Wednesday, April 26, 2006

John Owen: Gospel Worship

Notes on Craig A. Troxel, ““Cleansed Once for All”: John Owen on the Glory of Gospel Worship in Hebrews.” Calvin Theological Journal 32 (1997): 468-479.

Troxel contends that Owen’s central concern (and our greatest need) is “to worship God according to the supremacy of His glory” (469). A point that is indeed crucial for Owen. However, Troxel’s proposal may have been better made if nuanced to take into consideration Owen’s insistence on personal holiness and communion with God. Nevertheless, Troxel ably defends his thesis, especially in relationship to Owen’s exposition of Hebrews. Troxel states, “Owen’s thoughts on gospel worship were informed and controlled in large measure by the book of Hebrews…it is in Hebrews that the supreme glory of gospel worship is more profoundly presented” (469).

Troxel begins his discussion by considering the nature of gospel worship. For Owen, the nature of gospel or new covenant worship was rooted in a “twofold reconciliation” which existed between God and humans on one hand and between Jews and Gentiles on the other. Consequently, “gospel worship is by nature the privilege of having access to the presence of God as a unified people of God” (470).

Troxel considers Owen’s defense of the supremacy of gospel worship to old covenant worship under two headings which are supplied by Owen: 1) the absolute glory of gospel worship and 2) the comparative glory of gospel worship.

The absolute or superlative quality of new covenant worship is a result of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and providing direct access to the throne of God. In other words, old covenant worship was veiled and restricted, but in the new covenant the ceremonial aspects of worship are abolished.

Troxel also highlights Owen’s argument for the comparative glory of gospel worship. He contrasts several aspects of old and new covenant worship such as the locations of worship (i.e. temple and heaven), the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Aaronic priesthood, and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice to the many sacrifices of the old covenant.

Troxel concludes by stating, “It is unmistakably clear that Owens’ views of worship were largely shaped by his presupposition that the relationship between the two covenants and their respective worship is profoundly typological. The book of Hebrews preeminently demonstrates that those institutions of worship that were peculiar to the nation of Israel were intended to prefigure gospel worship” (478).

This article provides a good introduction to one small but important aspect of Owen’s commentary. Troxel’s discussion of the superiority of gospel worship provides a window into An Exposition of Hebrews, not to mention a peek into Owen’s exercitations in a passing reference to his essay on the priestly office of Christ. Especially helpful is Troxel’s short discussion of Owen’s use of typology and his concise analysis of the comparative glory of new covenant worship. However, the complex interrelationship of the covenants with regards to gospel worship needs to be set within the wider hermeneutical and theological context of discontinuity and continuity between the Sinaitic and new covenants, a subject only briefly touched upon by Troxel. His discussion of typology also needs to be augmented by a consideration of the broader question for Owen regarding the relationship of promise and fulfillment. But these issues are far beyond the scope of his otherwise excellent article.

A Call to Aspiring Teachers, Lecturers, and Educators

Crawford Gribben has kindly brought to our attention a conference at Manchester on 10 November 2006 entitled Teaching Religion in Early Modern Studies. Here is a summary:

This event, a collaboration between three Subject Centres (English; History; 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, Alan Ford, Jeremy Gregory, Crawford Gribben, Graeme Murdock, Gerald Hammond, Sandra Hynes, Peter Marshall and Lucy Wooding.

Thanks Dr Gribben for thinking of us. For more information, click here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

New Book: Essential Commentaries for a Preacher's Library

Without wanting to sound self-serving, I am pleased to announce the release of The Essential Commentaries for a Preacher's Library, revised edition, by Derek W. H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale. In addition to recommended commentaries, we have also provided a select list of essential reference tools and systematic theology texts. Here is a summary of the book:

Our aim in compiling this booklet is to provide you with a concise and up-to-date annotated bibliography of essential commentaries on each book of the Bible. Special attention is given to exegetical and expositional commentaries that may prove particularly helpful for sermon preparation. We hope our recommendations will serve as a reference tool for any individual who is a teacher and/or student of God's Word, but especially pastors, elders, seminary and college students, Sunday school teachers, and serious Bible students.

The booklet is a revision and expansion of The Essential Commentaries for a Preacher's Library by Derek Thomas which was published in 1996 by Reformed Academic Press (RAP). Since its publication a host of new commentaries have emerged and are emerging - seemingly daily! So, like the first edition, this update is by no means an exhaustive list but an 'essential' list. Though the basic format has remained, several additions have been included.

We hope this reference aid will assist you in your study as you prepare to teach and preach God's Word. Ultimately, we want not just your love for commentaries to grow but your love for the Scriptures.

For order information, click here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fightin' Words!

I'd like to address, specifically, the anonymous person who left the comments below (in response to my two posts, "Elizabeth I appearing on HBO!" and "Think you've got stress?"); and more generally, to any Roman Catholic who finds her/himself here in our little corner of cyberspace; and most generally, to anyone with any interest in this blog, at all. Here are the comments (I've labelled them so that I can respond to them in an orderly way):

A) "The Protestant Reformation is dead.
The the protestant churches in Europe are dead. The protestant churches in the USA are dead and a confused Evangelical Movement is replacing it"

B) "Interesting all this so Henry the VIII could live a sexually deviant Life and Now the Catholic Church is now the largest Christian denomination in England so much for the Reformation"

First of all, let me say that we at the Conventicle welcome comments and opinions from folks of any religious persuasion and background. Though we may not agree with some of you, we're happy to engage in conversation and even debate with you, provided things are kept civil and relevant.

