Petrus van Mastricht was a German-Dutch theologian associated with the Nadere Reformatie. Jonathan Edwards considered him the greatest of the Reformed theologians, but only recently has the modern English-speaking world really taken notice of him. Adriaan Neele is largely responsible for that growing interest. The newest book on Mastricht, edited by Neele, has just been released: Petrus van Mastrich (1630-1706): Text, Context, and Interpretation (published by V&R). It is a collaborative work with chapters on Mastricht's theology, philosophy, and reception. I contributed the chapter exploring Mastricht's reception in colonial New England. The book is very expensive, so your best bet is to rent a copy thru your library.
Today the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp where more than a million people, mostly Jews, were systematically murdered. Several memorial services have already taken place.
As I was returning to Marshall from Detroit earlier this week, I was listening to an interview with Laurence Rees on NPR. Rees is the author of the 2005 book, Auschwitz: A New History. With information drawn from more than one hundred survivors and witnesses, Rees's book offers a masterful account of the cascade of atrocities by Nazi Germany which eventually culminated in the creation of camps like Auschwitz.
As the interview came to an end, interviewer Dave Davies asked Rees an important question: what lesson does the world need to learn from Auschwitz? Rees answered (and I am paraphrasing), "The lesson is that we need to shun absolute beliefs. The Nazis were absolute believers, and look what they did."
I found this answer very curious for several reasons; first, because I don't think Rees actually believes it! Throughout his interview, Rees rendered absolute moral judgments against the Nazi regime. He called it "evil," "immoral," and "tragic." One can only say such things if one has a core of absolute moral convictions. If Rees really believed his "lesson," he would not be able to say such things.
I also found it a curious answer because it was the absolute beliefs of the Allies which finally brought an end to the Nazi reign of terror. Leaders like Churchill, Roosevelt, and others were willing to commit their people and their treasure to the war effort precisely because they believed absolutely in freedom, and democracy, and human dignity, and they believed that these must be preserved at all cost. Nazism wasn't defeated by relativists. Relativists don't stand for anything. It was defeated by absolutists.
Besides all this, would the kind of relativism advocated by Rees really make the world a better place, or would it actually make the world more dangerous? Let me ask the question another way: Do you really want to live in a world where no one has core moral or epistemological convictions? Where no one is willing to say with certainty that some things are right and other things are wrong? It seems to me that such a situation would be the quickest route back to an atrocity like Auschwitz.
So as much as I respect and appreciate Laurence Rees, let us not take his advice. Instead, let these be the lessons learned on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz: The world is filled with absolute claims, but they are not all equally valid. Some are good and right and true, while others are evil, and wrong, and false. So we must be careful. We must guard our hearts. We do not want to place absolute faith in the wrong thing. Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas can lead to disaster. But we do not want to become relativists either. That, too, can lead to disaster. Let us therefore use the tragedy of Auschwitz as our motivation for seeking and finding the right thing--the right One--to put our absolute faith in.
Yesterday evening at Grace Baptist Church I delivered my annual "State of the Church Address." This is my annual opportunity to share the successes of the previous year, discuss plans for the new year, and talk about the opportunities and challenges awaiting us. I have uploaded my PowerPoint presentation if you would like to check it out.
Throughout the fall of 2019 I was busy working with Adriaan Neele to get the Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest transferred from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The transfer was necessary in light of Doug Sweeney's move from TEDS to Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. The transfer is now complete, and the new website is up: https://prts.edu/research-centers/jonathan-edwards-center/
The Edwards Center-Midwest will be involved in the following activities in 2020:
--Authoring a new book: Reading Jonathan Edwards: An Annotated Bibliography, 2006-2020, which will be a companion volume to the book of the same title by M. X. Lesser.
--Hosting a seminar (March 10, 2020) featuring George Marsden
--Publishing Edwardseana magazine (March 2020)
--Holding a student paper competition
--Participating in the Global Jonathan Edwards Congress in Belgium, including delivering a keynote address
--Transcribing, editing, and then publishing sermons of Jonathan Edwards
--Publishing book reviews on a near-monthly basis on the blog
Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle C. Strobel. Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018. xi + 232 pp. $19.99.
Olivet Crisp, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Kyle Strobel, associate professor of spiritual theology at Talbot School of Theology, are two leading representatives of the British School of Edwards studies. In this collaborative work the authors provide us with an introductory survey of Edwards’ thought, with particular attention given to those aspects of his thought receiving the most attention in the wider academic community.
In the first chapter, the authors establish the intellectual and personal contexts in which Edwards labored. They remind us that New England was part of the British Empire during Edwards’ time, and that Edwards viewed himself as an Englishmen. They discuss the religious, economic, and cultural climate of the day, and the influence his family, education, and geographic setting had on his intellectual development.
