History of Christianity

Good Ethics Don’t Make A Christian: Machen On Doctrine

Good Ethics Don’t Make A Christian: Machen On Doctrine

This is the second installment in our seven-part series based on J. Gresham Machen’s seminal work, Christianity and Liberalism (1923). In the book, still relevant almost a century later, Machen contrasts the modernist theological liberalism of his day with biblical Christianity. He argues that liberalism is actually a completely separate religion from Christianity, and shows how the two differed on doctrine, God and humanity, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and the church.

Today’s post covers Chapter 2, which contrasts Christianity and liberalism on doctrine.

A central tenet of modern naturalistic liberalism, according to Machen, is the diminishment of doctrine and the exaltation of experience, with its core maxim being, “Christianity is a life, not a doctrine.” Liberals believed that creeds should be seen as varied statements of Christian experiences throughout history, not precise doctrinal formulations of historical and factual content.

HISTORY AND DOCTRINE

In Christianity and Liberalism, Machen argues against this and shows that Christianity is established on the historical events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Before Christianity becomes life, it is the news of a historical event. It was founded upon doctrine, which is essentially the explanation of historical events. Machen writes, “‘Christ died’—that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’—that is doctrine. Without those two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.” The Christian life is derived from the Christian message; not the other way around.

There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds. (Machen, Christianity and Liberalism)

Jesus was committed to doctrine, as were his earliest disciples. What set the first Christians ablaze was not a commitment to being like Jesus, but a commitment to what God had done in redeeming sinners by the resurrection of Jesus.

PAUL AND THE PRIMACY OF DOCTRINE

Machen shows how the Apostle Paul was a chief example of the primacy of doctrine in Christianity. Paul tolerated preachers who taught the right doctrine in the wrong way with evil motives (Phil. 1:12–18), but was intolerant toward preachers who taught false doctrine that opposed the gospel (Gal. 1:6–9).

But, liberalism asks, what about Jesus? Shouldn’t we just get back to the person of Jesus? Machen explains that, yes, we should get back to Jesus, but that in getting back to the person of Jesus one finds him committed to a historical event that culminates in his person and work—the coming of God’s kingdom.

Jesus did not come primarily to teach religious principles and moralistic ethics, but to make all things new and to inaugurate the kingdom of God. Authentic Christianity, as opposed to Christian liberalism, returns to Jesus not first to revere his wonderful way of life, but in order to connect sinners with the living Christ through the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

THE WORKER IS A WITNESS

Imitating Jesus makes for good ethics, but it does not make someone a Christian. What makes a Christian is faith in the fact of who Jesus is and what he did. There is no such thing as non-doctrinal Christianity.

Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness. (p. 44)

Doctrine is important to the church because the church itself is founded upon what happened in history. From its very inception the church has been a witness to the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 1:8). The early Christians were not first witnesses to what God had done in them as individuals, but witnesses to what God had done in Jesus for the world.

CHRISTIANITY BEGINS WITH A TRIUMPHANT INDICATIVE

While modern naturalistic liberalism minimizes doctrine, Christianity centralizes itself on the factual message composed of historical and doctrinal content. Christians are witnesses to the truth of the gospel before they are witnesses to their experiences resulting from the gospel. The most practical thing you can do as a Christian is proclaim the redemptive event of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners.

Machen summarizes the fundamental difference between Christianity and liberalism like this: “Liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.”

Next up, we’ll see how theological liberalism has a different view of God and humanity from that of Christianity in the third post in the series.

Can’t wait? Read the book for free online or listen to it as a free audiobook

J. Gresham Machen: “Liberalism Has Abandoned Christianity”

J. Gresham Machen: “Liberalism Has Abandoned Christianity”

 

Today, we begin a seven-part series based on J. Gresham Machen’s seminal work, Christianity and Liberalism (1923). Machen was an American Presbyterian minister and professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary in the early 20th century. He founded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and was a professor of the New Testament there until his death at age 55. In Christianity and Liberalism, still relevant almost a century later, Machen contrasted the modernist theological liberalism of his day with biblical Christianity. He argued that liberalism was actually a completely separate religion from Christianity, and showed how the two differed on doctrine, God and humanity, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and the church. Each post in this blog series will summarize a chapter from this classic.

In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.

–J. Gresham Machen (p. 1)

Machen begins Christianity and Liberalism by arguing for clear theological definitions in a religious climate that prized ambiguity. The Christian faith was under attack by what he calls “modern naturalistic liberalism,” a movement that called itself Christian, and used many of the same theological terms as historic Christianity, but meant something entirely different. The modern liberal religion of his day was naturalistic, he argues, and denied “any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

The combination of modernism and liberalism in religion arose in response to scientific achievement and the scientific method, which led to a great expansion of human knowledge. The problem was not science, but an attitude of disdain for the past and an insatiable appetite for innovation because of the new technological and intellectual advancements. Liberalism questioned whether an ancient religion like Christianity could withstand the criticism of modern science. In fact, he writes, the question that modern liberalism attempts to answer is: “May Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?”

