Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hmmm ...

From Justin Taylor: Something for all of us in the blogosphere to think about.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Happy Christmas and New Year

Headin' home tomorrow. Blogging will be sporadic until after the holidays. 2007 is the year of writing. So please keep coming back!


Here are a few new blogs of interest.

  • Helm's Deep - no not that Helm's Deep. This blog is devoted to the writings of Paul Helm. Papers, articles, and chapters that have been accepted for publication but not yet published will be posted on this site, although without scholarly apparatus. Helm also occassionally blogs at Reformata Semper Reformanda and is a guest writer for reformation21.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How well do you know your Latin and Dutch?

The good people who brought you Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics are looking for a Reformed scholar to translate Latin and Dutch.

Ligon Duncan at reformation21 states,

Joel Beeke recently wrote to me about the following. He said: "The Dutch Reformed Translation Society is seriously contemplating translating Petrus van Mastricht's 4-volume magisteral work of systematic theology and ethics, Theologia theoretico-practica ["Theoretical and Practical Theology"]--a work that Jonathan Edwards called the most important book ever written beside the Bible. The problem faced by the committee is that it was originally written in Latin, then translated into Dutch. The Board approved advertising in select journals for someone who knows well Latin, Dutch, English, and eighteenth-century Reformed theology.

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Westminster Conference 2006: Some Reflections

This post is written in response to a request from one of my esteemed conventicler for some comment on the Westminster Conference 2006. I must add that I would have written one even if no requests were forthcoming for the following reasons:

1. Of the four papers I heard (out of a total of 6), every one of them can be said to exemplify scholarship of a high level. Written to be publicly delivered rather than privately read, their prosaic style was captivating and facilitated the digestion of content.

2. I know of no other conference that manages to attract such a wide range of participants (scholars, ministers, evangelists, missionaries, etc) from around the world (Britain, America, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Philippines, etc.) for such a specialized area of interest: Puritanism. There must have been at least 80 participants in my estimation.

3. The discussions that followed each paper, which lasted about an hour or more, were deeply engaging, centering mostly on the application of material in the papers to ecclesiastical and pastoral issues. The most lively and thought-provoking discussion came after the paper by Stanley Jebb on “The Azusa Street Phenomenon.”

4. On a more parochial interest: John Owen. I’ve been engaged in postgraduate research for slightly more than 3 years now, first on Jonathan Edwards, and now Owen. I must confess that it isn’t often that I have been awe-struck by the crucial importance and relevance of their writings. This is not to say that I’ve not acknowledged their relevance. But I’m speaking of existential moments when this truism hits home and light breaks through from several hitherto veiled quarters. This was my experience listening to the papers of Robert Letham entitled “John Owen’s Doctrine of the Trinity and its Relevance Today”, and Gary Williams’ “The Puritan Doctrine of Atonement.” I offer two lines of inquiry arising from some of my own thoughts on their papers in the following point.

5. (a) The pressing issue of Islam behoves us to come to grips with the doctrine of the Trinity if we are to address it in any way that resembles anything decently Christian. It is unfortunately a doctrine that seems to thrive only in the realm of philosophical theology, gets truncated in Biblical studies, and is often relegated to secondary status in practice in the local church although verbally acknowledged to be of crucial importance of course. It is no wonder that apart from being baptized in the triune Name, most believers do not have the faintest idea of how the doctrine relates to their lives, let alone the issue of Islam. Yet unless we live and move and have our being in the Holy Trinity, the question of Islam will never be addressed adequately and the church will be all the more impoverished in every area of ecclesial life. How does Owen help us? In many ways, Carl Trueman’s book, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology paves the way theologically. Letham’s conference paper compliments Trueman’s account by delving into greater detail on the catholicity of Owen’s doctrine of the Trinity and raises important questions of relevance, not least the question of Islam. But we will only get into the heart of things if we make our way seriously into Owen’s 1657 treatise, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Not only does Owen teach us the doctrine of the Trinity there, he is a master guide to its appropriation in the life of the church. That it was first preached as a series of sermons to students at Oxford or more likely to his congregation at Coggeshall is a big clue as to its pastoral value. The shorter and more condensed treatise of 1669, A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, provides further exegetical support for his 1657 treatise, and deserves to be widely read. For those who do make that journey into Owen’s treatises, do observe the following caveat. Should it be found that Owen traverses unfamiliar terrain in his exposition of the Trinity, it really isn’t because he was trying to be novel, but that we are too distant from home ground.

(b) Recent attempts by some evangelicals to call the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement into question could have been curbed more readily if Owen was more widely read. Some of the criticisms leveled against the doctrine were in fact found in a far more sophisticated form along with a plethora of other related criticisms in the works of 17th century Socinians. In fact, recent critics of the penal doctrine would have advanced a more viable case if they had brought in Socinus as an ally. The history of criticism with respect to the penal doctrine is, interestingly, a history of the degeneration of criticism. This ought to encourage us to mine the resources of history for answers to modern resurgence of past censures to evangelical doctrines. How does Owen help to address recent critics? First, familiarity with Owen’s formulation of the penal doctrine would have cautioned critics and proponents alike against the conflation of popular and degenerate forms of the doctrine with carefully constructed formulations like that of Owen’s. Second, familiarity with Owen’s writings against the Socinians and Hugo Grotius, as well as with his intramural debates with fellow Puritans like Richard Baxter, William Twisse, and Samuel Rutherford, on atonement and its related issues, would have more than adequately prepared the evangelical fraternity for the less sophisticated, and certainly less tradition-informed arguments of recent critics. For a primer into these matters, I highly recommend Gary Williams’ paper.

Conference papers are available. Further information can be found on the Westminster Conference website.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Owen on the Glory of Christ

Over at Ruminations by the Lake, Ian Clary gives a helpful overview of Owen's Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ.

For my 'ruminations' on this work, go here, here and here.

Friday, December 1, 2006

And I will show you a still more excellent way ...

I'd like to share a happy discovery I've made since I've been back in my home state of Texas. My family and I came here a month ago to spend the holidays with our families. And here, as in Scotland, I've been reading a lot of church history and theology, off- and online (mainly blogs). I want to highlight the most life-changing post I've read in months -- maybe ever. In it Justin Taylor cited Joe Carter, who had taken a strategy from a book by the late James M. Gray. Taylor's post was entitled, 'Four Steps to Transform Your Life'. Here they are:
  1. Choose a book of the Bible.
  2. Read it in its entirety.
  3. Repeat Step 2 twenty times.
  4. Repeat this process for all 66 books of the Bible.

To make a long post (that has very little to do with the Puritans) short, I decided to take Gray's/Carter's/Taylor's advice, and I'm now beginning my 15th reading of 1 Thessalonians. The results? Well, I haven't been caught up to the third heaven or had any epiphanies.

But I can say, without exaggerating, that I've experienced more sublime peace and gained more insight and encouragement reading Paul's heartfelt epistle these 14 times than I've ever known scouring the musings of men in print or around the blogosphere.

In fact, since I started following this plan I've come to the conviction that an intimate knowledge of God's sacred Word -- the kind of familiarity I believe anyone with a 6th-grade education can obtain by simply following these four steps in earnest -- is many times more valuable and profitable than any education any theological institution can offer. Don't get me wrong: I've had eight years of formal theological training, and I still recommend a (conservative) seminary education to anyone thinking seriously about going into full-time ministry. But if you finish all of that and you don't know and love the Scriptures, I can't help but think it's all an expensive waste.

This program isn't a magic formula for spiritual maturity. In its essence it's simply a way to master the Bible, one book at a time. And it's effective.

