton’s poem tells the story of the Fall of Man, it ends with a portrait of the death and resurrection of the Son of Man.

What is Paradise Lost?

In the midst of Second World War, C. S. Lewis published A Preface to Paradise Lost, which contained a collection of lectures he had given on the poem.[1]  Dedicated to his friend, Charles Williams, Lewis noted that it was Williams’s The Poetical Works of Milton, published two years earlier, that had served to recover “a true critical tradition” of Paradise Lost “after more than a hundred years of laborious misunderstanding” (v).

Writing with typical clarity, Lewis began, “The first thing the reader needs to know about Paradise Lost is what Milton meant it to be …. The need is especially urgent in the present age because the kind of poem Milton meant to write is unfamiliar to many readers. He is writing epic poetry which is a species of narrative poetry, and neither the species nor the genus is very well understood at present” (1).

Indeed, if not very well understood in Lewis’s day, his explanatory aim is even more needed in our own where we find the term informally employed to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary as if we are all surfers who have just rode the wave of our lives. “That was an epic–meal, evening out, basketball pass, cup of coffee,” and the like. Using the term this way is fine, for there is a part of us all that would love to surf, but an understanding of the formal use of epic is needed as well. 

Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic poem. Further, many consider it the last epic poem in Western Civilization, the caboose on a long train that starts with Homer. Leland Ryken, in his helpful introduction to Milton’s Work, gives the following as some of the key features of epic poetry:

  1. Long, flowing sentences that are best understood and enjoyed when read aloud
  2. Inversion of normal word order
  3. Exalted vocabulary
  4. Epithets
  5. Epic similes (extended comparisons between something in the poem and something from nature, history, mythology, or human experience)
  6. Allusions
  7. Pleonasm or periphrasis (taking more words than necessary to say something)

C. S. Lewis, too, spends time discussing the history of the epic poem for, he argues, that one must understand the Form of the poem to understand what it is the Poet intends:

Every poem can be considered in two ways—as to what the poet has to say and as a thing which he makes. From the one point of view it is an expression of opinions and emotions; from the other, it is an organization of words which exist to produce a particular kind of patterned experience in the readers. Another way of stating this duality would be to say that every poem has two parents—its mother being the mass of experience, thought, and the like, inside the poet, and its father the pre-existing Form (epic, tragedy, the novel, or what not) which he meets in the public world …. The matter inside the poet wants the Form: in submitting to the Form it becomes really original, really the origin of great work (2-3).

Understanding that Paradise Lost is an epic poem, and the greatest of that Form in English, who, then is the Poet?

Who was John Milton?

Arguably the second only to Shakespeare in terms of the pantheon of English masters of verse, Milton (1608-1674) lived during a turbulent time in English history. Often his life is reviewed in three periods: (1) his youth and time of study at Cambridge where he would write his minor poems, (2) the two decades marked by the English Civil War and time where there was no King, 1640-1660, when Milton would engage in the cause of Puritanism and works of prose, (3) his final years, though now blind, where Milton would write Paradise Lost and his other major poems.[2]

Milton attended Cambridge in the 1620s, a time when many young men were converted to Christianity after hearing the preaching of Richard Sibbes and others, and then joining the Puritan movement within the Church of England.  Milton was slow to join up, and not until the 1640s did he engage the movement with zeal.

Milton’s The Reason for Church Government (1642), for example, advocates for a congregational form of church leadership and attacks the notion that episcopacy is grounded in the Old Testament priesthood, a common argument for that form of government then and now.[3] As Gordon Campbell notes, “In the course of the five years between mid-1637 and mid-1642 Milton had moved from being a constructively critical member of the national church to taking up the cause of ecclesiastical reform, and eventually becoming an impassioned opponent of ecclesiastical abuses: he had become an Independent.”[4]

How Should We Understand Paradise Lost?

As Leland Ryken notes, “This is a story of crime and punishment.”[5] Milton states that his aim is to “justify the ways of God to men” as he presents the story of the fall of Adam and Eve and their removal from the Garden of Eden.  While written during times of English political tumult, Paradise Lost is not a cultural commentary or allegory, it is clearly a work of theology.