The second chapter is entitled “God of Beauty and Glory,” and is largely devoted to the inner workings of the Trinity. In short, the authors explain Edwards’ thinking on the Father as the prime being, the Son as Father’s self-understanding existing as his own subsistence, and the Spirit as his will existing in a third subsistence. However, because of the interpenetration of the three subsistences, all three may be regarded as “persons,” even as the Godhead contains but one understanding and will. Attention is also given to Edwards’ writings on the love, happiness, and excellency of the Trinity in this chapter.
The third chapter is entitled “God and Idealism.” Here the authors argue that Edwards believed “all…physical things are really ideas or collections of ideas, and not anything material” and that “all ideas, including the created minds that have them, continue to exist because they are held in the divine mind” (pp. 71–72). In other words, the world is not a material entity separate from God, but is actually a reality of, or within, the divine mind. And the world continues to exist because God continues thinking about it.
The fourth chapter, entitled “God and Creation,” deals with Edwards’ doctrines of panentheism, continuous creation, occasionalism, and determinism. Each of these represents a modification of the traditional Reformed understanding of God’s relationship to the world, and they do raise some potential problems. Questions of human moral responsibility and God’s relationship to evil are specifically addressed by the authors here.
The fifth chapter considers Edwards’ doctrine of atonement—beginning with the Trinity, moving to the Covenant of Redemption, and then considering redemptive history itself. The authors posit divine wisdom and love as the main emphases in Edwards’ doctrine of atonement. Regarding the “mechanism” of the atonement, they write that “Edwards’s account will not easily be narrowed to a single model” (p. 141). Nevertheless, “a form of penal substitution,” with an element of “reparative substitution,” seems to be at the heart of his understanding.
The sixth chapter, entitled “Salvation as Participation,” deals with Edwards’ views on sanctification. The authors state that “the focus of Edwards’s account of life with God is not that we come to share in God’s metaphysical status…but that we come to share in the divine life” (p. 153). Through the Son and Spirit, believers come to “partake by grace what is God’s by nature” (p.154).
The seventh chapter, entitled “Becoming Beautiful,” deals with Edwards’ theological anthropology. It consider mankind as made in God’s image, of fallen man as retaining his “natural image” while losing his “spiritual image,” and the restoration of that spiritual image through regeneration and sanctification. This chapter also highlights Edwards’ teaching on the religious affections and his moral theology, both of which are governed by the “principle of divine love” (p. 193).
The final chapter, “Becoming Edwardsean,” is a critical evaluation of Edwards’ system of thought. The authors suggest that Edwards’ system contains three weaknesses: it harms the traditional understanding of the God-world relation, of human freedom, and of God’s relation to evil. Even so, they commend Edwards’ intellectual project on the whole and encourage their readers to become Edwardsean, which means “following Edwards as he faithfully seeks to do justice to the ‘upward call of God in Christ’…attending deeply to the blessedness of God…and God’s infinitely transcendent being… [and] grounding life in the glory of God” (p. 218).
Though it was written for “those coming to Edwards for the first time” (p. 2), this book was not written for those new to theological thinking in general. Terms are sometimes used without definition, and the philosophical issues raised are likely beyond a beginner’s training. The authors also sometimes choose to describe Edwards’ thought with terms he himself never used (for example, describing his doctrine of sanctification as “theosis”), increasing the opportunity for misunderstandings. Despite these alleged weaknesses, however, the book does make a useful contribution to the field of Edwards studies. Indeed, it is likely to become required reading in introductory courses on Jonathan Edwards in the years ahead.
The Michigan Expositors Summit is a ministry of Grace Baptist Church (where I pastor) that offers gospel-affirming pastors an opportunity to hone their preaching skills at no cost to them. This year we met on April 11th, from 8:30-1:30. About 50 pastors came from 30 churches. Our speaker was James Wells, senior pastor of Heritage Hills Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. He gave three outstanding workshops on highly relevant topics: maintaining our passion in preaching, developing effective sermon illustrations, and principles for applying the text with care. It was great reconnecting with many pastors who had attended last year's event, and especially fun to meet a number of new pastors. We are praying and working for a spiritual awakening in south-central Michigan that will spread to every part of the world that our ministries touch. Will you pray with us?
August 22, 2017 by: David PowlisonThis article is part of the Open Letters series from Crossway.
Original is available at: https://www.crossway.org/articles/an-open-letter-to-those-nonchalant-about-their-sexual-sin/?fbclid=IwAR0eQxxN5HH27K0vEZbCIIFpvRcSoNdgL3VIW3xIkErqgOFlPvP6D7C2T0o
Sex is like fire. When it blazes in the fireplace, a good fire warms and brightens the room, enhancing joy and companionship. But when fires ignite in the wrong places, the house burns down. Is your sexuality igniting in the wrong places? Are you treating sexual sin casually? How do you know when this has happened? Let me offer a few tests that can rouse your conscience.
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).
Take it to heart. Don’t let peer pressure or the culture deceive you. By the mercy of Christ, you will live a brighter, more loving, and more fruitful life.
How do you change? There are many facets of that big question, but I will point to four. First, the starting point for change is to say, “What I am doing is wrong.” That acknowledgement gets you pointed in the right direction.
But God doesn’t just tell you to shape up. The second step is to realize “I need mercies from my Father. I need him to love me and forgive me. I need his strength and forgiveness.” Recognizing wrong leads to awareness that you need something that only God can give you—something he freely gives. He gives himself in Jesus Christ.
The third step in changing is to act on this. The Lord calls you to seek him, to find him, and from him to receive what you most need. Psalm 25:11 brings this to life:
For your name's sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Cast yourself on the care of your Father. Find grace and help from outside yourself. Seek, and you will find the mercy you need.
The fourth step is not really a step, it’s a lifestyle. It’s learning to walk out what those “good, right, and true” things look like. This has many different aspects that work out in our lives at different times. Choose to spend time with different companions. Put filtering software on your screens. Set up real accountability with someone you trust. Make the kind of lifestyle changes that get you out of the path of where you’ve gotten yourself into trouble. Jesus uses a vivid picture of how to deal with our own evil. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. He shocks us into a radical amputation of evil. And, of course, none of these battles are one-and-done. God intends to work in you a committed resolve to take seriously what’s wrong, to need him, to pursue what’s right. It’s an ongoing fight.
Here is one of the most helpful things I heard early in my Christian life. Think of your soul as a room. When you’re in sin, that room is full of dark forces, dark people, and darkness. There are two ways you get rid of darkness in your soul. One way is to cast it out, fight it, resist and reject it. The other way is to fill the room with light. As your life fills with better people, better things to do, and more reasons to live in the light, then there’s less room for the darkness.
Jesus Christ gives a beautiful call. He invites you to live a radical life. He challenges people who think that it’s okay to do wrong. He challenges people who think they have moved past outmoded cultural values. He challenges people who think that current cultural assumptions are good, right, and true. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t drift with the culture. Do what Flannery O’Connor said we should do: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” Live out in the daylight, not in the shadows and darkness.
Finding the mercies of Christ and learning to walk in his light is courageous. It has an impact on people around you. You demonstrate the Lord. That’s bigger than any one of us individually. In a world where the light is going out on sexual rights and wrongs, you have an opportunity to turn on the lights.
David Powlison (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a teacher, a counselor, and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He is also the senior editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling and the author of Seeing with New Eyes, Good & Angry, and Speaking Truth in Love.
Just finished working through Creation Care by Doug and Jonathan Moo. Overall it's a great book offering a sound biblical theology of the natural order. But there is one very troubling chapter (ch. 10) in which the authors declare that "creation care is part of the gospel." This is just the latest example in a trend among evangelicals to load the gospel with content that does not belong in the gospel proper.
Let's be clear about this: the gospel is the good news of what God has done for us through Christ (see esp. 1 Cor. 15), a message that is received by faith and repentance. The gospel is not an action, or series of actions, that we perform. The gospel is not "do social justice." It is not "do ecological justice." It is not "do economic justice." All of these are important, and all will be concerns of those who have embraced the gospel message. But they do not constitute the gospel itself, in whole or in part.
Here are some of the consequences I see flowing from this evangelical confusion about the gospel:
1. It undermines the core evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone. How could it be otherwise, when you start saying that intrinsic to the gospel is stuff we must do in addition to a message about Christ that we must receive?
2. It undermines true evangelism. When Christians think that community organizing is "spreading the gospel" and when they think that their nonChristian neighbors and friends are engaged in "gospel work" because they are committed to social, economic, and ecological justice, the actual gospel message is not going to be shared as often as it otherwise would be. The tragedy of this should be evident to all who believe in the realities of death and hell.
3. It saddles Christians with a load of guilt that they don't need to bear. The NT reveals plenty of sins for us to experience true guilt about: pride, malice, envy, greed, etc. Now some evangelicals want to add to that burden feelings of guilt about owning SUVs, not using a bicycle often enough, consuming fast food, drinking bottled water, turning the thermostat up during the winter months, etc. Was this not the error of the Pharisees--burdening the consciences of God's people with a load of extra-biblical rules?
4. It directs much of the Church's finite human and material resources away from Bible translation, church planting, and missions work (where those resources are most needed) and toward economic, environmental, and social causes that are already flooded with volunteers, extremely well-funded, are not directly tied to the biblical mission.
5. It will cause some Christians to believe that their churches are not "preaching the whole gospel" because there are no sermons being preached or activities being organized around economic, environmental, and social causes. The result of this will be conflict between some church members and their church leaders, some unnecessary departures of members from their local churches (on the grounds that their churches "don't care about the whole gospel"), and some public judgments against those good churches (on social media, for example) based on nonbiblical standards.
I thought this was a great article from The New York Times, so I am reproducing it in its entirety here
How Loneliness Is Tearing America ApartWhen people have a hole in their life, they often fill it with angry politics.
By Arthur C. Brooks
Nov. 23, 2018
America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness.
According to a recent large-scale survey from the health care provider Cigna, most Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships. Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out.” Thirteen percent of Americans say that zero people know them well. The survey, which charts social isolation using a common measure known as the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale, shows that loneliness is worse in each successive generation.
This problem is at the heart of the new book “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska. Mr. Sasse argues that “loneliness is killing us,” citing, among other things, the skyrocketing rates of suicide and overdose deaths in America. This year, 45,000 Americans will take their lives, and more than 70,000 will die from drug overdoses.
Mr. Sasse’s assertion that loneliness is killing us takes on even darker significance in the wake of the mail-bomb campaign against critics of President Trump and the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, both of which were perpetrated by isolated — and apparently very lonely — men. Mr. Sasse’s book was published before these events, but he presciently described what he believes lonely people increasingly do to fill the hole of belonging in their lives: They turn to angry politics.
In the “siloed,” or isolated, worlds of cable television, ideological punditry, campus politics and social media, people find a sense of community in the polarized tribes forming on the left and the right in America. Essentially, people locate their sense of “us” through the contempt peddled about “them” on the other side of the political spectrum.
There is profit to be made here. The “outrage industrial complex” is what I call the industries that accumulate wealth and power by providing this simulacrum of community that people crave — but cannot seem to find in real life.
Why are we becoming so lonely? One reason is the changing nature of work. Work is one of the key sources of friendship and community. Think of your own relationships; surely many of your closest friendships — perhaps even your relationship with your spouse — started in the workplace. Yet the reality of the workplace is rapidly attenuating, as people hop from job to job, and from city to city, as steady work becomes harder to find and the “gig” economy grows.
Mr. Sasse worries even more, however, about a pervasive feeling of homelessness: Too many Americans don’t have a place they think of as home — a “thick” community in which people know and look out for one another and invest in relationships that are not transient. To adopt a phrase coined in Sports Illustrated, one might say we increasingly lack that “hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.”
Mr. Sasse finds this phrase irresistible and warmly relates it to his own life growing up in Fremont, Neb., a town of 26,000 residents. He describes the high school sports events on Friday nights that drew the townspeople together in a common love for their neighbors and community that made most differences — especially political differences — seem trivial. He relates with deep fondness the feelings he experienced, after moving away for a couple of decades for school and work, when he returned to Fremont’s small-town life with his family, and the deep sense of belonging it created.
In what might be called “the social capital of death,” Mr. Sasse charmingly describes the sense of being rooted that it gives him, at a robust and healthy 46, to own a burial plot for himself in Fremont’s local cemetery. A précis of Mr. Sasse’s recommendations to America thus might be this: Go where you get that hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night feeling, put down roots and make plans to fertilize the soil.
That can be a tricky proposition for many of us. On reading the book, I asked myself where I might get that hometown-gym feeling, where I have natural roots, where I can imagine being buried. No specific place came to mind. I have no Fremont — not even Seattle, my hometown, which is a perfectly nice place, but one I unsentimentally left behind 35 years ago.
All this is particularly germane to my wife and me at the moment, as we prepare to move from Maryland to Massachusetts in the coming months. We fear the loneliness we are sure to feel as we enter a completely new place where neither of us grew up or has ever lived. Is a thick community and the happiness it brings out of reach for rootless cosmopolitans like us?
I recently put these questions to Mr. Sasse. He told me I had it all wrong — that moving back home and going to the gym on Friday aren’t actually the point; rather, the trick is “learning how to intentionally invest in the places where we actually live.” In other words, being a member of a community isn’t about whether I have a Fremont. It isn’t about how I feel about any place I have lived, nor about my fear of isolation in a new city. It is about the neighbor I choose to be in the community I wind up calling my home.
And there lies the challenge to each of us in a country suffering from loneliness and ripped apart by political opportunists seeking to capitalize on that isolation. Each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.
Arthur C. Brooks (@arthurbrooks) is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a contributing opinion writer and the host of the podcast “The Arthur Brooks Show.”
A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 24, 2018, on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe