New Article at Credo Magazine

I have a new article that has just been published in the December 2020 issue of Credo Magazine. This issue is devoted to the doctrine of eternal generation. Eternal Generation has become the subject of my own doctoral research in theology. My article is The Bulwark of Trinitarian Theology: Eternal Generaton: What it is and what it is not. In the article I try to map the foundations of the doctrine and help readers get a foothold on how to think about it as part of doing theology. Here’s an excerpt from my conclusion:

Eternal generation is the bulwark of trinitarian theology. It will not often be mentioned in the average sermon. The phrase itself would likely be met with confused look from people in the pew. It is critical, however, for pastors and theologians as they consider who God is. As a bulwark, it keeps heresy at bay. It protects the essential nature of God, providing terminology to help Christians understand what it means to worship one God in three persons, particularly how the Son is not less than the Father, but is one with him: one in power, glory, majesty, will, and essence. By this Trinitarian grammar, Christians are helped to know God as he knows himself and sing, pray to, and confess him as “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

The Bereans Had No Bibles

Growing up in conservative Baptist churches, there was no trait a Christian could possess of more value than knowledge of the Bible. Children’s programs gave awards for Scripture memory. Sunday sermons came from the Scriptures. VBS was dedicated to teaching children Bible stories. In times of grief or seasons of celebration, we turned to the Bible for solace or exultation. In an environment like that, one group from the Scripture was held forth as our role model and example. We were told to be a Berean.

Of course, this was not a rousing call to adopt Macedonian culture. Read what Scripture says about the Bereans in Acts 17:10–12:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

This conviction to be a Berean was ingrained in me from an early age. Even now, I can think of no greater exhortation to Christians than to know the Bible.

However, until very recently my fundamental understanding of what it meant to be a Berean was, I believe, flawed. At the very least, it was incomplete.

The picture was often painted for me as one where every Berean was actively searching through their Bibles. The Bereans, in my mind, were like an ultra-devoted group Bible study. Together they opened their Bibles and each of them refused to believe what was taught unless they could collectively flip to a certain page and attach a chapter and a verse to it. There’s only one problem with that image:

The Bereans had no Bibles.

This isn’t only true of the Bereans. It’s true of every single Christian church in the New Testament era. It was not common for average folks in the early church to have their own, personal copy of the Scriptures. It was nearly unheard of. It was not until the Reformation era that mass-production of the Scriptures was even possible. What they had instead was a community—in this case the synagogue, but also the temple—which had a collection of the writings we know as the Old Testament.

If that’s the case, and your conception of what it means to be a Berean is like mine was, then we would all benefit from re-conceiving what it means to search the Scripture as a Berean. There are three fundamental truths that I think can helps us form a more accurate conception of what it means to be a Berean and which can give us some insight into how theology was taught in the early church.

  1. Bereans receive the truth.

    I couldn’t help but notice the order of their seeking: the Bereans received, then examined, and finally believed the truth. In truth, this passage is a beautiful picture of the Reformation principle of Scripture as the norma normans. That means that while we have many norms of our own, Scripture is the ultimate norm that, so to speak, norms (or conforms) our norms. The Bereans hear the doctrinal truth through the apostolic preaching and verify it through the Scriptural truth. It is by the witness of the Scripture that they believe what they received.

    This is an important distinction. The truth was brought to them as a conclusion from interpretation. The apostles taught them that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. This truth they then verified according to Scripture (at this point, the Old Testament texts they had at the synagogue). Then they believed.

    There is an important application here. Christians today do not do theology ex nihilo (from nothing) or ex ratio (solely from ration, what can be observed and deduced in the world). Nor do we start from scratch, just man and his Bible, to do theology. Theology is received: a gift delivered to God’s people from the treasury of the church. This treasury is Scripture, but also its faithful interpretation handed down to us from the church in our creeds and confessions. We stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Our command is not to “make a deposit” but to “guard the good deposit” (2 Tim 1:14). Theology is not done without regard to what has been delivered to us. Instead, as good Bereans we search the Scriptures to learn verify and guard the deposit which was made before us.
  2. Bereans learn in the context of the gathered church.

