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October 22, 2009

It has been a few weeks now since we finished reading The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the most recent entry in Reading Classics Together.

The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. That is quite a solid collection of classics! I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too. The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

I’d love to have you participate in this next effort. Keep reading to find out how you can do that…

The next classic we will read together is Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. In this book Murray explores the biblical passages dealing with the necessity, nature, perfection, and extent of the atonement, and goes on to identify the distinct steps in the Bible’s presentation of how the redemption accomplished by Christ is applied progressively to the life of the redeemed. It is, then, an overview of the biblical account of salvation as understood by Reformed Christians. Monergism Books says it is “One of the best, most concise, theologically sound and helpful expositions of the atonement ever produced. John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied should be required reading for every Christian. At just under 200 pages, Murray offers page after page of devotional and scholarly study that is nearly unparalleled in its clarity, usefulness and theological depth. Read this book, re-read this book and keep it close at hand.”

At a time when so many people are discovering or re-discovering Reformed theology, this book offers us an opportunity to turn to Scripture to see if all that we are being taught, all that we believe, truly accords with Scripture. And even if you have no love for this New Calvinism, you may like to read along to at least ensure that you have a correct understanding of its theology.

We will begin reading the book on November 12. So if you would like to read along, read chapter 1 by November 12 and then check in here on that day.

You can purchase the book at:

Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

It is not unusual for the “next classic” to sell out really quickly at the various stores, so if you’d like to read along, go ahead and order it ASAP.

Do let me know if you are planning on participating. Obviously I will not hold you to anything; it is just nice to get a sense of how many people will be joining in the fun.

November 07, 2008

Guest blog by Andrew Lindsey

Congregational singing: “Redeemed, Redeemed.”

Introduction of Dr. Allen by Dr. Jerry Vines.

Dr. David Allen:

Quote of John 3:16.

Argument against Limited atonement quoting only Calvinists.

What two things do these men have in common?
(Long list of theologians including Calvin, Bullinger, Ursinus, Bunyan, Edwards, Hodge, Strong.)
A: They are all Calvinists, and they all rejected Limited atonement.

2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”
5-point Calvinists define “world” as the “elect.”

Extent of the atonement, two possibilities:
1. Jesus died for all humanity:
a. Arminians- He died for all equally.
b. 4-point Calvinists- He died for all, but especially the elect.
2. Jesus died for the elect.

Jesus died efficiently for all, but sufficiently for the elect. In the high Calvinist position, Jesus’ death is sufficient only for the elect.

Several theologians were named who signed either the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Confession, yet rejected Limited atonement.

“The dirty little secret that you’re not often told” about Dort is that the language was left ambiguous to allow both high Calvinists and those who rejected “strict particularism” to all sign the document.

Calvinists were repeatedly enjoined to read primary sources rather than only popular authors like John Piper and John MacArthur.

The first person ever to hold to limited atonement was a 9th century monk named Gottschalk. Gottschalk was condemned by three French councils.

Luther rejected Limited atonement, as seen in his comments on 1 John 2:2 and numerous other comments.

Numerous quotes from John Calvin were offered (such as his comments on Romans 5:18 and John 3:16) to demonstrate that he did not hold to Limited atonement.

Ursinus, “Christ satisfied for all…” but not in respect to its application.

The controversy in the second and third generation was over the introduction of Limited atonement into Calvinism.

With the introduction of Limited atonement into Calvinism leads to hyper-Calvinism.

The early English reformers all held to unlimited atonement.

Quotes from at least two Westminster divines were given to argue that many at Westminster did not hold to Limited atonement. The argument centered on whether these divines interpreted “world” in John 3:16 to refer to the world of the elect.

Richard Baxter, well-known for rejecting Limited atonement, was quoted.

Jonathan Edwards quote to the effect that Christ in some sense died for the whole world, though there is a particularity to his death that effects only the elect.

