The Lord is One

Calvin’s Institutes I.xii.1-3

Calvin is at pains to show how the fact that ‘the Lord is one’ (Mk 12:29) is more than just a matter of a name, but extends to his nature. In other words, there is to be no, however subtle, transferring of power or attributes to other beings in our minds. Clearly, Calvin had in his sights the way in which Roman Catholicism viewed Saints. It had got used to the idea that Saints had special powers and to whom application should be made for the benefits of those powers. However, the principle is seen in paganism too. While the concept of the supreme Being remains, effectively attributes of God are thought to be distributed amongst lesser gods.

(What’s the modern secularised equivalent?)

Calvin goes on to note that God as Lawgiver has also defined how right worship should be offered. This is to be expanded upon in later sections.

The Lord is One

Good Reading

…I do believe that over the years of reading Owen I have probably read almost every word that he ever published, and for that reason it has been a delight to go back to read particularly his teaching on the Holy Spirit. But for the same reason I, more and more, have been deeply daunted, largely because as I have read parts of Owen’s work I have discovered that he knew a great deal more about the Holy Spirit than I believed he knew the last time I read him.

Sinclair Ferguson, “John Owen on the Holy Spirit #1”

This quote underlines rather well the value of re-reading good books. More can be learned the second time round. I just need to get round to reading Owen for the first time…

Good Reading

More on The Imperative of Preaching

Some days ago I posted an entry on John Carrick’s book The Imperative of Preaching. In my note I wrote that, “…the method seeks to draw people into the text where they see themselves.” Carrick questions what this kind of ‘quasi-applicatory’ statement means. I confess this kind of statement baffles me too.

This stimulated a rather long comment (see the exchange here) from Al Roberts which, at the time, I was unable to respond to. In it, Al emphasised the role of the narrative of redemption for the believer. Doctrine must be seen in the context of this narrative in order that the believer may make sense of it.

I infer from the remainder of his comment that Al sees that the believer is drawn into the narrative by corporate participation in the liturgy of worship. Thus, he gave a lengthy description of the narrative nature of the complete liturgy of worship. Each element of the liturgy re-enacts the ‘drama of redemption’, of which preaching forms a part.

Though I may question some of the ways that Al describes the elements of liturgy (to do so in detail would be beyond the scope of this post!) I believe there is much value in what he says. If I remember correctly (I have lent the book to a friend!), Michael Horton makes a similar argument in his book A Better Way. Horton’s targets are those who seek to subvert worship unwittingly by forgetting this drama and instead introducing other elements to a service in order to make the service ‘relevant’, ‘seeker-friendly’ etc. In forgetting God’s drama one instantly loses the majesty and wonder of the mighty acts of God in redemption.

I heard Joey Pipa once say that the modern battle over forms of worship is not one between those who want liturgy and those who don’t. In worship everyone has a liturgy. There is just good liturgy and bad liturgy. He was right. An integrated view of worship as a drama which reflects the mighty acts of God in redemption has has much to commend it, in my view.

Having said all this, these comments have a wider scope than the work of John Carrick in The Imperative of Preaching. Carrick’s work is limited strictly to preaching, one element of liturgy. (Al admits to not having read the book and so took his lead from my earlier comments about it.) What drives Carrick is the growing influence of the redemptive-historical homiletic method of the likes of James T. Dennison. This method emphasises the indicatives of the faith to the exclusion of the imperatives, the typological over the exemplary, the descriptive over the prescriptive etc. Carrick notes that the absence an “ethical preaching thrust” in such preaching goes against the method of Scripture itself.

Richard Gaffin has said, “The exhortations of the New Testament are the clear indication that new obedience does not result automatically in the life of the justified.” (See The Imperative, p. 144) In other words, the method of explicating Scripture without exhortation while believing that in doing so the Holy Spirit independently makes application in each believer, goes against the NT method.

Gaffin’s comments are interesting, since he is a key proponent of the hermeneutical method of Biblical Theology, which the Redemptive-Historical preachers also espouse. However, Gaffin is able to make the distinction between particular hermeneutic of Biblical Theology and the particular homiletic of Redemptive-Historical preaching. In doing so he is faithful to the indicative/imperative dualism of Scripture.

Carrick in no way excludes the role of Biblical Theology in informing preaching. Indeed the developments over the last century in understanding, for example, the place of eschatology in relation to soteriology are welcomed. However, the Redemptive-Historical homiletic method has reshaped preaching in an unhealthy and unbiblical way. It is this that Carrick seeks to correct in The Imperative of Preaching.

More on The Imperative of Preaching


Calvin’s Institutes I.xi.1-16

Mr C. engages in a lengthy discussion on the use of images. I suppose it must be remembered that he is speaking from a context where the use of images in worship was a matter of great controversy. It is perhaps no less so in this visual age, and at a time where film-making can portray Christ in compelling ways. I have written about The Passion of the Christ here.

Calvin says a number of interesting things:

  • He sees the prohibition of Exodus 20:4 as absolute. There are to be not visual representations of God. While recognizing that God at times appeared in some physical form in the OT, nowhere were the Israelites given the go-ahead to depict such appearances in worship. More specifically, Calvin goes on to say,

    The fact that God from time to time appeared in the form of a man was the prelude to his future revelation in Christ. Therefore the Jews were absolutely forbidden so to abuse this pretext as to set up for themselves a symbol of deity in human form. (p.102, Battles)

    This is quite significant, I think, since his argument could conceivably be extended to the use of images of Christ himself. Some would argue that Christ, in whom all the fullness of God dwelt, who, as the perfect man, was the perfect image of the invisible God, can be legitimately be depicted in various ways. Yet, Calvin’s observation could appear to apply here too. In other words, all temporary forms in which God appeared in history, even as Jesus himself, are not to be used as justification for representing God in human form. Some work would be required to make the argument watertight, though.

