Friday, December 28, 2007

Once more unto the 'resolutions' dear friends, once more...

At this time of year we are reminded of the resolutions of the New England pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards. If your New Year's resolutions are as basic as mine (do more sit-ups; read more books) then we might benefit from reviewing Edwards' meticulous list of spiritual commitments. One of the oft-quoted resolutions is 'Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live'. But this is just one among many striking phrases.

Here is one that stands out for me year after year:

'Resolved, to live so, at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.'

You can read all of the resolutions at the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics page.

May the Lord grant us wisdom and firm resolutions.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

– Matthew 1:21

"And let this be a comfort to all poor struggling and striving Christians who are not yet set at liberty from their lusts and corruptions: that it is the office of the Spirit of Christ as the king of the church, by his Spirit, to purge the church perfectly, to make it a glorious spouse. And at last he will fulfil his own office."

– Richard Sibbes , Glorious Freedom (1639)

Image: Rembrandt's The Adoration of the Magi, from Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Promises and Providences

A helpful post by John Bloom on the Desiring God blog today. He includes this quote from puritan Thomas Wilcox:

'Judge not Christ's love by providences, but by promises.'

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Calvin Translation Challenge

Quick challenge. Who can be the first to translate this phrase without Googling it?

Deum affigant ubicunque affingunt.

Hint: Calvin was in an iconoclastic frame of mind when he wrote this.

The prize for winning? 'Props' from our six readers!

Friday, December 14, 2007

God of the Sea

Last night Susan Hardman Moore (someone with whom we Conventiclers work very closely) presented a portion of her new book to a group gathered at New College, Edinburgh. The new book is called Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home. It chronicles the compelling stories of those who migrated to the New World in the 1630s...and decided not to stay. For many different reasons, a great number of early puritan settlers in New England felt the 'call of home' and journeyed back to Old England.

As I read the prologue to the book (an account of Susanna Bell's journey to America and back to England), a quote struck me. As Susanna left the shores of her native England, surrounded by only water, she was overwhelmed:

'We were eight weeks in our passage, and saw nothing but the heavens and waters. I knew that the Lord was a great God upon the shore: but when I was upon the sea, I did see then more of his glorious power than ever I had done before...' (quoted from Susanna's deathbed speech. See p. 4 of Pilgrims)

The thought of being far from shore, heading to a world unknown, is daunting. But it is interesting that as the creation became more vast, so did their view of God.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

New Gadget Thursday

Okay, we don't really have a regular installment called New Gadget Thursday – but it's not a terrible idea, considering the day and age we live in.

This is a smartpen, made by a company called Livescribe. It will record a lecture while you write notes, and allows you to find different parts of the audio recording based on what you were writing at the time.

I'm starting to think tomorrow's classroom may look a lot different from today's. (I just hope there will still be a need for teachers!)

HT: Technology Review

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Maybe the best New Year's resolution I've ever heard ...

Tim Brister at Provocations and Pantings suggests we all make 2008 The Year of the Puritan. (Funny – that's exactly what we had planned here at the Conventicle!):

As the 2007 year is quickly coming to a close, I wanted to offer a suggestion for this upcoming year. That suggestion would be to get acquainted with the Puritans. Allow me to offer five brief reasons why I believe this would be a worthy thing for you to do ...

So allow me to offer three ways to greet the Puritans in 2008 ...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rutherford House Update: A Ten Point Summary

I just received in the mail the recent Rutherford House (RH) newsletter. As some of our readers have asked us questions about the future of RH, I've itemized ten significant changes that have or are taking place. Most of the following information was taken from the Spring 2007 and Autumn 2007 newsletters. All quotations are from the Autumn edition.

  • In August Dr Bob Fyall resigned as Director of RH to begin serving as Senior Tutor of Ministry at Cornhill Scotland. This was preceded by the retirement of two senior statesman: Mr Duncan Martin, a founding Trustee of RH, as Treasurer in January 2007 and Prof. David Wright as Chairman in March 2007. Each man served RH with distinction.

  • In October the Trustees sold the home base of RH at 17 Claremont Park. The new owners will take possession of the property on 31 January 2008. According to David Easton, Chairman of the Trustees, the capital sum from the sell of the property will "provide a solid financial basis from which to develop the work of the House." After 31 January, RH will move into a temporary office accommodation. Contact detail will however remain the same.

  • The work of RH is far from over. Easton sates, "...after much thought and prayer, we are of the view that Rutherford House still has an important role to play, and have approved a development plan." One key component is the appointment of a new director who will "contribute to and enable others in (1) promoting biblical, expository preaching; (2) supporting ministers in their teaching, evangelism and pastoral care; (3) working with congregations to help fulfil their mission in the context of rapid change; (4) liaising with academia." The post will be advertised in the near future.

  • Concerning the two journal publications of RH, the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology--an outstanding journal focusing on Scottish and Reformed theology--will continue to be published twice a year. To my knowledge, Dr Alistair Wilson, Principal of Dumisani Theological Institute, King William's Town, South Africa, will remain as the editor.

  • The Rutherford Journal of Church and Ministry--geared towards ministers, elders, and church leaders--will be discontinued. Continuation of this resource is pending the appointment of a new director.

  • Under McGowan's leadership, the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference (EDC)--one of the premier international theological conferences--will continue to meet every two years.

  • The series of papers from the EDC will be made available from HTC. Recently, several papers were jointly published with Baker Academic (i.e. Justification in Perspective and Engaging the Doctrine of God). Given the excellent reputation of conference speakers, the pertinence of topics considered, and the high standard of scholarship reflected in the papers, I hope this will continue. However, the production and sale of literature (e.g. Rutherford Studies series) will be discontinued.

One board member recently encouraged me not to give up hope on the RH. The goals of 'Encouraging Effective Ministry' and 'Resourcing Biblical Ministries' are unquestionably the same, he assured me, but how they are achieved will undoubtedly change. The next few years will be crucial as the trustees seek to find a new director, redefine objectives, and plan for the future. Please keep this important ministry in your prayers.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Book Release: Tell Me the Story

For something completely different (if Chris's post on The Clash wasn't enough!)...Here's a great Christmas gift.

Last night, I had the pleasure of going to a book launch for the release of a fascinating new book by Alex MacDonald (Senior Minister, Buccleuch & Greyfriars Free Church of Scotland, Edinburgh) entitled Tell Me The Story.