Modern liberalism replaces orthodox Christian beliefs, especially regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, with general moral and religious principles. Because of this compromise, Machen demonstrates that Christian liberalism is in fact not Christianity at all. He criticizes it on two fronts: “(1) on the ground that it is un-Christian and (2) on the ground that it is unscientific.”

In attempting to rescue Christianity from modern science, liberalism has actually abandoned Christianity. Machen writes, “In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science . . . the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend.”

New Testament Christianity is not the religion that is in conflict with science. Rather it is the purported Christian liberalism that conflicts with science. The essence of Christianity is not a collection of “Christian” principles, but a proclamation of the historical events of Jesus of Nazareth’s death and resurrection.

Vastly more important than all questions with regard to methods of preaching is the root question as to what it is that shall be preached. (p. 7)

The modern world has improved life greatly, but it is not without its weakness: “Material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.” According to Machen, modernism has brought about a decline in art, the rise of utilitarianism, and the restriction of individual freedom. These negative aspects of modernism lead to the impoverishment of the human soul, as the human personality can only flourish by individual choice.

Machen believes that the secret to avoiding the shriveling of the human soul is found in Christianity—specifically the grace of God. A return to the clear “message of divine grace” is the remedy to modern liberalism.

Next up, Machen writes about the fundamental difference between theological liberalism and Christianity in their approaches to doctrine in the second part of the series.

Can’t wait? Read the book for free online or listen to it as a free audiobook.

Heresy And A Call For Humility

Heresy And A Call For Humility

There has been a lot of talk about heresy thrown around on the Internet lately.

The frequency and volume of the accusations suggest that some Christians may have lost a sense of the gravity of the charge of heresy. The time has come to call for a strong dose of humility, restraint, and a clear and informed definition of orthodoxy and heresy.

DON’T WATER DOWN THE WORD

What is needed is a clear definition of heresy that is capable of distinguishing between those Christians who hold doctrines we disagree with from those who deny central truths of the Christian faith. Such a definition will require wisdom and discernment in how to engage those whose beliefs or teachings are not helpful, but it will avoid a dangerous overuse of the heresy charge, which waters it down and strips it of its usefulness.

RIGHT DOCTRINE IS IMPORTANT

We care deeply about right doctrine because the Bible does. The Bible has strong language to use against false teachers who promote doctrines that undermine the gospel. As Bruce Demarest notes:

The New Testament expresses serious concern for “false doctrines” (1 Tim. 1:36:3) and places the highest priority on maintaining “the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13; cf. 1 Tim. 6:3). Scripture urges Christians to be alert to doctrinal deception (Mt. 24:4) and to avoid heresy by carefully guarding the pure content of the gospel (1 Cor. 11:2Gal. 1:8). [1]

In Galatians 1:9, Paul uses the strongest words possible against those who distort the gospel, writing, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” And the Apostle Peter warns against “false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1).

HERESY IS A WEIGHTY CHARGE

As is clear from the New Testament, the apostles were not afraid to call out heresy when they saw it. If a teaching or practice threatened the integrity of the gospel, it was strongly condemned (as in the case of Peter and the circumcision party described in Galatians 2). However, the charge of heresy was a weighty one that was not made lightly, nor was it used whenever there was theological inaccuracy or imprecision (think of the response to Apollos in Acts 18:24–28).

In contrast to the easy accusations of heresy lobbed around the Internet today, historically both the Roman Catholic and Reformed traditions have been careful to specify different degrees of heretical or unhelpful teaching. In Catholicism, a blunt denial of an explicitly defined Church doctrine is heresy in the first degree. A doctrine that has not been explicitly defined by one of the Church’s articles of faith but diverges from the received majority view is considered an opinion approaching heresy (sententia haeresi proxima). One who holds a position that does not directly contradict received dogma but logically entails denial of an explicitly defined truth is said to be erroneous in theology (propositio theologice erronea). Finally, a belief that cannot be definitively shown to be in opposition to an article of faith of the Church is said to be suspected or savoring of heresy (sententia de haeresi suspecta, haeresim sapiens).[2]

NOT ALL THEOLOGICAL ERRORS ARE EQUALLY SERIOUS

Similarly, the Reformed tradition historically distinguished three kinds of doctrinal error related to fundamental articles of the faith:[3] 1) errors directly against a fundamental article (contra fundamentum); 2) errors around a fundamental or in indirect contradiction to it (circa fundamentum); 3) errors beyond a fundamental article (praeter fundamentum). Richard Muller explains them like this:

The first kind of error is a direct attack—such as those launched by the Socinians—against the divinity of Christ or the Trinity. The second is not a direct negation or an antithesis but rather an indirect or secondary error ultimately subversive of a fundamental—such as a belief in God that refuses to acknowledge his providence. The third category of error does not address fundamental articles directly or indirectly but rather involves faith in problematic and curious questions (quaestiones problematicas et curiosas) that do not arise out of the revealed Word—hay and stubble!—and that, because of their curiosity and vanity, constitute diversions from and impediments to salvation.[4]

The point is that historically both the Roman Catholic tradition and the Reformed tradition have understood that not all theological errors are equally serious. Theological historian David Christie-Murray distinguishes between orthodoxy, the body of Christian belief which has emerged as a consensus through time as the church reflects on Scripture; heterodoxy, Christian belief which differs from orthodoxy; and heresy, belief that diverges from orthodoxy beyond a certain (ill-defined) point.[5] We may agree that there exists a perfect orthodoxy in the mind of God, but the proliferation of schisms, disagreements, and divisions throughout church history points to the fact that we as fallible humans are imperfect at agreeing precisely on that orthodoxy. Consequently, we must fall back on a humble definition of orthodoxy by drawing on the consensus of our interpretation of Scripture, church history, and reason.