Read books, read blogs, read the news, read whatever you feel edifies you -- but you'll never find rest for your harried soul until you return to the pages of God's Word and make it your home. If you're preparing for vocational ministry or are already immersed in it, I can think of no better way to train yourself than to follow the four steps above prayerfully and obediently. I guarantee that if you do, you'll never lack the power or resources needed to feed the Lord's flock. By God's grace you'll be a holy powerhouse. Try it!

Now, back to 1 Thessalonians ...

Book Review: Overcoming Sin and Temptation

Review of John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Wheaton: Crossway, 2006.

John Owen is widely recognized as one of the premier theologians of the post-Reformation. One need not balk at placing his name alongside giants of the faith such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. His ministry was vast and varied: preacher, statesman, political advisor, advocate, author, polemicist, and defender of faith. But perhaps his greatness is most clearly seen in his pastoral works on mortification, temptation, and sin. At least this was the opinion of one of Owen’s biographers. Andrew Thompson states, “We have not seen him in all his greatness until, in such practical works as his treatise on the “Mortification of Sin in Believers,” he brings the truth into contact, not so much with the errors of the heretic, as with the corruption and deceitfulness of the human heart” (Works,

Since their original publication in the seventeenth-century, Christians have valued Owen’s writings on sin and temptation for their uncommon insight into the wonderful depths and wild deceitfulness of the heart. These devotional writings were the product of a man who made it his chief design in life to promote the mortification of sin and the pursuit of personal holiness for the glory of God and the adornment of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p. 42). In a day of empty purpose statements, this may not mean much. But for Owen, overcoming sin and temptation was his life – a fact confirmed by his younger colleague, David Clarkson, who at Owen’s funeral sermon in 1683 stated, “I need not tell you of this who knew him that it was his great design to promote holiness in the life and exercise of it among you.” In other words, Owen preached what he first practiced.

Overcoming Sin and Temptation is an updated, unabridged, and edited collection of three of the best known and most beloved of Owen’s writings on the subject: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It (1658), and The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin (1675). As Kapic explains, these “three treatises can be read as early modern attempts to explore human psychology as affected by sin and renewed by the Spirit” (p. 29).

Though written over three hundred years ago, this volume is relevant for any tired soul aching for victory over the inner struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. Conquest will not come easy. This civil war within is a daily battle. As Owen states, “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin” (p. 50). And how is triumph found? “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet” (p. 131, emphasis original). Time and again in these three works, Owen outlines a battle plan for attacking sin by affixing our attention on Christ.

At this point, you may be asking, why re-edit these works? Taylor states, “In this volume we are seeking to present something new: an unabridged but updated edition of Owen’s three classic works that preserves all of Owen’s original content but seeks to make it a bit more accessible. In so doing, we hope to play a small part in reintroducing Owen to both the church and the academy (p. 17). The editors are to be applauded for accomplishing the near impossible: retaining the original style, shape, and substance of these works while recasting them in a more user-friendly format.

This edition begins with a helpful and challenging forward by John Piper, an explanatory preface by Taylor, historical and theological introduction by Kapic, and overview of each of the works by Taylor. In addition to the ever useful and practical indexes (General and Scripture), this volume also includes a glossary of difficult words and provides outlines of Owen’s three treatises for assisting the reader to grasp the flow of argument in each work. Perhaps the most important of the new features to this volume are the ubiquitous but almost unnoticed editorial enhancements of the three texts. Kapic and Taylor have included footnotes to difficult words and phrases (which are compiled in the glossary), modernized spelling and punctuation, transliterated Hebrew and Greek terms, translated Latin phrase, provided Scripture references, etc.

Clearly, the editors of the present volume have been hard at work. Kapic and Taylor are to be applauded for a job extremely well done. Not only have they given these classics by Owen a new lease on life, but they have successfully produced what will hopefully become the standard text for anyone interested in overcoming personal sin and temptation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Book Review: Contending for Our All

Review of John Piper, Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen, Leicester: IVP, 2006, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 24:2 (2006): 252-253.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ETS 2006

Thanks, John, for the link to the summary of my paper at the A-Team blog. I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Overton at the conference, but I didn't know he'd be posting anything about the paper. I'm humbled.

Indeed, the entire conference was a humbling experience. As one might expect, there were lots of godly, brilliant folks there sharing their insights. On Wednesday I heard a paper delivered by Dr. Joel Beeke on "Evangelicalism and the Dutch Further Reformation," in which he sought to correct a view of the Puritans advanced in David Bebbington's Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. Later in the week I had the privilege of introducing myself to Dr. Beeke while he was manning the booth for Reformation Heritage Books and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (see pic above). And yes, while there I did grab a copy of Meet the Puritans at the low, low conference price of $17.50. (I would have bought copies for the rest of you Conventiclers, but the sheer weight of the book and Mrs. Ross's voiced concerns prohibited me -- sorry). I also found some gems at the Banner of Truth booth next door.

On Thursday night John Piper delivered a moving address on the life and work of William Tyndale, contrasting him with Desiderius Erasmus, his Catholic humanist contemporary. Piper urged the attendees of the conference to avoid the heady theological indifference of Erasmus -- a trait he sees in some modern-day 'emerging' proponents -- and to embrace the gospel-induced earnestness of Tyndale. What a timely reminder.

I couldn't help drooling over the book deals on offer in the exhibit hall by the likes of Zondervan, Kregel, Hendrickson and OUP. Before concluding I want to plug one great new IVP release I found, by W. David Buschart. It's a friendly, comparative examination called Exploring Protestant Traditions: An Invitation to Theological Hospitality. Buschart is professor of theology and historical studies at Denver Seminary. In the book he devotes one chapter to each of the eight major branches of Protestantism: Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, Wesleyan, Dispensational, and Pentecostal. For each he provides a brief historical background summary and a description of its theological and hermeneutical methods and characteristic beliefs. The concluding chapter addresses the pros and cons of inter-traditional hospitality and dialogue. Exploring Protestant Traditions will be a great resource for church historians and students of theology who want to be able to compare and contrast the doctrinal distinctives of these traditions without having to sift through the confessional polemic that characterizes more one-sided surveys.

It's not too soon to start making plans for ETS 2007 in San Diego!

The Famous Mr. Ross

Our esteemed Conventicler, Chris Ross, is at it again. The good folks at The A-Team Blog have posted a review of his paper presented at last week's ETS meeting.

The paper was entitled "Promoting Evangelical Faith Through New Media: Lessons from the English Reformation." The A-Team reports,

As Bob Dylan sang, “The time they are a-changin’.” Though he was describing the social changes of the 60’s, he could have said the same of sixteenth century Europe, or our situation today. The internet is often viewed as “the Guttenberg press of our time,” noting the similarities of the Reformation and current time periods. Mr. Ross believes these similarities have practical applications for Christians today.

Intrigued? For the entire summary, click here.

Well done, Chris. Keep up the great work!

Meet the Puritans: Book of the Year Discount

The just released Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson was given the Book of the Year award by The Shepherd's Scrapbook.

For why you should buy this book and for details on how to purchase it at a discounted rate (before 30 Nov), click here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The pearl in the promise

For Puritans such as Thomas Goodwin and John Owen, the promises of God in the Old and New Testaments were cross-shaped and Christ-centered. In other words, a bare promise is meaningless. Goodwin puts the matter provocatively,

The promise is but the casket, and Christ is the jewel in it; the promise but the field, and Christ the pearl hid in it, and to be chiefly looked at. The promises are the means by which you believe, not the things on which you are to rest. And so, although you are to look at the forgiveness as held forth in the promises, yet you are to believe on the Christ in that promise to obtain this forgiveness...Now this is the tenure of all promises; they all hold on Christ, in whom they are yea and amen; and you must take them to rest on the bare promise, or to look to the benefit promised, without eyeing Christ, is not an evangelical, but a Jewish faith, even such as the formalists among the Jews had, who without the Messiah closed with promises, and rested in types to cleanse them, without looking unto Christ the end of them, and as propounded to their faith in them (Goodwin, Works, 4:14-15).

