Review: China’s Reforming Chuches

120Baugus, Bruce P. “China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom,” Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI: 2014. 320 pp. $20.00

As a relatively sheltered westerner with no missionary experience, I can safely say that my knowledge of Christianity in foreign contexts is extremely limited. Although I have read books and watched DVD’s on missions that have improved my understanding of global Christianity, there are still historical-cultural realities that are beyond my grasp. My perspective on Chinese Christianity, as this book informed me, has been quite skewed and I’ve been guilty of constructing  a naive caricature of the Church in China.

I am very grateful to Cross Focused Reviews for opportunity to review this book—it is an encouraging, and eye-opening read that has helped me to better understand and appreciate global Christianity. What this book offers is an orientation to the history of Christianity in the south Pacific, the presence of Presbyterian and Reformed churches in China today, and the shape of things to come with regard to Reformed/Presbyterianism in the far east.

In this book, you’ll find fascinating stories of missionary bravery as well as major mistakes that have occurred in the history of missions in China. You’ll learn about the sociopolitical issues throughout China’s history and how the gospel mission has been advanced and hindered. You’ll read of the great similarities between the Church in the west and east—the rise of postmodernism and the challenges of materialism in a post-industrial world.

Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is Part 3, in which the authors take a look at the challenges and opportunities for Presbyterianism in China. Here, readers will read of the multitude of social issues that pose difficulties for gospel ministry and the dichotomous relationship between the state-registered TSPM (Three-Self Patriotic Movement) churches and unregistered house churches. The section closes with an essay in which David VanDrunen offers a two-kingdoms approach to ministry in China (which is sure to cause a bit of a stir), and Guy Prentiss Waters offers an argument for global Presbyterian polity from Acts 15.

The book concludes by looking at the opportunity for Christian publishing in China, a report on Chinese theological education, and the indigenization (the use of Chinese language) and contextualization of the Reformed faith in the Chinese culture. The appendix includes Robert Morrison’s (the first Protestant missionary to arrive on Chinese soil) 19th century catechism that is based upon the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647.

Regardless of one’s views of soteriology or ecclesiology, this book should prove to be an encouragement for those interested in the gospel mission in China—which should be all who name Christ as their Savior. Baugus’ “China’s Reforming Churches” provides a captivating look into the past, present, and future of the gospel mission in China, which helps Christians understand the global impact of the gospel so they can minister effectively to those they come into contact with.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

Review: Worshipping with Calvin

Johnson, Terry L. “Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism,” Darlington, England: 2014. 460 pp. $23.99

The recent resurgence of Calvinistic soteriology and Reformation theology has sparked many a conversation and produced quite a few popular-level books by the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” crowd. Although we’ve seen many responses to these works, typically addressing the theology and general ideology of the New Calvinism movement, Terry Johnson sets out to provide a scholarly work that focuses on the elements of Reformed worship.

In “Worshipping with Calvin,” Johnson presents extensive biblical and historical arguments for how a local church should conduct its worship services. He begins by looking at the contemporary evangelical landscape and the unfortunate historical and theological anemia that plagues it. After offering a comparison between the early Church and the current state of the western Church, and giving a brief historical survey of the 20th century “worship wars,” he provides strong exegetical, historical, and theological arguments in favor of a decidedly Reformed approach to worship and ministry.

Next, the author emphasizes the strengths of Reformed worship and ministry. He contends that this particular approach to liturgy is God-centered, Bible-filled, Gospel-structured, Church-aware, and Spirit-dependent.

This book was a great encouragement to me. I am in agreement with much of what is said within, but there are several arguments that the author gives that either changed my mind or solidified an existing position. For instance, Johnson has convinced me of the use of lectio continua (consecutive reading) Bible readings and singing Psalms in corporate worship. While previously, I have utilized lectio selecta (selective reading) Scripture readings to “reinforce” the passage preached, the author has convinced me of the wisdom in implementing a continuous reading of both the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, while I have understood the importance of the Psalms for corporate worship, this book has convinced me of their necessity. Without dogmatically promoting a strict Psalms-only liturgical model, the author insists the inclusion of the Psalter and has convinced me that it is necessary to regularly and consistently involve Psalms in a worship service.

As a Reformed Baptist, I am in disagreement with the author’s views with regard to Covenant Theology and the sacrament of baptism (it is unfortunate that his treatment of credobaptism in chapter 6 only addresses the 16th century Anabaptists and not the 17th century Particular Baptists—though I acknowledge the book’s emphasis on John Calvin and the potential for anachronism), and while I have reservations with Johnson’s observations about ethnicity, his research is top-notch. Regardless of any covenantal differences I may have with Johnson, I strongly agree with the over-arching theme of this book—that our worship should be prescribed by Scripture and rooted in the historicity of the Church (and particularly that of the Reformation period). The cultural trends and encroachment of worldliness in contemporary American Christianity have spurned a new downgrade in the liturgical life of the Church, and my hope is that books like this will precipitate a doxological reformation in local evangelical churches.

