Still Confessing: What is It?

My first book, Still Confessing: An Exposition of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, should be shipping in the next few days. In view of its release, I want to give a slight explanation of what it is and how it’s laid out so that you know what to expect and why you might purchase it.

It’s an exposition of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 from a Reformed, or Calvinistic, Baptist perspective. The document was specifically written so that those from the Particular Baptist stream of Baptist life as well as those who aren’t can both affirm it, and my exposition, which is a way of saying “explanation,” aims to show how those of us from that stream read the document and affirm it. Lest someone think this is disingenuous, let’s remember that Second London Baptist Confession (1677/89) also includes parts that are interpreted differently. They purposely left out questions of open or close(d) communion, and some have pointed out that their confession may allow for differences about the interchangeability of “elders” and “ministers.”

It’s not a critique. Certainly there are points in the BFM2000 where I wish things were written differently because the pinnacle of confessions to my mind is the Second London, which is more explicitly Calvinistic and stands more directly in the Puritan tradition. This book does not aim to present those critiques though since the point is really to show how Reformed Baptists honestly affirm the confession, no fingers crossed.

The layout is standardized. Instead of spending more time on one item and less on another, I aimed to spend an equal amount of space on each article. The first section in each is an exposition (explanation) of the doctrine and the second looks at some Bible passages to draw out the concepts a little more. It neither gives a full explanation of the doctrine (remember, every doctrine could take up a volume or more on its own) nor explains every Bible verse related to a doctrine (remember, theological work is the summarization and explanation of what the whole Bible says about a topic). At the end of the chapters, there are book recommendations for further study of the topic.

We are “still confessing.” Included in the recommendation sections are references to chapters in the Second London Baptist Confession, as well as other creeds and confessions, that speak to the same topic covered from the BFM2000. In doing this, my hope was to demonstrate that the BFM should not be seen as standing outside the confessional tradition; the BFM fits among other documents that explain what Christians believe the Bible teaches.

It’s not a study guide or a full systematic theology. The book is should fit somewhere between those two other types of works. It’s short enough that it should not be too daunting, but covers enough (I hope) to serve as a base text for other studies. I could see the book even being used in a Bible college—in which page limits are often ~500pp, and sometimes only a single semester of Systematic Theology is required— where my chapter on a doctrine was then supplemented by someone who covers the doctrine in greater depth. It could also be used as a study text for pastors/Sunday School teachers who are preparing to lead a new member’s class and want something more explicitly in line with our (Particular Baptists) doctrine.

I’m sure the book is imperfect. Due to this process, my own empathy for authors has grown as I read others. But I pray the work is used by the Lord to edify his people and, perhaps, even bring about new believers. I pray eyes overlook the errors and hearts are strengthened by the truth.

Thoughts About the “Kerfuffle”

Many know (at least the same group of “many” that read blogs) that there have been two videos of accusations by the former Old Testament Dr. Russell Fuller against The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Here, for what they’re worth, I offer my thoughts on the situation. (N.B. There are supposed to be three, and I will update this post when the third releases).

First, let me say that I have never had any interaction with Dr. Hernandez, the subject of controversy in the first video. I have, on the other hand, had casual interaction with Dr. Pennington since he oversees the Ph.D. program and teaches the first required course (Foundations of Theological Studies) and last course (Teaching in Higher Education) for the program. I did my introduction to Hebrew using Dr. Fuller’s textbook, though not with him as the professor, and I took my Old Testament 1 course with him. In other words, while I have been in contact with 2 of the 3 parties involved, I am not someone who has interacted deeply with their thought. I have the video accusations to go on just as others.

That said, let’s think through the different accusations. In the first video, Dr. Fuller accuses Dr. Hernandez of liberalism and representative of a liberal drift because he presents the “firstborn of death” and “king of terrors” in Job 18:13–14 as mythical personifications. Let’s think about the charge itself, not the interpretation. The charge is that this is representative of a liberal drift since liberals interact with and offer the same interpretation. However, if you just take a look at Gill’s commentary, you’ll see that he acknowledges the same interpretations by the Jews. He doesn’t agree, but he also doesn’t lambast it. Second, on this reading it would be hard to read Augustine’s City of God and hold him to be orthodox since he also talks about the gods as though they were something while also reminding his readers that they aren’t anything (cf. 1 Cor. 10). In other words, the Christians of the past, reaching back to at least the New Testament itself, have seen the gods as real, spiritual forces, personages even, though demonic. The Bible presents the gods as both something and nothing in two different ways. Third, it is certainly Bildad who is speaking, so we must be careful about the way we read his interpretation. In other words, while we may finally disagree with Dr. Hernandez’s interpretation, you would have to demonstrate more substantially that he contradicts the truthfulness of Scripture to show that he has departed from orthodoxy. We (inerrantists) regularly remind ourselves and others that we hold to the inerrancy of Scripture not the inerrancy of our interpretations.