In the 350 years since the first publication. Milton’s work has received incredible scrutiny and both praise and criticism. Much has been made about the portrayal of Satan as a central figure as well as evaluations as to Milton’s orthodoxy.[6]  C. S. Lewis in his preface helpfully addresses this critical history as his aim, in part, is to “‘hinder hindrances’ to the appreciation of Paradise Lost (129). Lewis examines the theology of Milton’s poem in two chapters concluding that the so-called ‘heresies’ “reduce themselves to something very small and rather ambiguous” (91).

Elsewhere, Lewis explains that Milton’s version of the Fall is essentially Augustinian (66) and that the method that some employ of attempting to suspend any theological interpretation is misguided.

‘What is the Fall?’ The Fall is simply and solely Disobedience—doing what you have been told not to do: and it results from Pride—from being too big for your boots, forgetting your place, thinking that you are God. This is what St. Augustine thinks and what (to the best of my knowledge) the Church has always taught; this Milton states from the very first line of the first Book, this all his characters reiterate and vary from every possible point of view throughout the poem as if were the subject of a fugue (70-71).

“Milton’s thought, when purged of its theology, does not exist,” Lewis argues and that, given its basis in Christian theology, reading Paradise Lost as a Christian “is an advantage” (65).

Leland Ryken concurs. He explains, “I think that Christian readers should begin by reminding themselves that they live not only by a Christian world view but also by a Christian world picture. In addition to the great doctrines of the Christian faith, we live by the great images of the faith. Milton’s poem puts us in touch with the images of the Christian faith—images of Satan and hell, of God and heaven, of Paradise and original perfection, of temptation and fall, of sin and salvation.”

A Selection of Paradise Lost for Easter

In 2013, Justin Taylor shared Ryken’s suggested plan for reading Paradise Lost, which I have found helpful. For many of us not accustomed to tackling lengthy poetry, or not even sure we should, a plan like this is needed.[7] For starters, reading or re-reading passages aloud brings much clarity and ease to reading.

The passage that follows takes place near the end of the poem just before Adam and Eve are removed from the Garden.[8] In Milton’s rendering, God sends the angel Michael to escort the humans, but before he does he reveals to them what will happen in the future. Beginning with the Flood and then to Abraham, Michael discusses at length who is the Offspring of the woman who was promised after the Fall (Gen 3:15).

After describing the incarnation, what follows is Michael’s accounting of not only the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a beautiful piece to read during the Easter season, but also points toward Jesus’s commissioning of the church to take the gospel to all nations.

I first came across this a few years ago, and keep coming back to it at this time of year. Whenever I do, I appreciate it all the more. I hope is serves to encourage you this Easter as well as give some measure of appreciation for the genius of John Milton on the 350th anniversary of his epic.