Goodwin and Owen believed that the promises in Scripture originated in the divine counsels between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world (i.e. Covenant of Redemption). According to Owen, in the person of Christ "were laid all the foundations of the counsels of God for the sanctification and salvation of the church" so that "from the giving of that promise [in Genesis 3:15] the faith of the whole church was fixed on him whom God would send in our nature, to redeem and save them" (Owen, Works, 1:64, 101). Likewise Goodwin states, "all the promises in the word are but copies of God's promises made to Christ for us from everlasting" (Goodwin, Works, 5:139). To use the latest theological buzzwords, the divine-eternal metanarrative interlocks with the redemptive-historical narrative in the incarnate Christ and finds its consummate fulfillment.

In short, it is not the promise of redemption per se which is foundation of the church’s hope and consolation but the fulfillment of that promise in the person, office, and work of the Messiah.

Friday, November 17, 2006

For Something Completely Different...

We at The Conventicle can't always live in the past. So for something a little more up to date, here are two links well worth your time.

My friend David Robertson (minister at St Peter's Free Church in Dundee) takes some heat for his review of Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion. Check out David's response.

Also, Al Mohler is taking part in a new "conversation on religion" entitled On Faith sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. This forum has assembled an interesting and impressive panel of religious leaders, scholars, theologians, historians, journalists, etc. Mohler's first column will give you a good taste of the 'conversation.'

Now back to the 17th century!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

History of Biblical Interpretation: Post-Reformation Blues

The history of biblical interpretation is generally speaking an underdeveloped field of research. Over fifty years ago, the infamous Basil Hall drew attention to the widespread neglect of the history of exegesis:

The history of biblical exegesis is one of the most neglected fields in the history of the Church and its doctrine when compared with the attention given to person, institutions, confessions, liturgies, and apologetics...With the renewal of biblical theology (and with the study of the history of exegesis which is being renewed in our time) the opportunity has come for a fresh reading of Christian thought and life not only in the Reformation age, but also in the Patristic age and in the high Middle Ages. This work, when accomplished, will change for the better some fixed patterns of interpretation (Cambridge History of the Bible, 3:76).

Since Hall, some improvement has been made, especially in the area of Reformation exegesis. But the era the of post-Reformation still remains mostly uncharted territory. For example, nearly ten years ago, Carl Trueman states, "As yet there are no significant studies of the exegetical and interpretative strategies of the Reformed Orthodox of the seventeenth century" (Interpreting the Bible, 160-161). More recently, Richard Muller made a similar observation,

The history of biblical interpretation is, moreover, a comparatively new field: it is really only in the last twenty years that we have seen examinations of the biblical interpretation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that do justice, historically and contextually, to the exegesis of the era - and the study of the seventeenth century still lags behind (After Calvin, 41).

Now, the million dollar question is why? My initial reaction is at least three-fold:

  • Since the Restoration, Nonconformity has suffered the fate of many who never claimed the victor's prize - marginalization. While sympathizers of the theological tradition of the Puritans have continued to uphold their legacy, the academic world has paid them little respect.

  • With the rise of the Enlightenment, the premodern questions, systems, and commentaries of the Puritans are often seen at best as provincial and at worst irrelevant.

  • While there has been a resurgence of research on the post-Reformation, much of the scholarship has been busy seeking to demonstrate with various amounts of academic dexterity Calvin's alleged agreement or disagreement with the Reformed orthodox and paying little attention to more constructive matters. Although this is changing - thankfully!

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Meditations: Translating Punishment!

Tim and Susan, look forward to reading more about your work. Thanks for the sneak peek! Chris and Joe, how about feedback from ETS later in the week?

Now, to start things off this week, here are a few 'meditations' on...well, you guessed it - John Owen.

For Owen, central to the Christian religion is substitutionary atonement. It is the “life, soul, and centre of all Scripture revelations” (Works 1:353, 358).

Because of the fall of Adam in the Garden, all are under the curse of the law. In this curse, death, both temporal and eternal, was contained. In other words, justice demands punishment for sin. So how could God punish sin and pardon sinners and remain just? Part of the answer to this question is what Owen calls the “conjunction” between Christ and his church.

In order to procure the salvation of the church, a translation of punishment was necessary – “namely, from them who had deserved it, and could not bear it, unto one who had not deserved it, but could bear it” (Works 1:353).

But for this translation of punishment to take place, there must be a peculiar conjunction or relationship between sinners and the one who is punished for their sins. Owen outlines a threefold relationship between persons in general and Christ and his church in particular.

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is natural. God has made “from one man (i.e. Adam)” all men (Acts 17:26). Every man is every man’s brother. Therefore, to be our substitute, Christ voluntarily assumed our nature. His relation to us did not arise out of a necessity of nature, but by a free act of his will he took on our nature. As Hebrews 2:14-15 (a hugely important text for Owen) states, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is mystical (or moral or spiritual). As head and husband, Christ died for the church. “The church designed to be the spouse of Christ in the counsel of God; whereon he loved her and gave himself for her” (Works 1:357; cf. Hos. 12:12; Eph. 5:25-32).

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is federal (or covenantal). This is the most important. For it is upon this relationship that the translation (or imputation) of our punishment to Christ and his righteousness to us is based. “So did the Lord Christ undertake to be surety of the new covenant in behalf of the church, Heb. 7:22, and thereon tendered himself unto God, to do and suffer for them, in their stead, and on their behalf, whatever was required, that they might be sanctified and saved” (Works 1:358).

At the cross, God’s justice and mercy meet. Without this relationship between Christ and his church, we are left in our sins. But with this “intimate conjunction” sin is punished and we are pardoned. To God be praised.

I leave you with this reflection by Owen. Take special note of the last sentence.

These are some of the foundations of that mystery of transmitting the sins of the church, as to the guilt and punishment of them from the sinners themselves unto another, every way innocent, pure, and righteous in himself…No heart can conceive, no tongue can express the glory of Christ herein…In due apprehensions hereof let my soul live – in the faith hereof let me die, and let present admiration of this glory make way for the eternal enjoyment of it in its beauty and fullness (Works 1:358, 359).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Justification of a Madman

I thought it time to post something on my research, though I am still in the infant stages. At present I am looking at iconoclasm in the Reformed tradition particularly in the lives of John Calvin, William Perkins, and William Dowsing. "Hold on, who was that last one?" That is what I hear when I tell people who I am researching. By many scholars he is remembered as an iconoclastic madman. While admitting certain flaws in Dowsing, my project is starting to become somewhat of a "justification" of this madman's iconoclastic campaign. In this post I share just a flavor of what I have found so far...

