Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wittenberg vs Geneva

Wittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that DivideWittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that Divide by Brian W. Thomas

I almost bailed on this book early on. I was excited to see this book appear. The topic is interesting and deserves more attention than has been given. I was encouraged by Rod Rosenbladt’s preface. After the introduction touting an ecumenical, charitable spirit, I was looking forward to an honest, careful, forthright debate. But the first chapter was rocky!

In the first page of the debate, Thomas accuses R.C. Sproul of erecting a straw man, but he does not explain how or why Sproul’s argumentation is flawed. He simply dismisses it without support. Almost immediately after, he accuses John Owen of “adding to the Word” of God because Owen retranslated a verse to add clarity to it (in a commentary). He quotes Owen’s “addition to the Word” but leaves out the context. Owen writes that, “So that the sense [of John 3:16 based on the entirety of John’s writing and the Scriptures as a whole] is, ‘God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved ’”(Owen, Works Vol 10). Some people (most people, actually) would call this what it is—teaching. To claim that Owen is sinning (that is what an accusation of “adding to the word” is) is ridiculous and is used, to quote Thomas, “either to purposefully mislead unsuspecting readers to gain rhetorical advantage or through sheer incompetence. Either one (is) inexcusable in a book purporting to teach the truth.” Someone writing a commentary and attempting to help illuminate a verse by using different language is not unheard of or improper. To accuse that person of sin for doing so is both.

Thomas’s then argues that the Reformed position of exegesis is poor or inconsistent for qualifying the word “all” in texts but not doing so in Romans 3:23. This is ridiculous in its own right. Romans 1:1-3:22 make the context for the “all” of Romans 3:23 explicitly universal. Other passages, even from Paul, are clearly used in other ways. It reminded me of a Virginia pastor ranting that he was going to handstand on a tree stump and proclaim that “’all’ means ‘all’ and that’s all that it means,” ignoring the fact that this is not how language works….at all. Recognizing that people use words differently to convey different meanings is not “inconsistent;” it is proper. This is true of “all” and Johannine “world” as well.

Thomas argues that the doctrine of limited atonement precludes assurance makes it clear that he does not (and has not) ever understood the doctrine of definite atonement. “If you interpret the universal passages as the Reformed do, then you cannot ultimately believe your sins are forgiven on the basis of the objective promises revealed in texts like the ever-popular John 3:16.” What? Every Reformed author I have read has drawn great encouragement from the fact that Christ’s death accomplished exactly what it was meant to do.
For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, “It is finished!” For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes—for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. “We love him, because he first loved us.”—French Reformed Baptismal Liturgy
The Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. What could be more assuring than knowing that?

But, like I said, I almost bailed on this book. And I am quite glad that I did not. Objections aside, this is a much-needed, well-argued (for the overwhelming majority of the time), and helpful book. The Lutheran position of objective and subjective justification is presented well and is much more convincing than a typical synergism argument. I remain unconvinced, but it will lead me to study the topic more. So will many more of Thomas’s arguments. There is a great interaction with Romans 9-11; I remain unconvinced in regards to his conclusion, but I am convinced that it warrants more study. The same is true with the sacramental word. His chapters on baptism and the Supper are quite good and well-worth consideration. I have always used “transubstantiation” as a description of the Lutheran position. Now I know that is misleading. “(The sacraments) simply do not factor into the Reformed ordo saludis”—True. “The difference in how Lutherans and Calvinists understand the relationship between word and sacrament has been one of the leading causes of controversy”—Agreed. And I am becoming convinced that this is the number one area where Lutheran theology can contribute greatly to the Reformed framework.

Thomas points out some significant misunderstandings that the Reformed hold about Lutheran theology. The book suffers a bit because he also demonstrates some significant misunderstandings that Lutherans have about Reformed teaching. All-in-all, this is a work where the beauty outshines the warts, even if the warts surface early on. I almost bailed on this book. I am glad I did not. I would encourage you to read it and read it to the end. You’ll be blessed and encouraged for doing so.

I received a review copy of this book.