WE’RE NOT SAVED BY OUR INTELLECTUAL PRECISION

Because the line between heterodoxy and heresy is blurry, we need lots of wisdom, discernment, and humility before we declare that someone has departed into full-blown heresy. In addition, we must remember that the entirety of what we think Christians should believe is not identical to what a person must believe to be saved. We believe in justification by faith in Christ, not justification by accuracy of doctrine. We are saved by the grace of Jesus, not our intellectual precision.

HOW THE EARLY CHURCH DEALT WITH HERESY

Core Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the canon of Scripture were developed through the early church’s struggles with heresy.[6] When teachers arose and began to lead movements with teachings blatantly opposed to the apostolic tradition, the church was drawn by necessity to clarify and articulate the essential elements of the apostolic teaching.  The early church creeds were formulated to meet this need for clear definition of the essentials.

The earliest creeds of all are arguably to be found in Scripture itself. Many scholars believe that Paul recites an early creed in his letter to the Corinthians when he summarizes the facts that he taught as “of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to the apostles and many others]” (1 Cor. 15:3–7).

SOME BASICS OF FAITH

After the apostolic age, the early church possessed what was known as “the rule of faith,” which Demarest describes as “brief summaries of essential Christian truths.”[7] In the second century, Irenaeus described the rule of faith in this way:

One God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.[8]

As the early Christian community dealt with new heretical movements, the rule of faith gave birth to more precise statements of the essentials of the faith, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.[9] These widely accepted formulations of the essential “right doctrine” (orthodoxy) handed down from the apostles were crucial for combating heresy. Importantly, the early church did not consider every potential wrong belief heretical. Only those teachings that contradicted the essential elements of the faith were to be labeled heresy.

RELEARNING HOW TO TEST HERESY

The current climate shows that we need to relearn the ability to care about right doctrine and have earnest doctrinal disagreements without proclaiming “Heresy!” over every point at which we disagree. We need a more restrained definition of heresy drawing on the early church creeds. The Nicene Creed is a historic, globally accepted ecumenical creed that encapsulates the good news of the gospel into a short and rich summary. It covers the basic essentials of 1) who God is, 2) what God is like, and 3) how God saves.

If a believer authentically holds to the Nicene Creed, we should not call them a heretic, no matter how strongly we believe they are gravely in error on the details or on other doctrines. A good shorthand for heresy, then, is to ask, “Can they say the Nicene Creed and mean it without their fingers crossed?” If the answer is yes, they may still be wrong, and they may be heterodox, but we cannot call them heretics, because they fit within the bounds of historic Christianity.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Even with this narrow and confined definition of heresy, we can still discuss and debate with those whose beliefs are unhelpful. We can still say that their teachings are not a good application of Scripture to life and doctrine. But we treat them not as heretics, but as brothers and sisters with whom we lovingly disagree. As the famous saying goes, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.”

Such an attitude of humble, charitable engagement stands in stark contrast to the spirit of the blogosphere today. Rather than being fundamentalists who turn disagreement into division, we should contend for the truth with humility and grace. That’s how Jesus treated us.

 

———————-

[1] Bruce Demarest, “Heresy,” New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988), 293.

[2] J. Wilhelm, “Heresy,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company), http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07256b.htm.

[3] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1: Prolegomena to Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 422–3.

[4] Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 1: Prolegomena to Theology, 422–3.

[5] David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy (Oxford: University Press, 1989), 20.

[6] See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1978).

[7] Demarest, “Heresy,” 292.

[8] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.4.1-2

[9] Demarest, “Heresy,” 292.

Who Is John Bunyan?

Who Is John Bunyan?

The most popular novel in the history of the world was written in prison by a man whose humble beginnings and arduous life reflect the One he lived for—Jesus Christ (The Portable Bunyan). John Bunyan, who never received more than a second grade education, impacted Christian thinking and English literature so profoundly that he was able to transcend the cultural and religious framework from which he wrote and influence a universal audience (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).

The Drunken Tinsmith

John Bunyan was born in England in 1628, entering into the broader historical context with “the final phases of the Reformation movement still fresh in the minds of the people” and the Puritan pilgrimage to America dawning in the near future. John’s father was a tinker (a tin smith), providing a meager life for his family and training his son to follow in his footsteps. At the age of sixteen Bunyan lost his mother and two sisters, after which his father married for the third time.

It was his radical encounter with God’s grace that led to his regeneration and conversion.

