Friday, August 31, 2012

"Stock" Men, Go Home

The following quote reminds me a great deal of the state of confessionalism in the PCA today.  Many claim to belong to the PCA by personal conviction, but for some, the Westminster Standards are not their confession; they are, rather, a straightjacket that keeps the church from becoming the modern, "missional" body that the church needs to become.
Around 1750 Reformed theology everywhere fell into decay. People retreated from the churches confessions to Scripture and abandoned doctrines characteristic for the Reformed faith, such as original sin, covenant of works, limited atonement, etc.  In beautiful dress and the name of being biblical, a variety of Remonstrant and Socinian errors rose to the surface.  At best, those who professed the Reformed religion accepted the theology they had "in stock," but they no longer had their hearts in it, nor did they any longer speak out of its content.  The old dogmatics simply became an object of historical study.
(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, 189)
Examination by Presbytery is not a "test" that one must get past so that you can get in past the guards and start preaching.  Examination by Presbytery ought to be an opportunity for the examiners and examinee to celebrate their shared faith that the Westminster Standards accurately summarize the system of doctrine set forth in Scripture.  If Presbytery exam has you sweating bullets (and I say this as someone who has been brought under care, but not yet been examined for ordination), then you should examine yourself and make sure that you are not simply preparing to recite the theology you've learned "in stock," but that it is really and truly your doctrine.  The PCA is full of "stock men," I hear about them through hearsay all the time.   What we need is not ministers who know how to get past the "gatekeepers" at examination time.  What we need are ministers who "have it in their hearts."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Churches, Revolutions, & Empires Now Available

Several months ago, I had the privilege of working on the eBook version of Ian J. Shaw's new book Churches, Revolutions, & Empires: 1789-1914.  In the process of assembling the book, I was able to read it and benefited a great deal from Shaw's work.  I won't be reviewing the book due to my loose involvement with it, but also because I really don't have the historical expertise to evaluate Shaw's work as a historian.  I will only say that it is very well-written, and I found it both enlightening and personally edifying.  I especially appreciated the emphasis on the explosion of missions and the role of Christians in the abolition of slavery.  Often we think of this era is a time where rationalism gained foothold and orthodox religion experienced a sort of 'downgrade,' and it is nice to be reminded that the truth is never quite so simplistic.

The book has received high acclaim from Mark Noll as well as Carl Trueman, who said "Ian Shaw is a first-rate historian and this is a first-rate book which should take its place as a standard account of the period."

You can get the book from Westminster Bookstore for 50% off right now.  If you want to see the eBook, you can purchase it from Amazon.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nothing Can Satisfy Catholic Demands for an Inspired Table-of-Contents

Early on in Michael Kruger's book Canon Revisited, he makes a very pointed and helpful observation regarding the Catholic complaint that protestants do not have a "inspired table of contents" to determine their canon.
The fundamental claim of the Roman Catholic model is that sola scriptura is untenable because, without some external infallible authority, there is no way to know which books are to be included in the canon. This epistemological challenge in the words of Catholic author Patrick Madrid, is that Christians do not have an "inspired table of contents" that reveals "which books belong and which books do not."  If only Christians had this inspired table of contents, then we would not need the authoritative rulings of the Roman Catholic Church to authenticate the Canon. Although such an argument is made repeatedly within Catholic writings, it proves to be problematic upon closer examination. 
Imagine for a moment that God has inspired another document in the first century that contained this "table of contents" and had given it to the church. We will call this the twenty-eighth book of the New Testament canon. Would the existence of such a book have satisfied the Catholic concerns? Would this allow Catholics to affirm sola scriptura and deny the need for an infallible church? Not at all. Instead, they would simply ask the next logical question: "On what basis do you know that this twenty-eighth book comes from God?" And even if it were argued that God has given a twenty-ninth book saying the twenty-eighth book came from God, and the same objection would still apply: "Yes, but how do you know the twenty-ninth book came from God?" And on it would go. The Catholic objection about the need for a "table of contents," therefore, misses the point entirely. Even if there were another document with such a table, this document would still need to be authenticated as part of the Canon. After all, what if there were multiple table-of-contents-type books floating around in the early church? How would we know which one was from God? In the end, therefore, the Roman Catholic objection is to some extent artificial. Such a "table of contents" would never satisfy their concerns, even if it were to exist, because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting. In other words, built into the Roman Catholic model is that any written revelation (whether it contains a "table of contents" or not) will require external approval and authentication from an infallible church (Pg. 42-43).
I recall some time back, someone on Jason Stellman's Facebook page asked him if he had read Kruger's book, (someone, perhaps Jason, had mentioned the supposed Protestant lack of an inspired canon) and he responded something to the effect that any Protestant answer to the question of canon was irrelevant since it begins by begging the question. Chew on that one for a bit, and if you're a thinking person it should trouble you endlessly.  There is no answering someone who has truly decided the magisterium holds all answers, truth, and authority.  But if it were possible, Canon Revisited would be a great place to start.