Tucked into lesser read verses of Judges 6 (vv25-27) is a rarely quoted section of the Gideon narrative. Before Gideon would be raised up to lead Israel in defeating the Midianites, he was told first to “tear down” his father’s altar to Baal and to “cut down” the wooden image that was beside it. These idols had seduced the affections of God’s people. Gideon believed, and the book of Judges supports, the notion that superstitions in Israel had to be condemned and physically removed if God were to bless their efforts in battle.
William Dowsing (1596-1668) is not remembered with the mystique of Gideon. But he thought of himself in those terms. Remembered by some as the Arch Vandal, he blazed into history as a radical figure in the English Civil War, commissioned by the Earle of Manchester under an Ordinance of 1643 to tear down “pictures and superstitious images” in the name of God and Parliament between 1643 and 1644. Rather than a Gideon, Dowsing is often thought more of as an Elmer Gantry, mindlessly opposing vice with no thought deeper than his own aggrandizement. However, while contextual differences abound, there remains a compelling similarity between the Mighty Man of Mannaseh and the meticulous Iconoclast General: both held that their actions were squarely in line with the will of God and that they were necessary for God to bless their respective countries…
Their [Calvin, Perkins, Dowsing] similarities and differences are many. Calvin and Perkins were theologians and preachers, Dowsing was a yeoman-farmer. Calvin and Perkins were writers, Dowsing a reader. What is compelling about grouping them together is that while Calvin and Perkins disseminated incredible influence, Dowsing represents the influenced. The theologians were men of letters, the farmer was a man of action. It was in the preaching and writing of William Perkins that Calvin’s theology of worship was solidified in England and made accessible to the common man. As Jonathan Long wrote, "The genius of Perkins is to be found in his ability to apply with striking effect the theology of the Reformation to the exigencies of Elizabethan England in the language of the average man." William Dowsing was the average man of the next generation who followed that theology to what he considered to be its necessary end: the Gideonesque “tearing down” of images and superstitions that had captured the affections of English Christians.

I am sure it will take a much different shape after a few more months of research, but this is where I am now. Let it be said among you, I have posted my first post.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Puritans through Victorian eyes

Our token female Conventicle initiate, Susan Allister, has made definite plans to pursue a doctorate here in Edinburgh, researching ... well, I'll let her explain herself:

Having graduated from English at Cambridge in 2005 (where I wrote an undergraduate dissertation about Puritan writing style), I moved to Edinburgh and did a taught MTh in Theology in History, where my dissertation focused on John Foxe and his portrayal of John Wyclif. I am now in my first year of doctoral studies. I am looking at perceptions of and attitudes towards Puritanism (or some aspect of it - I am yet to be more specific here) in nineteenth-century British historical work. I am specifically focusing on historical writings by Evangelicals including J.C. Ryle and John Stoughton, but am also looking more broadly at non-evangelical historians and groups. I am particularly interested in relationships between Puritanism and Evangelicalism, but also in ecclesiology, historiography, and the interfaces between theology, church history and literature.
We look forward to hearing insights from your research, Susan. (Hint: a post would be welcome!) Great to have you with us.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Plans for the weekend...

How about reading Augustine?

Why? See Carl Trueman's thoughts.

Muller: Question of Central Dogma

One of the most important contributions of Muller's work is his devastating critique of the infamous 'central dogma' theory. This theory is often associated with those who see a massive break between the Protestant scholastics of the seventeenth century and the Reformers of the sixteenth century.

According to this school of thought, the post-Reformation represents a hardening and rationalization of the more biblically balanced teaching of the Reformation by placing predestination at the center of theology. Well, miller begs to differ.

He gives this hard hitting blow,

The attempt to describe Protestant scholasticism as the systematic development of central dogmas or controlling principles – predestination in the case of the Reformed, justification in the case of the Lutherans – was, at best, a theological reinterpretation of the Protestant scholastic systems based on the efforts of constructive theologians of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to rebuilt theological system in the wake of the Kantian critique of rational metaphysics…At worst, the central dogma theories are an abuse of history that cannot stand in the light of a careful reading of the sources (PRRD 1.125-126).

Ouch! For more, see my notes PRRD 1:123-132.

Free Download Index to Owen's Works

Fellow Puritan enthusiast, Tony Reinke has provided yet another invaluable online resource. He has converted the index to volumes 1-16 of Owen's works into a PDF file. In addition, he gives details of how to purchase the works of Owen at 35% off!

For more infomation, go to The Shepherd's Scrapbook.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Thursday, November 9, 2006

New Book: Meet the Puritans

Has anyone seen Joel Beeke's new book Meet the Puritans? Comments?

New Series: Profiles of Reformed Spirituality

Michael Haykin over at Historia Ecclesiastica previews a new series entitled Profiles of Reformed Spirituality. The series will be published by Reformed Heritage Press and edited by Joel Beeke and Haykin.

Here is the general introduction of the series.

Charles Dickens’ famous line in A Tale of Two Cities—“it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—seems well suited to western Evangelicalism since the 1960s. On the one hand, these decades have seen much for which to praise God and to rejoice. In His goodness and grace, for instance, Reformed truth is no longer a house under siege. Growing numbers identify themselves theologically with what we hold to be biblical truth, namely, Reformed theology and piety. And yet, as an increasing number of Reformed authors have noted, there are many sectors of the surrounding western Evangelicalism that are characterized by great shallowness and a trivialization of the weighty things of God. So much of Evangelical worship seems barren. And when it comes to spirituality, there is little evidence of the riches of our heritage as Reformed Evangelicals.

As it was at the time of the Reformation, when the watchword was ad fontes—“back to the sources”—so it is now: the way forward is backward. We need to go back to the spiritual heritage of Reformed Evangelicalism to find the pathway forward. We cannot live in the past; to attempt to do so would be antiquarianism. But our Reformed forebears in the faith can teach us much about Christianity, its doctrines, its passions, and its fruit.

And they can serve as our role models. As R. C. Sproul has noted of such giants as Augustine and Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards: “These men all were conquered, overwhelmed, and spiritually intoxicated by their vision of the holiness of God. Their minds and imaginations were captured by the majesty of God the Father. Each of them possessed a profound affection for the sweetness and excellence of Christ. There was in each of them a singular and unswerving loyalty to Christ that spoke of a citizenship in heaven that was always more precious to them than the applause of men.” [“An Invaluable Heritage,” Tabletalk, 23, No.10 (October 1999), 5-6].

To be sure, we would not dream of placing these men and their writings alongside the Word of God. John Jewel (1522-1571), the Anglican apologist, once stated: “What say we of the fathers, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Cyprian? …They were learned men, and learned fathers; the instruments of the mercy of God, and vessels full of grace. We despise them not, we read them, we reverence them, and give thanks unto God for them. Yet …we may not make them the foundation and warrant of our conscience: we may not put our trust in them. Our trust is in the name of the Lord.” [Cited in Barrington R. White, “Why Bother with History?” Baptist History and Heritage, 4, No.2 (July 1969), 85].

Seeking then both to honor the past and yet not idolize it, we are issuing these books in the series Profiles in Reformed Spirituality. The design is to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of notable Christians with select passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketches and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the subjects’ contributions to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through their works. It is the hope of the publishers that this series will provide riches for those areas where we are poor and light of day where we are stumbling in the deepening twilight.

Other books in the series that are planned include ones on Jonathan Edwards, Horatius Bonar, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen and Hercules Collins.

I do believe one of the greatest, although sometimes overlooked, legacies of the Reformed tradition is its wedding of robust biblical-theology with warm-hearted piety. As Calvin argued in his Institutes, theology must be linked to piety and lead to doxology. May this series aid Christians recapture a passion for Reformed Spirituality and say with Calvin (and Paul!) when he summarized the Christian life: "we are not our own...we are God's!"

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Mind Your Manners

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart has an amusing review article of German historian Norbert Elias's The Civilizing Process. Leithart states,

Through a survey of etiquette books and other documents dealing with topics like table manners, blowing one’s nose, spitting, the deportment of the body, facial expressions, and the control of bodily functions, Elias argues that Westerners went through a gradual and uneven affective transformation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the end of the process, behaviors considered normal in the Middle Ages had been ruled “barbarous.” This civilized separation from barbarity signaled major changes in feelings of delicacy, shame, refinement, and repugnance.