To the person who wrote these comments and (I assume you're the same one who) copied large chunks of material from (it appears) the Catholic Encyclopedia, let me say, it sounds like you're somewhat upset by what you've read here. Perhaps you are a devout Roman Catholic and have always been, or you were formerly a Protestant and had a bad experience as such, and converted to Catholicism. And then you read some posts here (I guess the two to which you responded) and you were angered. I'm sorry that happened. Let me just say a few words about these posts, and about the blog in general, and then I'll address these comments specifically.

Look again and you'll see that I wrote the "Stress" post from the point of view of English Puritans, not my own. My research addresses the use of Counter-Reformation (Catholic) spiritual literature by Elizabethan Puritans. In particular I'm trying to figure out how they could willingly appropriate Catholic works in the way they did, given their own experiences and their belligerent attitude towards Rome. I tried to portray how an Elizabethan Puritan might perceive all the major events of the late 16th century, and adopt such an attitude, in my post. That was the point. I'm actually not sure what you find offensive about the post on the Elizabeth movie. Perhaps you resent the heroic manner in which she and other Protestant monarchs have been portrayed. I can see how you'd feel that way. But on this point, please see my post on "Writing Truthfully About History" below, in which I address this tricky aspect of historical writing and revision. There's an old saying that might fit here: There are always three versions to every story: what you believe, what I believe, and the truth.

About this blog: To my knowledge, every one of the contributors to the Conventicle, including me, is a Protestant. Obviously that will be reflected most clearly when we write on matters of doctrine. But the main point of the Conventicle is not to trumpet the superiority of the Protestant faith over others (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist, Taoist, etc.) Our primary raison d'etre is spelled out in our banner: to provide each other, and other people who are interested in the Puritans, with information, insight and encouragement. I think all the contributors would say they admire many aspects of the Puritans, but none of them would say they agree with them in every point, doctrinally or otherwise. I like to celebrate Christmas, for instance. Puritans didn't. I don't believe the Pope is Antichrist. Most Puritans (and many conforming Church of England clergy) did, however. To put it another way, we started the Conventicle as a place for mostly scholarly, academic discussion about the topic -- not chiefly as an arena for doctrinal controversy.

Now, regarding your comments:

A) Yikes. That may be your perception, but it certainly isn't my experience. I belong to a Baptist church here in Edinburgh. Just last Sunday six people came forward and told how Jesus Christ had changed their lives, and they were joyfully baptized. Theirs is, by any measure, an evangelical Protestant faith. In evangelical churches here (the UK) and all over the world, people are getting saved from drug addiction, failing marriages are being healed, enemies are being reconciled, the poor are being rehabilitated and are prospering, and in general people are turning from aimlessness and despair to jubilance and purposefulness, through faith in Jesus Christ, in the context of evangelical Protestantism. I see it happening over and over and over again. Yes, evangelicalism is waning here in Europe, but so is Roman Catholicism. It's a post-Christian era. People are turning away from traditional organized religion altogether -- not just evangelicalism.

Regarding Protestant evangelicalism in the States: There are divisions and there is some confusion, but the outward face of conflict can hide the real unity that exists within, all too easily. John Tweeddale (another Conventicle contributor) and I have differing views on baptism -- a fairly important doctrine, we would both say -- and yet we share a profound sense of communion and fellowship with one another, because we both possess a personal, vibrant faith that is most accurately labeled as Protestant and evangelical. He is a Reformed Presbyterian. I am a progressive-dispensational Baptist. Are we confused? Divided? Hardly. We know whereof we differ, but on the most central doctrines we are united. And so stand the vast majority of American (and European) evangelicals. By the way, a religious group's unity doesn't necessarily signify its proximity to orthodoxy. Some cults are very unified. I won't even begin to comment on the divisions that have existed within the Roman Catholic Church throughout history.

B) First of all, whether the Protestant Reformation would have prospered in England if Henry hadn't wanted an illegitimate divorce is a matter whose discussion will have to be postponed. Your argument seems to rest on the principle that, if a religious movement thrives, in large part, as a consequence of an immoral act, then it must be heretical. A cruder and simpler way to articulate that might be to say, 'Good cannot come from bad'.

I would just respond by pointing out that Scripture itself is full of events that seem to discredit the validity of this principle. For instance, David's dynasty passed (by the Lord's will) to Solomon, whose mother was none other than Bathsheba -- whose husband David had murdered in cold blood. Since Solomon was born of such a union, does that render his writings of no use to the believer? Should we not read the Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes, because they were penned (in large part) by someone born of a relationship that began in immorality? What about the Old Covenant religion that flourished in the Temple that Solomon built? Was that heretical because it took place there -- a sanctuary known by his name? I don't know of any Protestant who would condone what Henry VIII did to Catherine of Aragon. But Protestants do rejoice in the spread of faith that at least partially occurred -- strangely enough -- as a result of his ghastly decisions.

On behalf of all the Conventicle's contributors, let me say to you and all other non-Protestants:

"No hard feelings ... come back if you'd like, and come often!"


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