Bunyan quickly left home to join the British army, where he stayed for three years, and then returned home to set up a business as a tinker. During his late teenage years Bunyan wanted nothing to do with religion and even had a reputation as a drunkard. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography, he describes his depravity at this stage of his life: “It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will (2 Tim 2:26), being filled with all unrighteousness, which did also so strongly work, and put forth itself, both in my heart and life, that I had but few equals for cursing, swearing, lying and blaspheming in the holy Name of God.”

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Bunyan describes the beginning of his conversion, or his “first longings for Godliness,” in his marriage to a godly woman in 1649. Mary came from a poor family, and her only dowry was the two books that her father had left to her: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety.

Although Bunyan describes a gradual external change towards religion, it was his radical encounter with God’s grace that led to his regeneration and conversion. Instrumental in his conversion was Mr. Gifford, the pastor of a Baptist church in Bedford, where Bunyan began attending and eventually preaching. Bunyan recounts the hope and joy he found in the gospel in Grace Abounding:

One day as I was passing in the field…with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest all was still not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul: Your righteousness is in heaven.  And I thought as well that I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand.  There, I say, is my righteousness, so that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was right before Him.  I also saw that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday and today and forever.

When Gifford died, Bunyan was selected as the pastor of this church in his native town. He became a bold and powerful preacher. Great crowds attended his meetings and multitudes of people were turned away each Sunday. It is significant to note that while Bunyan is remembered mostly for his novels, he was first and foremost a preacher of the Word of God.

Jailed for Jesus

It was during this time that Bunyan began to write books, the majority of which were theological in nature and found wide acceptance and distribution. The first of his books, Some Gospel Truths Opened, was a fierce attack on the Quakers for relying on their own “inner light” rather than the inspired words of the Bible. As his popularity and notoriety grew, Bunyan increasingly became a target for enemies of the English Non-conformists. In 1658 Bunyan was arrested for the first time in Eaton Socon and was indicted for preaching without a license. It was during these long days and months in prison that Bunyan wrote his most famous works: Grace Abounding, his spiritual autobiography; The Holy War, which describes the war of God’s church with Satan; and his most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the journey of a man named Christian journeying from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.

It is significant to note that while Bunyan is remembered mostly for his novels, he was first and foremost a preacher of the Word of God.

After twelve years in prison Bunyan was released and immediately began pastoring a congregation in Bedfordshire, which grew upwards to 4,000 members. Five years later Bunyan would be imprisoned again for preaching. Yet whether he was in jail or out of jail, Bunyan staunchly proclaimed the truth of God through preaching and writing. The English officials, at one point, told Bunyan that they would let him go free if he would simply remain quiet. Bunyan replied, saying, “If you would let me out today, I should preach tomorrow.”

Bunyan died in 1688 from a fever, and his statement before death reveals his passion for his Savior and his love for his church, “I long for nothing so much as to be dissolved and be with Christ. I am content to depart when He shall call me. I have long borne a crucified heart, and by grace I shall enter into rest. Stay me not, for I am bidden into the presence of the King! Weep not, for though I pass away the Lord abides with you and never faileth!”

Timeline of Bunyan’s Life

  • 1628 (Nov) Bunyan born in Elstow, England.
  • 1644 Bunyan’s mother and sister both die.
  • 1644 Drafted into the Parlimentary army
  • 1647 Bunyan returns from the army to set up business as a tinker.
  • 1649 Marries first wife
  • 1650 Bunyan’s blind daughter Mary’s birth
  • 1651 Bunyan comes under ministry of John Gifford
  • 1653 Bunyan baptized
  • 1656 First preaches in public
  • 1656 Publishes Some Gospel Truths Opened
  • 1658 First wife Mary dies and is left with four children
  • 1659 Marries Elizabeth
  • 1660 Imprisoned until 1672 for unlicensed preaching
  • 1666 Grace Abounding published
  • 1672 Called as pastor of Bedford church (Jan. 21)
  • 1672 Released from prison
  • 1672 Licensed as Congregational preacher (May 9)
  • 1675 Warrant issued for Bunyan’s arrest
  • 1677 Imprisoned for six months for not attending parish church
  • 1678 Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 1, published
  • 1682 Holy War published
  • 1684 Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 2, published
  • 1688 Bunyan dies
  • 1692 Elizabeth dies

Timeline of Bunyan’s Historical Context

  • 1546 Martin Luther dies
  • 1564 John Calvin dies
  • 1611 King James Bible completed
  • 1615 Richard Baxter born
  • 1616 John Owen born
  • 1616 William Shakespeare dies
  • 1617 Calvin’s completed works published in Geneva
  • 1618 Synod of Dort
  • 1620 Mayflower leaves Plymouth, England
  • 1623 Blaise Pascal & Francis Turretin born
  • 1630 Puritan migration to New World begins
  • 1633 Galileo forced to renounce heretical ideas
  • 1636 Harvard founded by Puritans
  • 1637 Descartes’ Discourse on Method
  • 1642 Sir Isaac Newton born (1642–1727)
  • 1644 William Penn born (1644–1718)
  • 1646 Westminster Confession
  • 1648 George Fox founds Society of Friends
  • 1667 Milton’s Paradise Lost published
  • 1678 Pilgrim’s Progress first edition
  • 1685 Bach and Handel born
  • 1688 Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elentic Theology published
  • 1730 The Great Awakening

Works by John Bunyan for Further Reading

The complete set of The Works of John Bunyan, George Offor edition, is available for free viewing and PDF download at http://www.johnbunyan.org/.