On a shorter note, in that same video Dr. Fuller critiques Dr. Hernandez’s insistence on translating the article with “Satan,” so that in Job it would be translated “the Satan” rather than simply “Satan.” To make this an issue is absurd. We say “the devil” all the time. Why? Because “this world with devils [is] filled,” but there is only one “the” devil. Similarly, this world is filled with accusers/adversaries, but there is only one “the” Accuser/Adversary/Satan. Preachers, commentators, and other teachers regularly bring out the importance of the article in a particular text where it’s not normally translated, so for Dr. Hernandez to require that from seminary students hardly seems like foul play.

Second, Dr. Fuller critiques Dr. Pennington’s emphasis on a few main things. First, he confronts the concept of the regula fidei, or “rule of faith.” Second, he confronts the concept of “communal readings.” The problem, of course, is that anytime someone challenges the place of creeds and confessions, they end up in plenty of historical and logical hot water. Historically, the Reformed/Protestants have not rejected the regula fidei, though we have carefully defined it in light of Roman Catholic conceptions. We understand the regula fidei to be the summary of theological axioms contained in Scripture (again, see Gill, this time his introduction to his Body of Divinity). It is only within particular strands of fundamentalism that creeds and confessions were ever rejected. (As an aside, the history of the church I pastor is one which was taken up in the early nineteenth century by the “Christian movement” which rejected creeds and confessions. It had to recover from that in the 1830s, though not all churches did recover). Further, it seems unreasonable to challenge someone as to their adherence to the Abstract of Principles if you simultaneously say there is no particular acceptable reading our community affirms. SBTS, as a community, agrees that the only acceptable reading of Scripture affirms that it teaches that there “There is but one God, the Maker, Preserver and Ruler of all things, etc.”

On a shorter note, Dr. Fuller also critiqued a paper Dr. Pennington had to rewrite multiple times. The trouble with this as an accusation is that it implies Dr. Pennington only changed what he wrote, not what he thought. If he only changed what he wrote and not what he thought, God will deal with him. If, upon challenge, he changed what he thought and therefore what he wrote, then a brother has been won. Retractions and revisions of works exist for a reason: we’re not infallible. Further, it is not acceptable to critique someone because of who they footnote or incorporate in their arguments. It may raise a flag, such that you look closer at the extent to which the Person A follows Person B in the particular areas of danger or disagreement, but any falsehood needs to appear in Person A’s work itself. Plenty of Christians have incorporated the work of non-Christians or different denominations to make their own arguments.

Some further thoughts. I don’t know if I agree with Dr. Herndandez. I haven’t taken the time to look at his dissertation or SBL his paper. I know that I do disagree with Dr. Pennington on various items (though I don’t count him as an adversary. Critical thinkers disagree with each other on plenty of items). Further, we should be willing to admit that Dr. Fuller is right, if he brings stronger evidence. However, the point of this post is to take a look at the accusations themselves that have been released. The accusations carry with them the “shock factor,” but upon close examination they are troubling. They are troubling not because they have exposed some great heretical push at SBTS but because the charges themselves are outside of what Baptists have said in the Particular Baptist tradition (in which I take SBTS to be). In other words, it’s being promoted as a drift toward postmodern liberalism, but these particular charges could actually be leveraged against pre-modern critical Reformed thought. I do think there are dangers, because there are always dangers, but I don’t think they’re quite what Dr. Fuller claims they are. In fact, any charges will need to come from someone who has thought enough about Protestant Scholastic exegesis to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above.

Finally, I’m saddened to see how this affects those I align most closely with theologically. Many have been stirred up into hype rhetoric and assumption of guilt, which is disheartening. We must be those who critically evaluate all claims that are made. It is too easy to get angry at some group and then agree with anyone who seems to take a stand against that group. We must be ready and willing to dismiss claims that do not seem reasonable, even when those claims might help our case. A brother has pointed out to me that many people have said this about issues of sexual abuse, racial injustice, etc., but then they have uncritically received claims like Dr. Fuller’s. If you wish to be heard by lovers of truth, you must be one who consistently follows the truth and love.

Classical Seminary: A Proposal

I want to start a seminary. This may seem like a “bold desire,” like something that’s too fanciful, or else too premature. Let me begin by saying, this is a dream of mine, not necessarily something I’m trying to do by the time the fall semesters come around, when the “corona cares” have dwindled. This is something that I would love to be able to have a part in at some point in my life. That said, there are a number of things I would like to be part of said seminary that address various needs and shortcomings in the current seminary system.

First , I would like it to be classically oriented materially. I was extremely blessed to have been shaped before formal education by R. C. Sproul and then to take my initial church history course with Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin. I took a course in Medieval Theology and another in Calvin and the Reformation, and I took a course on the Person of Christ with Dr. Stephen Wellum. In my doctoral studies, I have taken a course in Protestant (read Reformed) Scholasticism. I’ve been committed to confessional Baptist theology since before starting my schooling. Each of these have ensured two things. One, they have forced (i.e. allowed!) me to deeply engage in original source reading, with what’s been called the “Great Tradition.” My initial major in college (before I changed to ministry) was military history, and for that program the opening course was called, “Research Methods in History.” It stressed the importance of engaging primary works and then conversing with secondary sources. When I was introduced to Reformation theology, I found that they had the same concern, to show that they were holding fast to the line of truth that was given in Scripture and handed on through the ages. They loved to show from the sources, biblical, patristic, and medieval, that they were not departing from orthodoxy but reforming the church according to the truth. As I read in various courses, in addition to my own reading, I was being taught by voices of the ages. Dr. Haykin once told an anecdote from his own education where he responded to his fellow students, who were Roman Catholics, that when he read the Fathers he could only recognize that they were preaching the same faith that he held to. This has been my experience as well, and it is why I hold the Puritans in such high regard. In my understanding, the Puritans (and their continental cousins) are something of a high water mark in the Christian tradition, taking in the best of the ages through the proper lens of the Reformation. The second thing this background and particular track of education did was show me how varied someone’s education can be. While I was being taught and thinking through classical articulations of the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of Scripture, and the importance of history (i.e. tradition), fellow students and those at other schools were hearing about a passible and complex God, a Trinity where the Son and Spirit eternally submit to the Father, Scripture’s ability to be bent every which way, and tradition’s subordination to private readings. Some have encountered good classical theology and then forgot to read such theologians as Turretin (or Bavinck), who carefully distills classical theology and maintains a strong affirmation of the Reformation. However, most encounter the shallow, eminently practical (read pragmatic) theology that has more in common with modern education and trade schools than the contemplative-praxis of past pastor-theologians. Thus, I would like such a seminary to be materially sourced in classical theology and exegesis. By classical, however, I don’t mean “ends at 1516” the way many insinuate today. I mean, “continues through Reformed Orthodoxy,” such that we would be reading such men as those encountered in Muller’s PRRD. When’s the end of Reformed Orthodoxy? Honestly, that’s not as important as many historians try to make it. I would classify Gill’s work as methodologically and materially Reformed Orthodox, but almost as one born out of season. Not to mention the fact that Bavinck could be read as rearticulating Reformed Orthodoxy. It’s nice to be able to silo eras, to disconnect them from the years that precede and follow, but dates are often more arbitrary than people assume. They’re helpful for an intro course, less helpful for real conceptualization.

Second, I would like it to be classically oriented methodologically. Another experience I’ve had that has influenced my thinking, for what I would consider the good, is my involvement and concern with classical education. We homeschool our four children. If you have encountered homeschooling for any substantial amount of time, you know many different styles of homeschooling exist. Some parents homeschool in a way I believe to be detrimental to the children and society, essentially allowing their children to decide what (or if!) they want to learn for the day. Most homeschool families are not that way though. They look for a good math curriculum, a good phonics/grammar/literature curriculum, a good science curriculum, and so forth, and cobble together what it seems like the kids need to know. Such families have often kept their children out of the public school system because of the anti-Christian ideology that pervades it, an ideology that can be nearly impossible to counteract considering the fact that the children are there for most of their waking hours. This definitely plays a part in why we have homeschooled our children. But another reason we’ve homeschooled our children is the opportunity it provides us to educate them in a manner better than they would receive in a public school and at a price we can afford (classical Christian schools regularly charge $6,000–$9,000 per student per year). We believe our children will likely be more thoughtful and virtuous members of society than they would be if they were in a public school system that despises the past and despises the faith. We have used the curriculum of Highlands Latin School, provided through their press company Memoria Press, but there are others such as Veritas Press as well. Additionally, I also taught a year at a classical Christian high school. What does this have to do with seminary? I am convinced that the mindset of reading through the ages would be particularly helpful for the seminarian. Most schools now will have prerequisites for some courses, but other than those few, the student has the freedom to choose what they want to take and when. The result is usually a cobbled-together education that leaves holes in understanding and deficiencies in organic thinking. So, step one would be to create a program that is not open to student manipulation. Step two would be to create a program that seriously understands the importance of building a body of knowledge, not just imparting bits of information. That would apply to the fullness of the program as well as the particular aspects of the program, such as exegesis and theology and practical ministry. Read how the New Testament interprets the Old Testament, and then how the Fathers, Medievals, Reformers, and Post-Reformed continued to clarify and reform their interpretation through those ages. Then turn to modern commentary and engage it thoughtfully, knowing that you have been shaped by primary engagement with the Bible itself and then by the thinking of Christians across the ages. Do the same with any doctrine or practical ministry activity. (As an aside, this method and model follows the general principle of grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages in classical education).

Third, I would like it to be classically oriented practically. What I mean by “practically” refers to organization, practice within the seminary, and practice beyond the seminary. In terms of organization, it is appropriate that the teachers of the seminary are ordained ministers. This follows the command in 2 Tim. 2:2 that the faith be handed on to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Since my vision for a seminary is the vision of a Reformed Baptist, the ordination has the particular definition attached to our ecclesiological principles. We hold that ordination is finally an act of the local church under the Word and Spirit at the recommendation of other elders. We hold that “elder,” “pastor,” “bishop,” “overseer,” “minister,” etc. are interchangeable terms, and so all the elders of a local church ought to be ordained. (I leave aside the debates over whether Baptists should affirm something called ordination; I think what I’ve provided above shows how I understand this).This means that it may not be the primary preaching pastor who teaches in such a seminary, but he should be a recognized pastor/elder in a local church. Inside the seminary, it would be classically oriented in terms of internal practice by means of set times of communal prayer and Scripture readings, memorization, singing of psalms and hymns, and other activities of communal life in view of those going into ministry. Professors in such a setting would be more like tutors and mentors than untouchable, unapproachable conveyors of information. This would, to a large extent, prohibit either online or part-time programs. In some sense, it might look like the old monasteries without the expectation of lifelong monastic vows. Third, it would be classically oriented in terms of subsequent practice in that it would encourage students to be true pastor-theologians. Who can deny that the Puritans are models here? They saw the life of the pastorate as the life of a thinker and teacher rather than as the life of a CEO. Muller says, “Seminaries have been guilty of creating several generations of clergy and teachers who are fundamentally ignorant of the materials of the theological task and prepared to argue (in their own defense) the irrelevance of classical study to the practical operation of ministry. The sad result has been the loss, in many places, of the central function of the church in the West and the replacement of a culturally and intellectually rich clergy with a group of practitioners and operations-directors who can do almost anything except make sense of the church’s theological message in the contemporary context” (quoted in Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 29). The Christian ministry was once populated by some of the sharpest minds in their era, from Paul to the Cappadocians, to Augustine to Calvin to Owen to Gill. I think this change is due, in part, to the ever-broadening focus of seminaries. When they think of themselves as training people for a broad range of “ministries” rather than training the next generation of pastor-theologians, they must necessarily weaken their standards and broaden their foci. They must waste many of the students’ time with courses that fulfill the demands of accrediting agencies and student expectations. They must offer programs in “Urban Ministry” and “Communication Studies” and “Business Administration.” Instead of seeing practical ministry as the outworking of biblical and theological principles, as those things that you learn in the context of your local church while you’re going through your ministerial training, they have to worry about developing a good program that will meet the felt needs of the students who will then worry about the felt needs of their congregations. No longer are Christian leaders leaders, they are facilitators. They simply facilitate the fulfillment of felt needs in both the seminary and the church, and this teaches husbands and parents to do the same in their homes. Can we really wonder why the church is in the state it is when our seminaries, the “seedbeds” (from Latin semen), are in the state they’re in?

Some of you may ask, “But isn’t there something like this in existence?” I answer: sort of. Talbot has recently started an M.A. program, but it’s not quite what I’m talking about here since it’s an M.A. rather than pastorally focused. Further, the school isn’t particularly known as being Reformed. Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies Seminary are both theologically consistent with what I’m saying here, and likely to be fairly consistent practically, but structurally they have had to maintain the typical course of instruction (maybe for the sake of accreditation?). In other words, what exists now that would provide the content I’m envisioning still exists in a structure I think has shown to be faulty.

But is this sort of idea possible? We know that there are many seminaries on the edge of closing, some even closing their doors, and all of them wondering about their finances. The question, at this point, is whether a vision like I’ve outlined above might generate enough interest to sustain itself? I believe there are a few things that should be taken into consideration when asking this question. First, if a seminary might close anyway, why not at least close your doors by doing the right thing rather than stay afloat by weakening the church? I recognize that’s more of a polemical charge, and only works if what I outlined above appeals to you, but if you do think it’s appealing, you probably also feel the weight of the question. Second, we must recognize that seminaries serve the church, by producing theological works and training minsters, and so really it should be a question of whether local churches and individual Christians would give toward such an endeavor more than whether an accrediting agency would approve it. I think we may just find that there are enough churches concerned about the state of Christianity and the state of the ministry to support something like this. There are three ways in particular that we could see churches supporting something like this. One, they could support it financially by giving money so that students would be able to devote their time to their training rather than juggling jobs with their full-time studies. Two, they could commit to pay elders/pastors full-time wages, or at least supplement the income they receive through the seminary, knowing that some of their time will be spent mentoring future ministers, which should be part of the “job description” anyway (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:2). This would reduce the financial burden on the school itself. Three, they could commit to looking to such a seminary for future elders/pastors and letting them serve in their congregations during their time in seminary. Related to this, they might also encourage those pursuing the pastorate (what I call “emplaced missionaries”) or the mission field (what I call “sent pastors”) to go to such a seminary. Third, when we ask whether something like this might be possible now, we must consider the state of various conversations. The recent “retrieval” movement, or whatever else you might want to call this recommitment to historic Christianity, has become quite appealing in many areas of theological life, and the full-orbed Christian thought that would be required in a seminary like this has been demonstrated in various works recently. Consider, for instance, J. V. Fesko’s work. He has written on theological topics like union with Christ, historical topics like pneumatology in the nineteenth century and the pactum salutis, and biblical commentaries. Unfortunately, it seems Baptists have been among the worst offenders of theological compartmentalization. Systematic theologians will do biblical theology, but not often close exegetical work, and NT and OT scholars will dabble in theology, but it often feels clumsy (at best) or dismissive of historical theology (at worst). A seminary like that outlined above would require professors to read across the ages and thus engage in the historical and theological discussions concerning Holy Scripture; every theologian an exegete and every exegete a theologian. Though the lack of familiarity with Latin (and other languages) may have been a deterrent in recent decades, we have seen an explosion in two areas. Many works have now been translated from their original languages, and the classical education movement will recover the ability of young adults to read many classics in the original. Our generation may struggle with limitations, since the translations are in the process of coming out right now and many of us learned Latin late, but we can have a system in place for the future generations to engage our tradition substantially when they mature. A fourth consideration when thinking about the viability of such a project is the practical matter of space and supplies. First, the concept outlined above seeks to be purposefully classical and obviously Baptist. Both Baptists and early Christians began their ministerial training in the context of local ministry. Though designated building space is preferable, there is no reason something like that outline above could not use a church building initially. Second, due to the prevalence of online resources, the need for a physical library would be minimal, even non-existent, at first. There is something about the physical page and designated physical space that encourages us to value and engage with material creation differently than electronic engagement, but online resources would at least provide a buffer for the initial stages.

