Ordinary (Michael Horton)

Evangelicals never really rejected Roman Catholic monasticism. They simply moved it either to the mission field (if they were conservative) or did weird communes (if they read Sojourners). In either case, if you weren’t on board, you really weren’t living the Christian life. In fact, you might not even be a Christian. It’s the new salvation by works.

If you’ve ever been pressured or guilt-tripped by these movements, then Horton’s book can save your sanity. It might even help save your soul. Instead of a review, I was almost tempted to simply copy/paste quotations from Goodreads. It would have same effect. But here goes.

It’s harder to love your neighbor, change diapers every day (sorry, Christic Manhood guys), and go to work every day, than it is to “do the crazy thing for the gospel” (the latter is an actual quote from a Passion conference). But what did Paul tell us to do? As we await the Lord’s return to work quietly with our hands.

We grow in the Christian life, not by the next big thing, but by receiving the means of grace. The most beautiful section of the book is on the catechetical life. As evangelicals, our favorite metaphor for God (or the Christian life) is “being on fire.” True, God is a consuming fire, but that verse in Hebrews is actually meant to make us uncomfortable. The more common metaphor for the Christian life is the organic one. God is tending his garden (and you are not meeting him alone in it). Jesus is the fine, we are the branches, not the firewood.

Jesus never promised to meet us in the next bold thing (fad). He promised to meet us in Word, Water, and Wine and Bread.

I really can’t praise this book highly enough. The best I can do is simply firebomb the review with quotes.

“Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be “easier” than just being who we are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you.”

“Christ’s body is not a stage for my performance.”

“Although it is a bit of a caricature, I think that there is some truth in the generalizations I’m about to make. The tendency in Roman Catholic theology is to view the kingdom of Christ as a cosmic ladder or tower, leading from the lowest strata to the hierarchy led by the pope. Anabaptists have tended to see the kingdom more as a monastery, a community of true saints called out of the world and a worldly church. Lutheran and Reformed churches tend sometimes to see the kingdom as a school, while evangelicals (at least in the United States) lean more toward seeing it as a market.”

“The power of our activism, campaigns, movements, and strategies cannot forgive sins or raise the dead.”

“we’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace, loves us through ordinary fellow image bearers, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings.”

“No longer a star in my own movie, I can take my place in this gift exchange. The gifts that I have are not only for my private use, but for me to pass along to others. And the weaknesses I have are important because they make me more dependent on others.”

“We’re not building a kingdom, but receiving one.”


Review: John Owen on the Christian Life (Ferguson)

This book is exactly what you would expect from an Owen scholar writing on John Owen.  It is clear and rarely goes off rabbit-trails.  While it is old in some ways, and not every locus of systematic theology gets treated, a careful study of this work will repay pastoral ministry.

Ferguson begins with Owen’s covenant theology.  It seems, surprisingly, that Owen held to something like a “works-principle” in Sinai.  Covenant of Sinai: sometimes referred to as Old Covenant. Owen is aware of the tensions in saying that all covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Under the covenant of grace, yet in some way there were principles of the Covenant of Works (JO: 19:389). Sinai can’t simply be Covenant of Grace because of the sharp contrasts between “a better covenant.”

Covenant theology allows Ferguson to draw several inferences on soteriology: Union with Christ: the work of grace–”same instant wherein anyone is united unto Christ, and by the same act whereby he is so united, he is really and habitually purified and sanctified” (JO: 3.517). Effectual calling takes place in Christ, is an act of God the Father (JO: 20: 498), and binds the believer by the indwelling of the spirit (JO: 21:147). Effectual calling produces a change in both status (justification) and life (sanctification), yet it does not identity the two.

Sanctification is the pinnacle of this volume. Structure of sanctification.  The work of grace produces the exercise of duty (Ferguson 55). Owen gives a long definition in JO 3.369-370. In one sense it is an immediate work on believers, since it flows from regeneration and from our Head, yet it is also a process (56). The Lord Jesus is the Head from whom all gifts flow, yet the Spirit is the efficient cause who communicates them to us (Ferguson 58).

Very thorough chapter on Assurance and why the believer may experience varying degrees of it.  This lets Owen talk about the sealing of the Holy Spirit.  Owen: “No special act of the Spirit, but only in an especial effect of his communication unto us” (JO 4:400). He seals the believer by his personal indwelling, but there are no rules as to how/when the believer may recognize it.

With the volumes numerous quotations from Owen, from almost all of his works, we recommend this as a handy guidebook to navigating Owen.

 

Review: John Owen’s Trinitarian Spirituality (Kay)

Kay, Brian.  Paternoster Press.

Image result for brian kay john owen

How does one combine the gains of the so-called “Western” doctrine of God with the demands of spirituality and relating to the divine persons?  How do we avoid collapsing the unity into a pantheistic oneness (ala Meister Eckhardt)? It is John Owen’s genius, so argues Kay, that we maintain the gains of the Western doctrine while simultaneously relating to the three persons.

