Reformed Theology

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Sunday is coming! With the popularity of new movements, the Reformed faith has become a familiar furniture in the evangelical house. Still, Reformed theology can be very divisive. Our calling as Christians is to strive towards like-mindedness with other non-Reformed people, but this does not mean that we ought to strive towards like-mindedlessness…the call to unity is a call for us to come to open discussion with other Trinitarian Christians with an open Bible and a humble spirit. aAnd to begin this conversation we need to clear away misunderstandings; to clear away the myths concerning the Reformation. It is my humble opinion that the greatest expression of Trinitarian orthodoxy in the world today is found in the Reformed faith, and so explaining precisely what this great tradition desired to do will help us ground ourselves in the Reformation’s conviction that the Scriptures is our highest authority in life.

Critics have developed many myths about the 16th century Reformation. The irony of it all is that if it had not been for the Reformation, the critics would not have the privilege and liberty to express their criticism towards the Reformation, yet, here are four of these myths. I will list the first one and add the others in the days ahead.

The first myth is that the Reformers did not care about the outward unity of the Church.

In Jesus’ high-priestly payer in John 17, He commands that we be one just as He and the Father are one. But the more astute may say, “But wait a minute: the Reformation did not unite the Church, it actually fractured it greatly.” In some sense it did, however, what one may fail to understand is that true Christian unity cannot be rooted in coruption. A corrupt and immoral Church cannot continue to bless the nations. You see, the issue here is not just unity, the issue is uniting around the right things. The Reformers understood this. They understood that unless false doctrine and corruption were dealt with you would have a weak, paralyzed Church incapable of being the salt and light of the earth. The Reformers were so concerned about not dividing the Church that when Rome charged the Reformers with the sin of schism (the sin of division), Calvin called for a Church wide council, so that both sides could be examined. He wanted another ecumenical council to debate these important issues, and perhaps they could come to an agreement and not divide. In fact, Luther—the father of the Reformation—said to Philip Melanchthon before he died that “after his death many harsh and terrible sects will arise, God help us!” The Reformers feared the idea of a divided Church. They wanted to unify the Church, but their vision never came to pass in their day nor in ours. Our hope is that the vision begun in the Reformation will continue in the decades and centuries to come. Still, the Reformation understood that unity is not based on the appointment of an arch-bishop or a pope; placing an ecclesiastical figure does not bring unity unless there is purity and true doctrine as the basis of this unity. The Reformation was intended to be a reformation of the Church, since the Reformers understood that without the Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

  1. Thanks to my friend, Rich Lusk, for elaborating on these  (back)
The Present Cultural Crisis: An Address to the Men by Randy Booth

The Present Cultural Crisis: An Address to the Men by Randy Booth

Pastor Randy Booth addressed guests and the men of Providence Church and Christ Church this past Saturday. The talk centered on how to raise men who are aware of the cultural crisis, but yet are able to de-mythologize the entertainment industry.

Click below for audio lecture.

Current Crisis: Why are we losing our children?

The Grace of Baptism

The Grace of Baptism

The question of baptism and its recipients is truly a matter of grace and not of works. It was my Calvinism that led me away from credo-baptism. I knew–though it took me a while to act on it–that grace was more than a mere soteriological category. Grace was everything and in every act of God for us. The question of an infant’s ability never crossed my mind as a barrier to accepting covenant baptism. The question of God’s grace was the key that unlocked the baptismal font.

Baptism is a heavenly Pentecost. The Spirit is poured, not we who pour ourselves. Everything is of grace; Gratia sunt omnia. God identifies us as His own from the beginning as He did with creation and then He christens us with His spirit. Baptism is the divine hovering. Baptism is gracious because through it God re-enacts the creation of the world. In baptism we are a new creation. a God has copyrighted the world. He labels, gifts, and graces. Man does not have that capacity; man does not create in and of himself, therefore man cannot change his own identity.  We are imitators, but yet only capable of imitating because God graces us with His artistic gifts.

In the beginning, the world is first identified by the Triune God (Gen. 1) and then it is called to praise that God (Ps. 19). We are first identity-less (dark and void), and then God fills us with His Spirit (light and life). Baptism is all of grace. We were void and empty. God looked at us (Ezk. 16) and washed us and clothed us with fine clothing (Ps. 45).