    This point follows from the first point. It should not surprise us, but perhaps it will if for no other reason that because we live in such an individualistic age that the thought of studying theology brings to mind podcasts during commutes, private devotions, personal reading, and individual study.

    This was not the way of the Bereans. The text itself tells us they gathered daily in the synagogue to seek the Scriptures. This would have involved public readings of Scripture, debate and disputation of teachers, teaching and exposition, and conversation about teaching. This act of interpretation, whatever else it was in the granular details, was a communal act.

    This point is not incidental, but is fundamental to the very purpose of Scripture itself. The post-Reformation Reformed dogmatician Franciscus Junius is helpful here. Junius makes a distinction between the principal cause and the instrumental cause of Scripture. The principal purpose of Scripture is the revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The instrumental purpose of Scripture is God’s glory in the church through the wisdom of true righteousness—the lessening of our sinful nature and being brought to the full stature of Christ—which together constitutes the present and future good of the church. This is a foundational point for biblical interpretation: if the telos of Scripture is the revelation of God and the glory of God in the church, then the Scripture cannot be properly interpreted in abstraction from the community, wisdom, and mission of the church.

    If we are to be Bereans, we must not divorce the study of the Scriptures and doing of theology from the community. We need one another to discern the teaching of Scripture. Theology quite literally cannot be done apart from the church.
  3. Bereans believe the Christian faith from the Old Testament.

    There is perhaps no reality in the New Testament that makes me more uncomfortable than the fact that the early church did not have the full New Testament. It is hard to grasp what church would be like without Romans 8, Ephesians 2, or the Gospel of John.

    At the same time, this discomfort likely reveals in me—and maybe in you—a latent, false belief that the Old Testament is somehow materially different from the New Testament. Does the Old Testament teach the Trinity? Does it teach a Divine Messiah? How can they know Jesus is Lord without Romans 10:9? Can we believe what Christians believe from the Old Testament?

    Here’s the reality: the Scripture teaches a consistent gospel story from beginning to end. While the New Testament most often makes explicit what the Old Testament makes implicit, to be a Berean is to see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, eternally from the Father, sent to redeem his poeple from their sins.

    Here’s how B.B. Warfield describes it:

    The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation that follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged.1

    Put more simply, Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. oftens says in his preaching that for every New Testament Doctrine there is an Old Testament picture.

    To be Bereans is not just to search the Scriptures as we now have them in full, but to search the Old Testament in particular and there see God’s plan of redemption in Christ through his death and resurrection. To be a Berean, to borrow from Warfield, is to read with the lights on. Reading this way we see the plan of salvation from the Old Testament to its revelation in the New Testament: “God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself.”

Being a Berean is a lost label for Christians. These days, most of the people who appeal to the term are bloggers on the internet, mostly engaged in heated polemics at best or vicious attacks on those they disagree with at worst. What we see here instead is that Bereans are those who receive the truth in the context of the church, and thereby together prove Christ is both Savior and Lord from the Scriptures. What is the end of all of this? It’s not to win debates or to fill our heads with knowledge for its own sake. The passage tells us: many believe.

The goal of emulating the Bereans is to bring about and strengthen faith. It is Christ’s work and who he is, preached from the Scriptures, that saves and sanctifies. The Bereans had no Bibles. But they did have Christ. We have the Bible. And together, we should seek to find Christ there, and thereby be transformed into his image (2 Cor 3:17-18)

1 Benjamin B. Warfied, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Biblical DoctrinesThe Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 141-42.

Should theology be innovative?

I was doing some research this week on the Trinity and the quote below stood out to me. It isn’t relevant to my research, but I thought I might share it here. Samuel Miller was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary in the early 1800s, and he’s writing in response to a unitarian theologian on this question: Should theology be innovative?