Perhaps this explains why Martin Luther was not so concerned with suppressing certain bodily functions and John Owen was rather keen on his Spanish leather boots!

Monday, November 6, 2006

Life & Light of Scripture: Christ in the Old Testament

In a chapter entitled "Representations of the Glory of Christ under the Old Testament" in Meditations on the Glory of Christ, John Owen gives no less than seven "ways and means whereby the glory of Christ was represented unto believers under the Old Testament" (Works 1:348).

1. The glory of Christ was represented in the beautiful worship of the law. "All that Moses did in the erection of the tabernacle, and the institution of al its services, was but to give an antecedent testimony by way of representation, unto the things of Christ that were afterward to be revealed" (1:348). See also his exposition of Hebrews 9.

2. The glory of Christ was represented in the mystical account of Christ's communion with his church in love and grace as revealed in Song of Solomon. See also his preface to James Durham's commentary on Song of Solomon.

3. The glory of Christ was represented in his personal appearances. "This he did as a proeludium [prelude] to his incarnation...indeed, after the fall there is nothing spoken of God in the Old Testament, nothing of his institutions, nothing of the way and manner of dealing with the church, but what hath respect unto the future incarnation of Christ" (1:349-350).

4. The glory of Christ was represented in his prophetical visions (e.g. Is. 6:1-5; Jn. 12:41).

5. The glory of Christ in the incarnation was revealed in the OT, although it was not made clear until after the accomplishment of it (e.g. Is. 9:6-7). "I do acknowledge that...there remained much darkness in the minds of them unto who it was then made. For although they might and did acquiesce in the truth of the revelation, yet they could frame to themselves no notions of the way or manner of its accomplishment" (1:351). See also his discussion in Vindiciae Evangelicae.

6. The glory of Christ was represented in promises, prophecies, [and] predictions regarding his person, office, and work. We cannot "read, study, or meditate on the writings of the Old Testament unto any advantage, unless we design to find out and behold the glory of Christ, declared and represented in them" (1:351).

7. The glory of Christ was represented under metaphorical expressions (e.g. lily, pearl of price, vine, lion, lamb, etc).

Owen sought to take to heart what was said of Christ in Luke 24:27 - that he began with Moses and the prophets and expounded the things concerning himself. Owen states, "It is therefore manifest that Moses, and the Prophets, and all the Scripture, do give testimony unto him and his glory. This is the line of life and light which runs through the whole Old Testament" (1:348).

It is difficult to determine if Owen would say that Christ is necessarily the intended subject of every individual pericope, although he does seem more ready to apply a text to Christ than the sometimes reticent Calvin. But this may be due to the fact that most of Owen's writings are theological and occasional, specifically in his defense of the deity of Christ against Jewish and Socinian errors. In addition, unlike Calvin, he didn't write Old Testament commentaries. He was a one commentary man.

What he does affirm is that the scope of the entire Scripture (scopus Scripturae) is Christ. In other words, while an individual passage may not directly speak of or about Christ's person, office, and work, the glory of Christ is the centerpiece of the entire redemptive narrative - the end to which every passage ultimately points.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

John Owen: Doxological Theology

Following the Reformation, one of the issues addressed by the Reformed orthodox was the need to hammer out a definition of theology. For example, it is during this time-frame we find the classic definitions by William Perkins (theology is "the science of living blessedly forever") and William Ames ("theology is the doctrine of living to God"). For background to this discussion, see my notes from Muller's Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

It is no surprise that in his 'theologoumena' John Owen provides his own definition of theology. He defines theology as "the doctrine of God with regard to himself, his works, his will, his worship, as well as our required obedience, our future rewards and punishments, all as revealed by God himself [in Scripture] to the glory of his name" (Biblical Theology, trans. Stephen Westcott [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria], 16-17).

Without much elaboration, I think we can make at least the following six observations about this definition of theology by Owen.

1. Theology assumes the archtypal/echtypal distinction. This is to say that theology is not concerned with God's knowledge of God per se but the knowledge of God revealed in Scripture. It is apprehensive not comprehensive.

2. Theology is Scriptural, as it provides the basis for the knowledge of God.

3. Theology is concerned with the flow of redemptive-history (God's work, will, and revealed by God himself). This is played out in the sctructure of Owen's work which follows the main epochs of Scripture (e.g. Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, etc.).

4. Theology is theocentric, or more specifically (for Owen), it is Trinitarian.

5. Theology is pastoral, as it reflects upon the faith, worship, and obedience God requires of man.

6. Theology is doxological, as it is to the glory of God.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gates of Paradise: Evangelical Breakthrough

Happy Reformation Day!

In honour of the occasion, I leave you with these famous words of Martin Luther.

I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, "the justice of God," because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven...

If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God' s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who see God as angry does not see him rightly but look only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.

Quoted in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), p. 65.

Monday, October 30, 2006

This Just In...

TOMORROW AFTERNOON (31 October 2006) at 3pm, Professor Carl Trueman from Westminster Theological Seminary will be giving The MacMillan Lecture on Evangelism.

The lecture is entitled "Evangelising Postmoderns" and is open to the public. The venue is in The Presbytery Hall at the Free Church College on The Mound.

A Dying Testimony

Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ was John Owen’s final work – his swan song. It was written during a time when “weakness, weariness, and near approaches of death” loomed large over him. In fact, he never saw the book in its published form. On the morning of his death on 24 August 1683, his longtime friend William Payne came to bid him farewell. Payne said, “Doctor, I have just been putting your book on the Glory of Christ to the press.” To which Owen memorably replied, “I am glad to hear that that performance is put to the press; but, O brother Payne, the long looked-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world!

The book is a sweet collection of personal reflections on the glory of the person, office, and work of Christ as the “principal object of our faith, love, delight, and admiration.” Based on John 17:24, Owen states that these “meditations” were written for the benefit of “the exercise of my own mind, and then for the edification of a private congregation” (Works, 1:275). In other words, this work is Owen’s dying testimony to his church at Leadenhall Street in London and to the world.

In Owen’s mind nothing prepares us better for beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by sight in heaven than beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ by faith on earth. He states,

For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where he is, and beholding of his glory, what better preparation can there be for it than in a constant previous contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory? (Works, 1:275)

How shall we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus by faith in preparation for beholding him by sight? For Owen, this can only be done by diligent, prayerful reflection on the revelation of Christ in Scripture. So for a taste of what Owen means, I want to leave you with two meditations for your encouragement regarding the active and passive obedience of Christ. Both quotes come from a chapter entitled “The Glory of Christ in the Discharge of his Mediatory Office.”

The first reflects on Christ’s obedience to the law (cf. Hebrews 5:8):

The glory of this obedience ariseth principally from the consideration of the person who thus yielded it unto God. This was no other but the Son of God made man, God and man in one person. He who was in heaven, above all, Lord of all, at the same time lived in the world in a condition of no reputation, and a course of the strictest obedience unto the whole law of God. He unto whom prayer was made, prayed himself night and day. He whom all the angels of heaven and all creatures worshipped, was continually conversant in all the duties of the worship of God. He who was over the house, diligently observed the meanest office of the house. He that made all men, in whose hand they are all as clay in the hand of the potter, observed amongst them the strictest rules of justice, in giving unto every one his due; and of charity, in giving good things that were not so due. This is that which renders the obedience of Christ in the discharge of his office both mysterious and glorious (Works, 1:340).