Infant baptism is of grace because it is the re-enacting of creation. Creation begins in darkness– as in a womb– and is washed. It is like our God to destroy nations with fire and to create new ones with a few drops of water.

  1. Thanks to Jonathan Bonomo for this last comment  (back)
Lots of Resources for Psalm-Singing (Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs)

Lots of Resources for Psalm-Singing (Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs)

My article entitled 10 Reasons Why You Should Sing the Psalms received a lot of attention and several days later it is still on the front page of The Christian Post. I am grateful for all the e-mails I received from pastors and parishioners alike seeking to benefit from the psalms for their own spiritual edification and the maturation of their own congregation.

In order to provide those resources to a broader audience, I will list many of them here and hope to update them occasionally.

I’d encourage you to visit the Genevan Psalter website. It will provide music and lyrics and a host of links to articles on the Genevan Psalter. This is my favorite Psalter.

You may also wish to visit this site, which will give you some ideas and a general introduction to psalm singing.

Another way to benefit from sung psalms is to simply start listening to psalms on your ipod or computer. For a more contemporary rendition of the Psalms, this CD by Greg Wilbur with Psalms and Hymns published by Ligonier is quite good. Nathan Clark George has done some beautiful versions of the Psalms with guitar accompaniments.

If you want to listen to some beautiful Scottish Psalmody, go here on Groove Shark.

One indispensable selection of psalms put into music is from a dear brother, Jamie Soles ( a CREC elder). Jamie has a wonderful gift of bringing psalms into easy and memorable tunes for children, but I confess I listen to them myself often.A great hymnal to get you started is Psalms for Singing. You can find audio samples on-line. You can also purchase the Cantus Christi, which is a Psalter-Hymnal. The Cantus includes about 75 psalms of the 150 (with several chants).  If you would like to hear some of the psalms sung and harmonized, you can purchase this CD. You can also find samples of some of the Psalms on the Cantus Christi:

Psalm 117 – Youtube

Psalm 98 – Youtube (Christ Church, Moscow, ID)

Psalm 148, Psalm-Roar – Youtube

Psalm 42, Audio Only (sung at Providence)

Psalm 45, taught and sung at Providence

Psalm 22 (audio only, Psalm-Roar)

Psalm 122 (Youtube, Christ Church)

Finally, for an award-winning website with more information on the Psalms and psalm-singing than you will ever need has been compiled by the saints of Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, AL.  called The Psalm Project.

NOTE: If you find any additional resources, please let me know.

 

10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms

10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms

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Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a 

The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b. By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:

This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c

Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).

So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?

The answer is a resounding no!

There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:

First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?

Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.

Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.

Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”

Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d

Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.

Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.

Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.

Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.

Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.

This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.

For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at uriesou@gmail.com.

  1. See Terry Johnson’s The History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph  (back)
  2. Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974  (back)
  3. Ibid.  (back)
  4. From the article: “Why do we sing the Psalms?”  (back)

Eschatology, Poythress, and the Hallelujah Chorus

I hope to write in the next 18 months a short booklet on eschatology. I have written some papers in the past, but have not been able to provide a general outline, specifically of the postmillennial hope, and its contrast with other millennial positions.

Obviously, there are many wonderful works out there. From John Jefferson Davis to Keith Mathison, and the multitude of theonomic works from the 70’s and 80’s, namely, many of David Chilton’s work (especially his Revelation commentary).

At the same time, there still seems to be a dearth of introductory works at a more layman level. The typical parishioner who has sat under postmillennial preaching for years still finds himself confused by all the labels used. If he has not been immersed in a reformational vocabulary, he is bound to confuse categories and chronology. Naturally, they find themselves incapable of articulating why this optimistic vision contains a progression beginning in Genesis and flowing throughout the New Covenant writings.