Although this is a book primarily aimed at Presbyterians, I would recommend this book to any one who claims to be a Protestant Christian—particularly Pastors and Elders. Johnson offers a cogent exhortation for modern Christians to compare their liturgy with Scripture and Church history. He provides an abundance of Scriptural references, and quotes a multitude of well-known Pastors, theologians, and church historians (around 37% of the book is comprised of a bibliography and notes) to support his position. Terry Johnson’s “Worshipping with Calvin” is a helpful resource for Christians who want to glorify God in worship according to His Word.

For more on this subject, please visit the Historical Theology page.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

SALE: Geerhardus Vos Classics

Westminster Bookstore has an awesome deal on two hardcover classics of renowned biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos. Get “Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos” and “Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments” for only $39 (43% OFF)! Click the image above for more details.

For more on this subject, please visit the Biblical Theology page.

Recommended reading:

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement

The following is an adaptation of a presentation I gave at the latest Northwest Ohio Reformation Society meeting. Our topic was “Redemption Accomplished and Applied,” borrowing from John Murray’s classic text on the gospel. I was tasked with covering the application of redemption and decided to focus on the nature and extent of the atonement.

What is Redemption?

According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the concept of redemption “includes the ideas of loosing from a bond, setting free from captivity or slavery, buying back something lost or sold, exchanging something in one’s possession for something possessed by another, and ransoming.” In the Old Testament, there are three main ideas involving redemption: substitution, deliverance, and atonement. These themes are gradually unfolded throughout the Old Testament, and in the inter-testemental period (roughly 400 years between the time of Malachi and the birth of Jesus) they were generally understood to have an eschatological or end times’ fulfillment in the Messiah. They drew parallels from the bondage of Israel and Babylonian captivity and their own temporal circumstances or physical reality. While many people alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry saw the Messiah as a victorious military leader who would conquer Rome, deliver Israel from oppression, and set up a material Kingdom, we see from the New Testament documents that Jesus Messiah had other plans—His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). God’s plan for substitution, deliverance, and atonement involved the sinless Christ who would deliver His people from their sin as a vicarious propitiatory sacrifice. He would provide pardon and reconciliation by satisfying the wrath of God with His precious blood.

Redemption Accomplished

In the first section of his book, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied”, John Murray writes about four aspects of redemption, or the atonement of Jesus Christ; namely, its necessity, nature, perfection, and extent. I’d like to focus on the nature and extent of the atonement in this post.

The Nature of the Atonement
The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is a labor of obedience. According to John 5:30, Jesus says “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Likewise, in John 6:38, He says “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” So, Jesus will was perfectly in tune with the Father’s. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:19: “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” He incorporates federal headship to explain the nature of the atonement. In other words, Adam our representative, committed cosmic treason and we have been alienated from God… but if we are united in Christ, if He is our representative—our federal head, we have been reconciled with the Father through the obedience of Christ. Theologians typically identify two types of obedience: Active and Passive.

Active Obedience
When we speak of “active obedience,” we are essentially talking about the life of Christ. While the active and passive obedience of Jesus should not be so starkly contrasted and categorized to indicate no overlap or continuity, for our purposes today, we will approach this aspect of obedience as his perfection with regard to the Law. Murray explains, “Christ as the Vicar [or representative] of His people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and He also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, He took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal [or judicial] and the preceptive [or legal] requirements of God’s law.” (pp. 21–22) Paul says that “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4–5) Calvin comments: “from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us.” (Institutes, 2.16.5)

Passive Obedience
When we say “passive,” it does not mean that Jesus was somehow absent from His exertion of obedience. Generally speaking, the passive obedience of Christ refers to His humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death… on a cross (Phil. 2:8). According to Murray, this “obedience was vicarious [substitutionary] in the bearing of the full judgment of God upon sin, and it was vicarious in the full discharge of the demands of righteousness. His obedience becomes the ground of the remission of sin and of actual justification… It was that obedience, brought to its consummate fruition on the cross, that constituted Him an all-sufficient and perfect Savior.” (pp. 22, 23) The classic Old Testament Messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant helps us here:

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:3–6)

We see here the language of substitutionary sacrifice… “He bore our griefs,” “He carried our sorrows,” “He was pierced through for our transfgressions,” “He was crushed for our iniquities,” “The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,” “we are healed by His scourgings,” “the Lord has cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Over and over, we read of the Messiah’s vicarious atonement.

Moving on, I’d like for us to take a look at a few of the concepts related to the atonement. Namely, Sacrifice, Propitiation, and Reconciliation.

