Sir Isaac Newton: Rank Heretic

Well, with a title like that, you just had to click didn’t you?

What follows isn’t a longform takedown on Isaac Newton. However, I was incredibly surprised to read about Isaac Newton’s theological beliefs in a recent book that I reviewed, “Athanasius and His Legacy” by Thomas Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating, and I thought I would share what I learned. In that book, Weinandy and Keating considered modern challenges to Athanasius’s Trinitarian doctrine. That is where this rollercoaster ride began for me.

Isaac Newton is well known for his work in science and mathematics, as well as his philosophy. Most notably, he “discovered” the law of gravity. If you don’t know the story…well, I’m not going to recount it here. It involves an apple. Google is your friend. Alright. Back to the heresy.

According to Weinandy and Keating, Newton became engrossed in theology while a fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge. During his lengthy theological study, wherein he applied scientific methods of his day to the Scripture, Newton became highly skeptical about the status of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. He ultimately was convinced, “that the traditional Christian teaching on the full divinity of Christ and the Trinitarian understanding of God was “deeply flawed” (89). From here, he began to read heavily in the patristics and comes to an interesting conclusion: Athanasius was wrong and Arius was right.

According to the authors (and their work is heavily footnoted; please get a copy if you’re interested), Newton was convinced that Athanasius’s doctrine was a novel invention and the Pope aided and abetted Athanasius’s corruption. [Aside: No word on his 17 years in exile.] He goes so far as to say that the fundamental error of worshipping Christ as God is idolatry.

It doesn’t end there. Newton involved himself in a movement that came to be called the British Arians, and set out 12 points of his newfound Arianism. These are true Arians, not Unitarians or Socinians. They believe Christ to be a mediator, but he is not the monad God and is a created being. However, while his views are Arian, there’s no proof he was pro-Arius. It was more of an avowed anti-Athanasian view with a commitment to Arian belief. Because of Newton, the chair of mathematics was given a permanent exemption from holding to Christian orthodoxy.

This is where it gets extreme. Newton became obsessed with biblical prophecy, writing 4 commentaries on Daniel and Revelation. He became convinced that the “beast” in Revelation was the Roman Catholic Church (not uncommon in his time) and that the Nicene Creed of 381 represented the seventh seal of judgment. In his reading, the Whore of Babylon is the doctrine of the Trinity. Isaac Newton made Left Behind look like Calvin’s Institutes. Newton believed he was part of a faithful remnant standing against the perversion of Athanasius, Rome, and Trinitarianism.

So how did Newton get away with such views in an era dominated by the Church of England? Simple: he didn’t publish his views. Though Newton would mentor two of the most prominent proponents of British Arianism, he did not put his own views on the record for examination. Many of his fellow citizens who did publish such views lost their posts. While he shared his views in private, “Newton hid his theological views to preserve his place in society” (93). Additionally, he seemed to belief the doctrine was losing it’s hold anyway. Why risk it?

Frankly, I was stunned reading this. I certainly did not learn it in any history, science, or philosophy course. And now you know, too.

Isaac Newton was a heretic.

Ee-Taow: A Stirring Story of Gospel Advance

I can hardly think of a more discouraging time in the church, our nation, or our world. Unity seems like a naive wish in each. You get the sense that the world is falling apart at the seams. What are Christians to do? Take up arms (metaphorically)? Fight one another? Give in to fear or despair?

No way. I was reminded tonight of a video that I have seen before, but which never fails to stir my affections for Christ. It’s the video “Ee-Taow”.

Here’s how it’s described by the organization that owns it, Ethnos360: Your heart will rejoice as you witness the Mouk tribe of Papua New Guinea respond dramatically to the Gospel. You’ll follow their story from murderous sorcery and deceit, to a life-changing understanding of what God has done for them. This is a powerful story of God’s Word, presented clearly and chronologically in their own language, breaking through the darkness that held the Mouks in bondage.

In such a difficult time in the world, Ee-Taow has reminded me of the mission of Christ and the urgency of eternity. I am reminded of the ultimate fight worth giving our lives for is the fight against sin and Satan, the fight to win the world to the salvation that is found in Christ. I hope that this bolsters you love for Christ and his mission as well. If, like me, you’ve grown weary then I hope you will be reinvigorated by this video. I would encourage you to introduce this video to your family, your church, and your friends. Now is a good time to be reminded of the work God is doing in the world.

Don’t miss this follow-up video on the next chapter for the Ee-Taow after this stirring original documentary.