“Without stopping to inquire, whether, as you seem to anticipate, great discoveres and improvements are hereafter to be expected in the science of theology, and in the elucidation of the sacred Scriptures;—a. question which, indeed, from the nature of the case, we must be but ill qualified to decide—one thing is certain, that, neither as Protestants, nor as Christians, ought we to allow ourselves to shut our eyes against the light, or to be blindly governed by the authority of our fathers. I accede fully to the truth of your remark, that you and I, situated as we are, ought to consider ourselves as under double obligations, to inquire diligently, and to weigh well, what we teach.

And, allow me to add, that, as we evidently ought. to teach our Pupils, not to rely on the decisions of Councils or Synods, or on human authority in any shape, but to examine with solemn care the only infallible Rule of faith and practice; so, in my opinion, we are equally bound to guard them against that spirit of rash and hasty innovation, either in faith or practice, which has so often proved the bane of the church of Christ. I have long thought it my duty to inculcate on those theological students whose principles I have had any part in forming, that, while free inquiry is commendable, and a christian duty; a rage for novelty, an ardent love of originality, as such, is one of the most unhappy symptoms, in its bearing on the prospect of future usefulness in the church, that a candidate for the ministry can well exhibit. I would not, for my right hand, exhort a young man always to adhere, whatever new light he may receive, to the old theological landmarks which our fathers have set up; but I would certainly and most earnestly exhort him, if he saw good reason to depart from them, to do it slowly, cautiously, respectifully, and with the most solemn and prayerful deliberation.”

Miller, Samuel. Letters on the Eternal Sonship of Christ: Addressed to the Rev. Professor Stuart, of Andover. Philadelphia: W.W. Woodward., 1823. Read here.

I appreciated the subversive line or argumentation that Miller takes. His logic is this:

  1. We should not blindly follow those who came before us.
  2. We should teach our students to thoroughly examine the Scripture (here he calls it the Rule of Faith) to seek the truth.
  3. Free inquiry, which idealizes innovation and novelty, is of little lasting value. But instead we should freely inquire into the Scripture.

    Therefore, while we should not always follow those who came before, we better have a darn good reason if we do not. That reason comes from inquiry into the Rule of Faith, not philosophical novelty.

Should theology be innovate? No. Refined by the Scriptures? Yes.

A Prayer Before Study | St. Thomas Aquinas

The following is Thomas Aquinas’s prayer before studying. It is a helpful tool for students before study, pastors before sermon prep, or scholars before scholarship:

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. 


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.

On Diverse Reading Lists

(Initially, the following blog post was entitled “On Diverse Reading Lists: A Friendly Response to Denny Burk”. The subtitle was removed to leave room for broader application.)

Disclaimer: During my time in Louisville, Denny Burk was the associate pastor of the church where I was a member. We maintain a friendly relationship to this day, and this post should be read as no exception to that.

I spent some time yesterday reading and thinking about Denny Burk’s recent reflections posted on his blog entitled “The Dead-end of Research Justice.” Burk can always be relied upon to interrogate the demands of an ever-secularizing culture on Christians. Secularizing is perhaps not strong enough a word for the idealogical conformity demanded by some sectors of the American left. In this case, Burk is concerned by “research justice”, also known as decolonizing, approach to academia. I share his concern.

Just this past week I saw a completely absurd post from a student attempting to put her professor on notice publicly for failing to meet whatever arbitrary standard the student thought was acceptable. This is a real problem in academia and in our culture writ large. It needs to end.

Burk writes, “Research justice requires racial preferences for authors from marginalized groups and racial discrimination against authors from privileged groups. When you add to this standpoint epistemology (which is also a favored tool of Critical Theory), it’s not difficult to see why the racial identity of the author outweighs reason and evidence as a criterion for excellence.”