Panel Discussion on Eschatology

I listened recently to a panel discussion on eschatology at ETS held some years ago. The postmil advocate (a conspicuous minority in that room) offered a helpful treatment of the chronology of I Corinthians 15:22-26. While helpful, that type of assessment needs to be incorporated into the broader corpus of the Scriptures. For instance, I find it unfathomable to begin a conversation on eschatology without considering the promise of Genesis 3:15 and the motif that is unfolded throughout the other books, namely Judges with its five-fold illustrations of head-crushing.

Poythress, a noble advocate of the Amillennial view, sees the postmil vision more adequately than most, but still does not see why the vision of the Puritans, for example, is a vision of a christianized society.  He argues, in this panel discussion, that if postmil advocates were to focus more on the Second Coming then he would have more in common with them. Well, there is no doubt we focus on the Second Coming, the final parousia, but history is a progression. We look to the coming of Christ at the end of history while not discounting the purposes of Christ throughout history and in history.

The famous Hallelujah chorus grasped this already-ness of the kingdom:

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

We are in full agreement concerning the restoration of the world. And to quote Poythress, we are not waiting for the dissolving of the cosmos, but its restoration, while at the same time we need to believe and trust that the enthronement of King Jesus means the de-thronement of Christ’s enemies. If it is true that he must reign until all his enemies are under his feet, then this reign is quantitative, not just merely spiritualized.

The Gospel promises a discipled world (Mat. 20:18-20) and discipleship and baptism imply a qualitative and quantitative narrative of history. This tangibility of the Gospel vision is the hope of the consistent eschatology of the Scriptures.

Avoid the Language of “Already, and Not Yet”

Since I have been deeply involved in the eschatology debate for over ten years, had some of my works published in other eschatology websites, interviewed postmillennial authors, and have been in the healthy business of proselytizing premils to the postmil position for just as long, I have noticed a few trends. My own transition from pre to postmil was not neat. I wondered in the other premillennial categories and in the “Amillennial parking lot” for a short while.

I confess a deep appreciation for my amillennial brothers. Men like Vos, Horton, and Beale continue to offer fresh insights into the biblical text and to expand the biblical theological vocabulary in some desirable directions. Beale’s work on a theology of worship is a gift to the church.

But while appreciating their labors I also see a trend in the use of language that can be harmful to the postmillennial cause. I refer specifically to the use of the language “already, and not yet.” “This theological concept of “already” and “not yet” was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now’, and await the ‘age to come.” The premillennialist George Eldon Ladd had used similar language when arguing that we taste a little now of the age to come, but not the fullness of it.

Vos and Ladd share similar viewpoints, though they would have differed on their interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-26. That essentially is the only difference between a historic premil and an amillennialist; a few chronological issues, but a firm agreement on the continuation of the decline of civilization. Some amil scholars still argue among themselves on the identity of a future anti-christ. Other amil thinkers embrace the “optimistic” label to balance out the “amil” label, though this is a more recent phenomenon.

Already, and not yet

This language can be helpful at times, and it has turned into a unified slogan among many in the Reformed camp to combat pre-tribulational theology. Let us assume for the moment that the pre-trib. position is unsustainable and not even worth debating. If this is the case, how is the language of “already, and not yet” been helpful to elaborating the victorious promise of the gospel declared by postmil advocates in the Reformed camp? I venture to say it has not been helpful at all in the postmil eschatological proposal. When the amil advocate uses the language–and the language was coined by amillennial advocates–he means that though we taste a bit of the world to come now, we ought not to expect any type of cosmic manifestation in power and might of the gospel until the Second Coming.

This embodies a largely pessimistic vision of the work of the gospel in the end of history. Again, this is not a debate on the post-resurrection world. There is no debate on that issue. We all affirm the Gospel victory then. The question is: “What will the world look like before Jesus returns at the end of history?” Kenneth Gentry offers a helpful definition of postmillennialism:

“Postmillennialism is the view that Christ will return to the earth after the Spirit-blessed Gospel has had overwhelming success in bringing the world to the adoption of Christianity.”

Assuming this definition, we are affirming that not only will we receive a taste of the world to come in this era of human history, but we will also see with our eyes and touch with our hands the very progress of the Spirit-blessed Gospel in the world.

If not “already, and not yet,” then what?