Originally given at evangelistic guest services at Buccleuch, these story-sermons are based upon personal encounters with Jesus recorded in the gospels but are told from the first person perspective. From the back of the book, "The people who tell their stories include: Mary--the mother of Jesus; Gaius Maximus--centurion; Joanna's story of John, the Baptist; the woman at the well; Simon the Pharisee; the Gardarene demoniac; Jarius; Simon Peter; the rich young ruler; blind Bartimaeus; Zacchaeus; the Apostle John and Marcellus, a Roman officer. " These stories creatively narrate firsthand accounts of the greatest story ever told. Using a unique blend of imagination and proclamation, Alex puts you face-to-face with Jesus.

For more details, go to Christian Focus Publications.

Two of the sermons not in the book are available online. Unfortunately, there is no direct link. From the church's website, go to sermons>scroll down>audio stories>'He Died My Death' or 'He Invaded My Dreams.'

Here is what others have said about Tell Me the Story:

Having heard the chapter on Joanna I can appreciate the living situation from which the skilful telling of these stories has come. They are a practical and helpful reminder that we often fail to capture people’s imagination in telling the exciting story the narrative of the New Testament provides. The writer’s motivation is that of an earnest communicator of the gospel who commendably tries every helpful approach to help his readers and listeners to understand the greatest good news there is.

Derek Prime
Former pastor of Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh

Good stories have a way of getting round people's carefully constructed defences. Through imaginative retelling, these tales bridge the centuries. We feel like contemporary witnesses, participants even, seeing the truth and feeling its power. May these stories draw many to the hero of the biggest story of all.

Alasdair I Macleod
St Andrews Free Church

Alex MacDonald has managed here to present us with a series of stories that superbly manage to retell well historical facts in a way that magically take us to the lands and times in which they actually happened. A book for young and old, for seasoned preachers and truth-seekers, and ultimately for anyone who simply likes stories well told.

Manuel Reãno
Principal, Bible Seminary of Columbia
Medellin-Colombia, South America

In his new book Tell Me the Story, Alex MacDonald retells the ancient tale of Jesus in the contemporary tongue of narrative account. With delightful turn of phrase and surprising perspective, we are invited to hear afresh the storyline of the Gospel message...These dozen eyewitness accounts of Bible figures and their companions will stir your heart to treasure again the old, old story of Jesus and His love!

W. Duncan Rankin
Senior Minister
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Friday Fun: "English Civil War", c.1979

This may be the first time the words punk and puritan have ever shared the same blog-space.

Even though it's thirty years old, punk rock continues to exert a strong influence on pop culture today (cf. Goth culture, Green Day and David Beckham's hair). The Clash was one of the first groups to introduce this dynamic and sometimes jarring style of music to the world.

But their message was not one of nihilistic hedonism, like that of some other groups. The Clash were thoroughly political. Frankly, I don't agree with many of their leftist lyrics, but I do commend them for advocating something other than than illicit sex and drug use.

Take this song, entitled "English Civil War". It's about the threat of a second Puritan Revolution, which they felt was real in the late '70s. (Speaking of unexpected attacks, our hats are off to all Allied veterans this Pearl Harbor Day.) As Wikipedia, that quasi-reliable information resource, explains:
The song is derived from an American Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", written by Irish-born Massachusetts Unionist Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, which is in turn derived from the Irish anti-war song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. The American Civil War song was popular with both sides of the conflict.

Having learnt the song at school, Joe Strummer [R.I.P.] suggested the band update it. Those on the left saw the rise during the mid-1970s of far right groups such as the British National Front as alarming and dangerous omens for Britain's future. The song is about this state of politics in Britain and warns against all things uniformed and sinister - shortly after the song was first performed live at Rock Against Racism Joe Strummer said in an interview to the music newspaper Record Mirror:
"War is just around the corner. Johnny hasn't got far to march. That's why he is coming by bus or underground" (as in the song's lyrics).

Complete lyrics:

When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah
He's coming by bus or underground, hurrah
The woman's eye will shed a tear
To see his face so beaten in fear
It was just around the corner in the English Civil War

It was still at the stage of clubs and fists, hurrah
When that well known face got beaten to bits, hurrah
Your face was blue in the light of the screen
As we watched the speech of an animal scream
The New Party Army is marching right over our heads

All right

There you are ha ha, I told you so, hurrah
Says everybody that we know, hurrah
But who hid a radio under the stairs?
Who got caught out on their unawares?
New Party Army is marching right up the stairs

Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah
Nobody understands how it happened again, hurrah
The sun is shining and the kids are shouting loud
You gotta know it's shining through a crack in the cloud
The shadows keep on falling when Johnny comes marching home

All right Johnny
OK Johnny
All the girls go whoah oh oh oh
Whoah oh
Get his coffin ready
Cause Johnny's coming home

A trivia question: Of what actual military corps is the term New Party Army reminiscent? Leave a comment if you know the answer.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Frodo Baggins, Doctoral Student

For anyone whose life has been touched in some way by the spectre of doctoral research – an insightful comparison between the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the arduous process of earning a PhD:
On their way to file the dissertation, Sam and Frodo separate one time. The separation is the result of a deception spun by a fallen soul named Gollum -- aka, the doctoral candidate who will never finish.

Gollum lived with the ring for many years and it destroyed his life, mind, and well-being. Gollum is the living image of what Frodo will become if Frodo cannot complete his task. Frodo in fact pities Gollum, while Sam can only feel disgust and distrust for the miserable creature.

If the ring is to be destroyed -- and the dissertation finished -- new alliances must be formed. Without that fellowship, Frodo's quest is doomed. But a partner alone cannot provide enough support for the difficult mission.
Read Susie J. Lee's "Frodo Baggins, A.B.D." on the site of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

CT's Doug Sweeney: Top 5 Books on Church History

I'm glad to see one Edinburgian included – Dr. Andrew Walls, who has contributed much to our knowledge of missions history. Here's the list:

1. A History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker

2. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton

3. The Burning Heart: John Wesley : Evangelist, A. Skevington Wood

4. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in Transmission of Faith, Andrew Walls

5. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins

See the Christianity Today article.

Two new books

A great service has been rendered to the church by the Rev. Steven Dilday, pastor of Presbyterian Reformed Church of North Virginia, located in Warrenton.

Dilday has translated the massive Bible commentary of 17th-century puritan Matthew Poole into English. The first two volumes are now available. See the Matthew Poole Project site for more details (HT: R. Andrew Myers, who works on the Encyclopedia Puritannica Project – on which we hope to post more in the near future).