Now on the glory of Christ in what he suffered.

We might here look on him as under the weight of the wrath of God, and the curse of the law; taking on himself, and on his whole soul, the utmost of evil that God had ever threatened to sin or sinners. We might look on him in his agony and bloody sweat, in his strong cries and supplications, when he was sorrowful unto the death, and began to be amazed, in apprehensions of the things that were coming on him, — of that dreadful trial which he was entering into. We might look upon him conflicting with all the powers of darkness, the rage and madness of men, suffering in his soul, his body, his name, his reputation, his goods, his life; some of these sufferings being immediate from God above, others from devils and wicked men, acting according to the determinate counsel of God. We might look on him praying, weeping, crying out, bleeding, dying, — in all things making his soul an offering for sin; so was he “taken from prison, and from judgement: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off from the land of the living: for the transgression,” says God, “of my people was he smitten,” (Isaiah 53:8). But these things I shall not insist on in particular, but leave them under such a veil as may give us a prospect into them, so far as to fill our souls with holy admiration (Works, 1:341).

I cannot read these lines without thinking of the following story about John Gresham Machen. In December 1936 Prof John Murray received a letter from a dying Machen. Despite being extremely ill, Machen preached over the Christmas holidays to several struggling churches in North Dakota. However, he would not make it through the holidays. Before New Year he was in the hospital. Though largely unconscious, Machen was able to dictate one final telegram to his friend John Murray. The note read, “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

What are you reflecting upon at this moment? What is the object of your faith, love, delight, and admiration? What will be your dying testimony? Both Owen and Machen knew that without Christ, life was meaningless and death was hopeless. They could savor Christ in their deaths, because they glorified him in their lives. They knew their faith would become sight. While these stories may fill us with admiration for these men, I hope they fill you even more with “holy admiration” for Christ.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Wesminster Conference 2006

Theme: “Where Reason Fails…”

5th December (Tues)
John Owen’s Doctrine of the Trinity and its Significance Today (Bob Letham)
Thomas Cranmer and the Anglican Enigma (Gordon Murray)
The Azusa Street Phenomenon (Stanley Jebb)

6th December (Weds)
The Puritan Doctrine of Atonement (Garry Williams)
“When is a war a just war?” (Ken Brownell)
William Tyndale – The Man who gave England her Bible (Phil Arthur)

Friends House (opposite Euston Station)
173 Euston Road

Cost: £35 (per person), £20 (students); additional £5 per day for packed lunches on request

Email conference secretary John Harris for registration and order forms:

Please register by 28th November if interested.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Puritan Meditation

In response to John's kind suggestion, I am posting the last third of the paper I had the opportunity of presenting at the Christianity and History Forum for Scotland meeting at Rutherford House last week. It describes a method of Puritan meditation that was probably fairly well-known among the godly throughout the seventeenth century. The excerpt pretty much explains itself:

I want to conclude by sharing in some detail the method of meditation that Stephen Egerton laid out in his abridgement of Richard Rogers’s Seven Treatises (called The Practice of Christianitie, 1618), which included some material from Joseph Hall’s Art of Divine Meditation (1606). Egerton’s abridgement was put in the form of a catechism, in question and answer format. The first question of Treatise 3 and Chapter 6 asks, “What is meditation, the second private help to a godly life?” (Richard Rogers had divided the means of grace into public and private categories, and meditation was considered a private duty, along with what he called watchfulness or spiritual vigilance, reading, private prayer and the like.) Egerton answers the question thus:
Meditation (being the companion of watchfulness and sister of prayer), is nothing else, but a deep and earnest musing upon some point of Christian instruction, to the leading us forward towards the kingdom of heaven, and serving for our daily strengthening against the flesh, the world and the devil: or (as others define it to the same effect), meditation is a steadfast and earnest bending of the mind upon some spiritual and heavenly matter, discoursing thereof with ourselves, till we bring the same to some profitable issue, both for the settling of our judgments, and for the bettering of our hearts and lives; the very life of meditation being application, and a laying home to the conscience of the point we think upon.
At the outset I’d like to point out two things that are mentioned in this summary that were very typical of almost all the teaching on meditation throughout history, especially during its development in the medieval period. First, meditation is essentially a mental exercise. Notice Egerton’s terms: ‘earnest musing’, ‘bending of the mind’, and ‘discoursed’. This is not to say there weren’t forms of meditation that involved the emptying of the mind or the transcendence of the mental faculties. So-called ‘apophatic’ and mystical approaches to meditation also have a history within the Christian church, but they were generally reserved for very mature saints and were rarely achieved or experienced. During the early modern period these alternate forms of meditation were highly suspect in the eyes of both Protestants and Catholics. The more common, pedestrian form of meditation is the one discussed here, and this required the full engagement of the intellect. Second, while meditation is carried out as a cognitive exercise, it is always supposed to lead to a change in one’s attitude or judgement, and ultimately a change in one’s behavior. Egerton calls application ‘the very life of meditation’, and says the point one thinks upon must be ‘laid home to the conscience.’ This was seen as the goal of meditation in all the literature. Writers from this period and those before wrote confidently of the power of meditation to change those who practiced it. Many religious communities within the Catholic Church were said to have been revived and reformed, primarily by a renewal of participation in this discipline. Witness, for example, the founding of the Society of Jesus and the explosion of Jesuit ministry and missionary activity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Everyone who entered that organization underwent an intense, month-long retreat at the outset, every day of which was filled with meditation on the life and Passion of Christ, on sin, on the kingdom of God and ultimately on their place in the plan of God. This regimen was based on a work by the Jesuits’ founder, Ignatius Loyola, called the Spiritual Exercises. Several of the Catholic books that were smuggled into England were based on Loyola’s meditative techniques, including Persons’s Booke of the Christian Exercise, mentioned earlier. Egerton insisted the benefits and fruits of meditation are “manifold”,
for it calls our minds out of the world to mourning, or mirth, to complaint, prayer, rejoicing and thanksgiving in the presence of God. It dries fleshly and bad humours of worldliness and earthly-mindedness. It quickens and awakens the dull and drowsy heart, that is ready to be sleeping in sin. There is no private help so available to gauge and sift, weed and purge, and as it were to hunt and ferret out of our hearts swarms of wicked and unsavoury thoughts and lusts, which otherwise will not only lodge and dwell, but also rule and reign in them; and to entertain and hold fast heavenly thoughts, which otherwise will run out of our riven heads, as liquor out of a rotten vessel.
He mentions two types of meditation, both of which he encourages all Christians to make use of. These are occasional and deliberate. Occasional meditations can occur throughout one’s day, just about anywhere. As he says, “they are occasioned by such things, as by the providence of God do offer themselves to our senses, eyes, ears, etc., as we go about the duties of our callings …” This kind of exercise entails paying attention to the things we encounter in daily life and reflecting on them for an edifying purpose. Egerton writes very little about this kind of meditation, but it did play a considerable role in the spirituality of the Puritan tradition. Thomas Manton had this to say about it:
God trained up the old church by types and ceremonies, that upon a common object they might ascend to spiritual thoughts; and our Lord in the New Testament taught by parables and similitudes taken from ordinary functions and offices among men, that in every trade and calling we might be employed in our worldly business with an heavenly mind, that, whether in the shop, or at the loom, or in the field, we might still think of Christ and heaven.
Jonathan Edwards compiled a list of phenomena in nature that illustrated various spiritual truths, using this same kind of technique, in a work called Images or Shadows of Divine Things. For example, he noticed that lightning often strikes the tallest objects first, and felt this was similar to the way God is said to oppose the proud, and give grace to the humble. And so in this brilliant natural wonder, Edwards believed, there was a spiritual lesson to ponder and take to heart.