By the way, Westminster Books is currently selling Canon Revisited for 40% off the regular price.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

If you are taking Hebrew using Miles Van Pelt and Gary Pratico's book Basics of Biblical Hebrew, then this is the book for you.  If you took Hebrew and need a compressed summary of all the basics you need in order to do translation, this is the book for you.

I am currently taking Hebrew under Miles Van Pelt, and my only disappointment is that this book came out at the end of my time in Hebrew rather than before.  Each day after class, Miles gives a specific summary of everything he wants his students to remember when the test is taken the next day.  I would write all of these things down and then end up printing out the chart containing all of the necessary information from the CD-Rom that is included with the BBH Grammar and Charts books.  Then this book came out and I was embittered because each chapter in the Compact Guide contains all the essentials for each subject from the Grammar.  What I would do during Van Pelt's lectures is highlight the most important things that I needed to remember in order to pass the quiz the next day.  Then to review, I'd comb back through and read the things I underlined.  This book contains all of it.  And because it's pocket-sized, you can carry it around with you and review.

This book will not help you learn Hebrew for the first time, but it is perfect for those in the process of already learning, reviewing, and refeshing themselves on their Biblical Hebrew.  It's biggest strength is the convenience of having all the unnecessary stuff burned off and the essential information distilled into its purest form.  Although there are disadvantages to keeping things compact, as far as I've been able to tell, nothing that Van Pelt considers to be of highest importance has been left out, and so you can be sure that this is a good purchase for most people dealing with the original languages (unless you're some sort of weird Hebrew savant).

Besides a topical journey through the language, the book includes a set of verb paradigms and charts as well as a brief and simplified lexicon in the back of the book.  This sure beats lugging around the oversized grammar with you while you're on the go.

The book doesn't release until August 21st, but you can currently get it at the RTS Jackson Bookstore for $15.  Not a bad deal.

Kindle Deal - Today Only

Rumor has it, Amazon will be unveiling the new Amazon Kindles next week.  As a consequence, our readers may be interested to know that today's Gold Box deal is the Amazon Kindle DX - a piece of equipment I would absolutely adore owning.  Rumor has it there may be a 10" Kindle Fire coming.  I have no love for or interest in the Kindle Fire - I'm an iPad man myself.  But if you ever had you eye on a Kindle DX, this may end up being your last chance to get one.  The word is they're being phased out in favor of whatever update is coming.  Amazon is selling them at a $110 discount, making it more affordable than ever.  Check out today's Gold Box Deals.  They're all Kindle-related.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Letters from the Front, Edited by Barry Waugh

It's a struggle for me to review Letters from the Front in a lot of ways. J. Gresham Machen is a hero of mine, and as a theologian I have the highest regard for him. When I came to this book, I had decided that in some ways, all he was was a theologian, and so my expectations for this book were skewed from the very beginning. Instead of a mere theologian, what I found in these pages was a more robust picture of a man, and I felt chided for seeing my heroes as being so two-dimensional.