We're told the following about Poole's mammoth work in Beeke and Pederson's Meet the Puritans: With A Guide to Modern Reprints (pp. 485-86):

His first major work was Synopsis Criticorum aliorumque Sacrae Scripturae Interpretum (1669–1676), a five-volume work that compiled and abridged the work of biblical commentators from all ages and nations. The first four thousand sets sold quickly, and by 1712 it had gone through five printings.

The merit of this work is partly its wide range of contributors, including rabbinical sources and even some Roman Catholic commentators. The other strength is Poole's skill in condensing lengthy comments into crisp, helpful notes. This work, though famous in its day, was never translated from Latin into English.

An interesting note on Poole's diligence (and eccentricity):

Poole began compiling Synopsis Criticorum in 1666 and worked on it every day for ten years. His plan was to study from 4 a.m. until supper, stopping only to eat a raw egg at 8:30 a.m. and another egg at noon. In the evening he visited friends.

(What? No raw bacon to boot? If I had taken this approach to doctoral work, I might have finished my thesis by now, but I would also be divorced and perhaps bed-ridden from salmonella poisoning.)

Our pal Allen Mickle, who is an assistant to historian Michael Haykin, also recently informed us about what looks to be another worthy read: Great Themes in Puritan Preaching, edited by Mariano di Gangi. (Is it just me, or is everyone using Owen's image on their covers nowadays?)

From the Sola Scriptura site:

The Puritans, though often caricatured in modern days as narrow, gloomy and austere, were those with a deep and vibrant faith whose high view of the Word of God distinguished them as serious students of the Scriptures.

Their preaching was marked by careful exegesis of the great themes of the Bible and the practical application of these doctrines to the life of their hearers. Puritan divines such as John Owen, William Gough, Thomas Watson, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, and many others, were used of God to powerfully preach the riches of the Messianic work of Christ, the new birth, repentance, justification, sanctification, assurance, and many other foundational biblical themes.

In this volume, Dr. Di Gangi brings together the words and writings of some of these Puritan preachers and presents a summary of Puritan preaching on the great themes of the Word of God. May this book be used to revive in our hearts a love for biblical truth and a desire to see the Scriptures faithfully preached and applied in our day.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Puritan Preaching & Conscionable Hearing

Derek Thomas picks up this theme in an article in the new reformation21.

More Trueman on Owen

Derek Thomas talks with Carl Trueman about his latest book, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, over at reformation21. Here is the conclusion,

[Owen] is the supreme example of a theologian who integrates a Trinitarian doctrine of God (drawing heavily on Eastern emphases) in the context of an anti-Pelagian soteriological framework along with a thorough articulation of Protestant justification. He thus brings little originality to the table in terms of specific content; his genius lies in the integration of these different aspects of the Christian tradition, especially Eastern theologians such as Gregory Nazianzus, into one theological whole; and his application of this to the Christian life. He is the peerless Protestant Trinitarian practical theologian.

For more with Trueman, check out Edwin Tay's recent interview in our Conventicle Q & A series.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas: The Day and the Doctrine

In 1676 an anonymous tract was published entitled, The Holy time of Christmas defended against non-conformists and all other of its prophaners and opposers. These prophaners and opposers were our dear friends, the puritans. The opening lines of this book kind of tell it all:

‘Unhappy times in which we live! That we should all believe that sixteen hundred years ago, a certain man, who was also God, called Jesus, was born in a stable for the Salvation of mankind; and yet that there should be certain amongst us, who should count it a piece of Religion not to keep Holy the Day on which our said Great Redeemer was born. O unhappy times! O cross Manners of mis-instructed Zealots!’

The work has all of the balance and nuance normally associated with anonymity. However, reading this made me take a moment to think about Christmas ‘the day’ and Christmas ‘the doctrine’. I wondered if the puritan rejection of the day might give us pause to examine our own reception of the doctrine.

I love Christmas. Our tree has been up for over a week! I like lights, Jimmy Durante narrations, early experiments with clay-mation reindeer, and carols of most descriptions. I like to walk in the city centre with my family and watch shoppers. I confess I can be a trappings kind of guy. That is why when I read of the puritan rejection of the day, I immediately think, ‘Spoil sports!' But deeper thoughts beckon...

Puritan sermons, tracts, and confessions tell us that they treasured the doctrine of the Incarnation. They gloried in the Word made flesh. They simply rejected a day that had been so closely associated with the Catholic ecclesiastical calendar. Our dear anonymous critic made the mistake that many contemporary believers do: he so treasured the day that it actually became the doctrine. Thus he surmised that to reject the day, with all of its feasts and fancies, was to belittle the doctrine.

The question is, if the puritans treasured the Incarnation and appropriated it into their entire year, why then would believers (like me!) be offended that they did not celebrate the day? Could it be that we have made the two inextricably linked? If a day should come when economies fail, Bing Crosby is forgotten, and carols cease – would the glory of the Incarnation be enough? Or are these just the ramblings of ‘mis-instructed Zealots’?

Obviously, I do not believe that celebrating the day belittles the doctrine. I will also grant that puritan rhetoric erred many times by vilifying those who celebrated the day. But I do believe that Christmas the day can be dangerously sentimental. In these days of advent the world sings together as though this child in the manger made no demands. We talk of His peace, but forget that he also brought a sword.

To celebrate the beginning of the season when we focus on the Incarnation (and the Salvation it promised!), I offer this parting thought:

Wonted scenes and ancient sounds
bring word of Mary’s treasure found
by shepherds dazed and rapt by the sight
of a child, still, and wrapped in night.

When God said ‘hush’ to pride and fall
through a Babe asleep in a lean-to stall,
prophets smiled at the angels’ delight:
The Word, flesh, and wrapped in night.

As subjects bowed and heavens danced,
Joseph touched gold and sensed fragrance,
but none could dim this wakeful sight:
The Son, here, and wrapped in night.

The stillness came and sped away,
the sun emerged and birthed a day;
through many more he knew our plight -
The Man, once still, and wrapped in night.

From stall to cross, a span so brief -
from Mary’s arms to the side of a thief,
from splintered stable to Roman spike -
The Lamb, once held, and wrapped in night.

Today with shepherds we attend
a Child at rest in her arm’s soft bend ,
come down to rise to Calvary’s height-
in darkness deep, but wrapped in light.

