Friday, February 16, 2007

God the Holy Trinity: Book Note

I recently picked up a copy of God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), edited by Timothy George. The book is based upon a series of lectures given at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL (USA) and represents a wide spectrum of trinitarian traditions. George sounds the ecumenical note when he writes,

While there are diverse voices and varying emphases in these essays, they represent an underlying commitment to the trinitarian faith of the apostolic tradition, grounded in Holy Scripture and confessed by the early church. None of the contributors to this volume would for a moment minimize the serious theological and ecclesial differences that still, sadly prevent us as believing Christians from coming together to the banquet of the Lord's Table. But we do recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and we stand together in our commitment to this historic trinitarian faith of the church (12-13).

Contributors to the volume are Alister McGrath (Oxford University), Gerald Bray (Beeson Divinity School), James Earl Massey (Anderson University School of Theology), Avery Cardinal Dulles (Fordham University), Frederica Mathewes-Green (NPR commentator), J. I. Packer (Regent College), Ellen T. Charry (Princeton Theological Seminary, Cornelius Plantinga (Calvin Theological Seminary) and Timothy George (Beeson).

I bought the book for its chapter by Packer on "A Puritan Perspective: Trinitarian Godliness According to John Owen." As usual, Packer's pithy prose pack a powerful punch! After very helpful sections on Owen's literary style and theological method, he gives a broad sweeping overview of Owen's trinitarian theology, focusing upon Of Communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (1658). His goal is to provide in a nutshell "John Owen's fully and even radically trinitarian account of the inside story of Christian existence" (107). Packer writes as though he knows Owen on a firsthand basis. He begins, "I want you to meet one of my most honored traveling companions over the past fifth-five years, the English Puritan John Owen" (91). His essay is sprinkled with subtle and even humorous observations about Owen. For example, he states,

It is integral to Owen's mind-set to insist that experiencing the power of truth is essential. Though he was not chatty about his spiritual pilgrimage in the way that Augustine and Luther and Baxter and Bunyan were, we must not therefrom infer that he stood aloof from the charactheristic Puritan conviction and commitment (94).

Packer's essay is full of practical wisdom and insight. While the ecumenical flare of the book (especially in light of things like ECT) might cause some pause, I would encourage anyone to pick it up for Packer's chapter alone.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

New Old Book: Samuel Petto & Mt. Sinai

I was delighted to discover at The Interpreter's House that Tentmaker is republishing (no pun intended!) Samuel Petto's important work The Great Mystery of the Covenant of Grace: or The Difference between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained (1647).

The release of this book is significant for several reasons, not least of which is John Owen's preface to the volume (see my post). Anyone interested in covenant theology and the relationship of law/gospel should pick up this book.

Several years ago, I worked through a 19th century reprint of Petto's work (Aberdeen: D. Chalmers & Co., 1820). Here is the table of contents.

1. Of a Covenant in general, and the distribution of the Covenant into that of works and of grace.
2. Of the oneness of the Covenant with Jesus Christ and us.
3. Of Christ as the sum of the Covenant.
4. Of the date of Covenant Mercies
5. General Inferences from the whole
6. Of the Old and New Covenant, what they are, and how distinct,
7. Of the nature of the Mount Sinai Covenant
8. Of the Sinai Covenant, whether ceased or continuing
9. Of the good that was in the Sinai Covenant
10. Of the differences between the Old and New Covenant, and the excellency of the latter above the former
11. Of the time of first coming into Covenant
12. Of the use of Absolute Promise
13. Of those that are called Conditional Promise

To give you a flavor for the work, here are some notes I jotted down. I am quoting from the 19th century edition.

Petto gives a full exposition of the relationship of Sinai to the covenant of grace – an issue he calls “a knotty question in divinity” (p. 103). He asks the question, “What manner of covenant was that at Mount Sinai, which is called the worse covenant? What kind of covenant was it?” (p. 102). To which he gives a straight forward answer, “In general, it was a covenant of works, as to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ, but not so to Israel. Or, it was the covenant of grace as to its legal condition to be performed by Jesus Christ, represented under a conditional administration of it to Israel” (p. 102). Petto is perhaps most helpful in his explanation of Sinai as the "legal condition" of the covenant of grace.