  1. A complete bibliography of Bunyan’s 59 publications can be found in Richard L. Greaves, John Bunyan (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 169-71.
  2. A Few Sighs from Hell, or the Groans of a Damned Soul, 1658
  3. A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and the Publican, 1685
  4. A Holy Life
  5. Christ a Complete Saviour (The Intercession of Christ And Who Are Privileged in It), 1692
  6. Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, 1678
  7. Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666
  8. Light for Them that Sit in Darkness
  9. Praying with the Spirit and with Understanding too, 1663
  10. Of Antichrist and His Ruin, 1692
  11. Reprobation Asserted, 1674
  12. Saved by Grace, 1675
  13. Seasonal Counsel or Suffering Saints in the Furnace – Advice to Persecuted
  14. Christians in Their Trials & Tribulations, 1684
  15. Some Gospel Truths Opened, 1656
  16. The Acceptable Sacrifice
  17. The Desire of the Righteous Granted
  18. The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, 1659
  19. The Doom and Downfall of the Fruitless Professor (Or The Barren Fig Tree), 1682
  20. The End of the World, The Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Judgment, 1665
  21. The Fear of God – What it is, and what is it is not, 1679
  22. The Greatness of the Soul and Unspeakableness of its Loss Thereof, 1683
  23. The Heavenly Footman, 1698
  24. The Holy City or the New Jerusalem, 1665
  25. The Holy War – The Losing and Taking Again of the Town of Man-soul (The Holy War Made by Shaddai upon Diabolus, for the Regaining of the World), 1682
  26. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, 1680
  27. The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, 1678
  28. The Strait Gate, Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven, 1676
  29. The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 1692
  30. The Water of Life or The Richness and Glory of the Gospel, 1688
  31. The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, 1688

Bibliography

  • Bacon, Ernest W. John Bunyan: Pilgrim and Dreamer. Grand Rapids: Baker Book
  • House, 1983.
  • Batson, E. Beatrice. John Bunyan: Allegory and Imagination. London: Croom Helm,
  • 1984
  • Brown, John. John Bunyan: His Life, Times and Work. Archon Books, 1969.
  • Ellis, J.J. John Bunyan: The Immortal Dreamer. London: Pickering & Inglis LTD.,
  • Greaves, Richard L. John Bunyan. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969.
  • Harrison, Frank Mott. John Bunyan: A Story of His Life. London: Banner of Truth
  • Trust, 1964.
  • Hill, Christopher . A Tinker and a Poor Man: John Bunyon and His Church, 1628-1688.
  • New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989
  • Hofmeyr, Isabel. The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of the Pilgrim’s
  • Progress. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • Kennedy, Austen. John Bunyan the Man. Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1928.

 

The Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council

History

The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), which met from 1962-1965, is incredibly significant for the Roman Catholic Church. Called by Pope John XXIII with observers from other denominations present, the Second Vatican Council represented aggiornamento (“bringing up to date”) for the Roman Catholic Church. The First Vatican Council took place from 1869-1870, a time at which Pope Leo XIII gave the writings of Thomas Aquinas a privileged status, making them normative in matters of theology.

 

Content

The Council composed a series of documents, which set out to define and reconfigure the theological boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. One document, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium), made it possible for the Catholic Mass to be celebrated in the language of the people rather than exclusively in Latin. In this way, the Catholic Church was striving to reassert its relevance into a post-WWII culture experiencing shifts in globalization.

In addition, there was a new revival in the importance of the early Church’s worship, and the emphasis shifted from clerical exclusivism to the communal celebration of the Mass. Following the Council’s ruling, the priest faced the congregation, and the altar rails were removed. Also, the reading of Scripture and the homily were given a more important place in the Mass.

The document “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church” (Lumen Gentium) emphasized that the clergy and laity together constitute one people of God. It also reasserted papal authority and the leadership of bishops while including a very high Mariology, which was the most debated element of the Council. For Protestants concerned about any veneration of the mother of Christ, it is important to point out that the council affirmed the exclusivity of Christ as mediator: “In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator…(1 Tim. 2:5-6). But Mary’s function as mother of humankind in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power” (Bettenson).

Perhaps most importantly, we can look to the Council’s urging for us to be the church to the world in a relevant and faithful way.

There was an attempt at the Council to “inculturate” the Church. This means the Council made it a goal to move away from a highly centralized Church to an emphasis on local customs and liturgical styles.

The Council also accepted the principles of the “ecumenical movement.” While the old Roman Catholic principle stated extra ecclesiam non salus est (“there is no salvation outside the (Catholic) Church”), a more inclusive theology is expressed by the Council. The Council also sought to foster dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths and Christian denominations. In fact, the Council stated in regard to Eastern faiths, “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” Yet, the Council still held to the fact that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Finally, the document, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes), is what many consider the most radical document of the Council. It includes the Church’s teaching on human rights, dignity, and social justice. According to Bettenson, “the Church is to be a servant to the human race and to proclaim the presence and justice of God in the modern world.”