Have a merry and doctrinal Christmas,

Tim Bridges

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Conventicle Q&A with Dr. Carl Trueman

Carl Trueman is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was previously Lecturer in Theology at the University of Nottingham (1993-1998), and Senior Lecturer in Church History at the University of Aberdeen (1998-2001). He has also held the position of Editor of the theological journal, Themelios, since 1998.

Dr Trueman, your early research interest was on salvation in the writings of the English Reformers, as indicated in the title of the published version of your doctoral dissertation, Luther’s Legacy: Salvation and English Reformers, 1525-1556 (Clarendon, 1994). Could you share with us the thrust of this work and some of the factors that led you into serious research in this area?

Initially, I was interested simply in examining the theology of a number of early English Reformers against the background of the continental Reformation. As you know, the English Reformation was much later in its development and articulation of a formal Protestant theology than, say, the members of the Schmalkaldic League or the Swiss Confederation. I wanted to find out what was going on in the minds of select intellectuals during the period from 1525, when William Tyndale made his abortive first attempt to publish the New Testament in English.

In approaching the subject, I examined very carefully the influential thesis of William A. Clebsch, who argued that Tyndale and others started as thoroughgoing Lutherans and then moved, under the impact of Reformed theology, to more Reformed positions. My reading of the primary texts quickly led me to question this: I examined very carefully how Lutheran texts were translated into English by Tyndale, and edited and modified in the process, and how this process of translation and modification, along with details of Tyndale’s biography, indicated that his Reformation theology involved the reception of Luther’s thought into a previously established Erasmian framework. This led him to significantly different theological accents from those of the Lutheran originals.

Having established this pattern in the writings of Tyndale, I extended the analysis to others treated by Clebsch – John Frith and Robert Barnes – and showed how his reading of these figures also massively overestimated the purity of their initial reception of Wittenberg theology.

The second part of the dissertation looked at the writings of John Hooper and John Bradford, again paying close attention to their reception of continental theologians. My most important insight in this area was the discovery that Hooper, often seen as simply an Anglican echo of Heinrich Bullinger, was significantly influenced by Philip Melanchthon in his anti-Calvinist view of predestination. I effectively showed that Hooper was not simply a proto-Puritan; he was arguably a proto-Arminian as well. That discovery surprised nobody more than myself!

On the whole, I think the work is flawed in the sense that I was, by and large, dependent in some sections on nineteenth century editions, which I would not use today; but I do think the basic thesis and historical findings are sound.

Since 1994, Reformed Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century seems to have been of special interest to you, especially the figure of John Owen. What led to this shift of interest from the 16th to the 17th century, and on Owen in particular?

Four factors fed into this shift.

First, my interest was never in sixteenth century theology so much as in early modern English Protestant theology. So my later research is not a break with the earlier project, merely an extension of it.

Second, my early work is really focused on the nature of reception, though I did not think of it in these terms at the time. I thought I was just doing history; what I was actually examining was the reception of continental texts and concepts in an English context. My approach to Reformed Orthodoxy has been focused on the same: the reception of continental Reformation, Catholic, Renaissance, medieval, patristic, classical, and philosophical texts and thought in a seventeenth century English Reformed context.

Third, numerous friends and colleagues challenged me in the mid-nineties to work on the connection between medieval scholasticism and Reformed Orthodoxy. John Heywood Thomas, the Tillich and Kierkegaard scholar, encouraged me to examine how Aquinas was used by the Reformed; and the work of Richard Muller and Willem Van Asselt, reinforced by personal friendship, motivated me to look at the English scene in the same way they had approached that on the continent.

Many delightful hours with Richard and Willem and the members of the seminar group at the University of Utrecht, combined with teaching the thought of Thomas Aquinas as an elective at the University of Nottingham, also helped to fuel my interest in seventeenth century reception of Catholic philosophy by Reformed theologians.

I should probably mention that the writings of Quentin Skinner also helped to clarify one or two methodologically significant points for regarding the nature of intellectual history as a discipline, though this came more after the first Owen volume when a friend, the Cambridge historian Richard Rex, brought QS to my attention when he and I were both thinking of writing a joint article refuting the notion of a strong Lollard influence on William Tyndale – which article never came to fruition, thanks mainly to my own move to the States.

Fourth, I had already had a strong personal interest in Owen for many years. J. I. Packer’s work had introduced the writings of JO to me as a young Christian (while reading Knowing God on a flea-ridden hostel mattress somewhere in the far east of Turkey in the mid-1980s!), and he seemed an obvious and highly sophisticated of exactly the kind of Reformed theologian who would be susceptible to the kind of analysis in which I wanted to engage.

To date, you have published two books on Owen: Claims of Truth: the Trinitarian Theology of John Owen (Paternoster, 1994), and the very recent John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Ashgate, 2007). What are some areas of development between them?

I would say a number of areas represent development.

First, there is a methodological advance. The development of Early English Books Online has allowed me access to more of the early books which Owen was himself reading and citing than I had in 1996 when working on The Claims of Truth. Thus, the wider literary-theological context is much broader and more satisfying in the second book.

Second, I address issues of the attributes of God, the covenant of redemption, and justification in the later volume which I did not do in the earlier. In these discussions, I have a better understanding now than in 1996 of how the Reformed Orthodox connected exegesis, theological synthesis, polemical concerns, and pastoral priorities.

Frankly, thanks to the publication of Richard’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, I came at Owen the second time around with a much better grasp both of medieval theology and of the wider seventeenth century context. I also have a decade of teaching Owen behind me, with all of the stimulating cut-and-thrust in the classroom which that brings with it and which helps to sharpen one’s wits and approach to the subject.

In your assessment, what is the standing of John Owen in the history of Protestant theology?

Until recently, he has been unjustly neglected by historians of theology: he was on the wrong side of the debates, politically and theologically, in the seventeenth century; and, when his side lost, he was consigned to oblivion. Nevertheless, he is one of the greatest Protestant theologians ever to have lived; and you do not need to trust me, or even J. I. Packer, on that point.

Two senior scholars to whom I owe much for encouraging me to research Owen also hold the same view, even though neither could be described as card-carrying sympathizers with his overall theology: John Webster and the late Colin Gunton. Owen’s grasp of the tradition, of the biblical languages, of the connection between exegesis and theological synthesis, all mark him out as an exceptional figure in the history of theology.

What relevance might Owen have for the contemporary evangelical church?

