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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

Book Review: Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - Review by: Matt Smethurst

reformation-trueman.jpg
Carl R. Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011), 127 pages.

I recently traveled to the Middle East with seminarians from around the States. On one occasion, during an impassioned discussion with a student with very different theological views, we came to realize that virtually all our disagreements boil down to one fundamental thing: Reformation distinctives. I insisted that the Protestant Reformation was utterly necessary; he wasn’t so sure.

How relevant is the Reformation? That’s the question Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, explores in Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. “I want to argue,” Trueman writes, “that key insights of the Reformers are as relevant today—and as applicable to situations today—as they were in the sixteenth century” (12-13).

Originally delivered as a series of lectures, Reformation is divided into four chapters: “The Pearl of Great Price,” which sets the framework and considers the Reformation’s relevance for today; “Meeting the Man of Sorrows,” which explains and applies Luther’s theology of the cross; “The Oracles of God,” which focuses on the nature of Scripture and place of preaching in the life of the church; and “Blessed Assurance,” which examines the oft-neglected biblical doctrine of assurance. Overall, this little book is a goldmine of historical insight and contemporary application.

The Reformed Need Reformation Too

Trueman’s working definition of the Reformation is simple and broad: “[The] Reformation represents a move to place God as he has revealed himself in Christ at the centre of the church’s life and thought” (17). As he proceeds to explain this statement, Trueman is quick to challenge those on his own team along the way. After all, his aim isn’t simply “to rescue the Reformation from its detractors; it also needs to be rescued from some of its friends” (13). He explains, “There is a brand of Christian for whom the fact that ‘it’—whether an aspect of practice, a form of words, a particular doctrine—was held by the Reformers is a straightforward knock down argument for saying that ‘it’ is right for today” (13). It’s clear that Trueman has little patience for such thoughtless traditionalism.

After proposing that the usefulness of Reformation theology lies in its distinctive emphasis upon God, Trueman once again turns his gaze toward certain believers today: “[If] we simply use the Reformation as a resource for categorising the piety of all other groups as inferior, we will have failed in the basic task of contemporary reformation” (23). We must ask ourselves: does the accent on God featured so prominently in our rhetoric appear likewise in our life? Ironically, when those who pride themselves in being God-centered spend their time scoffing at those who seemingly aren’t, God gets sidelined. Those who champion the centrality of God, then, must be careful not to become the very thing they bemoan. After all, one can be confessionally God-centered, yet functionally something else altogether.

Gleanings from Luther

Trueman is convinced that evangelicals would do well to recover Luther’s theology of the cross. Since the cross was the heartbeat of Luther’s theology, “any programme of reformation which seeks to honour the work of God in and through Luther must take to its heart the message of the cross” (58). Indeed, Calvary is “where theology must begin and end . . . the source and principle by which all theological statements must be judged and understood” (42). The cross is the preeminent place where God’s attributes shine forth with all their interrelated brilliance.

While those in Trueman’s theological tradition have historically upheld the doctrine of propitiation, many have tended to downplay other dimensions of Christ’s suffering. “[The] cross is not simply God’s saving action on behalf of sinful humanity,” Trueman writes. “Of course, it is never less than that, and that indeed stands at the very heart of its meaning. But it is also a demonstration of how God acts in general, how he achieves those purposes which he intends” (51). In other words, the cross is the supreme example of an assumption-inverting pattern that regularly works itself out in the stuff of Christian life. Suffering precedes glory. The way down is the way up.

Even in our therapeutic and medicated age, suffering is inescapably familiar to us all. A believer’s “horizons of expectation,” then, should correspond with reality as revealed by God in Christ, not as represented by cushy human preference. To employ Luther’s categories, problems arise the moment we apply a “theology of glory” to situations that demand a “theology of the cross.” Trueman asks, “Is the church weak and despised by society at the moment? Well, that is sad; but on another level, who cares? We are not meant to be respectable, to have political influence, to be an organisation that those outside admire for our slickness and savvy” (67). We’re called to be faithful by biblical standards, not successful by worldly ones.