Kay hints at his conclusion but doesn’t fully develop it at this point: instead of “narrative theology,” which while helpful in capturing the dynamic movement of revelation, negates any need for space-time fulfillment.  Rather, we should follow the drama of the Covenant (Kay 38). Contra Nietzsche, a robust covenantal reading of Scripture means our “values” aren’t timelessly Platonic, but eschatologically appropriate (40).

For Owen there is an order of the divine communication: the Father’s love is the fountainhead, person and mediation of the Son is the substance, and the Holy Spirit infuses light et al (69).

And now Kay comes to the heart of the problem–given the West’s emphasis on the unity of the divine works ad extra, how do we account for issues like the Father’s speaking to the Son (John 12:23) and larger issues like the Covenant of Redemption? I think throughout the book Kay hints at an answer:  the drama of the divine covenants structures our language of the works ad extra, and so this isn’t a problem.

I think this is a tension but not an insurmountable problem.  In any case, it shouldn’t detract from Kay’s practical conclusions.  Our communion flows from our union. This contrasts with the medievals who reversed the order by placing “union” at the top of a ring of increasing levels of communion (118).

This book is very well-organized and argued.  I don’t think Kay solved all of the problems. I would have liked to see more discussion of Barth’s challenge to the Covenant of Redemption.  Nonetheless, while his thesis is quite good, it is the side issues that are extremely fascinating.

Outline, John Owen *Mortification of Sin*

https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Owen_MortificationOfSin.pdf

Foundation of the Discourse

The relationship between justification and mortification is cause and effect (Owen 6).

Our duty: The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin (7).

The efficient cause of this duty: The Holy Spirit (“if by the Spirit”).  Mortification must be done by the Spirit. Every other way is vain.

What are the deeds of the body?

The body is the seat and instrument of the corruption of our nature (7).  It is the same as “the old man” and the “body of sin.”  The power of our spiritual life depends on how much we mortify the deeds of the flesh (9).

The Necessity of Mortification

We are obligated by the ferocity of the battle to be killing sin at all times.

  1. Indwelling sin is always with us even if judicial sin is negated.
  2. This sin is still active.
  3. If left alone, it will turn into greater sins (“scandalous and soul-destroying sins”).
  4. Our new nature and the Spirit is the principle by which we oppose sin.
    1. Gal. 5.17
    2. 2 Pet. 1.4-5
    3. Our participation in the divine nature gives us an escape from the pollutions of the world.
  5. If we neglect this duty, our soul is cast into a contrary condition.
    1. “Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart.”
  6. It is our duty to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Conclusion: notwithstanding our judicial freedom from sin, indwelling sin remains in the best of believers.

False Asceticism: Vanity of Popish Mortification

  1. The Holy Spirit is sufficient for mortification
  2. Popish Mortification
    1. The ways and ends of their mortification were never insisted on by God.
    2. The means that are appointed by God, and which they do use, are not used properly.  Fasting is important, but it should flow from the Spirit’s work of mortification.  Fasting and watching are streams, not fountains.
  3. The Work of the Spirit
    1. The Spirit will take away the stony heart (Ezek. 11.19; 36.26).
    2. This is a gift of Christ, and Christ, as the head, communicates his gifts to us.
    3. How does the Holy Spirit mortify sin?
      1. He causes our hearts to abound in graces and fruits that are contrary to the flesh (Gal. 5.19-21).
      2. The Holy Spirit, as our efficient, hits sin at the root.
      3. He brings us into communion with the cross of Christ.

Chapter 4: The Usefulness of Mortification

  1. The vigor of our spiritual life depends on mortification.
    1. Success in mortification won’t always lead to happiness, though.  A godly saint can mortify sin yet still face assaults (Psalm 88).
    2. Mortification shouldn’t be confused with the privileges that flow from adoption.
    3. Unmortified sin weakens the soul (Ps. 38.3).
    4. As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul.
  2. Mortification prunes all the graces of God.

Chapter 5-6

  1. What it is to mortify a sin.
    1. A habitual weakening of it.
    2. Constant fighting and contending against it.

Chapter 7: General Rules, and Rome’s false view, again

  1. Unless a man is a believer, truly ingrafted into Christ, this isn’t possible.
  2. It is the work of faith (Acts 15.9).

Chapter 8: Universal Sincerity for mortifcation

  1. Without sincerity and an aim at universal mortification, no lust will be mortified.
    1. 2 Cor. 7.1
    2. God sometimes suffers one lust to chasten our other negligences.