Above, I have outlined the call to a new form of seminary, a form which concerns itself with training pastor-theologians, men who will think deeply about God with the church through the ages, feeding the flock entrusted to their care. I not only think something like this vision is preferable, I think it is possible. I think it is possible for us to discard with a system that has starved the church by training practitioners rather than pastors and to replace that system with an older and newer one that looks at ministerial training more along the lines of discipleship.

The Work of a Pastor-Theologian, by Benjamin Keach

I was poking around Benjamin Keach’s book arguing against the seventh-day sabbatarians and I was struck by how carefully he understands and explains his job as a pastor and as a theologian. In it, he distinguishes the difference between what he wants to write and what he must write; between the three groups of people he will affect and his expectations for each, namely, opposers, questioners, and the faithful; between engaging the works of the best theologians and the works of those who write necessity. He gives careful, pastoral counsel about which notions to adopt, saying that the pathway of the gospel-church is no “by-path” but is well trodden, pointing to the importance of historical theology (i.e. the importance of tradition).

In the PDF I have attached below, I offer his letter to the reader with some modernizations in terms of spelling, capitalization, word usage, and formatting. I hope it is useful to anyone who reads it as I found it to be beneficial for pastors, theologians, and churchmen alike.

How the Devil Wars Against Your Children

Perhaps you’ve heard of the book Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. If not, you should rectify that immediately. However, you can be forgiven for not knowing about a book that was similarly popular in its time, but not carried on afterward by another Baptist, named Benjamin Keach. Keach wrote a similar allegory called Travels of True Godliness, and though not as popular as Pilgrim’s Progress, it is still a worthwhile read. Just as many people have read of Christian’s journey in Pilgrim’s Progress but not so many have read of Christiana’s, so too Keach’s accompanying volume, The Progress of Sin, or The Travels of Ungodliness, was read less. To give a taste, think of something like Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. In Travels of Ungodliness, Keach provides ten ways the devil wages war on our children which I think are still helpful today. The only one that’s not quite so applicable is the second one because of our access to free public schooling, so the danger is different. Satan wars against our children’s spirituality by:

  1. Keeping their parents ignorant of divine truth themselves
  2. Providing material reasons why a child can’t go to school (see my note in the paragraph above; I still believe this has bearing on such things as which colleges parents send their kids to)
  3. Preventing their “learning any pious and orthodox catechism that is wholy taken out of and grounded upon the authority of the Holy Scriptures”
  4. Hindering the children’s ability to inquire about God, Christ, religion, etc., and by “causing parents to be careless about or rather against their going to the church”
  5. Taking the children’s minds off anything everlasting and “filling their heads with the vanities, toys, and trifles of a childhood’s state.”
  6. Making parents think knowledge of God is dangerous and makes people most miserable
  7. Making people think matters of God and religion only belong to ministers, and that everyone else should just worry about their trades and things of this world
  8. Placing only sinful examples before their eyes
  9. Making them think they will have time later to learn about God and godliness
  10. Placing them under an unbiblical ministry.

Mirroring Keach’s list, we ought to war against the devil by

1 & 7. Seeking to know the Scriptures better ourselves (and not leaving it to the ministers alone),

2, 4, 5, & 6. Making matters of religion most important and desirable in our lives

3, 7, & 9. Taking time to teach them the truth, especially by using an orthodox catechism

8 & 10. Being concerned about who has influence on them, both in their personal relationships and in who you place them under in church.