Preach the Word

Trueman contends that the Reformation was “a movement of words—written words, printed words, spoken words” (71). Above all, however, it was “a movement of the Word—incarnate in Christ and written down in the Scriptures” (71).

Practically, the proclamation of the Word must retain (or recover) its centrality in the gathered life of the congregation, even in a day when preaching is often dismissed as passé. “The first place, then, in which church reformation starts is the pulpit,” Trueman asserts. “The Word written and the Word preached are both central to Christianity and are not simply cultural forms which can be shed when culture moves on” (82).

Trueman also issues a stern warning for those who preach: “If a man mounts a pulpit and cannot set his people’s heart on fire for the Bible, then he had better not step into the pulpit at all, for to put Christians off hearing and reading the Word of God has to be one of the most serious acts one can commit” (96).

A Disregarded Doctrine

A pivotal yet seldom emphasized aspect of Reformation theology is the doctrine of assurance. In fact, Trueman remarks, a church that doesn’t “place assurance somewhere near the centre of its concerns” (106) fails to be truly Protestant.

Trueman suggests that, when it comes to assurance, most contemporary evangelicals can be divided into two broad camps: “legalists” and “emotional high-fliers” (107). Legalists are those ultra-cautious folks for whom assurance is well nigh impossible. Emotional high-fliers, on the other hand, tend to have shallow and unreflective views of assurance. Whether introspective moralism or cheery triumphalism, both traditions deviate from the Reformers by acting as if the essence of assurance is experience. For the Reformers, however, assurance was primarily about the trustworthiness of God, not the rickety ups and downs of human experience.

True Christian assurance, Trueman writes, is “backward looking with regard to its foundation but forward looking in its orientation” (124). In other words, believers can enjoy assurance in the present because of God’s acts in the past and his unassailable promises for the future.

Reformation is a helpful guide for considering how insights of the Reformers can be thoughtfully applied to our contemporary context. May God grant us grace to learn much from these great forebears, all the while protecting our hearts from a posture of either juvenile deification on the one hand or snobbish dismissal on the other.

Matt Smethurst is a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Maghan, live in Louisville, Kentucky. They are members of Third Avenue Baptist Church.

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Carl R. Trueman
On sale at a 40% discount at Monergism Books

June 30, 2011  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

The Shepherd's love and care for the sheep

From John’s Gospel, we can make the following scriptural statements:

All that the Father has chosen to be His from eternity, He has given to the Son (John 6:37); and all whom He has given to the Son, the Son knows (John 10:3); and calls (John 10:3-5); and all whom He calls, know Him (John 10:14) and recognize His voice (John 10:4-5) and they come to Him (John 6:37) and follow Him (John 10:4, 27); and the Son lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:11); and He gives them eternal life (John 10:28) and keeps them in the Father’s word (John 17:6), so that not even one of them is lost (John 6:39), to glorify the Son forever (John 17:10). This is the indestructible foundation for an infallible salvation that rebounds in the end to the glory of both the Father and the Son.

None of Christ’s sheep finally reject His word. Though He allows some of His sheep to resist the word for a long time, never do they reject it finally. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” (John 6:37). What a promise! And what a privilege we have in sharing the Gospel with people, as we witness the Good Shepherd rounding up His sheep. - JS

June 30, 2011  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Watch a discussion on preaching Jesus and the gospel from the Old Testament at The Gospel Coalition's 2011 national conference at McCormick Place. The panel includes Tim Keller, Crawford Loritts, Don Carson, John Piper, and Bryan Chapell. (approx. 51 minutes)

Panel on Preaching Christ in the OT - Keller, Piper, Loritts, Carson, Chapell - TGC 2011 from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

June 29, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

"God's fulfills His Plan Without Ever Coercing Our Volition"? - Is this True?

Someone recently declared to me that "God's fulfills his plan without ever coercing our volition" - But is it an axiom that in order for there to be true love, God must never violate our so-called "free will?"