Don’t Just #CancelNetflix

In recent days there has been a widespread call to #CancelNetflix over the new film “Cuties”, which is now streaming there. The IMDB parents guide speaks for itself. Whatever the intention of the film was (the director claims it was to expose child exploitation), the film itself is ultimately deeply troubling as children are portrayed sexually throughout.

It is not surprising that the outcry has been massive. Calls to #CancelNetflix have been successful, with countless men and women cancelling their account. Netflix stock prices have suffered. My social media feeds are full of this hashtag. I am empathetic to this call, and I appreciate the widespread indignation towards the exploitation of children. At the same time, I am certain that the meaningful change that is needed to protect children will not happen merely by cancelling Netflix. To protect children from exploitation and sex trafficking, we need to go a step further.

If you #CancelNetflix because of “Cuties” but you’re still watching pornography, then you are contributing to the crisis of child sex trafficking. The pornography industry creates the market for pedophilia. Pornography sites meet the demand by providing a platform for sex traffickers and by conditioning men and women alike to tolerate, or even crave, pornographic material that exploits minors.

If you #CancelNetflix because of “Cuties” but you’re still watching pornography, then you are contributing to the crisis of child sex trafficking.

Consider the following video about PornHub’s failure to protect child rape victims on their site:

Pornography: A Trafficking Scandal Right Out in the Open

This is not a hidden problem. It’s not something that is hard to learn about. Fox News reported only this year about the problem of child pornography and PornHub:

“Pornhub’s failure to remove nonconsensual pornography from its website is destroying lives,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said in a statement provided to Fox News on Tuesday. “I’ve spoken with many survivors who have been driven from careers, fields of study, and lost family and loved ones due to this insidious practice. In the worst cases, people have been driven to suicide.” Speier’s comment came just a day after Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting an investigation into the company. Sasse pointed to a slew of high-profile incidents involving sexual exploitation on the platform, including a case from last year in which Florida police arrested a man on charges of sex crimes against an underage girl who was missing for nearly a year before her mother learned that 60 pornographic videos of her had been posted to Pornhub, Snapchat, Periscope, and ModelHub.

For consumers of pornography, there’s as much acting off screen as on-screen. User must pretend that it’s all just entertainment, produced in a studio by consenting professionals. But if you’re reading this, you’ve lost that excuse. The truth is, countless acts of sex, bondage, and rape on pornography sites is real. Real torment, real pain all for the consumption of men and women who have been conditioned to crave such things.

The New York Times has also acknowledged this problem. In 2019, NYT reporters wrote about porn producers being arrested on sex trafficking charges:

“…the owners and employees “used deception and false promises” to lure women who had answered modeling advertisements on Craigslist to participate in the videos, telling them that their identities would be shielded and that the videos would not be posted online.

International Justice Mission recently found that child sexual abuse online is up 250% in the Philippines. Those videos don’t stay there. The market is here.

To Fight Sex Trafficking, Fight Pornograpy.

According to a recent report from Huffington Post, 30% of all internet data usage is for pornography. Porn sites get more monthly visitors than Amazon, Twitter, and Netflix combined. Recently a rumor was circulated that the internet furniture store Wayfair was actually a front for child sex trafficking. It turned out to be baseless, but a great deal of energy was expended fighting WayFair, a company best known for cheap accent chairs and clearance pricing on rugs. How is it then that there is such a deafening cultural silence against pornography companies that have been proven to host child pornography on their sites? How can it be that these sites can advertise categories for “teen”, “high school”, fantasies about underage students and teachers, rape and abuse fantasy, etc. and we sit idly by or settle for “that’s just the way it is”?

Canceling Netflix feels good. It feels like we are doing something tangible. In reality, cancelling Netflix is little more than a temporary political football with hardly any long-term consequences if it does not lead to meaningful action against pornography and the pornography industry in our personal lives and in our public advocacy. We should be at war against the pornography industry. This industry not only permits and enables sex traffickers, it also creates a desire for such material in those who watch it, and is destroying the minds of young men and women who are learning about sex at a young age from its sites. Even in a porn affirming article from Psychology Today, the author admits that in porn usage for teenagers “the adolescent brain is being shaped around a sexual experience that is isolating, visceral, and completely void of any love or compassion.”

One researcher at Wichita State says that porn and sex trafficking are “inseparably connected.”

Anti-Porn as Apologetic

It is interesting to me how much time is spent in Christian ministries, particularly youth ministry, on apologetics and arguments for God that are almost entirely intellectual. While I do believe they are helpful, I also believe that many churches are ignoring one of the primary reasons many young people leave the church as soon as they have the opportunity. Young people are leaving the church because they’ve been watching hours upon hours of porn unchecked for years and the church was just a box to check to keep their parents off their case.