Paradise Lost, Book XII

He shall endure by coming in the flesh [405]
To a reproachful life and cursed death,
Proclaiming life to all who shall believe
In his redemption, and that is obedience
Imputed becomes theirs by faith, his merits
To save them, not their own, though legal works. [410]
For this he shall live hated, be blasphemed,
Seized on by force, judged, and to death condemned
A shameful and accursed, nailed to the cross
By his own nation, slain for bringing life;
But to the cross he nails thy enemies, [415]
The law that is against thee, and the sins
Of all mankind, with him there crucified,
Never to hurt them more who rightly trust
In this his satisfaction; so he dies,
But soon revives; Death over him no power [420]
Shall long usurp; ere the third dawning light
Return, the stars of morn shall see him rise
Out of his grave, fresh as the dawning light,
Thy ransom paid, which man from Death redeems,
His death for man, as many as offered life [425]
Neglect not, and the benefit embrace
By faith not void of works. This godlike act
Annuls thy doom, the death though shouldst have died,
In sin for ever lost from life; this act
Shall bruise the head of Satan, crush his strength, [430]
Defeating Sin and Death, his two main arms,
And fix far deeper in his head their stings
Than temporal death shall bruise the Victor’s heel,
Or theirs who he redeems, a death like sleep,
An gentle wafting to immortal life. [435]
Nor after resurrection shall he stay
Longer on Earth than certain times to appear
To his disciples, men who in his life
Still followed him; to them shall leave in charge
To teach all nations what of him they learned [440]
And his salvation, them who shall believe
Baptizing in the profluent stream, the sign
Of washing them from guilt of sin to life
Pure, and in mind prepared, if so befall,
For death, like that which the Redeemer died. [445]
All nations they shall teach; for from that day
Not only to the sons of Abraham’s loins
Salvation shall be preached, but to the sons
Of Abraham’s faith wherever through the world;
So in his seed all the nations shall be blest. [450]
Then to the Heaven of Heavens he shall ascend
With victory, triumphing through the air
Over his foes and thine; there shall surprise
The Serpent, Prince of air, and drag in chains
Through all his realm, and there confound leave; [455]
Then enter glory, and resume
His seat at God’s right hand, exalted high
Above all names in Heaven, and thence shall come,
When this World’s dissolution shall be ripe,
With glory and power to judge both quick and dead, [460]
To judge the unfaithful dead, but to reward
His faithful, and receive them into bliss,
Whether in Heaven or Earth, for then the Earth
Shall all be Paradise, far happier place
Than this of Eden, and far happier days. [465]

——-

[1] C. S. Lewis, A Preface To Paradise Lost (Oxford University Press, 1942).

[2] See Douglas Bush’s “Introduction,” in The Portable Milton, 1-28.

[3] See further my “A Wrinkle on Catholicism: The Anglican Understanding of Church Government,” in Merkle and Schreiner, eds. Shepherding God’s Flock (Kregel, 2014), 256.

[4] Gordan Campbell, “Milton, John (1608-1674), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).

[5] Leland Ryken, Milton’s Paradise Lost (Crossway, 2013).

[6] Such continues even today. See Boyd Tonkin, “Why Milton Still Matters,” The Spectator (March 2017). See also, Ryken via Taylor, “An Interview,” (Dec 2008).

[7] For even C. S. Lewis noted upon reviewing used copies of long narrative poems where he found “a number of not very remarkable lines underscored with pencil in the first two pages, and all the rest of the book is virgin. It is easy to see what happened. The unfortunate reader has set out expecting ‘good lines’—little ebullient patches of delight—such as he is accustomed to find in lyrics, and had thought he was finding them in things that took his fancy for accidental reasons during the first five minutes; after that, finding that the poem cannot really be read in this way, he has given up. Of the continuity of a long narrative poem, the subordination of the line to the paragraph and the paragraph to the Book and even of the Book to the whole, of the grand sweeping effects that take a quarter of an hour to develop in themselves, he has had no conception” (1-2).

[8] This selection is taken from Paradise Lost, XII in Douglas Bush, ed., The Portable Milton (Penguin, 1949).

Christ In the State of Humiliation and Exaltation

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:9 ESV)

“The three offices of Christ, they have this order in regard of manifestation. First, he was a prophet to instruct and teach his in himself, and likewise by his ministry. And then a priest to die for those that are his, to make intercession now forever in heaven. And then a king.

First, a prophet, then a priest, and then a king.

He was all at once.

The very union invested him in all these, but in regard to manifestation he was first a prophet to instruct us of the end of his coming into the world; and then a priest to do that grand office that we have most comfort by; and then a king to rule us. He could not be otherwise, for if he had manifested himself a King and a Lord in his glory, where had been his abasement? If they had known him to be the Lord of glory, they would never have crucified him.

Only some sparkles of his Godhead and lordship and kingdom and royalty over all flesh break out in his miracles; yea, in his greatest abasement there were some sparkles, I say. Even when he lay in the manger, kings came to adore him. When he paid tribute, he had it out of a fish by a command, by majesty. When he was on the cross he converted the good thief. So somewhat brake out of him that he was a person more than ordinary, but that was for special ends.