The question the puritans regularly pressed upon their readers (which Keach could be considered, depending on your definition of “puritan”), is whether religion is mere formalism or if it is something more deeply ingrained in your soul that appears in your life in definable ways. Often the way we answer this question with our lips isn’t what we actually believe in our hearts, and one diagnostic tool for this is how we parent. If you think it’s just something where you do your part (show up, give money, take communion, and leave) while others do their parts (let the ministers learn theology), it will affect how you parent, and you should not be surprised when your children are won over by the devil. I’m surprised by how comfortable parents are commanding their children to meet curfew, listen to them talk about politics, and do their chores around the house, all while acting as though they do not have the authority or responsibility to enforce church attendance, learn doctrine, and sit under family discipleship. “Go hang out with your friends” becomes a more frequent concern of parents of teenagers than “what are reading? who are you hanging out it? what’s on your phone?” Statements like “You should go out,” or “You should join that club” or “You should go to the dance” are more comfortable counsels of Christian parents today than, “You should go to church” or “Have you considered this Bible conference.” The desire for someone to get the most out of life, whether their childhood or teenage years or any other periods of life, rarely looks like spending it on what will endure. Let’s remember that Christ did not command us to “get around to following him at some point.” He said “Let the dead bury the dead,” meaning, “Now is when you need to commit.”

Is it Necessary?

One of the primary types of questions facing all people, and Christians especially, are those that being with, “Is it necessary?” That’s a little more formal than we are used to speaking today, so maybe you actually hear/ask, “Do I have to…” or “Does someone have to….”?

Some Examples

Do I have to go to church to be saved?

Is it necessary to be baptized to be saved?

Do I have to be a member at a church to be saved?

Note, most of our questions come down to “…to be saved.” The common idea is twofold. 1) We are required to meet some standard in order to be saved, and 2) we only need to do what is necessary to be saved.

(Hopefully) Clarifying the Situation

When we ask, “do I have to” or “is it necessary,” too often this reveals that we only think of relationships between things in one way. We think only of what comes before (baptism, church membership, etc.) causing what comes after (salvation). However, there are more ways of thinking about these relationships, and these ways of thinking about things are vital for understanding the necessities of the Christian life.

Some Natural Examples

To say that a ball of glass with filament in it must give light, requires first that it is a lightbulb. “Does this have to give light to become a lightbulb?” is the wrong question. It’s the wrong question because we’ve turned the cause into an effect. The lightbulb is the cause of the light, but we’re asking if the light makes the lightbulb what it is. We immediately notice it’s nonsense. Sure, if were attempting to create our own lightbulb and we failed, we would say “it’s supposed to be a lightbulb, but it doesn’t give light, so it’s not,” but even here we recognize the order of things. It has to be a lightbulb before it gives light, at least logically to our minds.

Imagine I’m hammering in a nail. We don’t say that the hammer needs to drive the nail for the hammer to swing, but that the hammer must swing for the nail to be driven in. If the nail is not being impacted, we would say that I’m not hammering in the nail, no matter how much I swing the hammer around. We know, intuitively, that the nail going in does not create the action of hammering, but also that an acurate description of “hammering” makes it necessary that a nail be impacted.

In both situations, we are saying cause–and–effect only goes one way, but we are also saying that the effect is so closely related to the cause that its absence means the cause is not there. It may look like a lightbulb, but it isn’t because it doesn’t give light, and it may look like hammering, but it isn’t because nothing is impacted.

Back to the Question

What does this have to do with our questions, our “Do I have to” and “Is it necessary”? A lot.

When we say, “Do I have to be baptized to be a Christian,” or “Do I have to be a member of a church” or “Do I have to go to church,” the answer is both “yes” and “no.” When we say, “No, you don’t have to be baptized to be a Christian,” we mean that baptism doesn’t cause you to be a Christian. Nor does joining a church or showing up on Sunday mornings. This is important to emphasize because so many people believe that what they do makes them fit for heaven. However, we must also be comfortable saying “yes.” A lightbulb, as a cause, necessarily gives light. It’s not a light if it doesn’t give light, even though its “giving of light” doesn’t make it a light. Similarly, Jesus says that those who are his obey his voice. A Christian necessarily behaves as a Christian. Before you get the wrong idea, in which you say, “Well a Christian is one who never sins,” we have to return again to how the Scriptures define a Christian’s behavior. It includes holiness, yes, but it also includes repentance, which assumes sins. A Christian necessarily turns from themselves to Christ, puts to death the deeds of the flesh, avoids loving the world, and pursues Christlikeness. Christians will fail and fumble forward at times, but the general direction of their life will be toward Christ. Without these things, one should ask, “Am I a Christian?”

Do you need to be baptized or become a church member or go to church to be saved? No, in that baptism and church membership and attendance does not cause salvation. Praise God for that too, because there have been martyrs who were killed before they were able to be baptized or perhaps even before a local church existed where they lived, and certainly there have been believing children who were unable to be baptized before they died in some tragic way. But saved people get baptized and attend church and become members. This is the ordinary way of the Christian life that simply highlights those examples where inability, not unwillingness, prevented their performance.

Two Genealogies: Some Points of Connection Between Genesis 4 and 5

In preparation to preach on Genesis 4 and 5 (two consecutive Sundays), I have noted some points of connection. Of course, commentaries will give you much of this, but it’s helpful to note them all in one place.