Sacrifice
The sacrificial theme is at the heart of the Scriptures. We see in Genesis 22 when Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord provided a substitutionary sacrifice via the ram in the thicket (v. 13). In Exodus 12, the Passover Lamb was an unblemished sacrifice that was slaughtered and the blood was a sign for the Lord’s wrath to “pass over” the households of the faithful. The Levitical system also has substitutionary and sacrificial relevance. Michael Lawrence points out the following details in his book “Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church” (pp. 156–157):

  • Only clean animals without defect can be sacrificed.
  • Every firstborn Israelite, who represents the nation as a whole, must be redeemed with a sacrificial substitute.
  • Prominent is the taking of life and the shedding of a blameless victim’s blood.
  • The idea of a substitute is also prominent… if anyone brings a sacrifice, “He is to lay His hand on the head of the burnt offering and it will be accepted on his behalf.” (Lev. 1:4)
  • Sacrifices now begin and end every single day in God’s temple, presented by priests who serve as intermediaries between God and His sinful people.
  • There are additional sacrifices that mark the beginning of each week, each month, and each season.
  • At the pinnacle of this entire system of sacrifice was the Day of Atonement. The high priest alone took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, the symbolic throne of God, to make atonement for His own sins and the sins of the people.

In the New Testament, it is plain to see that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of this sacrificial element of true religion. John the Baptizer calls him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle Paul likewise says that “Christ our Passover… has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7). The author of Hebrews also says that He offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all (Heb. 7:28) and “at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Heb. 9:26)

Propitiation
Secondly, we see the language of propitiation with regard to redemption. Propitiation, according to Murray, “presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.” (p. 30) In other words, propitiation is satisfaction and/or removal of the wrath of God. It is fascinating that the word for “mercy seat” (‘kap-oh-reth’ in Hebrew), which was the lid to the Ark of the Covenant, was rendered “propitiatorium” (which means the place of propitiation) when the Old Testament was translated into Latin. While the mercy seat in the Levitical context, where the sprinkled blood of the spotless lamb symbolized propitiation… the true mercy seat and the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, made absolute propitiation by the shedding of His blood. According to Scripture, “God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” (Rom. 3:25) “He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17)

Reconciliation
Lastly, with regard to the nature of the atonement, I’d like to shift focus to reconciliation. As I mentioned earlier, sinful humanity has been estranged from God. The accomplishment of redemption reconciles sinners with the Holy God. Paul writes in Romans:

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:8–11)

Furthermore, we see the grace of God in reconciling us to Himself by the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:17–21)

Not only has God reconciled a people to Himself in Christ, but by His grace, He has made Christians ambassadors of reconciliation! Listen to Murray again: “The reconciliation of which the Scripture speaks, as accomplished by the death of Christ, contemplates… the relation of God to us. It presupposes a relation of alienation and it effects a relation of favor and peace. This new relation is constituted by the removal of the ground for the alienation. The ground is sin and guilt. The removal is wrought in the vicarious work of Christ, when He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Christ took upon Himself the sin and guilt, the condemnation and the curse of those on whose behalf He died. This is the epitome of divine grace and love. It is God’s own provision and it is his accomplishment. God Himself in His own Son has removed the ground of offence and we receive the reconciliation.” (p. 42) God is the divine benefactor of reconciliation. He has taken the initiative upon Himself to accomplish redemption for His people. This leads us to the scope or extent of the atonement.

The Extent of the Atonement
The extent of the atonement is quite a hot-button issue. There has been no shortage of debate over the question: “for whom did Christ die?” The doctrine known as “Limited Atonement” is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap since the name seems to imply that there are limitations to the redemptive work of Christ. In discussion about the extent of the atonement, it has been observed that regardless of one’s position… everyone “limits” the atonement in one way or another. The Calvinist believes that the extent or scope of the atonement is limited in that it is reserved for a particular people—namely, the Church. But the Arminian limits the efficacy or power of the atonement by saying that Christ died for all people, even those who deny Him and await judgment and hell. This brings us to an important thing to consider when the question, “for whom did Christ die?” An appropriate follow-up question would be, “to whom is the atonement applied to?”

As I mentioned, the concept of “limited atonement” is often misconstrued. Partially responsible, is the terminology employed. A more appropriate phrase that many of you will undoubtedly be familiar with is “Particular Redemption.” This term is to be preferred since it alludes to the doctrine of election: there is a particular group of people (i.e. the Church) who will be redeemed. Also implied in this is that there is a certainty of accomplishment. Another expression that is employed is “Definite Atonement,” which carries a similar sentiment. Redemption was not just made possible by the work of Christ—it was actually accomplished. Murray points out, “[Redemption] does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption.” (p. 63) According to Titus 2:14, He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” The atonement which Christ has made is effectual. As the accomplishment of redemption is effective, so is the application of it. This brings up an important point I alluded to earlier… those who receive the Holy Spirit—those who are born again by the effecual power of the Holy Spirit—are the same people whom Christ has died for. He has accomplished redemption for a particular people and they are the recipients of the benefits and blessings of its application.