The three categories of Arminianism, Amyraldianism, and Calvinism are historically not enough. Additional categories allow for definitions of Calvinism such as hypothetical universalism and four-point Calvinism. [Dr. Allen asserts that these categories are different than Amyraldianism, but I could not understand his explanation of the difference he asserted.]

3 sets of texts that affirm unlimited atonement:
1. “All” texts
2. “World” texts
3. “Many” texts

Other texts speak of Christ dying for His sheep or for His church, but these texts do not say that He died only for these groups.

Owen argued that God hates the non-elect (a quote from Owen was cited), but the Bible says that God loves the world and never says that God hates the world.

Any teaching that says one or all of these things:
1. God does not love everyone
2. God does not want to save everyone
3. Jesus did not die for everyone
is unbiblical and should be rejected.

Quote from [Reformed Baptist] Sam Waldron: The free offer of the gospel does not require us to tell people Christ died for you.

But the above is contradicted by passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:3, in which Paul related what he said to the Corinthians as he proclaimed the gospel to them, including, “Christ died for you,” and in Jesus’ statement of the cup at the Last Supper, “This is my blood,” was given while Judas was at the table.

There is no statement in Scripture that Jesus died only for the elect

Why this is important:
1. Limited atonement undermines God’s salvific will
(Dr. Allen asserted that Dr. James White is a hyper-Calvinist according to Phil Johnson’s primer on hyper-Calvinism, as Dr. White says that God does not have any desire to save the non-elect.)
2. Limited atonement undermines evangelistic zeal
(Mark Dever in is otherwise great book on personal evangelism leaves out two important motives for evangelism- that Christ died for all men and that God desires all men to be saved.)
3. Limited atonement means that we could not say to a sinner that Christ died for you.
4. Limited atonement means that the preacher must speak to his congregation as if they can be saved, when he knows that some cannot
5. Limited atonement means that we will not give evangelistic invitations. Dr. Allen asserted that a professor [left unnamed] from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said at a recent conference that we should not give an evangelistic invitation.

Conclusion: “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward 5-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the gospel.” This was met with a standing ovation.

Dr. Allen directed hearers to BaptistTheology.org where there is apparently a paper pointing out the logical and exegetical fallacies of Owen’s “double-payment argument.”

Three pages of handouts were given, defining terms used in the presentation such as Arminianism and Amyraldianism. Dr. Allen strove for accuracy in these definitions, footnoting each definition, using Calvinistic sources to define terms to do with Calvinism.

A peculiarity in his definitions is that Dr. Allen restricts the meaning of Limited atonement to the teaching that Christ’s death in no way benefits the non-elect. This is how he can claim so many of the Reformed teachers mentioned before did not hold to Limited atonement.

After the sermon, Dr. Vines advertised several resources, including his “Baptist Battles” series of DVDs, which includes, “Calvinism: A Baptist and His Election.”

February 29, 2008

Os Guinness is the author of nearly twenty books, the most recent of which is The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on it. Guinness was kind enough to answer several questions I posed to him after the publication of this latest title. This has already been posted on Discerning Reader, but I wanted to post it here to be sure you were able to read it. Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the interview, the book, or the topic in general. The topic we spoke about is somewhat foreign to me (pun intended), as it focuses on the United States. This interview was unique in that it was a Canadian interviewing a Brit about America. Read on…

The thesis of your book is that the challenge of living with our deepest differences—that is, our religiously grounded—differences, is one of the world’s great issues today. The book’s subtitle is “And why our future depends on it.” What is at stake as we look to recover civility in America first and then in the rest of the world?

Two things are at stake in the issue of re-forging a civil public square. The primary issue is the freedom of followers of Christ to be faithful to him in every area of our lives, including our freedom to enter and engage public life. The secondary issue is the health and viability of the American republic. I am a great admirer of this country, but as a European the second issue is obviously secondary. I trust it is secondary too for Americans who love their country, but love Christ first and foremost.