 

Contemporary Relevance

Protestants can glean wisdom from some of the formulations of the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps most importantly, we can look to the Council’s urging for us to be the church to the world in a relevant and faithful way. This is an affirmation that emphasizes an understanding of the gospel expressed in evangelism and in loving action to the world. So, while there may be elements of Vatican II with which we disagree, there is also that plenty we would affirm.

What Christians Should Know About Halloween

What Christians Should Know About Halloween

Halloween is celebrated by millions of people each year with costumes and candy, and is the second highest-grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. This festive day also carries a lot of baggage, however. Scholars Ralph and Adelin Linton write:

Among all the festivals which we celebrate today, few have histories stranger than that of Halloween. It is the eve of All Hallows—or Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day—and as such it is one of the most solemn festivals of the church. At the same time, it commemorates beings and rites with which the church has always been at war. It is the night when ghosts walk and fairies and goblins are abroad… We cannot understand this curious mixture unless we go back into history and unravel the threads from which the present holiday pattern has been woven.

 

The Origins of Halloween

Generally, it is agreed upon that Halloween has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of summer. Typical popular folklore suggests that Samhain was a festival based on human sacrifice. Recent scholarship, however, suggests that this is a caricature, based on Roman writers who had little evidence of actual Celtic practices and were more interested in decrying them as “barbarians” who needed to be “civilized” by the Romans.

According to historian Nicholas Rogers, “the pagan origins of Halloween” arise not from rumors of human sacrifice but from “the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.”

Halloween has been rejected as demonic and pagan, subsumed into (medieval) Christian ritual, and accepted unthinkingly as harmless fun.

He continues, “In marking the onset of winter, Samhain was closely associated with darkness and the supernatural. In Celtic lore, winter was the dark time of the year when ‘nature is asleep, summer has returned to the underworld, and the earth is desolate and inhospitable.’”

In addition,

What was especially noteworthy about Samhain was its status as a borderline festival. It took place between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. In Celtic lore, it marked the boundary between summer and winter, light and darkness. In this respect, Samhain can be seen as a threshold, or what anthropologists would call a liminal festival. It was a moment of ritual transition and altered states. It represented a time out of time, a brief interval ‘when the normal order of the universe is suspended’ and ‘charged with a peculiar preternatural energy.’ These qualities would continue to resonate through the celebration of Halloween.

 

Halloween in the British Isles

According to Rogers, while Halloween derives its original “supernatural intensity” and “spookiness” from Samhain, most of the actual traditions and practices of the holiday developed out of the medieval Christian holy days of All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day. Early Christians in the 4th century began the practice of celebrating the martyrs of the early Roman persecutions. By the 9th century, these festivals were beginning to shift focus to celebrating the lives of saints instead. This festival was held on November 1 in England, but on April 20 in Ireland (disproving the popular view that a November date was picked to “Christianize” the pagan festival of Samhain). 

By the end of the twelfth century, the linked festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’, Todos Santos or Tots Sants in Spanish, or Hallowtide in English, were well-established liturgical moments in the Christian year. At the end of the Middle Ages they were among the most important. The feast of All Saints’ and All Souls’ was one of the six days of obligation, marked by high masses and prayers. It was a holiday that affirmed the collective claims that the dead had on the living. Its requiem masses also served as insurance against hauntings, for ghosts were generally ‘understood to be dead relatives who visited their kin to rectify wrongs committed against them while alive and to enforce the obligations of kinship.’ As night fell and All Souls’ Day arrived, bells were also rung for the souls in purgatory. These were people who were in a spiritual suspension, in an intermediary space between heaven and hell, for whom prayers and penance could be made for their sins before the day of judgment. In preparation for Hallowtide, churches made sure that their bells were in good shape, for in some places they were rung all night to ward off demonic spirits. (Rogers)

Over time, other rituals were added to the celebration of the Mass. For instance, “In England, many churches purchased extra candles or torches for the ecclesiastical processions of Hallowtide. Bonfires were also built in graveyards to ward off malevolent spirits.”

After the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the rituals of Hallowtide in England came under attack from Protestants because of its association with the doctrines of purgatory, saints, and prayers for the dead. Reformers “denounced purgatory as a popish doctrine” and “deplored the idea that the living could influence the condition of the dead through their prayers and rejected the belief that the saints could function as intermediaries between humans and Christ.” A back-and-forth ensued for decades as Protestant leaders such as Thomas Cranmer tried to abolish Hallowtide rituals and Catholic leaders attempted to revive them.