So what then? What should professors do? For Burk’s part, he says that he has never screened potential textbook authors with consideration to race. He only screens them for excellence of content and assumes all person of any race or culture can produce such work. Burk writes, “Racial identity just doesn’t figure into that calculus, nor do I see why it should. It is certainly no failure of justice to leave it out of the calculus.”

This is where I want to push back on Burk. First, let me agree with him. I do not think it is wise, correct, or helpful to label Burk’s standard as racist, xenophobic, or unjust. I asked Denny for clarification on this on twitter and he gave it: “Racial identity is not a category that either commends or condemns a prospective text.” It would be fair to say that he takes a “colorblind” approach to text selection.

I want to put forward disagreement with Burk here. While I do not believe racial identity or cultural identity condemn a prospective text (e.g. “no white male authors!”), I do want to offer some reasons that I believe they may commend a text. In sum, I want to argue for the inclusion of diverse voices in theological reading. I believe it would be good for theological educators and Southern Baptist ones in particular to strive towards this sort of intentionality.

The lack of diversity in reading for theological education is a real issue of debate. During my time in seminary, countless students of colors expressed their dismay and frustration to me that in 3-4 years of theological education, every single author without exception was a white man of European descent with the possible exception of Augustine. How can this be possible?

Why Does This Matter?

First, we have to ask: does this even matter? Yes, it matters. Diverse perspectives are meaningful and worth intentionally including in our theological work. For this part of the discussion, I want to draw off of David Clark’s excellent book To Know and Love God: Method for Theology. This is one of the standard texts in Evangelical theological method. In his book, Clark makes a distinction between the sort of postmodern deconstructionism that Burk is concerned about and the value of different perspectives for doing theology. Clark writes, “One’s perspective always forms the grid out of which the world is interpreted and life is lived” (100). To borrow the old phrase, to a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Clark wants to balance the importance of diverse perspectives with evangelical truth. Culture can not determine truth. He says that Christians must adhere to the universality of the gospel as true for all people and totalizing as a worldview. He writes, “The gospel is true for all peoples in every culture… perspectivalism, however, must deny this is so. Therefore…evangelical theology must reject the current rampant perspectivalism.” This perspectivalism is the belief that cultural/racial/social perspective determines meaning, and therefore, truth itself. This is what Burk is rejecting as well, and rightly so.

However, we should not suggest that we are utterly objective in how we approach theology or exegesis. We all come to the text with presuppositions, both conscious and unconscious, which shape our views. Clark writes, “Evangelical theology at its best will acknowledge that perspective influences all thinking. And a modest deconstruction of overly assertive modernist claims is all to the good. But proper evangelical theology also realizes the need for deliberate strategies to prevent cultural and historical location from imprisoning theology in the though of a particular time” (144). What should we do then? We should a) interrogate our own assumptions, and fight their influence over our interpretation and theological method and b) refuse to allow our culture to imprison our theology.

We are people who are not inherently objective working to interpret Scripture which is absolute. This is a difficult task. D.A. Carson tells us that there is something to learn from this view of different perspectives. He says, “…gently applied [this] rightly questions the arrogance of modernism… ruthlessly applied [this] nurtures a new hubris and deifies agnosticism.”

Clark is insistent that we not give into these cultural forces. What Burk, and the sources he cites, calls “standpoint epistemology”, Clark calls “epistemic relativism” and says it is “deeply flawed” and self-defeating. He says that this view is that “all truth depends on the knower’s viewpoint” and that this is utterly inconsistent with Christian belief.

Commending Diverse Perspectives

Why then would I argue against Burk’s point? Simply put, it’s because there are significant benefits that commend diverse perspectives in curriculum without giving an inch to critical theory, intersectionality, epistemic relativism, or any other secular theory that contradicts the gospel as a totalizing worldview. As such, we should consider works by scholars from the majority world, as well as minorities in our own spheres when we decide which resources to use.