But let me make clear that I am arguing for a civility that is far more than nice manners. I am talking of re-forging a ‘civil public square’ as opposed to the present extremes of a ‘naked public square’ on one side and a ‘sacred public square’ on the other. I am not saying that the issues at stake in the culture wars are unimportant - they are very important - but that the way we are fighting them is wrong and also destructive to freedom in the long run.

Take the simple fact that Europe is the most secular continent in the world, and much of this secularity is in direct reaction to yesterday’s corrupt state churches. The U.S. never had this problem because of the genius of the First Amendment - until recently that is. Yet over the last generation, as the culture wars have intensified and in direct reaction to the perceived extremism of the religious right, we have seen a mounting American equivalent of the European repudiation of all religion, at least among the educated classes (for example, the new atheists). If this reaction hardens in concrete, it spells disaster for Christians and for the U.S.

In the past did other nations look to the United States as the model for living together despite deep differences? Do they continue to do this today? Why do you feel the United States is uniquely able to model civility?

The framers described the United States as a ‘novus ordo seclorum,’ or new order of the ages. More recently it has been described as ‘the first new nation’ in the sense that the U.S. wrestled with many of the key issues of the modern world from the beginning. In the past, most other nations dismissed this claim as American self-congratulation and irrelevant to them. What did the First Amendment mean, for instance, to nations that were happy with their established church? That complacency has been shattered in the last generation. Other nations are now wrestling with issues such as immigration and exploding religious diversity, but without models such as the melting pot and principles such as freedom of conscience. The English and the Dutch, for example, being liberal and tolerant, took immediately to ‘multiculturalism,’ only to breed enclaves of home-bred terrorism. The sad irony, however, is that just as many in the rest of the world begin to appreciate what the U.S. has been wrestling with, mostly successfully, for 200 years, they look across the Atlantic and the U.S. is not doing so well today - for instance, in the endless recently culture-warring.

Are both secularists and those who hold to a religion contributing equally to the breakdown of civility? Or is the breakdown coming more from one side than the other?

It depends who you are talking to. Each side in the culture wars naturally thinks the other is far worse, if not the sole source of the problem. Looked at over thirty years, a rather even balance sheet can be drawn up. At the moment, though, the forces of the ‘sacred public square’ are showing signs of weakening, whereas the forces of the ‘naked public square’ represent the greater danger, above all in the way that ‘civil liberty’ is repeatedly trumping ‘religious liberty.’ For the founders, these liberties were twins and their relationship needed to be negotiated carefully. Today the homosexual movement is using the first to rout the second. All religious believers will be the losers as well as the republic.

Some people, when thinking of a plurality of religions, immediately think of relativism. How is a proper understanding of the difference between pluralism and relativism necessary to restore civility?

The fear of the ‘P word’ (pluralism) has generally been a feature of fundamentalism or the religious right, but it is based on a misunderstanding. Pluralism is simply a social fact and one that is inescapable. We live in a world where, because of travel, the media, and immigration, it is now said that ‘everyone is now everywhere.’ Relativism, on the other hand, is a philosophical conclusion and one with which Christians disagree strongly - the idea that there is no absolute truth and everything is depends on your perspective.” We Christians should come to terms with the fact of pluralism, but we should stoutly resist relativism. Sadly, statistics show that whereas the early church remained absolutely faithful to Christ in a highly pluralistic situation, modern Christians have surrendered to relativism to an appalling extent - especially among the younger generation and among the Emergent Church.

James Madison famously objected to the word “tolerance” in the draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and succeeded in changing tolerance to free exercise. How is the concept of free exercise relevant to the case for civility?

Tolerance is infinitely better than its opposite - intolerance . But it has two weaknesses. First, it is a grant and not a right, and therefore it is patronizing and condescending in essence. It is always the strong tolerating the weak, the majority the minority, and the government the citizens. Second, it has softened and become squishy over time, so that it easily flip-flops into intolerance (under the PC guise, of course, of supposed ‘tolerance’).