He offers a model for doing theology which connects biblical exegesis and systematic theology in a way that respects trajectories of previous theological discussion while at the same time grounding everything in pastoral concerns. He also demonstrates how the doctrine of the Trinity should permeate Christian thinking and devotion. Above all, he understands the holiness of God and shows how theological thinking should proceed in this context.

I get so tired of modern evangelical writers, whether biblical or theological, who have no grasp of the holiness of God and who treat scripture just like any old book, theology as a kind of entertaining crossword puzzle, and themselves as God’s gift to the church. God is not mocked, especially by those for whom theology seems to be little more than an idiom for self-promotion and patronizing previous generations. Owen was not a perfect theologian; but he knew the importance of that with which he was dealing, and his own comparative unimportance in the grand scheme of things.

Many thanks Dr Trueman for taking time to share your thoughts with us!

A selection of Dr Trueman's publications:

“A Small Step Towards Rationalism: The Impact of the Metaphysics of Tommaso Campanella on the Theology of Richard Baxter” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, ed. Carl R. Trueman and R. S. Clark (Paternoster, 1997).

“John Owen's Dissertation on Divine Justice: An Exercise in Christocentric Scholasticism”, Calvin Theological Journal 33 (1998), 87-103.

Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Bryntirion, 2000)

“Puritan Theology as Historical Event: A Linguistic Approach to the Ecumenical Context” in Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise, eds. Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker (Baker, 2001).

“The Theology of the English Reformers” in The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology, eds. David Bagchi and David C. Steinmetz (CUP, 2004).

The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism
(Christian Focus, 2005)

NB: If you enjoyed this short interview, why not check out our other ones?:
More to come, God willing! ...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Happy Monday! :oD

From our Oxford pal, Richard Snoddy:

There’s a lot to be said for studying someone who you enjoy reading. I was working through some manuscript sermon material yesterday where Ussher considers Christian joy. He says, ‘I would be a Christian, bycause I would be more merry then another’. Gloomy Puritan? I think not.
Read the rest ...

Friday, November 23, 2007

And now for something completely different: the "semantic web"

(From Technology Review) Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the WWW, talks about the next stage of Internet technology, the "semantic web".

I'm particularly interested in how this might change the way we correlate and harmonize different forms of historical data, and the speed at which we can do so. PhDs might be written in three months, rather than three years!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Richard Rogers: Three motives to thankfulness

From Richard Rogers's (1550/1-1618) large spiritual manual, Seven Treatises (1603), three factors that produce thankfulness in the saint, leading him or her to return thanks in prayer:

"Thanksgiving is that part of prayer, in which we, being conferred by some benefits which in favor God bestows upon us, are to love and praise him, and show forth the fruits thereof.

In the which description we see three duties to be required of us, and three motives or persuasions to draw us to perform them. I will first mention these latter ...

1. The first motive is knowledge and remembrance of some benefit received or promised us.

Which may be seen in the thanksgiving of all God’s servants, as in David after that he had received the savory and seasonable counsel by Abigail, and in Abraham's servant, when God had blessed him in his journey to Aram. The same may be said of the leper, when he saw that he was cleansed, after he had made request for it to Christ.

And when there is no knowledge and due consideration of some particular mercy, how can there be any true and hearty thanksgiving, howsoever in words there be a protestation for fashion sake? As in them who say, we must thank God for all, when yet they consider of nothing that moves them thereto.

2. The second motive to thanksgiving is joy and gladness of heart for the benefit which we think of, or call to mind.

As appears by the Psalm, in them which returned out of the captivity, saying, When the Lord brought again (that is, turned away) the captivity of Sion (his Church), we became like them that dream: then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with joy.

And so (to apply it to ourselves) except we find such sweet comfort in God’s benefits either already received, or by faith embraced, being promised; the duty of thanks can in no good sort be performed. But that is verified which is commonly spoken, that is, a work is untowardly done, which is not cheerfully gone about.

3. The third thing that should move us to this duty of thanks, is that which is most fit to work the foresaid joy, and that is a persuasion, that the benefit for which we give thanks comes to us from God’s fatherly love, which is a far greater matter to make us glad, than the benefit itself which is bestowed on us.

For if we should fear, that it is sent as a snare to entangle us, or to heap hot coals upon our head, and to make our condemnation the more just, small sweetness should we find therein, but that which would be quenched with that fear, and by an accusing conscience.

As for example, what hearty joy, or sound thanks could that of the Pharisee be, though in tongue he gave the one, and in countenance showed the other, when he had not this persuasion?

But God be thanked, it is not so with his beloved ones, but they knowing that their most loving Father hath given them his Christ, which is the greatest, doth much more of favor give them all other things, which are of less account; which both rejoice their hearts when they remember any of these his blessings, and stirs them up to a much more hearty performing of this duty [of thanksgiving]."

Learn about the spiritual habits of the New England puritans in Charles Hambrick-Stowe's The Practice of Piety (1986):

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Some things to be thankful for, and an eschatological paradigm shift(?)

A recent Christianity Today article by Collin Hansen notes some very encouraging trends in the US. For instance, people between 18 to 30 are today more likely to oppose abortion than any other age group. Crime and drug use are down, academic scores are up, etc., etc.

But Hansen also draws implications from a connection between past religious revivals and the end-time views that prevailed during those revivals:

During two great awakenings before the Civil War, American Christians favored postmillennialism, a belief that the kingdom of God will expand during a millennial age of gospel preaching and social progress ...

But this view became much less popular as the revivals faded, the Civil War dragged on, and theological liberalism spread in America and Europe. Premillennialists saw these developments as signs of the end, when Christ would finally return to rule ...

If the trends identified by Wehner and Levin continue, it's possible evangelicals will see another paradigm shift in their eschatology.

So if things keep going well, more people will begin to subscribe to a postmillennial interpretation of Scripture (held by most puritans, by the way, but not by me.)

I would hope that intelligent Christians would base their understanding of Scripture on sound principles of exegesis (whether these lead them to pre- or postmillennial convictions), rather than societal trends, but I understand how what Hansen is saying could occur, especially at the lay level. An interesting notion, for sure. Feel free to comment.

"Hard and difficult beginnings"

Tomorrow I hope to post a brief summary about Pilgrims, a brand new book debuting this month in the UK, and in the US in January, which tells the account of those who emigrated from England to the New World during the 17th century, but then, for various reasons, returned to their home country.

In preparation for tomorrow's Thanksgiving holiday in the States, I thought I would share the following excerpt from William Bradford's account of the establishment Of Plymouth Plantation. It begins following the drawing up and signing of the original Plymouth covenant, upon the pilgrims' landing near Cape Cod:

After this they chose, or rather confirmed, Mr. John Carver (a man godly and well approved amongst them) their governor for that year.