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About The Book:
What are the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists, and do they really matter? InWittenberg vs. Geneva, Brian Thomas provides a biblical defense of the key doctrines that have divided the Lutheran and Reformed traditions for nearly five centuries. It is especially written to help those who may have an interest in the Lutheran church, but are concerned that her stance on doctrines like predestination or the sacraments may not have biblical support. To get to the heart of the matter, Pastor Thomas focuses solely upon those crucial scriptural texts that have led Lutheran and Reformed scholars down different paths to disparate conclusions as he spars with popular Calvinist theologians from the past and the present.
Brian W. ThomasAbout the Author:
Brian W. Thomas is a Lutheran pastor, writer, and speaker from the Pacific Northwest. He has had the privilege of serving churches in California and Washington, lecturing at the University of San Diego, and teaching the Bible all over the world. He is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kingston, Washington.
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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From the Pen of Pastor Paul

From the Pen of Pastor PaulFrom the Pen of Pastor Paul by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the Pen of Pastor Paul is a gift to the church. Daniel Hyde has given the church a resource that is simple, clear, and immensely practical. This commentary of 1-2 Thessalonians is not an academic exercise to impress other academics. It is not encumbered by footnotes and convoluted, ivory tower argumentation. It is simple and clear; confrontational and comforting. In a word, it is pastoral. Hyde uses the Word of God in this series of sermons to exhort and encourage the people of God to faithful living and to urge unbelievers to repent and believe.

Since this is a series of sermons, there are some sections that are repetitive. In fact, some sections appear repeated almost verbatim. This is an understandable aspect of sermons week-to-week, but it would have been beneficial to the book and helpful for the reader for it to have been edited more strictly. Also, the use of cliché in spoken dialogue is not as glaring as it is in writing – especially when they show up multiple times. It is not that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is untrue, clichés become cliché because they speak to truths. But their use can distract from greater points because it can cause the reader to check out a bit. Again, this is not an issue in a sermon from week-to-week, but when you are sitting down with a book and it comes up every other chapter, it is noticeable.

However, that is not to say that repetition is not warranted or necessary. Most of the repetitive aspects of the book are incredibly helpful. Hyde has a particular cadence that makes reading his words feel like you are hear a sermon, and that is very enjoyable. It is important to recognize that we all need to hear the same, simple truths time and again, whether it is from the pulpit or from a pen.

One area that Hyde emphasizes is the necessity of a member praying for his pastor. With (very helpful) repetition, Hyde exhorts his hearer to give his pastor the gift of persistent, consistent prayer. He also addresses the need of the believer to prepare for worship. Also preaching as a means of grace, and the seriousness of the Sabbath, and understanding eschatology’s relationship with Christian living, and so many other issues are addressed forcefully, graciously, simply,…in a word, pastorally.

So I guess that would be my one word description of this book: pastoral. In that way, it will serve pastors in demonstrating how to handle a text in a pastoral manner and believers of all occupations in being faithfully shepherded though 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And, if you are able to get an unbeliever to spend time with a few of these sermons, they will hear the Gospel presented and an urgent, loving, forceful call to repentance and faith. This is a good book for any who would take up and read.

I received a review copy of this book.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

The Story of Indelible Grace

The Sands of Time are Sinking

1. The sands of time are sinking, 
The dawn of heaven breaks; 
The summer morn I’ve sighed for - 
The fair, sweet morn awakes: 
Dark, dark had been the midnight 
But dayspring is at hand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.
2. The king there in His beauty, 
Without a veil is seen: 
It were a well-spent journey, 
Though seven deaths lay between: 
The Lamb with His fair army, 
Doth on Mount Zion stand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land
3. O Christ, He is the fountain, 
The deep, sweet well of love! 
The streams on earth I’ve tasted 
More deep I’ll drink above: 
There to an ocean fullness 
His mercy doth expand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.
4. The bride eyes not her garment, 
But her dear Bridegroom’s face; 
I will not gaze at glory 
But on my King of grace. 
Not at the crown He giveth 
But on His pierced hand; 
The Lamb is all the glory 
Of Emmanuel’s land.
5. O I am my Beloved’s 
And my Beloved is mine! 
He brings a poor vile sinner 
Into His house of wine 
I stand upon His merit - 
I know no other stand, 
Not e’en where glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.