Chapters 9-11

  1. A lust that isn’t “loud” is often more dangerous.  It could be a sign of inveterateness.
  2. The heart often engages in self-deception.
  3. Guilt of the Sin
    1. The power of sin is weakened by grace, but not always the guilt is weakened.
    2. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin, so that you can let the Spirit work through you.
      1. Don’t fight guilt by your own righteousness.
      2. Let the law do what it is supposed to do.
      3. And then cry to God.

Chapter 12

I am going to call this one “Study as a mode of sanctification.”

  1. Let our meditations fill us with our low estate and God’s high estate
    1. It reminds us how weak in prayer we are.
    2. Even at our best we have feeble notions of God.
  2. The being of God.
    1. We have words and notions about the “things of God,” but not the things themselves.
    2. “We know him rather but what he does than what he is.”
  3. But what of the difference between believers’ and unbelievers’ knowledge of God?
    1. Their manner of knowing is different, not the content.

Chapter 13

  1. If you are upset by sin, don’t speak peace to your heart until God speaks.
  2. If we look for healing and peace, we must look to the blood of the covenant.
  3. How shall we know that God has spoken peace to us?
    1. We’ll know.  When God gives peace, he doesn’t go halfway.
    2. But he doesn’t necessarily do it right away.
    3. There is a “secret instinct in faith.”

Chapter 14

  1. Have faith that Christ is at work killing our sin.
  2. Expect in faith for a relief from Christ.
  3. Our old man is crucified with Christ, not in respect of time but of causality. If we act on faith in the death of Christ, then we can expect
    1. Power
    2. Conformity
  4. The Spirit alone:
    1. Convinces the heart of guilt
    2. Reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for relief.
    3. Establishes the heart in expectation of relief.
    4. Brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
    5. Is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
    6. Supports our addresses to God.

You are what you love (review)

What we love and desire forms the space for what we know. And so James K. A. Smith reads Augustine’s key phrases in the Confessions. Smith writes: ““In some sense, love is a condition for knowledge” (Smith 7). I love in order to know. As humans we are oriented towards something.

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

Thus, a teleological existence. Smith and Augustine call attention to Man’s “heart.” It is our subconscious orientation to the world (8). Our heart is always “longing” for something, some ultimate end.

Before he can clinch his argument, Smith calls attention to the virtues. “They are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be” x, y, z (16), “a disposition that inclines us to achieve the good for which we are made” (89). They are “thick realities tethered to particular communities governed by a particular Story” (159-160).

And if our habits are often formed pre-consciously, then they need radical re-training, hence liturgy. Liturgy for Smith isn’t necessarily smells and bells (or even church-related at all). Rather, “a shorthand term for those rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we’re for” (46). A liturgy could be the Book of Common Prayer or it could be a trip to the shopping mall.

Smith ends with a wonderful analysis of the megachurch movement and reasonable proposals to end it without necessarily taking a side in the “worship wars.”

Criticisms

Smith rarely misses an opportunity to attack “intellectualism,” but with the exception of Descartes, we aren’t sure exactly who is guilty of this. He says “new information doesn’t change a deformation” (83), but do we not see the converse in American universities, where the professor speaks of Marxism, Darwinism, and gender fluidity?

In fact, it’s almost as if he attacks “the life of the mind” and disciplines like Scripture memorization are brushed aside (see p.139, 142). And while I heartily agree with his critique of the “seeker-sensitive movement,” no one would ever criticize seeker-sensitive churches for being overly intellectual (or intellectual at all). And I can only conclude by quoting Colossians 3:10 in that we are “restored unto knowledge.”

The Good

Smith is a talented writer and it shows. While there is a lot of repetition from his earlier works, his argument is focused. His take on virtue is quite good and his model for pedagogy bears promise. In fact, as a teacher I had been using his take on pedagogy (in short, we are in loco parentis).

Outline Owen Mortification of Sin

https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Owen_MortificationOfSin.pdf

Foundation of the Discourse

The relationship between justification and mortification is cause and effect (Owen 6).

Our duty: The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin (7).

The efficient cause of this duty: The Holy Spirit (“if by the Spirit”).  Mortification must be done by the Spirit. Every other way is vain.

What are the deeds of the body?

The body is the seat and instrument of the corruption of our nature (7).  It is the same as “the old man” and the “body of sin.”  The power of our spiritual life depends on how much we mortify the deeds of the flesh (9).

The Necessity of Mortification

We are obligated by the ferocity of the battle to be killing sin at all times.

  1. Indwelling sin is always with us even if judicial sin is negated.
  2. This sin is still active.
  3. If left alone, it will turn into greater sins (“scandalous and soul-destroying sins”).
  4. Our new nature and the Spirit is the principle by which we oppose sin.
    1. Gal. 5.17
    2. 2 Pet. 1.4-5
    3. Our participation in the divine nature gives us an escape from the pollutions of the world.
  5. If we neglect this duty, our soul is cast into a contrary condition.
    1. “Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart.”
  6. It is our duty to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Conclusion: notwithstanding our judicial freedom from sin, indwelling sin remains in the best of believers.