Free exercise, by contrast, is a positive right, based on freedom of conscience, which includes behavior as well as belief. Today, free exercise has to be contrasted not just with ‘tolerance’ but with purely negative, and therefore inadequate, notions such as ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes.’ Freedom will never be guaranteed by law alone (as opposed to the civil ‘habits of the heart’) or by negative notions such as hate speech.

In the book you make several mentions of the great English reformer William Wilberforce. As we have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery—a triumph engineered by Wilberforce—what can we learn from him?

There are scores of lessons we can learn from Wilberforce, but take just one: his civility. As a follower of the way of Jesus, he loved his enemies and always refused to demonize them. At one time he was the most vilified man in the world, but while he never minced words in speaking about the evils of slavery, he was always gracious, generous, modest, funny, witty, and genuinely loving toward his enemies. When one of his worst enemies died, he at once saw to it anonymously that his widow was cared for adequately. Compare this with the religious right’s demonizing of its foes. The latter is not so much uncivil as unChristian.

The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus’ harsh language against others, and particularly the religious leaders. Can we look to Him as a model of civility?

Jesus is famous for his harsh denunciations of the legalism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and others. Here he is in the tradition of the prophets, such as Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah, and there are times when we must be outspoken too - above all on behalf of the oppressed and in opposition to evil. But as his followers, we are also called to love our enemies, to forgive without limit, to speak the truth with love, and to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us ‘with gentleness and respect.’

Put differently, we have deep Christian reasons for a different style of public speech that are different from mere civility. And we always need to remember that civility is not a matter of being nice or squeamish about differences. It is a republican virtue and a democratic necessity that is a habit of the heart that knows how to deal with real differences with robust civility.

What can the person on the street, the average American, do to restore civility to America?

The U.S. is at a stage when the culture wars and the extremism are so bitter and entrenched that it will take a leader of the stature and courage of Lincoln to stand above it and call for a better way. But we must not sit and wait passively. First, we can pray. Second, we can ourselves show a better way - loving our enemies, speaking truth with love, and so on. And third, we can say No to incivility of all kinds and call for a better way - challenging speakers, cancelling subscriptions, and calling for leadership that addresses the ‘better angels’ of our
fellow citizens, rather than addressing fear and hatred.

As you look to the forthcoming Presidential election do you see a leader who inspires you as a potential leader who can match this moment?

A congressman came to me recently and said, ‘America is in decline, and many of our leaders are in denial. What can we do?’ Whether or not you agree with him, there is a widespread sense that the U.S. lacks leadership and that almost no one is addressing the deepest issues we are facing. But as a visitor to this country, I am not going to comment on the current election. That is your privilege and responsibility.

And finally, who should read this book? What are your hopes for this book and how will you know if it has been a success?

Of all the books I have written for the public square, this is the timeliest and most constructive. I hope it will be read by thoughtful citizens and thoughtful Christians. But not having any ‘platform’ or mailing list, and not being in one or other of the polarized camps, it is easy for a book like mine to fall silently like a leaf in the forest. I will know it is a success if some leader and some group step forward and champion the vision, and set in motion a serious sustained effort to re-forge a civil public square. But whether I succeed or not, the issue I raise in the book is a ‘standing or falling’ issue for Christians in America and for the American republic too. If the problem is not resolved, and so far there are not many alternative solutions being proposed, America will soon decline. Make no mistake. This is an issue that demands resolution or the future of the republic is in question. It is that simple and that serious.

Remember where I began. The issue of restoring civility to American public life is not a primary issue for Christians. For me, there are two more important issues. One is the reformation of the church and the restoration of integrity to Christian belief and behavior, and the other is the restoration of credibility to the way we share the Gospel to the educated classes. Civility is far less important than these two grand issues, which are a matter of faithfulness to Christ. But a civil public square is also important because it affects our freedom and ability to bring faith into public life, and therefore to be salt and light in the whole of society as we are called to be.