For a rising generation, no-strings-attached sex is the dominant religion. PornHub is their bible, and Tinder is their prayer book. One night stands are their sacrament. When these students leave the church, they aren’t leaving the faith. For many if not most of them, they’re embracing the idol they’ve worshipped all along; only now, mom and dad aren’t around to make them go to church once a week. I have seen it firsthand. I have never discipled a man that pornography was not an issue that we actively discussed. This is not a coincidence.

Porn is destroying our families, our neighbors, and our churches. It is quenching long-held desires for marriage in place of immediate sexual gratification. It is hurting sexual abuse victims and creating a market for more of them in order to satisfy the cravings of a national audience taught to hunger for video of such sexual abuse. It is shaping the minds of young men and women towards isolation and loveless intimacy.

What now?

  1. Educate Yourself: You can learn more about this issue at Fight the New Drug , IJM, and (for information on pornography). Only IJM is a Christian organization, so use discretion.
  2. Stop Watching Pornography
    If you’re struggling with a porn problem, get help. If you’re actively watching, stop. Some resources I recommend for a accountability in the fight against porn are your local church, confessing regularly to a friend who will fight with you and for you, Covenant Eyes (I have used this for a decade), R Tribe (with a partner or group), and Bark.
  3. Advocate for restrictions against pornography and investigation into the pornography industry. Public calls have been made to ban pornography. Sen. Ben Sasse recently called for an investigation into Pornhub. Consider contacting your representative to advocate on this issue. This is worth your time. Pornography, sex trafficking, and abortion are not separate issues.

If we want to fight sex-trafficking, we need to fight porn. If we really believe that the material on Netflix’s “Cuties” is problematic, we need to address the massive databases of material readily available online and consumed constantly nationwide. The driving force behind #CancelNetflix needs to be about more than personal discomfort on how publicly accepted such things have become. It is time to speak up against pornography, and address this problem at the root.

Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. Lectures on Trinitarian Preaching

In April 2012, Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. gave the E.Y. Mullins Lectures on Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary. His title for the series was “Preaching as Intra-Trinitarian Presence.”

For over 20 years, Dr. Smith has been training preachers at Beeson Divinity School** with the core conviction that the aim of Christian preaching is for the hearers to experience God and see who He is in the Scriptures as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He says in his book on preaching, Doctrine That Dances, “…doctrinal preaching is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

In these three lectures, Smith holds forth on Trinitarian preaching and encourages preachers to recover the art of preaching from the whole Bible. Preachers should “dust for Christological fingerprints” in every text of Scripture.

There are three lectures total:

  1. God of Our Weary Years – Theocentricity
  2. Theology of the HIMbook – Christocentricity
  3. The Neglected God – Pneumacentricity

I hope that these lectures will aid you as you seek to preach all of God from all of the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

* * I am blessed to have been one of those preaching students at Beeson, and to have a close mentoring relationship with Dr. Smith to this day. Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can give is to say that Dr. Smith’s character far exceeds his talent. Once you’ve seen his talent, that will mean a great deal to you.

Review: “Athanasius and His Legacy” by Thomas Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating

Thomas G. Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating, Athanasius and His Legacy: Trinitarian-Incarnational Soteriology and Its Reception (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017). 131 pages.

In this short volume from Fortress Press, Weinandy and Keating provide a pointed, if not exhaustive, exposition of the life and teaching of Athanasius of Alexandria. The authors also consider at length the reception and use of Athanasius in Eastern and Western theology, in addition to Reformation theology and contemporary theology with special attention given to the opposing views of Isaac Newton and John Henry Newman.

This volume begins (Ch 1) with an excellent overview of Athanasius’ theology, providing a concise but thorough explication of the issues of the Arian controversy, and situating his theological project into its proper context. While not a proper participant at Nicaea, the authors show how Athanasius came to be known as the true defender of Nicaea and what it cost him: namely, he spent a great number of his years as bishop in exile as the Arians gained the political favor of the emperor. This volume quotes Athanasius at length and helpfully show how his understanding of biblical hermeneutics shaped his defense of Nicene doctrine. Likewise, in Chapter 2, Weinandy and Keating provide ample material showing Athanasius’ arguments for the Holy Spirit as the third person of the triune God. The strength of their argument in each of these chapters is to show how Athanasius’ arguments were thoroughly grounded in Scripture, rather than philosophical imposition upon the faith or arguments from other authorities.