Ordinarily he went on in a course of abasement, and all that he might perform the great work of redemption. Therefore he made a stop of his glory and kingly office, that he might not manifest himself in that relation and office; that he might do the office a priest to die for us. … So you see here Christ’s offices, the state and condition of his humiliation and of his exaltation, and the use and end of all, ‘ that he might be Lord of the dead and of the living.’

And if we be anything offended with that abasement, that God should die, look to his rising and reviving and lordship over all, both living and dead; and if we be dazzled with his glory, look back again to God in our flesh, and God in our flesh abased, even to the death of the cross.

Oh, it is a sweet meditation, beloved to think that our flesh is now in heaven, at the right hand of God; and that flesh that was born of the virgin, that was laid in the manger, that went up and down doing good, that was made a curse for us and humbled to death, and lay under the bondage of death three days; that this flesh is now glorious in heaven, that this person is Lord over the living and the dead. It is an excellent book to study this.

Beloved, study Christ in the state of humiliation and exaltation.”

— Richard Sibbes, Christ’s Exaltation Purchased by Humiliation (London, 1639).

The Bell Grew Louder: Reading Narnia and Thinking of Andrew Fuller

One of the peculiar things about the human mind is how it can process multiple things at the same time. Some say multitasking is a myth, as one can really only accomplish one task at any given moment. However, I found that when reading books to my children, I can really multitask. As I scroll aloud through paragraphs, my mind will often solve all kinds of problems and make connections to things far from the content of the words entering through my eyes and out of my mouth. Am I the only one?

This happened on an occasion while reading aloud C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. The more I read the more I thought not of some distant Narnian land, but rather of eighteenth century England and the life and work of Andrew Fuller.

At a point in the story, two children enter a world seemingly suspended in time. Ornately robed people of royalty sit lifeless in a grand hall “like the most wonderful waxworks you ever saw.” In an adjacent room. the children are drawn to a small golden bell with hammer placed to entice any child to strike. After some debate, the children ring the bell, and that world and the future of Narnia is transformed:

“As soon as the bell was struck it gave out a note, a sweet note such as you might have expected, and not very loud. But instead of dying away again, it went on; and as it went on it grew louder. Before a minute had passed it was twice as loud as it had been to begin with. It was soon so loud that if the children had tried to speak (but they weren’t thinking of speaking now—they were just standing with their mouths open) they would not have heard one another. Very soon it was so loud that they could not have heard one another even by shouting. And still it grew: all on one note, a continuous sweet sound, though the sweetness had something horrible about it, till all the air in that great room was throbbing with it and they could feel the stone floor trembling under their feet. Then at last it began to be mixed with another sound, a vague, disastrous noise, which sounded first like the roar of a distant train, and then like the crash of a falling tree.”

While the story continues to reveal that the ringing bell awakens those frozen and many other adventures ensue in Narnia (and not all for good), my thoughts stayed with the bell and drifted to Fuller.

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) served as the pastor of the Baptist church in Kettering during the days of hyper-Calvinist ascendancy among the Particular Baptists. Since the granting of religious freedom following the 1689 Act of Toleration, the Particular Baptists began to decline as they drifted into a theological cryogenic state, immobilized by the embrace of logic over Bible as their guiding authority.

Due to the influence of Fuller’s reading the Bible and the works of the American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Fuller became convinced that the conclusions of his crystallized Baptist brethren were in error. In 1785 he published his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation and like the ringing of the Narnian bell, this volume would have the effect of “the crash of a falling tree.” For in it, he claimed, “I believe, it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the gospel to all who will hear it.”

Timothy George describes Fuller’s work as, “his defense of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel” and that “this little book fell like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians. Fuller was pilloried by Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists alike.” Here is just a sample of the resounding words in Fuller’s work:

“If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency … Hence it that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us.”

Together with William Carey, the return to a biblical conviction of global gospel proclamation led the two pastors to start the Baptist Missionary Society and launch the modern missions movement. They rung a bell in their day whose sound continues to grow louder.

May many more follow until the sound of the name of Christ is heard as far as the waters cover the silver seas.