Clark gives an example of why this is valuable. One day, teaching a 90 minute class on divorce and remarriage a student approached him to tell him how the lecture did not relate to his needs. Why? Because he is the eldest son of his father’s fourth wife. His father is a polygamist. In that moment Clark realized that culture had affected his approach to theology, his emphasis on teaching, and his application of Scriptural truth.

I am decidedly NOT saying that there is truth that is inaccessible to white men and therefore we need BIPOC to interpret Scripture in a way that we can not understand as white men. That is some weird form of ethnic gnosticism. I am purposefully NOT saying that culture should determine theology.

What I am saying is that we should read diverse perspectives to prevent undue influence from one culture over a theology or exegetical task that should speak universally. The issue is not the Scripture. The issue is us.

The church is diverse. Evangelicalism and the Southern Baptist Convention are diverse. We need each other. We need to hear each other and balance each other. So then I want to conclude with a list of reasons that commend an intentional effort to include diverse voices and perspectives that are not beholden to worldly approaches. Every point below assumes that diverse perspectives and cultures does not mean divergent views about the gospel and assume a refusal of secular worldview; diversity in perspective and background, unity in common confession and a common gospel: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.”

  1. Preventing bias. We need diverse readings to prevent a single culture from having unchecked cultural influence over our study of theology. We have blind spots. By their very nature, we can not see them. Diverse perspectives will challenge us on our assumptions, some of which we may find to be less biblical and more cultural.
  2. It’s who we are. We need diverse perspectives because we are diverse. The SBC repented of racism in 1995. Since then, the number of black churches in the SBC has increased significantly. It should not be the case that our nearly 4,000 black SBC churches can send their students to seminaries that they fund and their students basically never read a scholar that looks like them or shares their background. Their tradition is loaded with great resources. That is not even to speak of contributions from Asian scholars, Latin American scholars, and others. Why are we not drawing from them? This brings me to the next point.
  3. There’s no good reason not to. We should intentionally consider diverse perspective because they are not hard to find and countless minority scholars are producing excellent work. It speaks to our blind spots that this requires effort! There are many, many faithful scholars of color who far surpass our standard of excellence in Christian scholarship. Sometimes we saying we are only choosing the “best stuff”. What are we communicating to students who are non-white if the “best stuff” is always from white scholars? This does not reflect the reality of many scholars from diverse backgrounds producing great work. Unintentionally we may be communicating that only we are capable, or that all are capable but culturally we are simply better. Representation matters for precisely this reason.

    (I do not believe Burk, or other scholars believe this. I am speaking here of the kind of communication between a husband and a wife when she is sharing about her day, and he won’t look up from his phone. He may be listening, but is communicating something different. This may not be conveyed in one class, but perhaps over the course of a whole theological education without any minority authors.)
  4. We would benefit. We need to include diverse perspectives because it would be beneficial to us. Diverse perspectives have given us countless insights about honor-shame culture, sacrifice, etc. Asian and African Christians do not help us read the Bible by eisegeting their culture into the text. They have helped us see things we otherwise might not notice, because of the assumptions we bring to the text without realizing it.
  5. It’s another way to show how we have been reconciled to one another. Diverse reading is a picture of the gospel ministry of reconciliation. I am hesitant to put this only because I know of how some may represent it. What I am not saying is that those who assign reading from authors of a single cultural perspective are denying the gospel. I am not saying that the gospel requires my view here. What I am saying is that God in Christ has reconciled people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to himself. Diverse readings train students to see how God is working throughout all the world and all people so that we are not unintentionally convinced that God is only leading us to produce theology that is up to the standard of excellence.

I want to close by saying that I am grateful for Denny Burk. I don’t see him saying everything I’m pressing against here. We don’t always agree, but I have always found him to be willing to engage in a charitable conversation with me. I hope this brings far more light than heat to this conversation. I think Denny would agree with a lot of what I say here. I do not think he is guilty of intentionally excluding any authors, and he explicitly encouraged reading widely. I just wanted to go a step further and say that these reasons listed above commend diverse readings and should encourage us to intentionally shape our reading lists, within our confessional standards, in such a way. I am not condemning “colorblind” reading selection; I am attempting to affirm intentionally diverse reading as a better way.