Note: This post was first written about a week ago, but for some reason it didn’t post. In preparation to preach on Genesis 4 and 5 (two consecutive Sundays), I have noted some points of connection. Of course, commentaries will give you much of this, but it’s helpful to note them all in one place. Before I begin, I should lay out some caveats. First, we should note that there is a clear transition with the recognized “toledoth” (“the generations”) in 5:1. While we could take the “toledoths” as denoting clear redactions, I think this particular connection helps us to see the assumed continuity. Obviously, the continuity going all the way back to chapter 1 is most explicit in the portion on Adam’s begetting of Seth. Second, while I do think the parallel genealogies could serve to enforce a particular interpretation of “the sons of God” in ch. 6, I still think the sons of God are demons. Third, I think the genealogy of Gen. 5 is enclosed such that we have a pretty tight 1556 years, while I think the genealogy of Gen. 4 is much more open to gaps. Ok, enough with caveats (if you have questions, reach out).

  1. Both genealogies arrive at a ninth son of Adam (i.e. a tenth man including Adam). Gen. 5 explicitly includes ten men. Gen. 4 only includes the eighth generation, but that generation has three sons named, bringing the total to 9 sons of Adam.
  2. Both genealogies end in three brothers—Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal Cain, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
  3. Both genealogies have remarkable events in the seventh generation—Lamech promises vengeance in Gen. 4 and Enoch walks with God in Gen 5.
  4. Most obvious, both genealogies include an Enoch and a Lamech, and both are remarkable in each list.
  5. Both Lamech’s have “seventy seven” tied to their accounts (this bit comes specifically from Collins’ Reading Genesis Well). The first Lamech invokes a seventy and seven revenge on the one who strikes him, and the latter Lamech lives seven and seventy years and seven hundred years (obviously, bringing it into proper English loses some of what’s visible in the Hebrew).
  6. Both Lamech’s invoke God’s words from earlier on, the earlier invoking God’s judgment as grounds for his own revenge and the latter invoking God’s promise as a means for hope.
  7. Some names that do not have any connections we can really draw, but are worth noting anyway, are Kenan, which comes from Cain’s name, and Methushael and Methuselah. These latter two names only look similar (in both Hebrew and English), and should not be pressed into too much.
  8. Finally, both genealogies end with an invocation of the name of the LORD (YHWH). This one is sort of cheating because the Name doesn’t appear in Cain’s list, just afterward (4:26), but it’s worth noting anyway.

Books of the Decade

I’ve noticed some have considered the books they most enjoyed this decade and though it was an intriguing concept. For me, this decade has actually been my introduction to deep reading of Christian books, not to mention my beginning (and near end) of formal theological educaiton, so it’s interesting to think through the books that shaped me or impacted me, or that I just found important. Being honest, it was particular teachers that impacted me most, such as Mitch Chase, R. C. Sproul, Stephen Wellum, Jim Hamilton, and Michael Haykin.

  1. Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul. I read this book at the beginning of the decade and it shaped by thinking about God and his glory, and my life in light of that, as I went in to deeper study of other areas.
  2. Chosen by God by R. C. Sproul. Right after Holiness of God, I read Sproul’s Chosen by God and there found an accessible, thorough introduction to the great doctrine of election.
  3. Systematic Theology by John Frame. This was my theology textbook in seminary, and reading it gave me a helpful dialogue partner for theological reasoning. In it I found a clear thinker with whom I disagreed on various points, and so I was thereby refined in my own theological abilities.
  4. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. John Calvin’s deep devotion, clear theology, careful criticism, and consistent integration of truth is a high point in all theological writing.
  5. The Trinity (De Trinitate) by Augustine. Augustine invites his readers deep into the mystery of the Trinity that we might worship him as he has revealed himself to us. I cannot begin to fathom the impact this work has had on my sould.
  6. The Baptists, 3 vols., by Tom Nettles. In these three volumes, Nettles recounts the Baptist story in a way that is exciting and compelling. When I think about my identity as a Baptist, I think that in the way Nettles taught me to.
  7. Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89). I know this one is only “slightly” a book, but early in my quest for a system of doctrine that matched what I believed the Bible teaches, this Confession of faith came to my attention. The more I’ve studied the Bible, theology, history, and contemporary issues, the more convinced I become of the truthfulness of this document and its value in Christian life.
  8. Everlasting Covenant by Benjamin Keach. This book (really, two sermons published as a book of only about 50 pages), along with the follow-on The Display of Glorious Grace (a much larger collection of sermons), so impacted me that I decided to do my doctoral dissertation on the doctrine Keach was defending.
  9. The Intellectual Life by Sertillanges. This little book was required reading at the beginning of my doctoral program and helped to reshape my thinking in terms of my calling. I had a hard time transitioning from what was essentially a physical calling (soldier) to what was essentially a spiritual/intellectual calling (teaching/pastoring), and this helped me think of the intellectual life as indeed important.
  10. Kingdom through Covenant by Gentry and Wellum. It’s hard to decide whether this was an influential book in my life or if the classroom teaching I had from Wellum was influential. My disagreements with aspects of this system notwithstanding, I think it fundamentally sees the development of redemptive history correctly.
  11. Bonus: All That Is In God by James Dolezal. It was hard to put this one because it was actually the lectures this book comes from that influenced my thinking right away. The book made a splash, but it wasn’t as influential on me by that point because I had already embraced it.