I’d like to conclude by pointing out an important New Testament truth that Murray touches on… the fact that “those for whom Christ died, have themselves also died in Christ.” (p. 69) Paul writes in Romans 6 that “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:4–7) Those who believe the gospel and trust in the Person and work of Christ have died with Him, been buried with Him, and will be resurrected and glorified in Him. It is evident here, that the answer to the question, “for whom did Christ die?” is “those who have died in Christ and have been raised to new life.”

Now, it is important to point out that this is a doctrine to throw around carelessly. We must exercise wisdom and pastoral concern with regard to “Particular Redemption.” Often, this teaching is oddly criticized because it appears to be elitist. That is, detractors imply that proponents of Definite Atonement are arrogant and have reason to boast since they have been chosen by God. This cannot be farther from the truth. Paul points in Ephesians 2 that we have been saved by grace through faith… it is not of ourselves—it is a gift of God—we cannot boast in our works. (Eph. 2:8–9) This doctrine is not of arrogance… it is of humiliation! There is nothing special in us that compels God to save us… it is because of the sovereign good pleasure of God that He decides to set His love upon us. The doctrine of election is not a very popular teaching in contemporary evangelicalism… but it is biblical. And we should faithfully preach it and teach it in our churches, emphasizing the grace of God in salvation for His glory.

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

Recommended reading:

Notable & Newsworthy

Here are the stories and links for today…

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Get John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and Leland Ryken’s “A Christian Guide to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress” for just $15 at Westminster Bookstore

Download R.C. Sproul’s “5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow” for FREE from Reformation Trust and Ligonier Ministries

Enter to win FREE registration to the 2015 Gospel Coalition National Conference and FREE books by John Piper and Mez McConnell from 20 Schemes

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Get Kevin DeYoung’s “The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness” for just 99¢ for Amazon Kindle

Check out Ligonier Ministries’ $5 Friday deals featuring Stephen Nichols’ “Reformation Profiles” teaching series (DVD)

Enter to win 11 Reformation Heritage books from Tim Challies’ Free Stuff Friday

Get Walter Brueggemann’s “Spirituality of the Psalms” for FREE for Logos Bible Software and enter to win the 24-volume collection

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Download a FREE copy of Iain Duguid’s “Is Jesus in the Old Testament?” from Westminster Bookstore

Enter to win Thom Rainer’s “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” and a black genuine leather HCSB study Bible

Enter to win a subscription to Leadership Journal from The Brave Reviews

Three contextual keys to studying the Bible

A short biography of John Bunyan by Geoff Thomas

How Pastors accidentally ruin their church

“Christians are in themselves no wiser than are other men. What they have, they have by grace.” (Cornelius Van Til)

“A fearer of God steers the rudder of his life according to the compass of the Word.” (Thomas Watson)

Please take some time to check out the other pages on this site. You’ll find several articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations for your encouragement. Visit the Systematic Theology page or Historical Theology page first. Thanks!

Notable & Newsworthy

Here are the links and stories for the day…

Get Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?” for 57% OFF at Westminster Bookstore

Get 5-packs of New Growth Press’ minibooks for only $8 (over 50% OFF) at Westminster Bookstore (ends 05/28)

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William Evans on establishing new model of theological education

David Garner on the grace of God in the work of Christ

The Reformed Forum needs your help in Kickstarting a Reformed Theology conference

Leon Brown on smokescreens and camouflage in the church

Jonathan Edwards on sanctification and beauty

Mark Dever on the Gospel and the Catholic (universal) church

“Scripture is the Word of God in the words of God, accurately reflecting the mind of God and infallibly revealing the ways of God.” (J. Alec Motyer)

“Creation is neither to be deified nor despoiled, but as the theater of God’s glory it is to be delighted in and used in a stewardly manner. It is God’s good creation.” (Herman Bavinck)

Please take some time to explore the rest of this site (you’ll find the pages located up in the tabs). There are articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations throughout. Check out the Pastoral Theology page or Exegetical Theology page first… thanks!

John Owen Kindle Sale

All five volumes of John Owen’s writings published by Christian Focus Publications is currently on sale for Amazon Kindle. Click the link or image below to be redirected…

 

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

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Reformed Forum & Geerhardus Vos

Lane Tipton and Camden Bucey have just started a new series over at Christ the Center (Reformed Forum) focused on Geerhardus Vos’ classic “Biblical Theology of Old and New Testaments”.

Here is the summary:

“Roughly each month, Lane and Camden will work through the pages of Vos’ Biblical Theology. While Vos’ book is foundational, it’s tough for the ‘uninitiated’ to access. This will be a great opportunity for study groups to listen to our discussions and work things out together. We hope everyone who participates will learn more about Reformed biblical theology.”

Click below to order the book and follow along!