Chapter 3 is the strongest section of the book, and the crux of their argument: Athanasius Incarnational Soteriology. Their discussion of the necessity of the incarnation, Jesus’ true humanity, the communicatio idiomatum (though this language was not yet formally established) and deification are all quite helpful expositions of Athanasius thought. Also in this chapter, the authors defend Athanasius against charges that he did not teach Christ has a human soul. Weinandy and Keating assert that these critics have missed the point of Athanasian Christology: namely, that Christ became fully human and did not merely take on humankind’s passions. His entire Christological argument would fall apart if he denied Jesus had a human soul. Likewise, he affirmed the Council of Alexandria in 362, which condemned denials of Jesus having a human soul (45-46).

In addition to Athanasius own life and theology, the authors also consider his reception by later theological movements, including the filioque controversy. This section is helpful to understand how the East and West appropriated his arguments for their own positions. There’s also a section that will benefit those new to Athanasius on the Athanasian Creed, which he did not write himself and which originated after his death. However, this section also includes the weakest part of the book: the use of Athanasius among the Reformers. This is perhaps to be expected, given the Catholic background of the authors, but nonetheless seems to be a weakness of the volume that, if present, would commend is more strongly to a wider audience. The authors acknowledge Athanasius bore great influence on Luther and Melanchthon but say little of precisely how or where. Further, they say that Calvin has “no positive use” (84) for Athanasius. This is a bit of an oversimplification, and other scholars have noted otherwise1.

The book closes with interesting and engaging sections on modern reception and criticism of Athanasius, showing the ongoing relevance of Athanasius’ Trinitarian-Incarnational Soteriology even today. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion of Isaac Newton’s commitment to Arianism and his belief that the Council of Nicaea represented the opening of the seventh seal of judgment, whereby the Whore of Babylon is……drumroll please…..the doctrine of the Trinity. Bit of a rollercoaster, that. I am somewhat skeptical to the claim that Newton’s private claims are a forerunner to later contemporary criticism of Athanasius, but the case made here is certainly interesting.

In general, this is an excellent and helpful volume. For casual readers of theology, this volume is accessible and light, weighing in at only 130 pages. It would serve as a great text for undergraduate students, or a supplementary text for seminarians. It is sure to provoke conversation around the chapters on contemporary appropriation of Athanasius. This book also engages with some of the most recent reception of Athanasius and Nicaea in the work of Khaled Anatolios, John Behr, and Lewis Ayres. For that reason, it is not given to many of the early to mid-20th century assumptions about Athanasius which have improperly, in my view, accused Athanasius’s views as leaning toward modalism or Apollinarianism. This book helpfully summarizes the arguments against such criticisms. I would note, finally, that the title may be deceiving for certain streams of protestants (such as my own stream). Soteriology here refers not to doctrines such as justification, atonement, depravity, or predestination. Weinandy and Keating are more concerned with the fittingness of Jesus to save as the incarnate Son of God. If you purchase or assign this book, please adjust your expectations in that regard.

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this book and gladly recommend it.

Thank you to Fortress Press, who provided me a review copy of this volume.

1. See also, Stephen M. Reynolds, “Calvin’s View of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds,” Westminster Theological Journal 23.1 (Nov. 1960): 33-37.

The Legacy of John Piper’s Passion OneDay Sermon 20 years later

You can find the full sermon “Boasting Only in the Cross” by Pastor John Piper at the bottom of this blog post, as well as more footage of Passion OneDay.

It has been 20 years since Pastor John Piper’s sermon “Boasting Only in the Cross” was preached at Passion OneDay. It is hard to think of a single sermon in the modern era that has had such a lasting legacy and which stirred so many to give their lives for what matters most: the name and fame of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Desiring God has just recently released the documentary about that day and its impact on those in attendance. I watched it today and thought to myself that there must be many others who would be interested in watching it as well.

In the year 2000, I was in the 5th grade. Needless to say, Passion OneDay was not on my radar. That day, God used John Piper to change the trajectory of countless men and women in that crowd. That day, in that field, John Piper was preaching. Matt Chandler and Matt Carter (seen in the documentary) were sitting on the grass. 10 years later, God would begin to pull my heart to ministry through a long season of prayer and seeking the Lord and seeking wisdom from my pastors. Matt Chandler and Matt Carter’s preaching had begun to shape the call to ministry in my life. At Passion 2010, I accepted the call to ministry immediately after John Piper preached a similar sermon on the glory of God as the purpose for which we were created. That, I realized that night, was worth it all. I wanted to give the rest of my life to that vision for the spread of the gospel for the sake of the fame of God’s name.

In the sermon, Piper says that the American Dream (get rich, retire early, entertain yourself on your riches) is not worth giving your life to. It’s a tragedy. It’s not what we were created for and it can not satisfy. He says, “There are people in this country that are spending billions of dollars to get you to buy it. And I get 40 minutes to plead with you, don’t buy it!”