Petto expands this statement by giving a negative and positive affirmation. Negatively, he gives four propositions. First, “The Sinai law was not given as a covenant of works to Israel. It was designed to be a covenant of works, as to be accomplished by Jesus Christ…” (p. 103). Second, “That the Sinai law was not a mixed covenant for eternal life to Israel. It was not partly a covenant of works to them, and partly of grace” (p. 109). Third, “That the Sinai law was not only a covenant for temporal mercies, as the land of Canaan, and such like, but did in some further way belong to the covenant of grace, and had the great concernment thereof, even our eternal salvation, as its principal aim and end” (p. 112). Fourth, “That the Sinai law is not merely a gradually different administration of the covenant of grace to Israel, for that with us in the new and better covenant” (p. 116). Therefore, for Israel, Sinai was not a covenant of works whereby they were expected to earn salvation; it was not a mixed covenant of works and grace; it was not only concerned with the temporal blessings; and it was not an altogether different administration of the covenant of grace.

Positively, he gives two propositions. First, “That the Sinai covenant, did hold forth the covenant of grace, as to its legal condition, to be performed by Jesus Christ, and so was a covenant of works, as to be fulfilled by him” (p. 121). Second, “That Sinai covenant, under a typical servile administration of the covenant of grace, promised temporal mercies to Israel, upon the condition of their obedience” (p. 136). Therefore, Sinai was a covenant of works to be performed not by Israel but by Christ, and it did provide temporal blessing for obedience for Israel.

Petto’s notion of Sinai as the legal condition of the covenant of works is a helpful clarification regarding the relationship of Sinai to the covenant of grace. He surmises, “The great difficulties about this Sinai covenant vanish, if we understand it primarily of the legal condition of the covenant of grace to be performed by Jesus Christ, and any other way they will hardly be removed” (p. 136). It is not that Sinai held forth a works-principle salvation that Israel could achieve herself, but the conditionality of Sinai pointed Israel to the promise of One who would accomplish the legal demands of the covenant on her behalf. Thus, according to Petto, Sinai can be called the legal condition of the covenant of grace.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Don't miss it

In addition to John's team blog with the Shepherd's Scrapbook, our own Joe Chi is scheduled to speak at this Friday's brand new Post-grad Christian Union meeting, which will be held at flat 3F1 (buzzer Thomson), no. 26 Marchmont Crescent, here in Edinburgh. As the email notice informs, "He will do a brief talk to kick off what we hope will be a stimulating and exciting series of meetings this year". Joe, want to give us a preview of what you're going to share? Something about John Cotton, perhaps?

I'm sure the house will be packed (see representation above), especially now that I've alerted cyberspace.

Way to go, fellas. Now back to your research ...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Shepherd's Scrapbook & The Conventicle Team Up

I was graciously asked by Tony Reinke to contribute a review/article to his excellent blog The Shepherd's Scrapbook. Here is a preview.

A Practical Gift

Everyone knows that a wedding shower is for the bride. But occasionally, the groom is remembered with a salutary gift. Some men get power tools, others get electronic gadgets. I got books. But not just any books. These were four hefty tomes. When I opened to the inside cover of the first volume I found inscribed these amusing words: “A little light reading on the occasion of your wedding!”

This gift was anything but little or light. It was a peculiar present. Not that giving books to an eager and expecting groom is unusual, mind you. But I do believe I am the only man in history to receive Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics as a wedding present! However, lest you question the propriety of the giver, for a (soon-to-be-married) ministerial candidate planning to study the Puritans, it could not have been a better gift. Strange as it sounds, it has proved more practical than an iPod and even handier than a Leatherman.

You may be saying to yourself, “That’s great for you. But I’m a busy pastor. I enjoy reading the Puritans but I’m not a scholar. What’s all the fuss about Richard Muller? Why should I bother reading his books on reformed dogmatics? I need books on reformed pragmatics! I have sermons to prepare, meetings to attend, people to counsel. Do I really need another set on historical theology?” Great questions. Your time is precious. It is to be redeemed and not squandered. Therefore, when you read, you must read selectively and wisely, deeply and practically. It is precisely for this reason that I think you can be helped by Muller’s PRRD.

In what follows, I want to give you a causal tour through PRRD. As we meander along, I have three basic goals. I want to (1) give an overview of Muller’s work, (2) provide several reasons why I think PRRD is a valuable resource for pastors, elders, seminarians, and bible college students, and (3) suggest a reading plan for tackling this work. To state my intentions another way, I want to answer three questions: (1) what is the basic argument of PRRD; (2) why is reading PRRD important for your theological development and ministry; and (3) how can you as a busy minister, elder, or student best utilize your study time so as to gain maximal benefit when reading PRRD? My primary aim is not analytical but practical. So without any further delay, follow me.

To read the rest of the review, click here to go to the The Shepherd's Scrapbook. Once again, thanks Tony!

Pick up your copy today!
Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725


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