State of the Church

Interview with J. I. Packer (original source here)

Modern Reformation: Dr. Packer, you’ve done a great deal of writing and speaking on the subject of the need for a new reformation, a new awareness of the sovereignty and grace of God in our day. How do you assess the condition of the state of evangelicalism as it presently exists, and what do you think we can do about that condition.

J. I. Packer: I see evangelical strength in America needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions, otherwise the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be. I mean by Reformation truth, a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace. If you don’t see deep into the problem, you don’t see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth of the human problem. And actually, the Reformation itself was a recovery of the tremendous contribution that the great St. Augustine made back at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries. He was the man who, more than anyone else in Christendom, saw to the heart of the real problem. He saw how much damage sin had done, how completely we were oriented away from God by nature. He is the one who left us that phrase “original sin” which he got from the text of Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” He also saw in response to our sinful condition, how great a work of transformation was needed by the grace of God in human lives. The sixteenth century reformers stood on Augustine’s shoulders at this point. Of course they clarified the great truth that justification by faith is the way in which the grace of God reaches us. We need, even today, a Christianity that was as deep and strong as that. And this, it seems to me, is where modern evangelicalism is lacking.

MR: Would you say that there is a connection or a similarity between the man-centered theology of evangelicalism and the general humanistic spirit? Continue reading

Reformed Theology Gone Sour

Ray Ortmond: (original source here)

The Rev. William Still, a patriarch of the Church of Scotland in the twentieth century, preaching on Romans 5:5 and the love of God being poured into our hearts, said this:

“I wonder what it is about poring all over a great deal of Puritan literature that makes so many preachers of it so horribly cold. I don’t understand it, because I think it’s a wonderful literature. . . . I don’t know if you can explain this to me. I’d be very glad to know, because it worries me. But I hear over and over and over again this tremendous tendency amongst people who delve deeply into Puritan literature that a coldness, a hardness, a harshness, a ruthlessness — anything but sovereign grace — enters into their lives and into their ministries. Now, it needn’t be so. And it isn’t always so, thank God. And you see, the grace, the grace, of a true Calvinist and Puritan — that is to say, a biblical Puritan and Calvinist — is wonderful. . . . But O God, deliver us from this coldness!”

The problem is not Reformed theology per se. Inherent within that theology is a humbling and melting and softening and beautifying power. But Reformed theology is also intellectually satisfying, even captivating. Let’s realize a seductive power within ourselves at that very point. If we stop with the intellectual, if we allow our theology to remain cerebral and conceptual only, then this coldness, hardness, harshness and ruthlessness will enter in. And we will not even realize it, because our theology is objectively right and personally satisfying. It is our loss of reality with the Lord and our harshness with one another that will reveal our perverse use of our glorious theology.”

If we have become cold, hard, harsh and ruthless, then we are betraying the doctrines of grace even as we preach the doctrines of grace, and the time for repentance has come.

O God, deliver us from this coldness!

The Courage to Be Reformed

Article: The Courage to Be Reformed by Burk Parsons (original source here)

Rev. Burk Parsons is copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow, vice president of publishing for Ligonier Ministries, and editor of Tabletalk magazine.

When we come to grasp Reformed theology, it’s not only our understanding of salvation that changes, but our understanding of everything. It’s for this reason that when people wrestle through the rudimentary doctrines of Reformed theology and come to comprehend them, they often feel like they have been converted a second time. In fact, as many have admitted to me, the reality is that some have been converted for the very first time. It was through their examination of Reformed theology that they came face-to-face with the stark reality of their radical corruption and deadness in sin, God’s unconditional election of His own and condemnation of others, Christ’s actual accomplishment of redemption for His people, the Holy Spirit’s effectual grace, the reason they persevere by God’s preserving grace, and God’s covenantal way of working in all of history for His glory. When people realize that ultimately, they didn’t choose God, but He chose them, they naturally come to a point of humble admission of the amazing grace of God toward them. It’s only then, when we recognize what wretches we really are, that we can truly sing “Amazing Grace.” And that is precisely what Reformed theology does: it transforms us from the inside out and leads us to sing—it leads us to worship our sovereign and triune, gracious, and loving God in all of life, not just on Sundays but every day and in all of life. Reformed theology isn’t just a badge we wear when being Reformed is popular and cool, it’s a theology that we live and breathe, confess, and defend even when it’s under attack.

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, along with their fifteenth-century forerunners and their seventeenth-century descendants, did not teach and defend their doctrine because it was cool or popular, but because it was biblical, and they put their lives on the line for it. They were not only willing to die for the theology of Scripture, they were willing to live for it, to suffer for it, and to be considered fools for it. Make no mistake: the Reformers were bold and courageous not on account of their self-confidence and self-reliance but on account of the fact that they had been humbled by the gospel. They were courageous because they had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit and equipped to proclaim the light of truth in a dark age of lies. The truth they preached was not new; it was ancient. It was the doctrine of the martyrs, the fathers, the Apostles, and the patriarchs—it was the doctrine of God set forth in sacred Scripture.

The Reformers didn’t make up their theology; rather, their theology made them who they were. The theology of Scripture made them Reformers. For they did not set out to be Reformers, per se—they set out to be faithful to God and faithful to Scripture. Neither the solas of the Reformation nor the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism) were invented by the Reformers, nor were they by any means the sum total of Reformation doctrine. Rather, they became underlying doctrinal premises that served to help the church of subsequent eras confess and defend what she believes. Even today there are many who think they embrace Reformed theology, but their Reformed theology only runs as deep as the solas of the Reformation and the doctrines of grace. What’s more, there are many who say they adhere to Reformed theology but do so without anyone knowing they are Reformed. Such “closet Calvinists” neither confess any of the historic Reformed confessions of the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries nor employ any distinctly Reformed theological language.

However, if we truly adhere to Reformed theology according to the historic Reformed confessions, we cannot help but be identified as Reformed. In truth, it’s impossible to remain a “closet Calvinist,” and it’s impossible to remain Reformed without anyone knowing it—it will inevitably come out. To be historically Reformed, one must adhere to a Reformed confession, and not only adhere to it but confess it, proclaim it, and defend it. Reformed theology is fundamentally a confessional theology.

Reformed theology is also an all-encompassing theology. It changes not only what we know, it changes how we know what we know. It not only changes our understanding of God, it changes our understanding of ourselves. Indeed, it not only changes our view of salvation, it changes how we worship, how we evangelize, how we raise our children, how we treat the church, how we pray, how we study Scripture—it changes how we live, move, and have our being. Reformed theology is not a theology that we can hide, and it is not a theology to which we can merely pay lip service. For that has been the habit of heretics and theological progressives throughout history. They claim to adhere to their Reformed confessions, but they never actually confess them. They claim to be Reformed only when they are on the defensive—when their progressive (albeit popular) theology is called into question, and, if they are pastors, only when their jobs are on the line. While theological liberals might be in churches and denominations that identify as “Reformed,” they are ashamed of such an identity and have come to believe that being known as “Reformed” is a stumbling block to some and an offense to others. Moreover, according to the historic, ordinary marks of the church—the pure preaching of the Word of God, prayer according to the Word of God, the right use of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the consistent practice of church discipline—such “Reformed” churches are often not even true churches. Today, there are many laypeople and pastors who are in traditionally Reformed and Protestant churches and denominations who, along with their churches and denominations, left their Reformed moorings and rejected their confessions years ago.

Contrary to this trend, what we most need are men in the pulpit who have the courage to be Reformed—men who aren’t ashamed of the faith once delivered to the saints but who are ready to contend for it, not with lip service but with all their life and all their might. We need men in the pulpit who are bold and unwavering in their proclamation of the truth and who are at the same time gracious and compassionate. We need men who will preach the unvarnished truth of Reformed theology in season and out of season, not with a finger pointing in the face but with an arm around the shoulder. We need men who love the Reformed confessions precisely because they love the Lord our God and His unchanging, inspired, and authoritative Word. It’s only when we have men in the pulpit who have the courage to be Reformed that we will have people in the pew who grasp Reformed theology and its effects in all of life, so that we might love God more with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the theology that reformed the church in the sixteenth century, and that is the only theology that will bring reformation and revival in the twenty-first century. For in our day of radical progressive theological liberalism, the most radical thing we can be is orthodox according to our Reformed confessions, yet not with arrogance but with courage and compassion for the church and for the lost, all for the glory of God, and His glory alone.

Introduction to the Reformed Faith

by John M. Frame (original source the student body was largely Reformed in background. Many of the students had been trained in Calvinistic1 schools and colleges; even more had studied the Reformed catechisms and confessions. Today, that is rarely the case. More and more, students have come to Westminster from non-Reformed backgrounds, or even from recent conversion experiences. And those from Reformed backgrounds don’t always know their catechism very well.

Many Westminster students, when they first arrive, don’t even understand clearly what Westminster’s doctrinal position is. They know that Westminster maintains a strong view of biblical authority and inerrancy; they know that we hold to the fundamental doctrines of evangelical Christianity. And they know that we explain and defend these doctrines with superior scholarship. But they are sometimes not at all aware of the fact that Westminster is a confessional institution, that it adheres to a definite historic doctrinal tradition– the Reformed Faith.

I am very happy to have all these students here! I am very pleased that Westminster is attracting students from far beyond our normal confessional circles. But their presence necessitates some teaching at a fairly elementary level concerning the seminary’s doctrinal position. It is essential that students be introduced to the Reformed faith early in their seminary career. That Reformed faith energizes and directs all the teaching here. Students must be ready for that. Hence this essay.

I also have another reason for providing this introduction: When you have begun your seminary study, you will come to see that there are a number of variations within the general Reformed tradition. You will learn about “hyperCalvinism,” “theonomy,” “antinomianism,” “presuppositionalism,” “evidentialism,” “perspectivalism,” “traditionalism,” etc., the various names we call ourselves and call each other. It will not always be easy to determine who is “truly Reformed” and who is not– or, more important, who is “truly biblical.” In this paper, I would like to show you, at least, where I stand within the Reformed tradition, and to give you a bit of guidance, helping you to find your way through this maze.

This is, of course, only an “introduction” to the Reformed Faith, rather than an in-depth analysis. The in-depth analysis is to be found in the entire Westminster curriculum. Particularly, the doctrinal points expounded here will be expounded at much greater length in your later courses in systematic theology and apologetics. Still, there are obvious advantages in your having a general overview at an early point in your studies. Together with this document, I suggest you read the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, also the “three forms of unity” of the continental European Reformed churches: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt. These are wonderful summaries of the Reformed doctrinal position, thorough, concise, and precise. The Heidelberg is one of the great devotional works of all time. I also believe there is much to be gained from the opening summary of the Reformed theology in Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith.2 Continue reading

21 Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking

Dr. Sam Waldron, I had the privilege of speaking at the Reformation Preaching 2015 Conference. I was given the delicious, but in some ways difficult topic: Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking. After some thought and seeking counsel, I entitled this message: 21 Misunderstandings of Calvinism.

There are a few things beside the native darkness and pride of the human heart that are a greater danger to the doctrines of grace than the widespread misunderstandings of those doctrines and their implications. The best solution to these misunderstandings is a study of the Reformed tradition itself and its clear statements about what the Bible does, and does not, teach regarding the doctrines of grace.

Before I addressed this important subject, I gave the conference four points of introduction. The first of those is the subject of this first post on those 21 misconceptions of Calvinism.

The Sources of These Misunderstandings

I distinguished three sources of misconceptions about Calvinism

The first was Arminian Misrepresentation. It is unquestionable that both today and in the past history of the church, Arminians have constantly repeated misrepresentations of the doctrines of grace. While these misrepresentations may have seemed to them the necessary implications of the views of their Calvinist opponents, they were made in many cases in spite of the clearest denials by the Reformed. It is unfair for anyone to charge their opponents with holding views that they deny even though they seem to be the logical implications of their positions. It is fair to point out that their views do lead to such implications. It is not fair to affirm that they hold or believe such implications when they explicitly deny them. Continue reading

A Church for Exiles

Carl-TruemanArticle: no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.

American Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism start this exile with heavy baggage. Evangelicalism has largely wedded itself to the vision of America as at heart a Christian nation, a conception that goes back to the earliest New England settlers. An advertisement for The American Patriot’s Bible (2009) proudly boasts that it “connects the teachings of the Bible, the history of the United States and the life of every American” while “beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight the people and events that demonstrate the godly qualities that have made America great.” Yet a nation where the language of “choice” and “freedom” has been hijacked for infanticide, the deconstruction of marriage, and a seemingly limitless license to publish pornography is rather obviously not godly. That’s a hard truth for those who believe America belongs to them by right.

For Roman Catholics, the challenges of our cultural exile are different. Rome has somehow managed to maintain a level of social credibility in America, despite holding to positions regarded as intolerable by the wider secular world when held by Protestants. Her refusals to ordain women or sanction the use of contraception do not seem to have destroyed her public reputation. But if, for example, tax-exempt status is revoked for educational and social-service nonprofits opposed to the increasingly mandatory sexual revolution, the Church will face a stark choice: capitulate to the spirit of the age or step out into the cold wasteland of cultural and social marginality. When opposition to gay marriage comes to be seen as the moral equivalent to white supremacism, it is doubtful that the Roman Catholic Church will be able to maintain both her current position on the issue and her status in society. She too will likely be shunted to the margins. Continue reading

Before I was Reformed

I wonder if you can relate to much of this…. Les Lanphere, in an article entitled ” like so many others in my generation, was a Christian for a long time before being confronted with the doctrines of grace. Why does this matter? What difference do these doctrines make in the Christian life?

There is a solid Christianity that has been fought for, that people have died for. There have been Church councils and controversial men who stood up to revolt against corrupt practices and unbiblical doctrines. We aren’t left in the dark to figure Christianity out all over again. The truth has been opened and passed down to us by Saints past.

Not only has reformed theology opened my eyes to new things, it’s cleared up so many things that I already believed but failed to understand.

10. MY SIN

I knew I was a sinner. I knew I needed to be forgiven. But just how much of a sinner, I had no idea. Sometimes I would say, “Wow, I didn’t sin much this week.”

Now I know that it’s quite possible that I have never, for a second, obeyed the command “Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.”. I never took seriously Jesus’ words that looking at a woman with lust is to commit adultery, or that hating a man in your heart is murder. I ignored the fact that Jesus said “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:48

I finally understand that I sin every day, every hour… on some level I sin every moment of my life. This is how sinful I am. But God! Oh, how merciful He is to such a sinner.

9. GOD WORKS ALL THINGS FOR MY GOOD

This seemed like a nice idea – God works stuff out in the end. I don’t need to worry too much, because God can clean up the messes and put it back together.

But once I understood sovereignty, it all changed. God doesn’t just react to what people are doing or the messes that pop up in life. He is “working all things” for the good of His people. Because He orchestrates everything, my life isn’t left to chance for a split second. Nothing surprises Him, not because He knows it all but because He’s actually in control.

8. WHY WE PRAY FOR THE LOST

This is something everyone does. We pray for our family and friends to be saved. We say things like “soften their hearts” or “reveal yourself to them”. It’s not something I ever thought about as incosistent with my beliefs, but now I see how strange it really was.

If God couldn’t override people’s free will, how could He save them? How could He do anything different than the 100% He was already giving everyone, waiting fo them to make their decision. What does it mean to “soften a heart” other than “do more than You are doing to change their mind”?

Now I can pray fervently for God to override a family member’s sinful will, because I know that this is their only hope. If God can’t touch our wills, we all go to Hell. God, destroy their will, and MAKE them love You, so they can be saved from Hell! Continue reading