My response below:

First and foremost, it must be said that such an idea is nowhere to be found in the Bible. But in order to demonstrate that this idea does not even fly in everyday life, I have a simple story for you: Two parents see their disobedient toddlers run out into oncoming traffic. The first parent runs up to the curb to tell their toddler to use their will to get out of the way of traffic, but does NOTHING more because he does not want to interfere with the toddler's will. The SECOND parent sees the cars coming and runs out into the street at the risk of their life to SCOOP up the child to MAKE CERTAIN their child is safe. WHICH parent loved their child ? We would all view this second parent as having GREAT love for their child and GET THIS, he was not concerned AT ALL about the child's will because the parent knew better than the child what was good for him . AND How much more does God love his own? God's love for us is not conditional as you believe. He does not first see how we use OUR WILL to determine whether he loves us, as you seem to believe. He loves us too much to leave us in our own hands. No, God saves us in spite of our rebellious will. The synergist's idea of love then is flawed since they believe God's love for us is CONDITIONAL. Rather, "we love God BECAUSE he first loved us." Jesus does for us what we are unable and unwilling to do for ourselves.

Again, when you used the phrase "fulfilling God's plan without coercing their volition" -- this seems to be a "basic assumption" which is the driving force behind your theology. You guys have talked about this idea for so long that it has become axiomatic for you, even though it is nowhere found in the Bible. Your most precious doctrine, it seems, that drives everything else is, therefore, this false idea which is READ INTO the Scriptures. It is a logical deduction but, I would argue, is wrong.

Martin Luther once said, “I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground …; but because even were there no dangers … I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success … But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God” - Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 313-314.

June 23, 2011  |  Comments (5)   |  Permalink

He either is morally able or he is not commanded?

from an ongoing conversation ...

Me: "...On the contrary, man is completely responsible to believe the gospel. To repent and believe is an imperative (a command) that man is completely responsible to obey. However, that does not mean he is morally able to do so."

Visitor: He either is morally able or he is not commanded. For the record, I am a raging Calvarminan.

Response: As an everyday example ... If you borrowed $100 million from a bank to establish a new venture but then squandered it an a week of wild living in Vegas, does your inability to repay the bank alleviate you of the responsibility to do so? No of course not. So if in an every day example this proves inability does not undo our responsibility, how much more so with God, to whom we have a debt we cannot repay. Therefore his commands to obey do not mean man is morally able. After the fall God does not change his standard simply because we are sinful.... but thanks be to God, in Christ Jesus He pays our debts in FULL.

The imperatives or commands of God were not given to show our ability, but our inability. In Rom 3:20 Paul says this very thing: "...through the law comes knowledge of sin." The law, in other words does not reveal ability but our impotence. ...the commandments are not given pointlessly; but FOR THE PURPOSE that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, if he tries to do as he is commanded. Does it follow from the command: 'turn"' that therefore you CAN turn? Does it follow from "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart' (Deut 6.5) that therefore you can love with all your heart? it does not follow. ... ...

Just for the record, there is no such thing as a Calvarminan, you are EITHER a monergist or a synergist. There is no middle ground. Either you believe the work of regeneration is Christ alone (Monergism) or you believe it is Christ PLUS your UNREGNERATE will (synergism) . But the Bible declares that faith is not the product of our unregenerated human nature.

John 6:37 says >>"ALL THAT THE FATHER GIVES TO ME WILL COME TO ME". Let me ask ... according to this verse how many people will come to Jesus who the Father gives to Him? Some? No the Text unambiguously says "ALL" that the Father gives the Son will believe the gospel. ALL ... not some.

June 23, 2011  |  Comments (7)   |  Permalink

Live Where the People Are

You're reading this, which means you have access to the internet. You might even own a computer and have the internet piped into your home at lightning speed. This "simple fact" indicates that you are wealthy, comparatively speaking. Maybe "middle" or "upper-middle class" wealthy.