False Asceticism: Vanity of Popish Mortification

  1. The Holy Spirit is sufficient for mortification
  2. Popish Mortification
    1. The ways and ends of their mortification were never insisted on by God.
    2. The means that are appointed by God, and which they do use, are not used properly.  Fasting is important, but it should flow from the Spirit’s work of mortification.  Fasting and watching are streams, not fountains.
  3. The Work of the Spirit
    1. The Spirit will take away the stony heart (Ezek. 11.19; 36.26).
    2. This is a gift of Christ, and Christ, as the head, communicates his gifts to us.
    3. How does the Holy Spirit mortify sin?
      1. He causes our hearts to abound in graces and fruits that are contrary to the flesh (Gal. 5.19-21).
      2. The Holy Spirit, as our efficient, hits sin at the root.
      3. He brings us into communion with the cross of Christ.

Chapter 4: The Usefulness of Mortification

  1. The vigor of our spiritual life depends on mortification.
    1. Success in mortification won’t always lead to happiness, though.  A godly saint can mortify sin yet still face assaults (Psalm 88).
    2. Mortification shouldn’t be confused with the privileges that flow from adoption.
    3. Unmortified sin weakens the soul (Ps. 38.3).
    4. As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul.
  2. Mortification prunes all the graces of God.

Chapter 5-6

  1. What it is to mortify a sin.
    1. A habitual weakening of it.
    2. Constant fighting and contending against it.

Chapter 7: General Rules, and Rome’s false view, again

  1. Unless a man is a believer, truly ingrafted into Christ, this isn’t possible.
  2. It is the work of faith (Acts 15.9).

Chapter 8: Universal Sincerity for mortifcation

  1. Without sincerity and an aim at universal mortification, no lust will be mortified.
    1. 2 Cor. 7.1
    2. God sometimes suffers one lust to chasten our other negligences.

Chapters 9-11

  1. A lust that isn’t “loud” is often more dangerous.  It could be a sign of inveterateness.
  2. The heart often engages in self-deception.
  3. Guilt of the Sin
    1. The power of sin is weakened by grace, but not always the guilt is weakened.
    2. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin, so that you can let the Spirit work through you.
      1. Don’t fight guilt by your own righteousness.
      2. Let the law do what it is supposed to do.
      3. And then cry to God.

Chapter 12

I am going to call this one “Study as a mode of sanctification.”

  1. Let our meditations fill us with our low estate and God’s high estate
    1. It reminds us how weak in prayer we are.
    2. Even at our best we have feeble notions of God.
  2. The being of God.
    1. We have words and notions about the “things of God,” but not the things themselves.
    2. “We know him rather but what he does than what he is.”
  3. But what of the difference between believers’ and unbelievers’ knowledge of God?
    1. Their manner of knowing is different, not the content.

Chapter 13

  1. If you are upset by sin, don’t speak peace to your heart until God speaks.
  2. If we look for healing and peace, we must look to the blood of the covenant.
  3. How shall we know that God has spoken peace to us?
    1. We’ll know.  When God gives peace, he doesn’t go halfway.
    2. But he doesn’t necessarily do it right away.
    3. There is a “secret instinct in faith.”

Chapter 14

  1. Have faith that Christ is at work killing our sin.
  2. Expect in faith for a relief from Christ.
  3. Our old man is crucified with Christ, not in respect of time but of causality. If we act on faith in the death of Christ, then we can expect
    1. Power
    2. Conformity
  4. The Spirit alone:
    1. Convinces the heart of guilt
    2. Reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for relief.
    3. Establishes the heart in expectation of relief.
    4. Brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
    5. Is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
    6. Supports our addresses to God.

 

Rallying to battle scars

Seven years ago I left the Reformed social networks (if never officially leaving the Reformed world).  I kind of got back into some of these networks four years ago (if only to see what was going on).  When I left the only things people were talking about were Federal Vision, New Perspective, and whether theonomy is guilty by association.

When I came back I was confronted with new acronymns: T4G, Gospel Coalition, whatever Mahaney’s people were called, Driscoll, etc.   And then there were all the Reformed Presbyterians who secretly wanted to be John Piper.

I didn’t know what to make of any of this. No doubt some did good but it was hard for me–and it’s worse now–to get excited about the next new conference headed by the top guy at Wheaton or Covenant or WTS.  Especially if they are young.  Especially if their disciples are young.  And still in grad school.

I would be lying to you if I said I completely avoided all movements and ideologies.  I suppose that is impossible.  But I come very close.  In other words, I rally to guys who have battle-scars:  men who have been fired from jobs, universities.  These guys have stood in the trenches while the pretty boys put on the conferences.  Usually they will be well over 40 and not have outside financial backing.