Christian Dialogue

In some of my reading of Benjamin Keach about a week ago, I came across a section where he looks at the state of the church and offers an assessment. I’ve wanted to share it, but Word wasn’t working. It looks like that was providential since Word now works and current dialogue has taken a noticeable shift in just the week since I first typed it out.

Before you read it, here’s a little help so you can get the most out of what it says. First, he’s looking at the threshing floor in Matthew, and he says it primarily refers to the Israelite people. However, in this section he says that it refers “in a remote sense,” to any group of the people of God. “In a remote sense” means “as the priniciples are applied more broadly.”

Second, if you look at his context, I think you could apply the words more easily to the American context (if you’re an American as I am), if you sort of conceptualize America as a “Christian nation.” The first group he refers to most directly applies to the context in which the nations, especially England, are “Christian nations.” Of course, we can debate whether America should be considered a “Christian nation” in any sense at any time, but I think we can all admit that most Americans have also considered themselves Christians for the length of our history, and there has often been a blend of national and Christian identity. So I don’t think it’s hard to apply that to “the American culture” at large, particularly of those who broadly identify as Christian.

The second group he refers to is the group of Nonconformists. Again, without trying to make a one-to-one identification, I think we could easily apply his assessment to American Evangelicalism, and maybe even more specifically to Reformed(ish) American Evangelicalism.

Third, I have modified the original spelling/capitalization and the old sentence structures only slightly for easier reading.

With those helps in place, please click here to read my modified exerpt from Benjamin Keach’s sermon, “A Trumpet Blown in Zion.”

Careful Theological Distinctions

Reading through some Keach again I came across an interesting text that relates to certain theological debates today regarding faith and good works (which are actually perennial issues). I’ve included it below:

Object. But doth not the Gospel require Faith and Repentance, as the Condition of Justification, and Eternal Life?

1 Answ. I told you but even now, there are Conditions of Connection by way of order and dependence of things one upon another: “As   p 186  in Logick (saith the same Reverend Divine [Rev. Cotton]) if a Creature be a Man, he is a Rational Creature; or if God be the first Cause, he is the Creator of all things: And in this sense (saith he) Creation is a Condition of Salvation; if a Man be Saved, he must be Created: So if a Man believe he shall be Saved, believing is a Condition of Connexion, a State of Grace is thus a Condition to a State of Glory, by way of Connexion in the Promise; but one is not the Fœderal Condition of another, but both come in as the Gift of Grace; in this sense the Covenant contains all the Conditions of Order and Dependence in the Exhibition and Performance; the hearing the Word is the Condition of Faith, but hearing is not a Fœderal Condition; so the giving the Spirit is the Condition of Union to Christ and Faith, and Faith the Condition of receiving of Pardon, and living in Holiness and the giving of Pardon the Condition of receiving it, and Holiness the Condition of seeing God, and of having Eternal Happiness; but these kind of Conditions are not Fœderal Intitling Conditions to the Promise, but are contained in the Promise, and denote the Connexion and Dependance of one promised Benefit upon another.”

2. God requires Faith and Repentance of them that shall be saved; but (1.) Not that the Creature can do either of these of himself, but to shew he will work Faith and Repentance in all whom he will save, or as he hath ordained the End, so he hath also ordained the Means. (2.) But not that either of these are procuring, or Fœderal Conditions of the Covenant blessings, or of Salvation, because all the Graces of the Spirit are contained in the Covenant as part of it; therefore, neither Faith, Repentance, Regeneration, as the Creatures Part or Work, can be Conditions of it: These Men call Faith, &c. such a Condition, that the Mercies granted are suspended till we perform the Condition. It is therefore, saith he, no more than an Act of ours. True, we have a good Bargain, as a Man that gives but Twenty Guineas of his own, Purchases an Hundred Pounds per Annum.

Brethren, (as our Author observes) We must distinguish of the Ministry of Reconciliation, in respect of the Letter of it, and the Spirit of it, 1 Cor. 3:6. in the Letter of it, or meer external Dispensation it kills, because the Sinner looks upon all these Conditions of dependence, Fœderal Conditions, but the Spirit in its Ministry is absolute, according to the Original Contract, and the fullest Discovery in its highest freedom; therefore the Apostle says, The Spirit giveth Life. The believing Corinthians, are said to be the Epistle of Christ, written and transcribed from the Original-Covenant Contract; Not with Ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God. Therefore

From hence we must distinguish between the Covenant in its Absolute Tenure, and the Ministry thereof, which is Conditionally dispensed, according to the Connexion, Order, and Dependence of good Things contained in the Promise to a mix’d People: The Effects of the Ministry will either soften or harden, it will either work effectually by the Ministry of the Spirit, according to the Nature of an Absolute Promise, and unto such it becomes a Savour of Life, unto Life, or else it works only in the Letter, and unto such it Kills, or is a Savour of Death unto Death, or an Aggravation of Death and Condemnation: But all its Divine Efficacy is according to the Purpose, Will, and Good Pleasure of God.

–Benjamin Keach, The Display of Glorious Grace, 185–88