To learn more about Andrew Fuller, I gladly refer any to the good work done by my friends at The Andrew Fuller Center and the ongoing publication of The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller by De Gruyter. For a start of the best works on Fuller’s life and thought, see:

  1. Paul Brewster, Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian
  2. Chris Chun, The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller
  3. Chad Mauldin, Fullerism as Opposed to Calvinism
  4. Peter Morden, The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller
  5. John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission
  6. David Prince, Andrew Fuller Fridays
  7. Michael A. G. Haykin, The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller

This article is an updated version of one that first appeared in September 2013.

 

 

The Resurrection is the Defeat of Death

“Of old, before the Savior made his divine sojourn on earth, all lamented the dead as though destruction awaited them, but now that in these latter days the Savior has raised his body, death is no longer fearful–rather, those who are in Christ trample it as a thing of no account and choose to die rather than deny their faith in Christ.

For they know that when they die they are not undone but live and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But as for the devil, he who of old exulted basely in death, his labor is now undone, and he is left as the only one who is truly dead. […]

When after night the sun rises, and the whole of the neighboring land is illumined by it, not the slightest doubt remains that the sun who sheds his light everywhere is also the one who drove away the darkness and illumined everything.

In just the same way, death was trampled and brought into contempt from the time when the Savior made his appearance in the body for our salvation, and the end of the Cross became manifest; this was enough to make plain that he himself was the Savior, the one who had trampled death, and was displaying the trophies of victory over it every day in his disciples.”

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 27.2-3; 29.3 in Mark J. Edwards, ed., We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord(IVP, 2009), 147-150.

 

In a Year of Reformation Reflection, Augustine Still Speaks and Guides

In this year marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation we are right to celebrate and speak much of Martin Luther. However, one realizes quickly that any Reformation study of Luther really is a commentary on the early church father, Augustine. For Luther and John Calvin would quote Augustine more than any other early church theologian.

Therefore, to appreciate fully the Reformation, we should consider Augustine’s impact. As B. B. Warfield wryly noted, the Reformation “was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church.”[1]

Along these lines, I came across recently in The Times Literary Supplement, David Bentley Hart of Notre Dame asserting, with unashamed superlatives, that Augustine was,

unquestionably the single most influential figure in Western Christian thought after the apostolic age, as well as one of the most brilliant and original minds of the whole late antique world. He seemed to write as easily as he breathed … and after his elevation to the episcopacy of Hippo Regius, in what is now Algeria, with all of its attendant responsibilities, during times of immense imperial and ecclesial crisis, he continued to compose at an astonishing rate. In fact, he produced not only many works, but many of his greatest, and in some of the most exquisite, glistening and compelling Latin prose ever written.

Hart is reviewing the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams’ new book On Augustine, and continues to say that,

Volume alone, however, does not explain the unparalleled influence that Augustine’s works exercised over the development of Western Christian thought; more important was their combination of intellectual power and rhetorical force …. In a sense, all Western Christianity is Augustinian Christianity …. It is because of its enormous and pervasive influence in the West, moreover, that the Augustinian legacy is certainly the most vigorously contested and denounced in Christian intellectual history. Adored, demonized, caricatured — Augustine is almost everything to some, and at least something to everyone, and always impossible to ignore.

Indeed, if the Reformers could not ignore Augustine then, how much more, in this Reformation anniversary year when modern pilgrims continue to debate their proper relationship to the culture and what it means to live “in the world” (Jn 17:11), can Augustine continue to prove helpful.

Considering this, I read with interest R. R. Reno’s latest editorial in First Things. Following the tumultuous political events of 2016, Reno spends time considering Augustine:

A reader contacted me recently. He chastised me for speaking too strongly about the current political situation and urged a re-reading of Augustine’s City of God. The gist of his criticisms suggested that he has a superficial understanding of St. Augustine that I have found to be common. It assumes that our elections, legislative battles, and legal wrangling concern only the city of man, and that Christians, insofar as they are loyal to the city of God, must distance themselves from politics. This is not correct. We are social animals, and our civic lives remain integral to who we are, no matter how far we advance in the Christian life. A person who retreats from public life because it is too inconvenient or unpleasant or fails to accord with his nice ideals acts as a citizen of the city of man, seeking his own good–peace of mind, ideological purity–at the expense of the common good. (This is not to say we ought never to forsake politics. We can come to the conclusion that our involvement corrupts our love for God and neighbor.)

During St. Augustine’s final years, North Africa was being conquered by Vandals, a Germanic tribe notorious for its destructive violence As the battle lines approached Hippo, where St. Augustine had long served as bishop, he traveled to the front lines where the Roman army was facing the barbarian invaders. He sought to convince the Roman generals that they should not abandon their positions in order to retire from the field and return to Italy to dedicate themselves to a life of prayer. For St. Augustine, the issue was not whether to be engaged in the affairs of public life, but how.

Not whether, but how, is the question for believers to answer in 2017.

For both impact on the Reformation and ongoing relevance for the present, Augustine truly towers over the intervening centuries in terms of his original thinking and longstanding influence.

Therefore, in this year of Reformation reflection and renewed interest in those events that brought a recovery of the good news of the gospel to an age of bad news and cultural corruption, we should also read and hear Augustine. May God see fit to send another Reformation-sized revival in our day and to strengthen and guide our Augustine-like influencers and courageous engagers of the culture for us to follow as well.

 

For more on the life of the key early church theologian, Augustine (354-430), see this book that gives a brief and introductory overview of his life and thought:

Seven Summits in Church History
Jason G. Duesing
Rainer Publishing, 2016
132 pages

You can purchase Seven Summits here.

 

 

[1] B. B. Warfield, “Augustine,” in Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (Baker Books, 1932, 2003), 130-131.

 

H2O and the Imagination of God

“Is oxygen-and-hydrogen the divine idea of water? Or has God put the two together only that man might separate and find them out? He allows His child to pull his toys to pieces: but were they made that he might pull them to pieces? He were a child not to be envied for whom his inglorious father would make toys to such an end! A school-examiner might seem therein the best use of a toy, but not a father!

Find for us what in the constitution of the two gases makes them fit and capable to be thus honoured in forming the lovely thing, and you will give us a revelation about more than water, namely about the God who made oxygen and hydrogen. There is no water in oxygen, no water in hydrogen; it comes bubbling fresh from the imagination of the living God, rushing from under the great white throne of the glacier.

They very thought of it makes one gasp with an elemental joy no metaphysician can analyse. The water itself, that dances and sings, and slakes wonderful thirst–symbol and picture of that draught for which the woman of Samaria made her prayer to Jesus–this lovely thing itself, whose very wetness is a delight to every inch of the human body in its embrace–this living thing which, if I might, I would have running through my room, yea, babbling along my table–this water is its own self its own truth, and is therein a truth of God.

Let him who would know the truth of the Maker, be come sorely athirst, and drink of the brook by the way–then lift up his heart–not at that moment to the Maker of oxygen and hydrogen, but to the Inventor and Mediator of thirst and water, that man might foresee a little of what his soul may find in God.”

–George Macdonald in C. S. Lewis, George Macdonald: An Anthology (New York, 1947), 81.

Seventy years ago, C. S. Lewis published in the USA his anthology of selections from the works of George Macdonald (1824-1905).

Lewis said, “My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help–sometimes indispensable help towards the very acceptance of the Christian faith …. In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him” (18, 20).

A Fisherman In Ireland: The Enduring Relevance of Patrick

For evangelicals, the enduring relevance of Patrick of Ireland (ca. 390-460) lies in a sacrificial heart motivated by the Great Commission and burdened for the lost.

Christianity likely arrived in Britain from European missionaries during the third century though it did not emerge as an established tradition until the late fourth century while still under the rule of the Roman Empire. Or, as Malcolm Lambert has said, “Christianity came late to the province.”[1]

Surviving Germanic attack in the fifth century, Christians in Britain contributed to the broader theological development with the controversialists, Pelagius and Faustus,[2] as well as the expansion of their faith to neighboring Ireland. And there we find the role of Patrick (the would-be saint), son of a deacon, who was first kidnapped and taken as a slave to Ireland when a teen.