Do you think most people are like you? Do you think most of your neighbors are in your socio-economic class? Do you think most of the people in your town or city can afford to eat and drink where you like to eat and drink? Do you think they own their homes? Do you think they have "disposable income?" Do you think they regularly get on a plane for their vacation? If you do, I challenge you to think again.

Continue reading "Live Where the People Are" »

June 22, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

My Commands Are Not Too Hard For You

Synergists often cite Deut 30:11-14 to show that man can turn to God of his own natural capacities.

"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

But as is the case in most error, they have not carefully read the passage for context. A few verses earlier the Lord says that our hearts first need to be circumcised by God's own hand for us to love him, which is what makes obedience possible. (Deut 30:6)

"And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live."
June 18, 2011  |  Comments (4)   |  Permalink

A Retraction and Apology

To the Reformation Theology community:

About nine months ago, I posted an article entitled, "The Anabaptist Captivity of the Church"; and just this morning, I received a comment rebuking me for broad-brushing and misrepresenting the Anabaptist tradition. I acknowledge some truth in this rebuke, and so I have retracted the article, and wish to extend an apology to anyone who may have read it. The important issues that it brought up were not well-served by my unwise approach. Please accept my apology, and pray that I will be given a wiser and more gracious tongue in the future.

I would also like to make clear that the responsibility for the article was mine alone, and should not be made to reflect at all upon the other contributors to this blog.

Still a sinner, but still hoping in grace alone,

Nathan Pitchford

June 13, 2011  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

The Stunning Wonder of Creation

The three short films posted here (below) are simply stunning. Using the phenomenon of time lapse photography, they reveal the full breathtaking drama of the heavens. Personally, I can say that to view them was more than merely an informational process for me. It was an experience, a visual encounter of sorts.

Two scripture passages immediately come to my mind. The first is Psalm 19:1, which says, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."

The second passage reveals the reasons for God's wrath against humanity in sin. He has revealed enough of Himself in creation so that, concerning His Divine power and nature, humanity is entirely without excuse. God does not believe in atheists.

Romans 1:18-23 declares, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."

I will allow Terje Sorgjerd (of TSO Photography), the maker of these films, to introduce these very dramatic short videos. - JS

This was filmed between 4th and 11th April 2011. I had the pleasure of visiting El Teide. Spain´s highest mountain at 3718m is one of the best places in the world to photograph the stars and is also the location of Teide Observatories, considered to be one of the world´s best observatories.

The goal was to capture the beautiful Milky Way galaxy along with one of the most amazing mountains I know El Teide. I have to say this was one of the most exhausting trips I have done. There was a lot of hiking at high altitudes and probably less than 10 hours of sleep in total for the whole week. Having been here 10-11 times before I had a long list of must-see locations I wanted to capture for this movie, but I am still not 100% used to carrying around so much gear required for time-lapse movies.

A large sandstorm hit the Sahara Desert on the 9th April (bit.ly/​g3tsDW) and at approx 3am in the night the sandstorm hit me, making it nearly impossible to see the sky with my own eyes.

Interestingly enough my camera was set for a 5 hour sequence of the milky way during this time and I was sure my whole scene was ruined. To my surprise, my camera had managed to capture the sandstorm which was backlit by Grand Canary Island making it look like golden clouds. The Milky Way was shining through the clouds, making the stars sparkle in an interesting way. So if you ever wondered how the Milky Way would look through a Sahara sandstorm, look at 00:32.


The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.


I spent a week capturing one of the biggest aurora borealis shows in recent years. Shot in and around Kirkenes and Pas National Park bordering Russia, at 70 degree north and 30 degrees east. Temperatures around -25 Celsius. Good fun.


The Aurora from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

This was filmed between 29th April and 10th May 2011 in the Arctic, on the archipelago Lofoten in Norway.

My favorite natural phenomenon is one I do not even know the name of, even after talking to meteorologists and astrophysicists I am none the wiser. What I am talking about I have decided to call The Arctic Light and it is a natural phenomenon occurring 2-4 weeks before you can see the Midnight Sun.