So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we no longer use that language, except in very specific cases. This language may be helpful in communicating ideas with someone re-thinking the dispensational position, but even then I recommend caution, since they may be prone to research this language and be led to amillennial writers.

We are not suggesting a utopian society. We believe sin will always be with us until Jesus returns, but we are also affirming that human sin will lose the war against the gospel when it comes to the conversion of the nations. I agree with my mentor, James Jordan, that as the gospel brings people and nations to submit to King Jesus and as the Gospel becomes more prevalent in the national discourse we will also see a greater battle against our own sin since people will become more aware of their struggles. This, however, does not negate the imperative that the nations will come to Zion and worship (Is. 2, 11), but it emphasizes that confession and repentance will always be part of the Christian experience in this world.

Instead of the “already, and not yet” language we may choose to refer to our hope as the “already, already, but not yet,” emphasizing that we will not just taste of the world to come, but also experience the world to come in this world. Obviously this is a long-term strategy. Postmillennialists are not naive to suggest that this Spirit-blessed Gospel will cause world-wide transformation over night, rather this is a long-possibly millennial- project. A double “already” emphasizes the reality of this Gospel vision in history. Further, it emphasizes that we are not simply tasting of the world to come individually, but corporately as a people.

This world is indeed our home, and we long for a renewed world. We do not despise this creation, we long for its restoration.

What other language can we use?

If the “already, already, but not yet” seems like a theological technicality, then I suggest a few other phrases. We are living in the age of “glory to greater glory,” “fulfillment to greater fulfillment,” present, but not fully present,” “joy to greater joy,” blessing to greater blessing.” These are all categories that define the glory of the transformative gospel before the Second Coming.

You may even provide a better and more accurate picture of this truth in words if time allows, but in the meanwhile be cautious with the “already, and not yet” language. History matters to God. And describing that history in certain words can communicate something we do not wish to communicate.

Authorship Thoughts

Over the years both in undergraduate and graduate studies I have been exposed to a host of New Testament authorship issues. I have been bombarded with alternative authorship theories on every New Testament book. From Mark to Paul, everything has been questioned. Yet the more I ponder this issue the more confidence I have in the historical designation of these books. It may perhaps be my naive trust in the labors of our forefathers, but when I consider the 18th and 19th century motives of scholars on books like Philippians, it seems clear that their motives are not shaped by divine authorship as much as the latest critical consensus.

My thoughts on Hebrews are pretty clear, and I am willing to concede some healthy debate on the matter, but to begin to deny the authorship of Paul on what has long been considered Pauline authorship books is rather futile.

Beyond that, we believe that the Spirit of God inspired these men to write. Though their humanity is not absent in their writings, though their personalities show forth, yet they are being led by the Third Person of the Trinity. The Spirit of God can re-direct certain authors to alter their style of writing to fit particular circumstances and to minister to particular groups of people.

It also appears that in order to maintain so called objectivity and scholarship, some thinkers direct their attention away from the obvious author in order to scrutinize the book through the lens of critical scholarship. This tactic seems unhelpful and only adds confusion to the authorship question. Questions like: “Would Paul really write like this,” only accentuate the problem. The real question should be: “Our forefathers have largely accepted Pauline authorship, and if this is the case, though this language may not appear to be as consistent with other Pauline writings, could the Spirit direct this genius named Paul to write in such a way?” When such questions are asked, I believe the answer will be clearer. I am not asserting that there has always consensus in the past (Hebrews as an example), but that the majority position was generally clear (with minor exceptions).

The principle seems clear: when in doubt stick with the most obvious answer and that which has been historically prevalent.

The Ways of God

The ways of God confound the human mind. One would expect a divine finger to snap and create the world instantaneously. But he took his time and artistically prepared his home in six days.

One would expect that God would settle the world’s problems in Genesis four as quickly as those problems arrived in Genesis three. But God took centuries to begin the definitive undoing of the world’s problems.

One would expect that God would take a godly king to rebuke the powers of evil and transform civilization in one generation. But God waited until the true king was born many generations later.

One would expect that God would take his own son and exalt him before death. But God killed his son on a tree; cross before crown.

The ways of God are intentionally perplexing to the ways of man. It is so because his ways are not our ways.

The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.