By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the official practices surrounding Hallowmass had been eliminated. Yet the more popular customs associated with the holiday did survive in some areas. . . [Around] 1783, Catholics continued to light fires on hilltops on All Saints’ Night. In the more remote areas of the Pennines there were torchlight ceremonies to commemorate the dead. At Whalley, in Lancashire, near the forest of Pendle, families formed a circle and prayed for the souls of the departed until the flames burned out…

If many of the religious customs associated with All Hallows and All Souls had died out by the middle of the seventeenth century, it is nonetheless clear the days were still regarded as a time of supernatural intensity. On Halloween, as it came to be known in the eighteenth century, ghosts, spirits, and witches were likely to be abroad. (Rogers)

Over time, Halloween traditions developed apart from any religious connotation, though the initial religious celebration influenced the developments. Rogers explains, “The diversity of names associated with Halloween did not connote the declining fortunes of the holiday. In Scotland, Ireland, and even in some of the remoter areas of England and Wales, Halloween was robustly observed throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. At the time of substantial Irish and Scottish immigration to North America, Halloween had a strong tradition of guising and pranks, a fundamental aura of supernatural intensity, and a set of games and rituals that often addressed the fortunes of love rather than the prospect of death, or life beyond death.”

There is a big difference between kids dressing up in cute costumes for candy and Mardi-Gras-like Halloween parties, offensive costumes, and uninhibited excess.

It is important to note that this secular account of the history of Halloween seeks to vindicate the holiday from its Satanic and barbaric origins. While it may be the case that the dark side of Halloween has been overemphasized, Christians will still want to affirm that the holiday originated (at least) in pagan and mythical practices. The extent to which such practices can be categories as “Satanic” is a debate of semantics. Is Roman mythology “Satanic”? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Regardless, the origin of Halloween is certainly in the realm of non-Christian spiritualism. As such, Christians should be thoughtful in their approach to Halloween.

 

Halloween for Christians

Halloween has an uneasy history with the church; Christians have not always been sure what to do with a holiday of apparently pagan origins. Is Halloween unredeemable, such that any Christian participating in the holiday will necessarily compromise their faith? Is it something Christians can participate in as a cultural celebration with no religious ramifications? Or is there the opportunity for Christians to emphasize certain aspects of our own faith within the holiday?

 

1. Should Christians Renounce Halloween as “the Devil’s Day”?

One of the most famous recent examples of Christian interaction with Halloween comes from Pat Robertson, who called Halloween the “festival of the Devil.” As such, he claimed that participating in Halloween was a mistake for Christians and therefore wrong.

In renouncing this holiday outright, Robertson fails to ask the following question: To what extent does something’s evolution from pagan roots entail that its present practice is tainted? As Albert Mohler notes, there has been a shift in Halloween from pagan ritual to merely commercial fascination with the dark side. What Pat Robertson misses is that for most people in America, Halloween is about candy. A quarter of all candy sold annually in the US is for Halloween night!

Granted, dressing up as witches and goblins can be a tricky issue, but to think that putting on a scary mask or makeup opens you up to the dark side is a bit naïve.

In addition, there are two built-in problems with a blanket rejection position. One is that those who insist on rejecting certain holidays are not being consistent. Should we reject other holidays because there is a propensity toward excess? In other words, if people are inclined toward gluttony on Thanksgiving or Christmas, shouldn’t those holidays be renounced as well? After all, gluttony is a sin. Second, many times the reject position assumes that the evil of the extrinsic world will taint the faith of a Christian. The idea is, “garbage in, garbage out.” But Jesus says the exact opposite is true (Mark 7:21-23). The fruit of our lives (whether in holiness or sin) is always inextricably tied to the root of our hearts. If our hearts are prone toward sin in certain ways, we will find a way to sin. Sin indeed corrupts but the sin is not so much “out there in the world” as much as it is in the heart of every person. The reject position falsely assumes sin is mostly what we do rather than who we are.

 

2. Can Christians Participate in Halloween Wisely?

The Christian church has tried to deal with Halloween in many ways throughout the centuries. It has been renounced as demonic and pagan, subsumed into (medieval) Christian ritual, and accepted unthinkingly as harmless fun.

An informed understanding of the history of Halloween and the biblical freedom Christians have to engage cultural practices (1 Cor. 10:23-33) leads to the conclusion that Christians can follow their conscience in choosing how to approach this holiday.

Just how Christians ought to go about relating to or participating in Halloween is still a tricky subject. In order to navigate the waters successfully, one must always distinguish between the merely cultural aspects of Halloween and the religious aspects of the holiday. In the past the church has tried to subsume the religious aspects of Halloween by adding a church holiday. But again, this is a questionable area. It seems that Christians can easily participate in (with wisdom) some cultural aspects of the holiday, and there is some potential for the pagan cultural practices to be enjoyed—but care must be taken. There is a big difference between kids dressing up in cute costumes for candy and Mardi-Gras-like Halloween parties, offensive costumes, and uninhibited excess. Therefore it’s naïve to make a blanket judgment to reject or accept  Halloween as a whole. There should be no pressure to participate, but for those Christians whose conscience permits we should view it as an opportunity to engage wisely with our culture.

For those who are still bothered by Halloween’s historical association with evil spirits, Martin Luther has some advice on how to respond to the devil: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.” Perhaps instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.

 


 

For more about Halloween and the related holidays of All Saints’, All Souls’, and Reformation Day, check out this post: The Connection Between Halloween and Reformation Day.

For more about specifically Reformation Day, read this post: It’s Reformation Day.