First of all, it must be acknowledge that what Barry Waugh has done in giving us this book is nothing short of a feat. This book is the result of literally years of Dr. Waugh sitting down one letter at a time and copying them from the correspondence which Machen had saved for posterity's sake. As is explained in the introduction, it was not always the easiest thing for Waugh to do this, in terms of transcription of difficult words and the complexities of the whole process. In terms of the work put into this, we should all be grateful. These documents indeed provide a fuller picture of the life of Machen during World War I when he served in France as part of the YMCA. Readers will find much of interest in these letters. There are also interesting photographs of Machen, his family, and YMCA facilities similar to those Machen would have been living in and around during the penning of these letters.

Readers may perceive that there is a "but" coming. And indeed it is true. BUT if you are reading this book expecting to see a tremendous amount of theological reflection, of struggling over the problem of evil, reflecting upon the practicalities of his theology, you will be disappointed for the most part. At best you will find that Machen was a very caring person and that he cared for the spiritual well-beign of the men around him. This is important - Machen was not just a detached observer in the war, but a prayerful, thoughtful, and pastoral individual. When tempering our expectations, it is helpful to recall that these letters were written for Machen's family (most of them are written to his mother) so that they could understand what he was going through, who he was meeting, and simply what was going on. You get a fascinating look of what it was like for him to live near the frontlines. We hear the occasional discussion of hearing gunfire in the distance and talk about his frustrations with some of the people he meets on a day-to-day basis, but this is not a theology book. It is more a document which later historians will find of great assistance when they come to fully sketch out the life of Machen. I have nothing bad to say about the book, I just wish I had gone into it with different expectations.


[Full Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. However, I was not required by them to give the book a good review.]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

J.C. Ryle 7 Vol. Expository Set on the Gospels ($25)

If you are a minister, then this is an amazing deal.  For only $25 (which includes shipping) you can get J.C. Ryle's Expository Set on the Gospels (7 Vol.) in hardback from Banner of Truth.

Call 1-800-263-8085 for this limited time deal (for ministers only).  Here is an ad for this deal, but I believe it will automatically take you to the UK Banner of Truth site instead of US site: https://www.banneroftruth.org/statics/JCRyle_Ministers.php.

I just ordered mine!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sproul and Packer Specials

Westminster Seminary is giving these two great teachers honorary doctorates, and so they are celebrating with a book sale. I wanted to make our readers aware the Westminster Bookstore is selling one of J.I. Packer's greatest books for 54% off. On top of that, one of R.C. Sproul's more recent classics dealing with the Westminster Standards is on sale at 50% off. You probably can't find better prices on either of these anywhere.

"If it's not illegal, then it must not be wrong..."

In the midst of Hebrew classes, even taking five minutes to post on the internet or blog is sort of a bad idea. However, I wanted to comment on a recent news story. Evidently, 'comedian' Jeffrey Ross thought it acceptable to make a joke about Joe Paterno - and more significantly, I think, about the mass-shooting in Aurora, Colorado at a recent roast for Roseanne Barr. I'll quote a bit from the article:
Backstage after the taping, Barr was clear with reporters about what she thought of Ross’ ill-received jokes. “That crossed the line,” she said. “But comedy is about moving the line… And where is the line in a country that has freedom of speech? Maybe there isn’t one.”
One thing which the reporter is dead wrong about is the clarity of Barr's comments. On the one hand she says that his jokes crossed a line, and in the next breath she questioned the existence of any line, based on the fact that Ross is legally allowed to say the things that he said. It's the age old error that just because there isn't a law against something, then it must be okay.

I wonder if any mayors will try to stop Mr. Ross if he ever tries to open a chicken stand in their cities. Probably not.