During his enslavement, Patrick sought God and was converted. Six years later he found a path to return to Britain and while resettling there sensed the call of God to the ministry of the Gospel. Specifically, he grew convicted that he should return to Ireland.

In his Confession Patrick shares that he went in response to the call of God to ‘come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel … so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others.’ Here is more:

I did not proceed to Ireland of my own accord until I was almost giving up, but through this I was corrected by the Lord, and he prepared me so that today I should be what was once far from me, in order that I should have the care of—or rather, I should be concerned for—the salvation of others, when at that time, still, I was only concerned for myself. […]

I will tell briefly how most holy God frequently delivered me, from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offence to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor, ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy.

Whence came to me this wisdom which was not my own, I who neither knew the number of days nor had knowledge of God? Whence came the so great and so healthful gift of knowing or rather loving God, though I should lose homeland and family?

I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, “Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.”’ And again: ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.’

And I wish to wait then for his promise which is never unfulfilled, just as it is promised in the Gospel: ‘Many shall come from east and west and shall sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Just as we believe that believers will come from all the world, So for that reason one should, in fact, fish well and diligently, just as the Lord foretells and teaches, saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,’ and, again, through the prophets: ‘“Behold, I am sending forth many fishers and hunters,” says the Lord,’ et cetera. So it behoved us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God[.]

Patrick would give his life as a gospel minister in Ireland for over 30 years. This selfless motivation is as timeless as the Apostle Paul’s desire to become all things to all people that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), and as relevant for the 21st-century family from Bolivar called to live among the people of Bhutan.

—–

[1] Malcolm Lambert, Christians and Pagans: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 4.

[2] Michael A. G. Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 136-37. See also, Haykin, Patrick of Ireland (Christian Focus, 2001).

 

JBMW, Fall 2016, Volume XXI, Issue 2

In addition to my roles and responsibilities at Midwestern, I have the privilege of serving and supporting the work of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood both as a Board Member and as Editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The Journal is published two times a year and features short-length essays on contemporary topics, full-length scholarly articles, a featured sermon or address, and reviews of books of interest to our readers.

The Fall 2016 issue of JBMW releases this week and this issue begins with three essays:

First, Thomas White, president of Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, and CBMW board member, writes on feelings and the transgender experience;

Sam Storms, lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Community Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, kindly shares his thoughts on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and the relationship between men and women in the local church in his “Ten Things You Should Know Series”;

and Adam Kareus, associate pastor of River Valley Community Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas, gives a helpful call to discipleship within families and church families.

This issue also contains two unique studies.

Todd R. Chipman, assistant professor of biblical  studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of The Master’s Community Church in Kansas City, Kansas, provides a scholarly look at the use of military motifs in the prayer songs of women in Scripture.

He is joined by Owen Strachan, director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Seminary and CBMW senior fellow, who examines transgenderism from a moral and theological perspective.

Following the essays and studies, this issue contains a special address from our new CBMW President, Denny Burk entitled, “My Vision for the Future of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”

The Journal concludes with several significant reviews by Mary Kassian, Candi Finch, J. Alan Branch, William M. Marsh, Sarah Bubar, Katie McCoy, Drew Ham, S. Craig Sanders, and David Young. My thanks is extended to the able assistance and collaboration of assistant editors Candi Finch and Jeremy M. Kimble throughout 2016 and these two issues.

Finally, the Journal recognizes that the end of 2016 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of a significant publication known and appreciated by our readers. First published by Crossway in 1991 and edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood arrived to answer many questions evangelicals and others were asking about the roles of men and women in the church and home. Revised in 2006, this volume continues as a mainstay reference work, and many of the chapters still serve as significant starting places for consulting the topics addressed.

You can download the entire journal as a PDF or each individual article. Subscribe here to receive your print copy of JBMW.

For those planning to attend the The Gospel Coalition national conference in Indianapolis do not miss the CBMW 2017 TGC Luncheon, April 4 featuring CBMW President Denny Burk, Kevin DeYoung, Sam Allberry, and Andrew Walker discussing “Ministry in a Transgender Age.”