The Sunset and Sunrise are connected in one magnificent show of color and light lasting from 8 to 12 hours. The sun is barely going below the horizon before coming up again. This is the most colorful light that I know, and the main reason I have been going up there for the last 4 years, at the exact same time of year, to photograph. Based on previous experience, I knew this was going to be a very difficult trip. Having lost a couple of cameras and some other equipment up there before, it was crucial to bring an extra set of everything. I also made sure I had plenty of time in case something went wrong. If you can imagine roping down mountain cliffs, or jumping around on slippery rocks covered in seaweed with 2 tripods, a rail, a controller, camera, lenses, filters and rigging for 4-5 hour long sequences at a time, and then having to calculate the rise and fall of the tides in order to capture the essence - it all proved bit of a challenge.

And almost as if planned, the trip would turn out to become very difficult indeed. I had numerous setbacks including: airline lost my luggage, struggling to swim ashore after falling into the Arctic sea: twice, breaking lenses, filters, tripod, computer, losing the whole dolly rig and controller into the sea, and even falling off a rather tall rock and ending up in the hospital. As much as I wanted to give up, the best way Out is always “Through”. I am glad I stuck it through though because there were some amazing sunrises waiting. At 1:06 you see a single scene from day to night to day which is from 9pm to 7am. Think about that for a minute.. 10 hours with light like that.

I asked the very talented Marika Takeuchi to specifically compose and perform a song for this movie, and what she came up with is absolutely remarkable. Thank you very much Marika!

The Arctic Light from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

June 13, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The Critical Difference Between Monergism and Synergism

This is the one point that monergism establishes and synergism in all its forms denies: namely, that sinners are impotent to lift a finger toward their own salvation, but that salvation, from first to last, whole and entire is of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory for ever; amen

Remember, divine election, by itself, has never saved anyone. It marks out certain individuals for salvation; it is God's "blueprint" of what he intends to do in time through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. God the Father elects, the Son redeems them, and the Spirit applies the work of Christ to the same. The Trinity works in harmony to bring about God's purposes of election... and He gathers them through the preaching of the gospel, the seed which the Spirit germinates and brings to life. Again, salvation is of the Lord.

Synergists teach that 'salvation depends on human will', but the Bible teaches that 'it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) and that we "were born, not of...the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13)

June 11, 2011  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Understanding Romans 8:1

I was asked this question: Pastor John, I am confused. Romans 8:1 tells me that the one in Christ Jesus is no longer under condemnation and yet when I read the King James Version, that is not the case. My heart sinks to think that I have to live a life pleasing to God “in the Spirit” before I can be certain of my standing with God. I can never look at my life for even a day and say I am fully walking "after the Spirit." I have anxious thoughts and sin is sadly a daily reality in my life. I can really identify with Paul's struggle against sin in Romans chapter 7. Yet it would seem that Paul’s whole message of justification by faith alone would be destroyed if the King James Version rendering of the Romans 8:1 verse is correct. What is going on? Can you provide any insight here?

I seek to provide an answer here.

June 06, 2011  |  Comments (9)   |  Permalink

Images of the Savior (15 – The Darkness before the Dawn)

In those days, there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes. – Judges 21:25

I have lately gone through a period of sluggish affections, dullness of heart, and spiritual sight much dimmed by a morbid preoccupation with the affairs of this passing world, which have drawn my gaze away from the light-shedding Sun of Righteousness, whose first advent was the Dawn of the year of God's favor, and whose hastening second coming will be the eternal noon of Glory. I cannot enumerate all the causes of this decay, although I am certain that they all spring from the depths of my desperately wicked and deceitful heart; but I do know that even in this, God's sovereign mercy still leads unerringly through the night, working out eternal purposes of good which he has planned for me, and will not relent until he has accomplished them all.

Continue reading "Images of the Savior (15 – The Darkness before the Dawn)" »

June 02, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink