Patriotism and History

Speaking about the biases that can influence the way an historian writes history, Charles Francis Adams Jr. says,

For in the study of history there should be but one law for all. Patriotism, piety and filial duty have nothing to do with it;–they are, indeed, mere snares and sources of delusion. The rules and canons of criticism applied in one case and to one character, must be sternly and scrupulously applied in all other similar cases and to all other characters; and, while surrounding circumstances should, and, indeed, must be taken into careful consideration, no matter who is concerned. Patriotism in the study of history is but another name for provincialism. To see history truly and correctly, it must be viewed as a whole.

Charles Francis Adams, Massachusetts: Its Historians and Its History, An Object Lesson (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893), 12.

Though his primary concern is patriotism when it comes to writing on colonial history, this can apply just as readily to Christian historians who obscure the past to serve pious ends.

Thoughts on The Future of Protestantism


I am still trying to process the essays and interchange at “The Future of Protestantism” (video) roundtable held at Biola last night. If you are unfamiliar with what I am referring to, the Torrey Honors Institute, Davenant Trust, and First Things co-hosted an event where Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman responded to Peter Leithart and an essay that he wrote last year on the future of Protestantism. City of God friends Peter Escalante and Brad Littlejohn were both involved as moderator and organizer, respectively.

All in all, I enjoyed the interchange. Each of the conversation partners, and the moderator, had distinct personalities that made watching and listening a pleasant experience. The added element of following on Twitter with the hashtag #protfuture was also good, as people with varying perspectives on ecumenism shared thoughts and concerns. The humour over the Other Peter’s mustache was also quite hilarious—it felt a little like Dali was in the house!

I have sympathies with Leithart’s concern for a publicly visible unity of God’s people. I also agree with him that the traditional Protestant understanding about the Church of Rome is that she is a true church but has become deformed (to use the language of some participants last night). The question that I continue to wrestle with, however, is: at what point does a church cease to be a church? It strikes me, based on what Leithart said about Jehovah’s Witnesses, that an “in/out” boundary is found in the formulations of the ecumenical creeds. Thus, if a church ceases to believe in the Trinity or deity of Christ, it is no longer a true church.

However, Galatians 1:6-10 indicates that the boundaries should be tighter than Trinitarianism or Christology and should include concerns about the gospel (would Leithart say this is tribalism?). Leithart points to N. T. Wright’s definition that the gospel is only a declaration about Jesus Christ as Lord, not justification by faith. While I agree that the gospel is not less than a declaration about Christ’s lordship, it is certainly more, and is deeply bound up with justification by faith. Or, to view it with another soteriological lens, how do I a sinner become reconciled to God? Is it by my own work or merit? Or do I trust in what Christ did in his propitiatory sacrifice and his resurrection on my behalf? Based on his words last night, I would think that Leithart would have to say, ultimately, that it does not matter. If Protestants and Catholics effectively share the same gospel—that is, that the gospel is only a declaration of Christ’s lordship—then it does not matter whether my works contribute to my reconciliation with God or not. Because of Galatians 1:6-10, I can’t escape the fact that Paul would anathematize such a view. Is he not the one who elsewhere said that the gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes, Jew or Gentile? Is he not the one who linked the “good news” (euangelizometha) and “justification” (dikaiothenai) in Acts 13:13-52, esp. v.38? This is what brings about eternal life.

I do not doubt Leithart’s genuine desire that Protestantism should develop a higher liturgy. I too would love to see the Eucharist become more central than it is in many denominations. When I visit my mother’s Reformed Baptist church back home, they practice weekly Communion, and I am deeply blessed by that. I would also love to see Protestants have a more robust and Reformed understanding of the real presence. But as I listened to the discussion last night, so much of that part of Leithart’s discussion felt like a veil, masking the core question of what is the gospel? The Roman Catholic Church and Reformed Protestanism hold fundamentally different views about the gospel. Sure, we share the ecumenical creeds, but that is not enough.

One might also ask, what about those Protestant traditions that are purposefully low-church? Is it wrong to not want the accouterments and trappings of medieval Christendom? What about the Salvation Army, or Black Gospel churches? What about churches in other countries on other continents that express their worship according to different cultural norms? Leithart’s vision seems to be heavily indebted to historic European forms of worship.

These are the thoughts jumbling in my head as I come away from last night’s discussion. Leithart’s vision, if it is stripped of the admittedly important, yet also secondary issues of worship, seems to be the ecumenical message that has been in vogue for the last hundred or so years. I have yet to be convinced by that movement, and I remain unconvinced by Leithart—as interesting as I often find him.

How Do Cities Declare the Glory of God?


Edward Feser wrote a reflective post on how human artifice, including city life in general, can obscure “nature”, and I want to riff off of that in a more spiritual direction. To set the context of my reflections, consider his comments:

By contrast, the objects that surround us in everyday life in the modern city are almost always things whose underlying “natural” substrates — those things which are the true substances and which underlie the accidental forms — have been highly processed. They do not wear their “natural” origins on their sleeve. This is true even of the most “natural” (in the sense of non-man-made) materials. The wood and metal that make up the pieces of furniture now right in front of me, for example, are so highly processed and have been so slickly painted or varnished or otherwise made so sleek that what strikes you most clearly is not this is metal or this is wood, but rather this is a filing cabinet and this is a desk….

Moreover, even when objects that are clearly natural (again, in the relevant sense of “natural”) are present in the modern city — trees, grass, etc. — they are present in a way that is often so much the result of human planning that the accidental forms — the shape of the lawn and the uniformity of the length of the blades of grass, the shape of the hedges, etc. — strike you as much as the natural object itself does.

So, you might say that the world around us modern city dwellers is so covered over with accidental forms that the substantial forms that underlie them are visible only with effort.

The Bible speaks in many places of how what we might call the natural order “declares the glory of God”, one such place being Psalm 19, from which I just quoted:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

And it seems true that most people seem to find it easier to reflect on God’s power and greatness when in “nature”, since it is there that one most directly sees the world apart from human intervention.

Nevertheless, I think the Bible also teaches that all things glorify God in some way, and I think that must include objects of human creation, including complex objects such as entire cities full of things. So what I’d like to do is to reflect on the ways in which objects commonly present in cities display God’s glory. (more…)



Because links:

Recovering the idea of the parish.

Culture vs. society.

The clash of civilizations is nonsense.

And for all the Calvinists: go here and here for an interesting time.

John Newton Brown and Calvinism

In the discussion about Baptists and Calvinism, Emir Caner made some comments about the New Hampshire Confession of Faith arguing that it is neither Arminian nor Calvinist, but Baptist. Aside from the historical confusion in such a statement, is the gist of what he is getting at true?

My friend Mark Nenadov has written two posts giving pertinent advice on how to view the Confession in its historical context, particularly as it pertains to the one who most view as its principle framer, John Newton Brown. Mark is an independent researcher who runs a website dedicated to Brown and has written an excellent essay on him that I hope will soon be published. Mark is a published poet and came to his interest in Brown through the latter’s poetry.

In his first post, Mark outlines two misapprehensions about the New Hampshire Confession that are worth being aware of. In his second post he looks at the Calvinism of Brown, calling him an “American Particular Baptist.” He gives some excellent quotes from Brown outlining his Calvinism. These posts highly relevant to the current discussion and I hope that they get a wide reading.

Fuller and the Atonement

This post is occasioned by the recent discussion over Fuller and the atonement begun by Emir Caner, who argued that after a debate with the Arminian Dan Taylor, Fuller adopted a general atonement. This assertion was responded to ably by Michael Haykin who argued that this was not the case, and that the issues involved in Fuller’s theology of the atonement are deeper and need better nuance. David Allen has since replied to Dr. Haykin seeking to vindicate Caner’s original assertions. In his reponse, Dr. Haykin spoke of the influence of certain New England theologians on Fuller’s language of the atonement. I thought I would elaborate on Dr. Haykin’s brief words. For what it is worth, I remain convinced that Dr. Haykin’s initial response to Caner stands.

Last autumn I had the opportunity to present a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on Andrew Fuller as a Calvinist Theologian. In it I dealt primarily with Fuller’s view of the atonement and whether his later change in theological language prohibited him from a seat at the Reformed table. This paper, together with others delivered as part of the Fuller Studies Group, will be published in a volume introducing Fuller’s life and thought, hopefully some time this year.

The big debate in Fuller studies is whether he changed his view of the atonement from the so-called “limited atonement” perspective championed by traditional Calvinism to a “general” atonement more in line with certain forms of Arminianism. Fuller’s most important work was his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1785) that was at once a break with his Hyper-Calvinist upbringing and a spur to the modern missions movement and the sending of William Carey, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman to India. In the first edition of Gospel Worthy he had a succint, but clear discussion of the application of Christ’s satisfaction where he quotes John Owen and Herman Witsius approvingly, self-consciously reflecting a standard Reformed view.

The controversy over Fuller’s view of the atonement comes with the publication of the second edition of Gospel Worthy (1801). It has been argued by a number of scholars that Fuller adopted the “governmental” language of the atonement that was used by the New Divinity men in New England—Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy, and others who are the heirs of Jonathan Edwards. They famously spoke of Christ’s satisfaction in more general terms. There is no doubt that Fuller was indebted to the New England theologians, as he made clear in a number of places. What is not clear is whether he adopted their view of the atonement in toto. What I argued in my paper (and I am not original here, scholars like Robert Oliver and Tom Nettles have argued likewise) is that though Fuller adopted some of the language of the New Divinity men, it did not require him to change the substance of his theology of the atonement which remained committed to penal substitution, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and particular redemption.

Without going too far afield, Fuller did adopt “figural” language of imputation without denying the reality of it (you will have to read my essay to get more detail about this!). And suffice it to say that Fuller openly adhered to penal substitution after 1801—in 1803 he told his friend John Ryland Jr. that it was never a question with him: “I have no consciousness of having ever called the doctrine of substitution into question” (“Three Conversations,” [687]). But what about particular redemption? Did he deny it?

In the second edition of Gospel Worthy Fuller related the application of Christ’s death to the sovereign design of God. God intended for Christ’s death to be applied to “those that are saved.” To quote him at length:

[A]s the application of redemption is solely directed by sovereign wisdom, so, like every other event, it is the result of previous design. That which is actually done was intended to be done. Hence the salvation of those that are saved is described as the end which the Saviour had in view (“Gospel Worthy,” [374]).

This last line is a statement of particular redemption. Fuller goes on to say, as he argued in the first edition, that there is no contradiction between “the peculiarity of design” and the universal offer of the gospel. As with election, the preacher is commanded to offer the gospel freely to all without fear of contradicting Reformed soteriology. In “Three Conversations” he puts this in the language of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619): that Christ’s satisfaction was “sufficient for all” but in its application was “efficient” for “those whose salvation it was intended” (“Three Conversations,” [696]).

The debate over Fuller’s view of the atonement was initially struck in his own time by the great London Baptist Abraham Booth who feared that Fuller had veered too close to Arminianism. I argued in my piece—following others like Oliver—that Booth misunderstood Fuller. The most notorious modern critic has been George Ella, who I believe has been satisfactorily answered by scholars like Oliver and Nettles. Ella argued that Fuller adopted the “Grotianism” of the New Divinity men—that is, the view of Christ’s satisfaction taught by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). My basic argument, following Oliver Crisp and Garry Williams, is that Grotius was not a Grotian and neither was Fuller.

While Fuller was an admirer of much of what Hopkins, Bellamy, etc., wrote, he rejected accusations that he accepted their theology carte blanche—see his response to Hyper-Calvinist John Martin in this regard. Though Fuller adopted their language as the lingua franca of the day, he consistently maintained the particularism that he first espoused in 1785.

In the conclusion of my essay I gave the last word to Kenneth Dix who was essentially the curator of the Strict and Particular Baptist heritage of which Fuller was a part—a man that I am happy to say I met in Dunstable, England, with Dr. Haykin some ten years ago now. Dix wrote of Fuller:

There were certainly times when Fuller made statements which might have been construed as a departure from the particularist position, but this was not the case. His belief in an atonement that was sufficient for all men but efficacious only for the elect, offended high-Calvinists, but he never gave up the seventeenth-century confessions. Andrew Fuller was no more responsible for any shift from orthodox Calvinism in the nineteenth century than the men who framed the 1677 Confession could be held responsible for the path taken by some of their descendants into the chilling winds of high-Calvinism (Strict and Particular, [269-270]).

Haykin: “Winter’s Easter”

From Michael A. G. Haykin’s newly-released collection of poetry:

Winter’s Easter

The Tree, denuded of foliage,
Yet stretching forth branches,
Strains Spring-like as it unites
Widest extremes
Of earth and sky.

The purity of fresh snow,
Finely textured and light,
Blankets Sky-like and deep
This ruddy earth
With its cloying clay.

Much more than annual respite
Then this Spring’s emergence
And re-shaping history’s time—
But Phoenix-like
From the funeral pyre.

Michael A. G. Haykin, The Sweetness of God: Poetic Reflections on the Grace and Love of the Triune God (Mountain Home, Arkansas: BorderStone Press, 2014), 35.

“Celebrity Church” As An Artifact Of A Narrowing Culture

Over the past year or so I’ve followed a number of pieces on the growth of celebrity-driven church. This is the sort of language that a number of writers would apply to those handful of (mostly) men at the top of American evangelical culture. You know the ones I mean: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, Al Mohler, Mark Dever and so on. There has been some concern about the power that these people wield, especially as it derives more from popularity than theological rigour or innovation or scholarship. What if this is nothing more than a symptom of a wider cultural phenomenon, that is of our unlimited access to media actually narrowing – not broadening – our culture? If you can’t get onto Google’s first page of search results, forget about it. How many people have an internet experience that is now dominated by a mere handful of sites? Culture makers know this, so they know to do the things that get the big hits. Why would someone setting up church conference think any different than a record producer or a web-savvy advertiser. Driscoll et al are just the cat videos of the Christian subculture.

Books At A Glance

I am happy to announce the launch of a new website that I am involved with called Books At A Glance. The purpose of the site is to relieve the frustration that all of us bibliophiles feel: There’s not enough time to read all of the books we want! Books At A Glance is designed to help streamline some of our reading habits by providing summaries, reviews, and author interviews of the latest books in the various theological disciplines.

If you are in the business world you are likely familiar with the concept of “executive reviews.” These are more than a book review, but a proper summary—roughly 7-10 pages—of a book to help readers get a sense of its content, flow, and argument. Books At A Glance capitalizes on this kind of summary. As our promo material says, these summaries enable you to “keep informed and up to date and widen your learning in minutes, without infringing on your schedule.” It also helps you figure out what books you want to purchase in order to dig deeper.

Books At A Glance is run by pastor-theologian Fred Zaspel, author of a number of important works on B. B. Warfield. Its Board of Reference includes Thabiti Anyabwile, Matthew Barrett, D. A. Carson, James Hamilton, Steve Nichols, Tom Schreiner, Carl Trueman, and others. I am privileged to be part of the editorial staff overseeing apologetics.

This is not a totally free website but requires membership for access to some key aspects of what is offered. I really do think that this is a worthwhile resource that will continue to grow and develop as the months go by. It is ideal for busy pastors who don’t have time to read all of the latest from good publishers, it is also useful for scholars who want to keep abreast of the most recent work.

Question: What About John Tombes?

For my paedobaptist friends who would argue that a Baptist cannot be “Reformed” based on our view of baptism, I am interested to know your thoughts on John Tombes (c. 1603-1676), whom Michael Renihan called an “Anglican Antipaedobaptist.” Should we think of Tombes as part of the Reformed tradition? He was an Anglican, yet he did not practice infant baptism. I’m not trying to be cheeky. I know how I would answer the question. I genuinely want to know how you would.

For Tombes’ writings against paedobaptism, see the collection at PRDL.