Here is the first episode: Introduction

More on Geerhardus Vos:

Christ the Center: Interview with Danny Olinger on the life and word of Geerhardus Vos

The Writings of Geerhardus Vos

Other recommended reading:

A Reader’s Review of The New Calvinism Considered

Jeremy Walker has been writing at Reformation21 (the online magazine of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) for three years, and I have enjoyed much of what he has shared. I own the book that he co-authored with Rob Ventura, “A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ,” and although I have not had the pleasure of reading it yet, I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews. I was excited when I heard about the release of “The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment,” as I have had my own concerns about the movement and had not read much about the topic. When Cross Focused Media and Evangelical Press offered me the opportunity to review the book, I jumped at the chance.

I confess at the outset that I share many of the same theological views with the author (both of us being confessionally Reformed Baptists who hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith), so my expectations about the book were positive and my assumptions that we were in agreement about the content within were fairly accurate. One difference between myself and the author, however, is our nationality. Walker is a native of the United Kingdom, and I am a citizen of the Unites States. Given this distinction, his perception of the New Calvinism movement had the potential of being quite different than mine. Amidst all of the questions, concerns and criticism, the important thing to remember is that a majority of New Calvinists are brothers in Christ who love and preach the gospel.

The book is a relatively quick read, with just over 100 pages of material. Some of the theological terminology may be more difficult for new converts to Christianity, but the topic is not of interest to all who profess faith in Jesus. Those who are intimately involved with the subject matter (Calvinism, New Calvinism, etc.) will, however, find this a most important and timely book.

“The New Calvinism Considered” is divided up into five short chapters:

1. Comprehending the New Calvinism

2. Characteristics of the New Calvinism

3. Commendations

4. Cautions and Concerns

5. Conclusions and Counsels

Comprehending the New Calvinism

In this chapter, Walker shares his personal history and exposure to “New Calvinism,” which he briefly defines in the Preface as “the label applied to the resurgence of certain central aspects of Calvinistic doctrine within conservative evangelicalism” (pp. 8–9). He explains that while this movement has a large following in the United States, there has been a similar, albeit distinct manifestation in the United Kingdom as well. Walker points out that while there are elements to be valued, no movement is beyond critical examination. He then lays out the necessary approach for evaluation: Nature, Spirit, and Object.

The “nature” of his assessment is both personal and pastoral. He acknowledges the speed and variety of the development of such movements, and so the potentiality of erring in judgment is present. With humility, the author welcomes correction and instruction for any misconceptions and incorrect conclusions.

The “spirit” of the evaluation is “balanced and appropriately irenic appreciation” (p. 15). Walker recognizes that while he perceives concerns and possible dangers in the movement, most within the boundaries of New Calvinism are brothers (some even friends) in Christ. Nonetheless, neglecting to converse and warn others about faulty doctrine is not an option… but it requires wisdom. He writes, “I have no hesitation in affirming that it is not right to deal in a brotherly fashion with some who are increasingly dabbling with a Christianity that Is not merely on the fringes of the historic stream of orthodox faith but has pushed outside the envelope… while I have a desire for genuine understanding, true unity and gospel peace, we must remember that unity and peace at the expense of truth and righteousness is a wicked trade-off… a gentle and gracious approach is not the same as an endorsement of error, and is entirely consistent with a vigorously-held and ardently-promoted orthodoxy (see 2 Timothy 2:24–26)” (p. 16).

The “object” pertains to the fact that the movement is not a singular entity of uniformity. Walker explains: “there are degrees of association in this movement, and–working along the spectrum and through the various groupings–there are some who would fight shy of any sort of formal union or cooperation with certain others… we must be wary of assuming that this is some great and absolute theological or religious bloc that stands and falls together” (pp. 18–19). Given that the New Calvinism is not monolithic, the author acknowledges that his book is necessarily dealing with generalities and prefers not to be misunderstood by the reader.

Characteristics of the New Calvinism

The second chapter is quite obviously about the definitions and general properties of the New Calvinist movement. Walker claims that it is qualified by Calvinist doctrine, characterized by figureheads, marked by conglomeration, and in the process of consolidation (or transition).

Calvinism

As can be expected, the movement aligns itself with the five-points of Calvinism (commonly referred to by the T.U.L.I.P. acrostic—Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) and the biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty, but the author rightly points out that this over-simplification of Calvinism is not quite Calvinism (though it is to be commended). Furthermore, a number of proponents of New Calvinism reject the “L” in the acrostic, which is not Calvinism at all (though many refer to themselves as “4-Pointers”). This perspective has been historically recognized as Amyraldianism, which does not recognize the “classical Calvinist’s conviction… that the death of Jesus was intended only for the elect and therefore did not fail or fall short in any point or degree” (p. 22).

Characters

The New Calvinist movement is also influenced by personalities or even “celebrities” (within the American subculture of Evangelicalism). In some sense, any group or subculture will have figureheads who are admired and perhaps looked to for guidance and vision. It should be remembered, however, that we are dealing with categories in the context of Christianity. There are a number of popular Calvinistic pastors, theologians, authors, and bloggers who are the role models and “heavy hitters” in this movement, and Walker impresses upon the reader the potential dangers with this aspect of the movement: “The cult of celebrity in the modern West has infiltrated the church, so much so that we can seem to be presuming that the Lord is obliged to work or invariably will work when the right person or persons are present: get someone prominent to preach and people are bound to listen… this leads to at least three related dangers: the danger of slavish capitulation, the danger of mere imitation and the danger of unintended disconnection” (pp. 26–27).

Conglomeration

The third characteristic Walker points to is a fascination with networks and conferences. While parachurch ministries and Christian conventions are not dangers in and of themselves, they have the potential of confusing and blurring the roles and responsibilities of the local church. Unbridled ecumenism and a lack of antithesis are common issues that are a result of preoccupation with coalitions and seminars. I know many people (including myself) that have benefited from some of the ministries and conferences mentioned in the book, so I cannot say there is an objective and universal risk. While many people who frequent them are mature Christians (often pastors and ministry leaders) who are discerning and critically evaluate all they read and hear, this is not always the case. Furthermore, spiritual maturity and theological acumen are not vaccines that prevent potentially defective doctrine and practice from impacting leadership and the life of the local church.

Consolidation

Lastly, the author explains that the New Calvinism is decelerating: “The whole machine is slowing down. There is not the same buzz, the same energy, the same drive as once there was. The river is broader and it is slower. The enthusiasm has shifted slightly and the issues and arguments have developed… this is not the rushing mountain stream it once was, with the dynamism simply to carry light things before it” (p. 38). Walker points out that by and large, the movement is in a period of transition and succession.

Commendations

Chapter three points to many of the honorable aspects of New Calvinism. I am in hearty agreement with these features and God has used many within the movement to bring these truths to home in my heart and mind. I do not regret these emphases and I am grateful for those men who labor to promote many of these respectable properties.

Christ-Oriented and God-Honouring

The first and most important distinctive of New Calvinism is its orientation in christocentrism (the person and work of Jesus Christ being the central point). Walker offers his heartfelt approval of this tenet: “…this movement is substantially and explicitly galvanized by concern for the supremacy of God in Christ and that the Lord of Glory be magnified in all things. That is a good thing–it might even be properly described as being at the very core of what it means to be a Calvinist–and something we should embrace as giving us common ground with any man who holds truly to that conviction and its necessary corollaries” (p. 41). Amen! He continues, “There are men individually and churches corporately whose entire notions of what it means to be genuinely Christian have been healthily revolutionized or revitalized by this emphasis. Many have been set on a more biblical track as a result” (p. 41). This is something that I can personally attest to and I praise God for this fruit of New Calvinism.

Grace-Soaked

The second commendation offered by Walker is a commitment to the gospel and the practice of grace as a necessary result. Again, this is an element of the movement that has had a profound impact on my life; it is something that has helped my thinking and reminds me of my responsibility to God and neighbor. The author rightly points out the emotional vigor and evangelical zeal that is common amongst New Calvinists—something that any and all Christians should be thankful for.

Missional

Building from the previous two points–and closely related–is a preoccupation with the mission of God to save sinners. “The new Calvinism tends to be passionately and sacrificially missional. There is a desire that the glory of God be known in all the earth and so most of those involved seek to preach the gospel and to make disciples (there is a good and healthy emphasis on discipleship in many circles). They want to plant churches and to train preachers…It is, in many respects, a reflection of New Testament Christianity, and obviously that it is to be heartily commended. It is a model that too many churches have lost sight of, both in their prayers and in their practices and pursuits” (pp. 44–45). While “missional” has been (and largely remains) a vague buzzword that has wide application, the general principle here addressed by Walker is a radical servanthood characterized by self-sacrifice and love of others.

Complementarian

Another common thread amongst the New Calvinists is the biblical teaching of complimentarianism. This is essentially an understanding of the equal value, but unique roles and responsibilities of men and women as ordained by God. With a spectrum analysis there are bound to be exceptions and variations, but by and large, this is a movement marked by complementarianism. It is an interesting distinctive when one considers the whole of biblical revelation, for there are any number of doctrines that can be championed as pillars of a ministry. Walker explains, “I find it rather amusing that–given all the things about the new Calvinism seems determined not to be about–complementarianism in the realm of gender and male/female relationships is such a significant issue, so much so that I could almost put this in the list of defining qualities” (p. 47). While this position is a necessary response to much of the unbiblical teachings on sexuality, the author sees cause for concern. “…in some circles there seems to be an obsession with sex and sexuality–often excused on the basis of the hypsersexuality of the Western culture–which is, at best out of kilter with the biblical treatment of the topic, and at worst, a gross example of darkness masquerading as light” (p. 48).

Immersed and Inventive

Of the many interests that are characteristic of this movement, Walker focuses on two—theology and technology. Many New Calvinists are biblically informed and technologically savvy. These are two qualities that I personally admire… I am grateful for (and sometimes jealous of) the theological prowess and technological creativity of many of my New Calvinist brothers. I have learned much from them and appreciated much of the risk and ingenuity involved in investigating new apps and software and introducing Christians to the potential usefulness of such technology. This is not to say that others outside the movement are not immersed and inventive, but it seems as though a majority of the New Calvinists have a lasting interest in reading ministry-related books and investing in technology for the glory of God.

Preaching

Preaching–particularly expository preaching–is also a favorable component. There is a great deal of promise here as there is a correlation with the “character” and “conglomeration” features that were presented earlier in chapter two. Walker observes: “Many of the leading lights of the movement are pastors and preachers, committed either to systematic expository preaching series or to some other form of expository ministry. The conferences have been, by and large, preaching conferences. Discussions often revolve around what the Bible says and what it means. Books are written expounding the Word of God. There are and there will continue to be discussions about whether or not the expositions, conclusions and applications are accurate—the same sort of often-healthy discussions as happen within, across and between other circles” (p. 53). When the leading personalities and ministries truly subject themselves to biblical fidelity (and in so doing, avoid worldliness and renounce what Walker calls “slavish capitulation”) there is an auspicious potential for a lasting positive impact.

Summary

As Walker closes the chapter, he points out that this is not an exhaustive list and that variety within the movement demands wisdom and discernment on a case by case basis. Above all things, the author rightly exhorts us to “recognise the grace of God and to be glad when we see it” (p. 55), rejoice when God uses New Calvinism to redeem sinners (p. 56), and “stand together on matters of first importance and shared interest” with mutual affection (p. 56).

Cautions and Concerns

Although the New Calvinism has many commendable attributes, like other movements, it is not beyond criticism. Using pastoral care and analytical precision, Walker sets forth his concerns about this compelling camp.

Pragmatism and Commercialism

“In many new Calvinists,” says Walker, “there is a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism… in some parts of the new Calvinism the entrepreneurial spirit has run amok” (p. 59). While this is largely true of American evangelicalism, the author gives specific examples of “celebrity pastors” within New Calvinism who employ pragmatism and corporate strategy in their ecclesiastical endeavors. He also points out the common obsession with numerical growth, recognition, and cultural adaptation among many as well: “There is more than a hint of performance, often something overly dramatic or slickly cultured in some of the preaching and presentation… in some circles, there is explicit encouragement to study the methods and mannerisms of worldly entertainers and to employ them for the kingdom…There are times in which men in and around this movement run the church more like a commercial enterprise than they minister to it as the body of Christ” (p. 63).

Culture

Another difficulty with the movement is over-contextualization. Walker claims that to some in new Calvinism, the sovereignty of God translates to the world being “neutral territory” (p. 67). Since God is in control, “culture is all up for grabs: no distinction is permitted between the sacred and the secular, or even the profane—for some, such distinctions are part of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism. We are conquering culture for King Jesus, therefore nothing is out of bounds. We can take anything this world produces and we can Christianize it” (p. 67). Sadly, this can often result in an obsession with relevance, or as Walker says, “Some new Calvinists can be so concerned to be relevant and accessible that they become slaves to hipness” (pp. 68–69). There is some to be commended here, for it is important for us to understand the environment we minister in and seek to address issues in an effective way. Nonetheless, we should not become engrossed in the culture to the detriment of the church.

Holiness

There is also, in this group, “a troubling approach to holiness” according to the author. He claims that there is both an “incipient antinomianism” (anti = against; nomos = law) and a “false dichotomy… between faith and duty” which is the result of an improper understanding of sanctification. “The focus,” writes Walker, “has ended up on self-satisfaction rather than God-glorification” (p. 78). While some over-react against obedience out of fear of legalism, he points out that their worry is unfounded. He correctly asserts that “the Christian is liberated in order to be holy! Principled obedience is not legalism” (p. 79). Walker is worried (with good cause) that “the focus on gospel indicatives has blinded some to their connection to gospel imperatives” (p. 80). It is not an either-or, but a both-and.

Ecumenism

The pursuit of unity is not necessarily a bad thing. There is, however, a danger in doing so at the expense of truth. In his book, Walker gives the example of the Elephant Room fiasco involving mega-church pastors Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald (both council members of The Gospel Coalition at the time), and “Bishop” T.D. Jakes (who is a Modalist and word-faith prosperity preacher). While the Elephant Room (both of them) was a ridiculous spectacle of rampant ecumenism,  Walker also points out the lack of accountability towards those involved. He suggests that “this ecumenism is not that Scriptural communion and cooperation which any right-minded believer would pursue, but rather a watering down of that crisp and clear definition which serves the church of Christ best” (p. 91).