  • Calvin condemns the Gregorian doctrine that “images are the books of the uneducated”. He simply counters with the observation that ordinary people should not be uneducated in spiritual matters. If there was true preaching of the word there would be no need for such arguments! In this modern age, this is a relevant observation. More and more, modern attempts to overcome the lack of knowledge of the unbeliever, and often now the believer, involve a turning to the use of visual methods. Calvin’s argument could just as well be leveled now: we need better preaching not other methods.
  • His famous comment, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols” (p.108, Battles). In practice, this means that “…man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived.” Since man has this root problem, images are appealing, but tend to “bend the mind”.
  • There is a right use of images and sculpture since art is a gift of God. However, since representations of God are excluded, we must represent only that which can be seen with the eyes. Some pictures and sculpture are used to depict history or past events, which have some use in education, while others only offer pleasure. Calvin notes that the churches of the time have almost exclusively the latter. (I’ll have to take his word for it. The modern use of crucifixes immediately springs to mind, which was of course an historical event. Are crucifixes a relatively modern innovation?)

    Clearly he is speaking in the light of RC practice. Having dealt with images of God in human form, perhaps here he has in mind depictions of biblical characters in the historical scenes of Scripture. These may be useful. But this may be in contrast to the prevalent use of statues and pictures of apostles, prophets and other saints as part of worship.


Calvin Stating the Obvious?

Calvin’s Institutes I.x.1-3

Calvin has already shown how creation witnesses to the attributes of God. He has also shown that the fact that sin goes unpunished points to a future day of vindication for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked. (See I.v.1-10)

Now he seeks to show that Scripture also attests to the same attributes.

I have to confess that I find his line of reasoning difficult here. Earlier, Calvin has made bold assertions about the way nature attests to the glory of God. Yet due to the corruption of man, the ‘spectacles’ of Scripture are required in order to see nature’s proclamation. This perhaps explains why the Psalms are used extensively to demonstrate the witness of creation. Now, in this section, he says Scripture agrees with this testimony. Well, obviously! If Scripture is creation’s interpreter to corrupted minds then what else should we expect?

Perhaps there is value in stating the obvious, though. Sometimes, having heard something explained, people do not take the next obvious step. We can be a bit dull at times.

Calvin Stating the Obvious?

Reading Resumption

Stuart Olyott spoke last year at the EFCC Prayer conference on What books should I buy and read? The tape, which I listened to a few days ago, was very helpful for a number of reasons. In one particularly helpful anecdote, he told of how he only knew three people who had read all of the complete works of John Owen. (He knew lots who had read some.) For two of those three, their method was simple: to read some for 15 minutes a day. In doing so they managed to make their way through the complete works. It is amazing what progress can be made with such little steps!

Having 11 unread volumes of Owen on my shelves (and I don’t have the other five), and many others too, Olyott’s comments have spurred me on. Some time ago I began reading Calvin’s Institutes. Part of the motivation for this was that I was finding that some of the people in church had begun labelling me as a ‘calvinist’. I had never used this label of myself to anyone, yet some had picked up my theological biases. I was not offended, though I was somewhat embarrassed, since I had never actually read any Calvin! So I thought I had better find out what he actually said.

About four months ago I started commenting on it as I read through it. I was surprised at how warm-hearted Calvin is, which made it an enjoyable read (though the language is still rather old-fashioned). However, it was only a brief exercise as other things crowded out this reading. My last comment was in March.

But now the time is ripe to resume, and I do so below. I should note that this exercise is primarily for my own benefit. I would not be offended if some reading this who are well read in Calvin politely skip over these posts!

Calvin’s Institutes i.ix.1-3

Calvin points out how there are some who will often appeal to the guidance of the Holy Spirit at the expense of the reading and understanding of Scripture. But he notes that the words given to the prophets are to be with us for ever (Isa 59.21). They are not abolished with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Thus reading it, listening to it being read, taught and preached remain vital to the the modern Christian.

The Spirit does not deviate from Scripture. But this does not mean that somehow He is bound by some dead letter. Rather, since he is the source of Scripture he cannot deviate since to do so would be for Him to contradict Himself. In consequence, Word and Spirit are inseparably bound.

This must be so in our experience, surely? To put a low value on personal interaction with the Bible is to implicitly reveal a low value placed on the Spirit of God. We may not admit to it, but isn’t it true nonetheless?

Reading Resumption

Free at Last! Free at Last!

Exams are finished. I think they went OK. The pastoral exercise on Wednesday was not as difficult as it might have been. This consisted of a difficult marriage situation for a couple connected with a church, one a believer, one not, one having an affair the other not knowing about it at a very late stage. Biblical principles? How to untangle it? What practical steps would you take? etc

Greek Texts was OK, though only OK. This consisted of translation of set passages, parsing of words, writing exegetical notes. First two were straightforward. The last was a bit tricky since it was on a passage I had not revised well for. Muddled through, though.

The best part was catching up with some of the other students. Spent some time blethering to Al Roberts about blogging which was fun. May be it’s just me but are students getting younger these days? You wouldn’t think so from his blog! Here’s a picture I took of Al just before the Greek exam:


It was good to catch up with Rob W and Jonathan B too. They are more my age!

Now I’m free…

Free at Last! Free at Last!