Now, go read widely.

John Calvin on Sinful Theological Disagreement

Recently I wrote a paper for a Ph.D. seminar about the contrast between Bavinck and Berkouwer’s view of the tension between beatific vision and divine invisibility. One small thing I found in the course of my research is that Herman Bavinck claims1 Calvin has no contribution on the subject. I began to track down this claim and I found a really interesting comment from Calvin on the necessity of guarding against sin in theological disagreement.

Bavinck is partially right. Calvin does refer to such issues (debates about seeing God’s essence, etc.) as the “thorny questions” of revelation. Where Bavinck is wrong is that he claims this is proof that Calvin merely bypasses the question and has no position. Calvin’s theology and exegesis give clues that he is more open to the idea than described here. In his Institutes (II.14.iii.), Calvin describes a future time in which Christ will set aside his mediatorial office and his “middle place between God and us” and “his divine majesty shall be beheld face to face…God will cease to be the head of Christ, and Christ’s own Godhead will shine forth of itself, whereas it is now in a manner veiled.” In his exegetical commentary on 1 John 3:2, Calvin concludes, “…when the Apostle says, we shall see him as he is, he intimates a new and ineffable manner of seeing him, which we enjoy not now…hence the majesty of God, now hid, will then only be in itself seen, when the veil of this mortal and corruptible nature shall be removed.”2

These are interesting points, but Calvin’s introductory comments on the matter are instructive for all of us in the midst of theological disagreements over the “thorny issues”. Whether we can see God in his divine essence in some meaningful way or not, Calvin warns about “wrangling” on this issue so much that “we lose the peace without which no one will see him…”

Does this complex theological issue matter? Is it worth debating or worth even forming opinions on? Yes. Clearly. Calvin does so, as well as Bavinck. But there is something more important. No matter how we will see God, we will not see him at all if we do not do so in a way that reflects Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Was Calvin perfect at this? It’s doesn’t take much more than a quick google search of Calvin’s faults to know that he was not. A better question is this: How are we doing? How are you doing? May it never be said of us that we debate the finer points of theology in a way that disgraces the Theos or use words that bring scorn upon the Logos.

May it be said of us that when we say our piece, we keep our peace.

1. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2, 190.

2. John Calvin, Commentaries on The First Epistle of John, trans. John Owen, vol. 22, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005).

J.I. Packer’s 1978 Moore College Lectures

In 1978, J.I. Packer gave a series of lectures, 5 lectures in total, at Moore College in NSW Australia. These lectures were on the broad topic of the gospel, and more narrowly on the person and work of Christ.

What is the gospel?

In the the first lecture, Packer says that Christ crucified is the heart of the gospel. In the narrower sense, the gospel means “the work God has done as men’s savior on the cross, and that he does in bringing men to faith to know him now, and that he will do as he leads men on in that life that the Holy Spirit gives.” In the broader sense, Packer says, the gospel signifies “nothing less than the whole counsel of God; that whole divine plan which began in eternity and will only be completed in eternity from eternity to eternity, the plan of salvation not completed until the church is perfect in glory” (36:00).

In order, the lectures are as follows:
1) “We’ve a Story to Tell”
2) “The Man Jesus Christ”
3) “He Emptied Himself: The Divinity of Jesus Christ”
4) “The Wonderful Exchange”
5) “No Other Name: The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ”

I cannot recommend these lectures more highly. You may find them in full below.

As a bonus, I’ve also added a Q&A between Packer and Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, at the end of this post.

Bonus Q&A between Dr. J.I. Packer and Pastor Mark Dever; Capitol Hill Baptist Church, 1999.