And after they had provided a place for their goods, or common store (which were long in unloading for want of boats, foulness of the winter weather and sickness of divers), and begun some small cottages for their habitations; as time would admit, they met and consulted of laws and orders, both for their civil and military government as the necessity of their condition did require, still adding thereunto as urgent occasion in several times, and as cases did require.

In these hard and difficult beginnings they found some discontents and murmurings arise amongst some, and mutinous speeches and carriages in others; but they were soon quelled and overcome by the wisdom, patience, and just equal carriage of things, by the governor and better part, which clave faithfully together in the main.

But that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in two or three months' time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inaccommodate condition had brought upon them.

So as there died sometimes two or three of a day in the foresaid time, that of one hundred and odd persons, scarce fifty remained.

And of these, in the time of most distress, there was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them.

In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered.

Two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend elder, and Myles Standish, their captain and military commander, unto whom myself and many others were much beholden in our low and sick condition.

And yet the Lord so upheld these persons as in this general calamity they were not at all infected either with sickness or lameness.

And what I have said of these I may say of many others who died in this general visitation, and others yet living; that whilst they had health, yea, or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them.

And I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.

Find this and other interesting primary-source excerpts related to New England puritanism in The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry, edited by Perry Miller.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Add to that the fact that they weren't dispensationalists ...

No, I'm kidding. (Mostly.)

I almost missed this post: about a week ago, Michael Haykin mentioned some things he thinks the puritans got wrong.

What? Did I just write that?

Eat, Drink and Relax

"Think the Pilgrims would frown on today's football-tossing, turkey-gobbling Thanksgiving festivities? Maybe not."

An article in Christian History & Biography on the pilgrims' original Thanksgiving recreation ...

Image from USS Plymouth Rock Ships Assoc.

Partakest thou of our poll!

... in yonder right side-bar.

Wait, I see that we already have 11 responses ... that can only mean all our contributors have participated, and both of our visitors have filled it out twice!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

You only have 11 more days ...

... to download a FREE, professional-quality, unabridged audio version of Jonathan Edwards's classic, Religious Affections, from ChristianAudio – read by Simon Vance, a wonderfully articulate Brit. (Use coupon code Nov2007.)

More than anything else, human beings need the ability to discern true from false religion, saving faith from damning, counterfeit faith. Edwards explains the crucial difference in this text.

As one would expect, it speaks as relevantly today as it did in 18th-century New England:
"It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ, all along hitherto. It is by this means, principally, that he has prevailed against all revivings of religion, that ever have been since the first founding of the Christian church ..."
Get it! Hear it! Heed it!

(And why not get the hardcopy via

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Those Wild & Crazy Puritans

Earlier this week Tony Reinke told how you can listen to J. I. Packer's lectures on the Puritans for free at RTS on iTunes U. Besides hearing a fabulous firsthand account of the puritans (!), you can hear Packer explain, as only he can do, how the puritans liked to 'whoop it up.' I kid you not. Listen to the first lecture to discover these worldly saints as you never have before.

I wanted to wait a few days before I posted this in order to give space to the outstanding Conventicle Q & A with Prof. Patrick Collinson. On behalf of the rest of the conventiclers, thank you Chris for conducting this interview and for your efforts to make this blog an online database for those wild and crazy puritans.

Barzun: 100th Birthday

Some of our readers might be interested to know that on November 30, 2007 Jacques Barzun turns 100. Perhaps best known for his resourceful book Modern Researcher (with Henry F. Graff) and his awarding winning From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Culture, from 1500 to Present, Barzun is one of the foremost cultural critics and intellectual historians of our day.

The New Yorker and The New Criterion have posted two excellent articles to commemorate the occasion. Here is a website devoted to the event.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Conventicle Q&A with Prof. Patrick Collinson

Prof. Collinson (right) with other scholars at the British Academy conference in September

Patrick Collinson is Emeritus Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He is a preeminent historian of post-Reformation English religious history, and his name will be familiar to anyone who has researched the early modern period in depth. His first major monograph, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, was a ground-breaking work that changed the way many conceived the role of puritanism as a movement within the Church of England. (I hope to post a detailed summary of it here soon.) Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote about it in the Sunday Times: "His erudition is unrivalled, his industry indefatigable. He has traced the Puritan underground movement in detail, identified its agents, discovered its local centres and secret workings."

Prof. Collinson has written several books and articles about puritanism and related subjects. Recently he published a very readable, concise volume about the Reformation. I had the privilege of chatting with him at a recent British Academy Conference in London, and asked if he would be willing to answer a few Conventicle questions. Fortunately for us, he obliged. We are very thankful for his contribution.

Some of Prof. Collinson's comments may puzzle those who draw on the writings of the puritans for spiritual enrichment, primarily. It will help to remember that he has developed his career as a historian of the period in which the puritans lived, first and foremost – not as a proponent of any particular theological tradition. To what extent should one's personal religious views affect the way he or she writes history? I will leave that discussion for the comments section. Feel free to voice your thoughts.

Again, many thanks to this founding father of contemporary puritan studies for sharing his time and his wisdom.

What factors led you to research the puritans?
The subject was proposed by my supervisor, Professor Sir John Neale. He needed to know more about the Elizabethan puritans as grist for the mill of the second volume of Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments on which he was at the time engaged. Moreover, he had recently been sent all the notes and drafts of a thesis on the subject which his pupil Edna Bibby had been working on when she sadly died (in the year that I was born, 1929). This material was handed to me, and I was given a room in University College London to keep it in. It was an odd thing for Neale to have done. I would not say to a doctoral student: 'Oh, by the way, here is the greater part of a thesis on this subject which someone else already wrote.' The Bibby archive saved me time. But I did a great deal of work myself – more than at any time before or since.

Given my own religious background, and the fact that I had taken a particular interest in ecclesiastical history as an undergraduate at Cambridge, I found that I was not averse to undertaking a major study of the Elizabethan puritans. (Unlike A.L. Rowse who, reviewing my first book for the English Historical Review, called it 'a thoroughly rebarbative subject'.)