Spiritual Gifts

Pneumatology (the study of spiritual things) is also a challenging area for some in the movement. Besides the disparity between cessationists and continuationists in New Calvinism, there is a third group who refuses to address the issue. For instance, one will hear the term “open, but cautious” used in these discussions. Though Walker warns the cessationist of becoming so jaded and worried about the abuses of some charismatics that they “give up” the Holy Spirit, he also points to the real issue: “the whole nature of authority in its relation to divine revelation” (p. 98). One point especially is worth comtemplating: “You will hear the phrase ‘Reformed Charismatic.’ Some would suggest, with credibility, that those two things are mutually exclusive, precisely because of this issue of authority and revelation” (p. 98).

Triumphalism

Those who deal in absolutes and hold to the truth of Scriptures have a susceptibility to theological and/or intellectual elitism. This is not unique to New Calvinism. In fact, Walker admits his own inclination to pride and arrogance, and all of us should too—we would not make claims about the truth if we believed we were wrong. But with the New Calvinism, the combination of celebrity culture, theological rigor, cultutral relevance, and commercial pragmatism creates a hotbed for triumphalism. There is also a prevailing sense of what C.S. Lewis (another darling of New Calvinism) called “chronological snobbery.” Walker asserts, “This is true especially of some of those who are coming in around and just behind some of the figureheads. You can read assertions from fairly prominent individuals that in the past something similar to this movement has happened, but it all fell apart… but this time it’s different, this time it’s better, this time we’ve got it right, this time it’s here to stay, this time it will last, this time the onward march will not falter” (p. 99). There is an overconfidence here that is characteristic of a young and relatively successful endeavor.

Summary

In closing the chapter, the author shares a fascinating observation. Although the New Calvinism seeks to be christocentric and God-honoring, at it’s worst it can be very anthropocentric (man-centered). “There are sometimes prominent indications of concern for human approval, reliance on worldly means and principles, embrace of worldly models, and subsequent departure from or wooliness on historic orthodox Christianity at various important points” he says (p. 102). Certainly, this is a worst-case scenario. We should be thankful for the good fruit produced by the movement, but seek to identify and prune that which causes decay. “On the one hand,” says Walker, “we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater; on the other hand, if the baby has swallowed all the bathwater, we may not have a great deal of choice” (p. 103). At its best, New Calvinism is a commendable effort at practical Christianity; but at its worst, it is the product of egotistical worldliness.

Conclusions and Counsels

Walker concludes the book with a bold exhortation and plea for biblical Christianity: “Be Calvinists. Don’t be new Calvinists or any other particular brand or stripe of Calvinists, whatever those distinctions may presently mean, or may come to mean. Fundamentally, I would urge you to live before God rather than before men. This means that we should consider what it means to serve the Lord in our particular circumstances and follow that course humbly and faithfully, individually and corporately, regardless of the pleasures or pains which that course seems to hold out” (p. 104). In responding to the New Calvinism, “we should avoid knee-jerk reactions, thoughtlessly dismissing or embracing something or someone, or everything and everyone, without proper consideration,” “avoid blanket judgments,” and “show discernment as believers,” says Walker (p. 105). He closes with a plea for unity with true believers in the movement, and an argument for the submission to Scripture for the sake of the church. This, says Walker, is best displayed in confessionalism: “An intelligent and wholehearted commitment to a more comprehensive, tried-and-tested expression of Scriptural truth provides a buffer against the kind of shocks that drive men and churches off their feet… we need to set our feet upon a doctrinal rock where others have proved that a saint can safely stand when buffeted by the winds and waves of falsehood” (pp. 111–112).

Review

For such a small book, there is certainly a lot to digest. I am impressed with the author’s ability to be concise, for while this is a generalization, the book could easily be a few hundred pages longer if some of the issues and themes were teased out. This book has a limited target audience, so I would not recommend it to everyone—but I would recommend it to any pastor (particularly Calvinist or New Calvinist) who has been involved with or has questions about this popular movement in contemporary Christianity. At the risk of criticizing this work for something it did not intend to do, I would have liked to see more Scripture references in the book (I counted just over a dozen). This will be a problem for some readers—especially those who disagree with the author and seek to discredit him. Nevertheless, the book is full of biblical wisdom and the principles within are the result of a minister critically assessing the New Calvinism with Scriptural lenses after much rumination and meditation on God’s Word. I believe that Jeremy Walker has succeeded in what he set out to do: give an honest and balanced evaluation of the New Calvinism and encourage Christians to think biblically and critically about it; to be grateful for the good qualities, but vocal about the potential dangers.

For more on this subject…

Jeremy Walker interview with The Confessing Baptist

Jeremy Walker interview with Shaun Tabatt of Author Talks

Kevin DeYoung on the New Calvinism

Recommended reading:

 

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.