Egerton spends most of his time describing the second type of meditation, which is called deliberate. He says it takes place “when purposely we separate ourselves from company, and go apart to perform this exercise, more thoroughly making choice of such matter, time, place, and other circumstances as are most requisite thereunto”. As the name implies, it is planned and deliberate. I’ll describe this method to you now in some detail. In answer to the question, "What ought to be the matter, or subject of our meditation?", Egerton says, not surprisingly, that Scripture should be our main source of material. Specifically, God’s nature and his works, or our own vileness and sinfulness, and "the great and sundry privileges which we enjoy daily through the inestimable kindness of God in Jesus Christ". The writings of godly men, he says, can also stimulate many holy meditations for those who read them.

Now, to the method itself. The process that Egerton describes consists of two stages. The first is intended to stimulate the intellect and the second is intended to arouse the affections and the heart, that is, to cause the devotee to love what is good and to hate what is evil, according to whatever it is he or she meditates on during the first stage. And the entire exercise begins and ends with a brief prayer, thanking God beforehand for the opportunity to reflect on His truth, and asking for His assistance, which Egerton says is absolutely essential – and afterwards, thanking him for the fruits produced by the exercise, and asking him to enable one to live a life “answerable to those heavenly thoughts and desires, which one has had and expressed in the performing of this duty”. The fact that prayers are encouraged as bookends for the meditation is consistent with the Puritan conception of the means of grace that has already been mentioned [earlier in the paper], which viewed disciplines like this as necessary for spiritual growth, but as powerless by themselves without the involvement of God’s Spirit. Prayer is made, among other reasons, to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in the process of sanctification.

After the opening prayer, we are to proceed to the first stage of the actual meditation, which deals primarily with the intellect. Here, the main task for us, according to the writer, is to take the subject we’ve chosen to meditate on, be it sin, or predestination, or God’s omnipotence or something else, and to think about all that Scripture has to say about that subject. We’re to let our minds range throughout the Old and New Testaments, to gather up and to reflect upon all that is said there about it. And here, Egerton suggests, it becomes useful to bring in some logic for help. He lists eight logical categories, taken from the philosophical method of a Frenchman called Peter Ramus, or Pierre de la Ramée, whose ideas were popular in the seventeenth century. Ramus’s method was seen as an alternative to traditional scholasticism, but it was actually fairly similar to Aristotelianism. Egerton’s readers are to cogitate on their subject from the standpoint of these eight logical categories. They are
  1. first, its definition or description;
  2. second, its distribution, that is, its parts or kinds;
  3. third, its cause or causes, especially its efficient and final causes;
  4. fourth, its fruits or effects;
  5. fifth, its class, or the subject wherein it is occupied;
  6. sixth, the qualities or properties adjoined to it or cleaving unto it;
  7. seventh, what is different from, opposite to or contrary to it; and
  8. eighth, what it is like.
And thus we are to muse upon our scriptural subject for some time.

Eventually we’re ready for the second stage, which involves the affections. The goal of this second and last stage, according to Egerton, is “to have a sensible taste, lively touch, and fruitful feeling of that whereof we have discoursed with ourselves, according to the former direction; that we may be affected either with godly joy, or godly sorrow, godly hope, or godly fear, etc.” He now lays out five instructions to bring about what he calls “the quickening and affecting of the heart”.
  1. First, we are to enter into a “lamentable and doleful complaining and bewailing of our estate, either in respect of the sin that abounds there, or the grace that is wanting”. This heightened awareness of our own wretched condition should be a natural result of the first stage of the meditation.
  2. Second, he says, we are to cultivate "a most passionate, vehement, earnest and hearty wishing and longing after the removal of this sin and punishment which is hated, and for the obtaining of the good things that are loved.” Now feelings of sorrow and conviction are to be trained on a specific goal, the removal of sin or the obtaining of grace and pardon.
  3. Third, he says, we should make "a humble and unfeigned acknowledgement and confession of our own weakness and disability, either to remove the evil, or to obtain the good proceeding from a broken, sorrowful heart”. At this point, towards the end of exercise, the meditation begins to express itself in prayer form, and now we are asked to confess our helplessness in the obtaining of what we desire – either the removal of sin or the obtaining of grace and virtue.
  4. Fourth, Egerton says, we should fervently petition God, "earnestly craving and begging at his hands, either the removing of the evil which our soul hates, or the obtaining of the good which it longs after”. Now the prayer takes full form.
  5. Fifth and finally, we are “to take cheerful confidence, raising and rousing up our souls after [all that we have experienced], such doleful complaining, hearty wishing, humble confessing, unfeigned acknowledging, and earnest craving of that we want”. Now, says Egerton, we are to look with hope and trust to the mercy of God, having faith “grounded upon the most sweet and sure promises of God, made to them that call upon him in faith, and upon the experience which the saints of God in all ages have had, of the success of their suits, who were never sent away empty, but either obtained that thing which they begged”.
So, from the intellectual analysis and reflection that a devotee has carried out during the first stage of this meditation, he or she would ideally draw out both sorrow and joy, fear and faith, during this second and final stage – and this, under gracious circumstances, would lead to a changed life. This was one form of Catholic contemplation, re-articulated through a Puritan grid.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Works of Jonathan Edwards Online

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University and companion blog are two of the finest online resources for anyone interested in 'America's premier theologian.' It is with great delight that I heard the news of The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online. Here is the announcement:

Works of Jonathan Edwards Online Public Beta

The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online is now available for use in a Public Beta phase. After thousands of hours of use, loads of email feedback from our initial Closed Beta team, and a great deal of internal QA testing, we are ready to make the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online available to the general public.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online is a world-class digital learning environment which will make Jonathan Edwards' entire manuscript corpus available for the first time in history. It is an XML-based, fully-searchable, thematically, scripturally, and chronologically tagged interface in which anyone can explore the entirety of Edwards' written thoughts.

Professor Ed Ayers, Dean of the College and the Graduate School at the University of Virginia writes that "this is wonderful in every way, especially with all the alternative ways of're not only making Edwards available in a profoundly new way, but you're also establishing a new standard for digital archives."

The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online presently contains all of the Miscellanies (Edwards' private theological notebooks) and some two hundred sermons, many of which have never been published. We are presently preparing the contents of numerous additional volumes for the official launch of our "Essentials" package in 2007.

Check it out! Explore the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online today.

HT: Between Two Worlds

PS - Chris, how about an update from last week's conference at the Rutherford House! What was that about transparencies?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Whoa! Check THIS out!

This is worth posting over myself. I just discovered this blog by Tony Reinke, called The Shepherd's Scrapbook. (Has anyone noticed how classy those Word Press blogs are? -- no offense, Blogger.) The blog includes a ton of info on our favorite early modern English Protestants, including an entire series on how to incorporate Puritan literature in the pulpit, and how to construct a real blank Bible like the one Jonathan Edwards used. (Now why haven't we thought of that here?) Consider us linked, Tony!

Dangerous Puritans?

Max Boot, political analyst and columnist for the LA Times, the Weekly Standard and other publications, recently reviewed a new book by Robert Kagan called Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century. Kagan challenges those who would describe the United States' foreign policy as aloof and isolationist, claiming Americans have been driven by "a desire to spread liberty at the point of a gun" ever since ... you guessed it, ever since the first Puritans came to New England. Writes Boot:
Wrongly interpreted as isolationists who wanted to escape the world by building a "city upon a hill," the Puritans were actually, in Kagan's telling, "global revolutionaries" who came to the New World to establish a base from which they could convert the Old World. Other early settlers were less religious and more animated by what Kagan calls "acquisitive materialism." Neighbors who might block their acquisitions — whether Indians or Spaniards — were brushed aside or attacked.
I haven't read Kagan's book yet, but the explanation of the New England settlers' motives above is basically accurate, in my understanding. Some questions that I pondered after reading Boot's review, about which I invite comment:

  • How much weight should historians put on the concept of 'precedent' in any nation's foreign policy? In other words, can and do things like 'a desire to spread liberty at the point of a gun' really pass from generation to generation, even from one (important) subculture within a nation to others over time, as suggested here in the case of the Puritans and their national descendants? Does the decision of the U. S. to invade Iraq really have anything to do with the advent of the Puritans 370 years prior? I'm not saying it does or doesn't, just pondering; and,
  • Is any cause worth spreading by coercion? For instance, if a strong and democratic nation is within reasonable proximity to a militarily weaker nation that is being cruelly oppressed by a tyrant, and the stronger nation has the ability (according to its best evaluations) to topple the tyrant and establish a society in which there is a significantly greater amount of liberty for its citizens, then is it ethically justified or even obligated to do so?; and if it is (either of those), at what point does the cost of such a venture, in terms of either casualties or money, become prohibitive?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Muller: Reformed Orthodox Prolegomena

Notes on PRRD I.108-122 are up.

In this section Muller contends,

“The theological prolegomena of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are, arguably, the most exhaustive and most finely tooled prolegomena in this history of theology…Without exaggeration, the theological prolegomena of the seventeenth-century Protestant scholastics provide a model for the development of a distinctively Protestant but nonetheless universally Christian or catholic theology – a model that Protestant theology today can ignore only at great risk” (PRRD, 1.109).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Calling All Early Modern Scholars: Free Conference

I want to highlight another upcoming (free!) conference that may be of interest.

Our friend Crawford Gribben is co-hosting an inter-disciplinary conference next month on 10 November in Manchester entitled Teaching Religion in Early Modern Studies. The day will not focus on research per se but teaching strategies in early modern study. This is an ideal opportunity for those who anticipate teaching in this field.

Here is a description of the event:

This event, a collaboration between three Subject Centres (English; History, Classics & Archaeology; Philosophy and Religious Studies) will explore interdisciplinary perspectives in the teaching of early modern religion. Charting the spectrum of student commitments, the workshop will feature discussion on such topics as 'Secularism, fundamentalism and the teaching of early modern religion', 'Teaching the reformation', 'Teaching religious literature', 'Teaching theology and religious ideas' and 'Teaching religious institutions and communities'.

Participants will include Michael Brown, Brian Cummings, Alan Ford, Jeremy Gregory, Crawford Gribben, Graeme Murdock, Gerald Hammond, Sandra Hynes, Peter Marshall, Alex Walsham and Lucy Wooding.

For more information, click here. Once again, the conference is FREE of charge. So don't delay; you don't have to pay!

The Lone Conventicler

As many of you know, tomorrow is the Annual Meeting of the Christianity & History Forum at the Rutherford House here in Edinburgh. Our own Chris Ross will be presenting a paper with the intriguing title "Catholic Contemplation through a Puritan Grid.'

Regrettably, I know a couple of us are unable to attend. Will any readers or members of The Conventicle be going? Or will Chris be the lone conventicler?

Chris - if you're not putting the finishing touches on the paper - could you provide us less fortunate folk with a synopsis of your presentation?

Thanks brother for your humble example of scholarship that is 'unto the Lord.' All the best tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

American Gospel

This skirts just shy of our historical period but has some pertinence nonetheless. Darrell Bock has posted a short and helpful review of a new book by Jon Meacham: American Gospel: God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. Here's part of what he said:
This book is one of the clearest and most interesting books I have read recently. Meacham takes us through a history of religion and the USA from the arrival of the pilgrims all the way to the present. The book is loaded with citations by the key players, in some cases several of them so the context of the citations is clear. In particular, Meacham focuses on the founding fathers who contributed to both the Declaration of Independence, where God is mentioned with various terms (from Creator to Nature's God) and the Constitution which does not mention him at all. The key idea of the book is that the US was designed to be a pluralistic state with no establishment of a particular religion or belief at its base, but with a respect for what Meacham calls "popular religion" which does and should have a role in our nation's public life ...
See the full review here at Bock's Blog.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Five Solas?

Dan Phillips from Team Pyro has raised an important and difficult question regarding the origin of the so-called five solas of the Reformation (a somewhat unusal and confusing pluralization of the Latin!). He asks, "Who first used the Sola's? What was the earliest documented use?"

While the truths expressed by the five solas were strongly defended by the Reformers, the formula as we know it most likely has recent origins.

In a review of Terry Johnson's excellent The Case for Traditional Protestantism, Chad B. van Dixhoorn, Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge University and Director of the Westminster Assembly Project, states the matter provocatively.

The popular delineation of these five solas is not a Reformation idea but a modern one. That is to say, if the Reformers were told to list their core doctrines they might as readily have spoken about salvation by the Holy Spirit alone in the church alone (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 23.1 [2005]: 119).

Likewise, several months ago at the reformation21 blog, our friends Derek Thomas (in Reformation "solas") and Phil Ryken (in The "Solas" as a Synthesis) gave similar answers.

This still does not answer the question as to who was the first to summarize the teaching of the Reformers in this way (perhaps James M. Boice and R. C. Sproul?). There is need for greater historical, theological reflection on this issue. Surely someone needs to set the record straight! Anyone up for the challange?


Books, Books, and More Books...

Justin Taylor tells how to get the newly edited, unabridged edition of John Owen's Overcoming Sin and Temptation for 40% off!

Monergism Books is also offering a reduced price for pre-ordering the Geneva Bible (1599 ed).

Monday, October 9, 2006

Muller: Reformation Prolegomena

In his discussion on the development of theological prolegomena in the early Reformation, Richard Muller makes the following four conclusions:

  • Early Protestant reflection upon theological prolegomena did not completely establish a uniform method for organizing a theological system.

  • Early Protestant reflection upon theological prolegomena does anticipate later developments by the Reformed orthodox.

  • Early Protestant reflection upon theological prolegomena provides ‘a useful gauge’ of the development of Reformed orthodoxy and its continuity with the Reformation.

  • The greatest contribution of the early Reformation to theological prolegomena was its reflection upon the problem of knowledge of God and human finitude and sin.
For more discussion, see my notes on PRRD I.96-108.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Beef up your Latin ...

Fellow Conventiclers:

In case you didn't hear about it, there is a (medieval) Latin reading group for postgrads with novice-and-up Latin knowledge at our institution, meeting Thursdays at 3PM, starting tomorrow. We're going through Aquinas' 'Five Ways' together. Right now it looks like the number of participants is small, but I'm sure the profs leading the group would welcome more.

If you want more info, email me. Please! I need some support in there ...

Perfer et obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim (Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Haykin on Owen on Sin and Temptation

Michael Haykin gives an excellent summary of Justin Taylor's and Kelly Kapic's forthcoming unabridged, updated edition of Owen's classic works on sanctification.

Folks, if you have never read Owen, buy and read this book!

Monday, October 2, 2006

Muller: Medieval Prologemena

Notes on Muller's PRRD I.88-96 on Medieval Prolegomena are up. Here is a summary.

The development of Protestant theological system did not occur in a vacuum. The process was complex. Instead of creating an entire new system and language to articulate their insights, the Reformers utilized and modified elements of extant theological systems available to them – particularly from the middle to late Middle Ages.


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