Many scholars view the publication of your book, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, as a watershed moment for the contemporary study of post-Reformation English religious history. What, in your view, differentiated your work from studies that came before it?
A flattering comment, but perhaps justified. What differentiated? I was not writing denominational history, and I include Anglicans among the denominations. Nor was I writing the kind of history which Marshall Moon Knappen wrote in his Tudor Puritanism, described in its subtitle as 'A Study in the History of Idealism'. I have no interest in 'idealism' (if such a substance exists), nor in its history if it does. My work was archive-based to an extent perhaps only possible in the University of London in the years of my doctoral research: 1952 to 1956. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that I saw everything relevant to my subject, and especially the manuscript evidence.

What I contributed to our understanding of puritanism (developed and refined in many other publications over the next forty years) was that it (if 'it' ever existed) amounted to much more than the peripheral deviance from the Church of the Elizabethan Settlement, and the beginnings of the Nonconformity of the next four centuries. It was not outwith the Church of England but the most dynamic force within it. That argument depended upon a distinction between moderate and extreme elements (something we now associate with Islam and Islamicism) which was at the core of my original work. There were traces of naivety (and perhaps of idealism!, certainly of Guardian-reading pinkness) in my portrayal of moderate puritans like Archbishop Edmund Grindal (if Grindal was some kind of puritan). That has been thoroughly exposed in the acute and unsentimental work of Elisha to my Elijah, Professor Peter Lake.

With what virtues of the puritans are you most consistently impressed or inspired?
History fails to impress or inspire me. I refer you to a quotation from Lord Acton, used as a motto prefacing The Elizabethan Puritan Movement: 'I think our studies ought to be all but purposeless. They want to be pursued with chastity, like mathematics.'

At present, what aspects of puritan history are still in great need of exploration? (Or,) upon what areas do you think the next generation of scholars will be focussed?
I am sceptical about the concept of 'puritan history'. That very formulation involves, to my mind, an unacceptable degree of of reification in respect of an attributed category which makes sense only in the total context of the religious/social/cultural history of England in the century and a half following the Reformation. It is most necessary to apply to 'puritanism' the sophisticated and rigorous revisionism now (thanks to historians like Alexandra Walsham, Michael Questier and Peter Lake) applied to post-Reformation English Catholicism.

What is the most important bit of advice you would offer to those who are just beginning a career in historical research?
Don't do it! No, I didn't mean it. Brush up your Latin (or learn it) so that you can read all those things written by the Latinate literati of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Bring French and especially German to the task as well. Break out of disabling English insularity. Put 'puritanism' into its European context. (Why not take a good look at the Rhenish Palatinate?) Avoid working on some tiny corner, or individual, not yet 'done'. But (in spite of all that) choose and shape a topic which can make a good Ph.D. thesis in three years, and a book in five or six. It was ten years after I passed my Ph.D. examination that my major monograph was published (admittedly, reasons for that – especially five years in the University of Khartoum) but nowadays I wouldn't have ten years, the academic marketplace being what it is.

Other works by Prof. Collinson:

Elizabeth I (Very Interesting People Series, 2007)

Elizabethans (2003)

Lady Margaret Beaufort and Her Professors of Divinity at Cambridge: 1502-1649 (2003)

Elizabethan Essays (1994)

The Birthpangs of Protestant England (1988)

The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559-1625

Archbishop Grindal, 1519-1583: The Struggle for a Reformed Church (1979)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Groeten aan onze Nederlandse lezers!

I hope I didn't slaughter the Dutch language with that title – it's supposed to mean, "Greetings to all our Dutch readers".

A few weeks ago, Edwin and I had the great pleasure of meeting another puritan enthusiast from across the pond. No, not that pond – he was from the Netherlands. Willem van Klinken (pictured) came to Edinburgh to visit the Banner of Truth headquarters here, and to interview its founder, Iain Murray. He is preparing an article for the BOT's 50th anniversary.

Willem works for Reformatorisch Dagblad, a Dutch Christian newspaper, and helps organize the material on a website called George Whitefield Stichting. One purpose of the latter site is to draw non-Reformed Dutch Christians to the rich fonts of Reformed literature, while exposing members of the Dutch Reformed churches to the vibrancy of puritan piety. Willem told Edwin and I that these two traditions had developed along quite separate lines, and knew little interaction.

It was encouraging to share our admiration for the puritan legacy, in spite of our different nationalities (Edwin from Singapore, me from the States and Willem from the Netherlands). We enjoyed our brief visit, and wish Willem and our other Dutch brethren all the best.

(NB - Joel Beeke includes some informative chapters that reveal the connection between Dutch and English puritanism in his book, Puritan Reformed Spirituality.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Frowned upon lately?

Our senior pastor preached on Jeremiah 45 today (hear the sermon), which relates an account about Baruch, the scribe who recorded that prophet's mostly gloomy messages. He had become discouraged about the way things had fallen out in his lifetime, and he despaired of the future.

In a well-known passage, the Lord spoke to Baruch personally to give him some needed perspective : "And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not ..." (v. 5)

I thought the commentary of Matthew Henry (1662–1714) on this passage was poignant (typically):

Baruch was employed in writing Jeremiah's prophecies, and reading them, and was threatened for it by the king. Young beginners in religion are apt to be discouraged with little difficulties, which they commonly meet with at first in the service of God. These complaints and fears came from his corruptions. Baruch had raised his expectations too high in this world, and that made the distress and trouble he was in harder to be borne. The frowns of the world would not disquiet us, if we did not foolishly flatter ourselves with the hopes of its smiles, and court and covet them. What a folly is it then to seek great things for ourselves here, where every thing is little, and nothing certain! The Lord knows the real cause of our fretfulness and despondency better than we do, and we should beg of him to examine our hearts, and to repress every wrong desire in us.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Watch this space

Early next week, God willing, I will be posting a brief 'Conventicle Q&A' with Professor Patrick Collinson, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who is perhaps the most renowned historian of puritanism alive today. Prof. Collinson was gracious enough to answer some of my questions, when I spoke with him at a recent British Academy conference.

Collinson has written several books and essays. His first major monograph was called The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. I look forward to sharing his intriguing thoughts with all of you ...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

John Owen for Today

Mark your calendars!