Click here to Read my review of The Case for Civility

July 29, 2007

Yesterday I read R.C. Sproul’s new book The Truth of the Cross. It’s just a short book, coming in at just 167 small pages, but as we’d expect from Sproul, does not waste a word. It’s a great little book and one that gave me a lot to think about. I wanted to share just one of those things today, primarily because after finishing the last chapter this morning I went to church and heard a powerful message just relaying the beauty of the gospel. The pastor’s message fit perfectly with Sproul’s book.

In the third chapter, where R.C. discusses the human condition, he uses three biblical concepts: debtors, enemies, and criminals. The Bible describes all of us in these terms. What Sproul did, that really helped this hit home for me, was show how it is always the Father who has been offended and the Son who intercedes. We have committed crimes against God and are, thus, justly termed criminals. The Father stands as Judge, passing the just sentence of death. But Christ stands between us and the Father, acting as substitute. Our sin puts as in debt to God so that we are debtors to Him. God is the creditor who demands repayment, but Christ stands in as surety. And sin puts us at enmity with God, making us His enemies. He has been violated by our sin, but Christ intercedes as mediator, opening the way between man and God.

Sproul breaks this down into the following simple table:

Sin As…ManGodChrist
DebtDebtorCreditorSurety
EnmityEnemyViolated OneMediator
CrimeCriminalJudgeSubstitute

He concludes this: “Christ, then, is the One Who made satisfaction. By His work on the cross, He satisfied the demands of God’s justice with regard to our debt, our state of enmity, and our crime. In light of the facts of God’s justice and our sinfulness, it is not difficult to see the absolute necessity of the atonement.”

What a great Savior.

July 28, 2007

I’ve been reading R.C. Sproul’s latest book, The Truth of the Cross. It’s just a small book but you know that if Sproul is writing about the atonement that it will be well worth reading. Just seven pages in he discusses visiting a bookstore in a local mall. He found shelves and counters full of books with the categories prominently marked: fiction, nonfiction, business, sports, children’s stories, and on and on. In the very back was a religion section which consisted of only four shelves, meaning it was one of the smallest segments in the entire store. The material was not what could be considered orthodox, classically Christian. Sproul wondered, “Why does this store sell fiction and self-improvement, but place no premium on the content of biblical truth as part of its program.”

The answer is obvious. “I realized the store wasn’t there as a ministry. It was there for business, to make a profit. So I assumed the reason there were no solid Christian books was that there weren’t a lot of people asking, “Where can I find a book that will teach me about the depths and the riches of the atonement of Christ?”

While it seems that Sproul was in a mainstream bookstore, the same is true of most Christian bookstores I’ve visited recently. The few good books are sequestered in shelves furthest from the door and furthest from the flow of the foot traffic. Books sharing good theology are “destination” books that people look for deliberately. The junk rates the prime shelf spots. This is simple supply and demand. Most people who visit the store are not interested in good books on matters of profound theology. Instead, they want easy answers, quick fixes, and secret keys to easy spiritual growth. And this is what the market gives them.

So I got to thinking, I wonder what the people in my local Christian bookstore would come up with if I went inside and asked, “Where can I find a book that will teach me about the depths and the riches of the atonement of Christ?” Or perhaps I could ask, “What book would you recommend to teach me about the depths and riches of the cross?” Unfortunately the bookstore wasn’t on my list of things to do today, but I’ll be going near there next week and am going to drop in to see what they say. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a bunch of us did the same, just stopping by a variety of Christian bookstores to see what they can offer?

So how about a few of us try it? We don’t need to go looking for a fight or seeking to embarrass anyone. I’d just be interested in knowing whether Christian bookstore owners (or employees) are equipped to answer this question and what they might recommend to a person who wants to understand the atonement and who wants to glory in the cross.

Does anyone want to give it a shot? If so, drop by your bookstore and post a comment here (or send me an email) with the results. I’m guessing the results will be interesting.