Don’t underestimate what God can do in 40 minutes.

Not long after being called to ministry, I would hear a recording of this sermon and be shaken to the core, as God continue to work in me a passion for the gospel that is bigger than the American dream. I would encourage you to set aside an hour to watch this documentary, then to watch the full sermon (below).

Who knows what God may do in your life in 40 minutes.

Here’s another incredibly dated video that gives a peak into what OneDay was like. I love what Louie Giglio says (24:40) about the central idea of the event: “Yeah, we are all fallen short, but the cross of Christ has finished the work of God for our lives.”

A Podcast Episode Pastors Can’t Miss

Today I listened to one of the most important, timely podcast episodes I have heard in a long time. The episode is “Leaders Who Won’t Flame Out” with Paul Tripp, the most recent installment of the Gospelbound with Collin Hansen.

Tripp has a new book releasing Lead: 12 Gospels Principles for Leadership in the Church. In the episode, he describes the book as a followup to his book Dangerous Calling. This earlier book was a huge hit among pastors when it released in 2013. One of the things Tripp draws attention to is the initial endorsements for the book on the back cover.

Those endorsements include Tullian Tchividjian and James MacDonald. Both are now out of ministry, having been publicly disgraced for the very kind of prideful and domineering spirit that the book encourages against. They are two of many high profile pastors to disqualify themselves from ministry in recent years.

Tripp says that when he wrote the initial work, he would have pointed at the pastor when you asked him why a certain leader had a “fall from grace”, whether sexual promiscuity, abuse, abuse of power, pride, etc. The issue was something in their heart. Now he looks somewhere different for early signs. Tripp says he would instead ask about the community around the pastor. Are those who should be holding the pastor accountable and protecting him from his own sin and the temptations that leaders face now his chief defenders? Is the most seasoned pastor that everyone looks up to a 40 year old? Does anyone have the ability to call the leader to repent if he engages in sinful behavior in a meeting? In Lead, Tripp says he discusses these principles and more, providing recommendations for how to create healthy churches and healthy church cultures.

My heart was moved listening to Tripp articulate what a healthy gospel community looks like, both for pastors and those who they shepherd or lead. It is impossible for me not to see this crisis of character in our church leadership culture. As a young man, one of my Sunday School teachers went to prison for sexual abuse. The pastor who was preacher when God first began to call me to ministry was outed for a multi-decade adulterous affair. One of the first ministry conferences I attended was headlined by 3 pastors who are no longer in ministry due to their sinful actions in leadership. Over the span of the next decade, I can name at least 15 leaders who I have admired, known, or looked to as a model have disqualified themselves due to sexual sin, sinful abuse of authority, or various manifestations of pride. My spiritual “family tree” is littered with destruction such that I can not look back on any major period of spiritual growth in my life without experiencing grief over the fallen leaders who ministered to me then but are gone now.

I can not say why it happened to each of them. But here’s what I know: every time it has happened, it has caused me to grieve and question myself. It should not be this way. Young men like myself should not have a spiritual graveyard full of their former role models.

How do we prevent this?

Tripp says, “The key to longevity is spiritual health…the key to spiritual health is gospel community. There’s the book.”

I can not recommend this podcast enough. You can listen to the whole thing by clicking below for iTunes or Spotify, or listen to the YouTube embed above.

Buy the book here.

Five Great Sermons

Sometimes you just need to hear a great sermon. You may have come to this page through a google search. Maybe you’re a pastor looking to learn from great preaching. Maybe you’re a pastor just tired and in need of the word to be ministered to you. Maybe you’re lost and looking for truth.

I hope you find these sermons encouraging. In my opinion, each of them is an absolutely masterful sermon, given by godly men whom I admire. I hope you are encouraged by them all, not because the preachers are great, but because God’s Word is great.

I have listed them below, in no particular order. Each are wonderful in their own way.

  1. The Glory of the Groan by Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. at Beeson Divinity School
  2. The Gospel by Numbers by Dr. Ligon Duncan at Together For the Gospel
  3. For Such A Slime As This by Dr. Hershael York at Southern Seminary
  4. Shall We Die As A Fool Dies by Dr. R. Albert Mohler at Southern Seminary
  5. How Are Christians Special? by Dr. Mark Dever at Southeastern Seminary

The Glory of the Groan by Dr. Robert Smith, Jr.

The Gospel by Numbers by Dr. Ligon Duncan

For Such A Slime As This by Dr. Hershael York

Shall We Die as a Fool Dies? by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

How Are Christians Special? by Dr. Mark Dever

Let me know in the comments if one of these sermons encouraged you in your walk with Christ!