John Owen for Today Conference

When: 19-22 August 2008

Where: Westminster College, Cambridge

Speakers: Alan Spence, Steve Holmes, Carl Trueman, Kelly Kapic, Sebastian Rehnman, Crawford Gribben, Suzanne Macdonald, & Michael Horton

For more information, click here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Another Crash Course in Puritan History

Back in September I shared how someone might become familiar with the outlines of the puritan movement's history by studying specific events (via Wikipedia). Another, equally effective way is by looking at important people. Here are ten (anti-puritans in italics):

John Field (1545–1588) – the brief Wikipedia entry belies his importance as chief organizer of puritan networks across England during the Elizabethan period

Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603) – divine, writer who locked horns with Whitgift and trumpeted presbyterian ecclesiology

John Whitgift (1530–1604) – Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 until his death; most aggressive foe of puritanism during the Elizabethan period

William Perkins (1558–1602) – the first great systematic theologian of puritan Calvinist theology; also noted for his preaching and writings (for both learned and popular audiences)

Laurence Chaderton (1536?–1640) – divine, founding father of 'moderate puritanism' whose long life spanned Elizabethan and Stuart eras

William Laud (1573–1645) – Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645; staunchly enforced a high Anglicanism in opposition to puritan sentiments; Laud is the main reason many went to New England for relief

Richard Baxter (1615–1691) – Civil War chaplain, pastor and prolific writer

John Owen (1616–1683) – easily the most prominent puritan theologian of the 17th century

Cotton Mather (1663–1728) – important New England minister and writer

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) – some consider the titan Edwards a 'neo-puritan' because he was part of a later generation of New Englanders, but his life and theology are consistent with the older tradition

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Puritans around the web

Ken Baker, the Academic Dean at Wisdom Christian College (University of Wales) in London, has a brief, informative post on puritans and the theatre

An online sermon (audio) by Kevin Swanson (Reformation Church, OPC) called "The Puritans and Why People Hate Them So Much"

The basic historical premise of this article by Tina Dupuy is correct, but that's about all I can say for it (personally speaking): "The Puritans Were Not the Founding Fathers"

A laudatory and informative post on the puritans by accountant Stephen Ley, of West Palm Beach, Florida

A post on puritan women in New England by Maggie

And one on the economic motives of the New England puritans by David Voelker,
Assistant Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay

Monday, October 22, 2007

God's 'Plants and Stampes': Civil War Preaching and Personal Application

Uncertain times demand certain preaching.

At the dawn of the 1640s, Charles I assembled the ‘Short Parliament’ only to dissolve it ‘shortly’ thereafter when it refused to grant him the money he needed to recover from the first of two Bishops Wars (Bellum Episcopale) with Scotland. Later in 1640, the ‘Long Parliament’ assembled and soon made it clear that they were interested in discussing only domestic grievances against the King. These grievances, largely religious in nature, would ultimately lead to the English Civil Wars.

With Civil War looming the Parliament quickly established a series of national fasts that called the nation to seek God’s wisdom in the seemingly inevitable conflict. To commemorate the fast, notable preachers delivered thundering messages to parliament. These preachers were mostly of a ‘puritan’ mind and saw this conflict as the opportunity to usher in a completed Reformation in England. Charles had long irritated the ‘godly’ through his partnership with Archbishop Laud, who had fitted the churches and chapels of England with ‘popish’ accoutrements in the 1630s. This was their chance for a grand reversal.

Stephen Marshall was a frequent ‘fast’ preacher. The following is an excerpt from Marshall’s sermon to the House of Commons on 17 November 1640. Listen as he calls parliament to carry out the business of Reformation in England:

"And then in your great Counsaile, bee yee purgers and preservers of our Religion. Looke thoroughly what is amiss, and pluck up every plant that God hath not planted; throw it to the Moales, and to the Bats, every ragge that hath not Gods stampe and name upon it."

This is a statement of what we might call the regulative principle. Marshall, and many preachers like him, believed that God’s ‘stampe’ was discernable. They also believed that God did not ‘rubber stamp’ everything that man considered acceptable in relation to worship. God’s stamp had two components: chapter and verse. The Bible provided certain criteria by which true and false religion could be separated.

This was the certainty that puritan preachers brought to the uncertain 1640s. It could be argued that puritan preachers had an elevated confidence in their ability to pronounce God’s approval or disapproval. I’ll admit that I do not have that same confidence in some cases. But I see at least three reasons for their confidence. First, they believed in the inspiration of Scripture (God has spoken). Second, they believed in the perspicuity of Scripture (God can be understood). Third, they believed they would give an account for how they applied Scripture.

Perhaps my inability to discern God’s ‘stamp’ reveals a deficiency in one of these three areas?

Even though Marshall preached in the context of an impending military conflict, his words carry a more intimate application. They remind me that I need to search for God’s stamp on the ways that I worship, the words that I speak and the passions I pursue. Rather than a passing glance, I ought to ‘look thoroughly what is amiss and pluck up every plant that God hath not planted’.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Fun: Pilgrims to Patriots

I hope all our British friends will watch this with a sense of humor humour. This is not unlike the narrative we are taught in elementary school, in the States (or at least, we were, 30 years ago).

"No More Kings" was part of a series called Schoolhouse Rock!. These 3-minute clips were once a staple on Saturday mornings, aired between our favorite cartoons.

I would love to hear how these events are explained to students here in the UK, and in other parts of the world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

New Puritan Blog

Richard Snoddy (pictured here with Tim at a recent conference; left), who is working on a doctorate down at Oxford, researching the theology of puritan James Ussher, began a new blog this past week, called diatheke.

Richard is a self-confessed Conventicle reader, but don't hold that against him. From the looks of things, his posts will be a good deal more substantive than ours. Here are titles to the first few:

A Blog is Born ...

Thoughts from Ussher on the Cross

When the church looks like the world ...

'Sexing' up the Puritans

The 'Papist Way'

Here's a provocative excerpt from the last one:

That’s one of the things I have appreciated about living in Oxford for the last 10 years or so - a sense of connectedness with the past, however complicated and messy that past was at times. In the space of a few minutes you can pass the forbidding walls of Balliol College where John Wyclif preached against the power of the papacy, the cross marking the spot where Latimer, Ridley, and later Cranmer were burned for their belief in the once-for-all-time sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, and the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin where John Henry Newman tried to seduce the Church of England back into error (the extent to which he succeeded we can talk about another time). On a lighter note there is the Inklings’ favourite pub, The Eagle and Child. C.S. Lewis spent a lot of time there and is said to have kept a pair of slippers behind the bar. I will have to blog some Oxford things for the benefit of those readers not fortunate enough to live in this fine city.

Anyway, I saw the sign and thought I’d take a photo. I suspect that had John Bunyan been with me, he would have enjoyed pointing out the fact that it was overgrown with thorns…

Nice work, Richard! Best wishes to you.


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