 

The Lausanne Covenant

The Lausanne Covenant

The Lausanne Covenant is a document drafted by participants in the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne in 1974. The Lausanne Covenant was signed by 2,300 representatives from over 150 nations of all branches of the Christian church. The gathering at Lausanne was the result of the great evangelist Billy Graham’s recognition of the need for a “diverse congress to re-frame Christian mission in a world of social, political, economic, and religious upheaval. The Church, he believed, had to apply the gospel to the contemporary world, and to work to understand the ideas and values behind rapid changes in society.”

Eight years earlier, in 1966, the World Congress of Evangelism had met in Berlin. Fifteen years after the meeting at Lausanne, Lausanne II was held in Manila in 1989. The third gathering of the International Congress on World Evangelization took place in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010.

 

Content

The main purpose of the Lausanne Covenant was to broaden the world-view of evangelicals and facilitate partnership and unity among the body of Christ for the purpose of world evangelization. What is unique about this covenant is that, unlike many of the other creeds and confessions in this series, the main aim of the Lausanne Covenant was to clarify how the church ought to “be the church” in the world.

In particular, the Lausanne covenant was concerned with addressing seven issues:

1.     The relationship between evangelism and social concern

2.     How to achieve unity and cooperation among diverse Christians

3.     The uniqueness of Christ in relation to religious tolerance

4.     The validity of missions

5.     The work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism

6.     The need for religious liberty and human rights

7.     The relationship between the gospel and culture

In answering these pertinent issues, a fifteen-point covenant was constructed. Importantly, the document affirms that knowledge of Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Yet, it also affirms the global diversity of expressions of faith in Jesus. Social responsibility—even to those outside of the household of faith—is emphasized as a corollary to and entailment of the gospel of salvation. As the church sets out to faithfully proclam the gospel, it must also not ignore the physical needs of those in the world. To do so would be similar to advocating for social change while ignoring the spiritual needs of the lost. Both cases are examples of a divergence from Christian mission.

Moreover, because two-thirds of the world’s population remains unevangelized, the Lausanne Covenant humbly confesses the church’s failure to properly execute its mission, and it presses for united partnership and cooperation in fulfilling the Great Commission. The Covenant acknowledges the prevalence of spiritual warfare among the people of God, but it locates the spiritual victory in God’s work, not ours. The Covenant expresses the Holy Spirit’s work in the process of evangelism and affirms that he speaks through the Holy Scriptures today.

All cultures express some elements of beauty and are yet at the same time influenced by the destructive effects of sin.

Finally, the covenant beautifully expresses the nuances of the relationship between the gospel and culture, with particular reference to evangelism. To share the good news of Christ’s work is not to be equated with cultural imperialism. Rather, all cultures express some elements of beauty and are yet at the same time influenced by the destructive effects of sin.

 

Contemporary Relevance

The Lausanne Covenant is particularly relevant to the church at-large insofar as it cuts straight to the heart of the Christian mission. It is impossible to ignore the importance of the Lausanne Covenant. Its vision for a church engaged in the global pursuit of evangelism is admirable—not to mention biblically necessary.

The covenant acknowledges the failure of many contemporary churches caught up in the prosperity gospel and in bondage to culture rather than Scripture. It is for these reasons that the church today can greatly benefit from the Lausanne Covenant.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

History

From the beginning of the church, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has been affirmed by orthodox Christians but is frequently challenged by opponents.

Inerrancy can be defined as “the doctrine that the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings.”(Christian Theology). When all the relevant facts are known, and when properly interpreted, Scripture never contradicts itself, nor does it misrepresent the facts.

Historically, the doctrine of inerrancy has been held by the earliest theologians of the church. J.N.D. Kelly cites Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, and Gregory of Nazianzus as holding to the inspiration and subsequent inerrancy of Holy Scripture down to the smallest detail of its content. About the early church fathers, Kelly writes, “Their general view was that Scripture was not only exempt from error but contained nothing that was superfluous” (Early Christian Doctrines).

The concept of inerrancy is not humanly constructed doctrine foisted upon the text of Scripture…

The most substantial challenge to inerrancy came from the Enlightenment, which rejected all the supernatural elements of Scripture. Enlightenment critics of Scripture claimed the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection could not be verified and must be taken as nonfactual and false—an assertion that directly undermined the truthfulness of Scripture.

The Enlightenment gave way to 19th and 20th century theological liberalism in which Jesus was viewed as only a good person and teacher, but not God. Also, miracles were understood to be mythological stories, not true historical events. Out of this theological milieu the fundamentalist/modernist controversy arose. Theological modernists were privy to higher criticism and thought inerrancy unfashionable, but the fundamentalists were concerned with maintaining the orthodox fundamental doctrines of the faith. Some extreme fundamentalists pushed the divine authorship of Scripture so much that the human element of the Biblical text was rendered irrelevant.

In response to the many 20th century challenges to inerrancy, a council of evangelical leaders met at an international Summit Conference in the fall of 1978 and drafted The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI).

 

Content

The CSBI is composed of a short statement consisting of 5 points, a section of affirmations and denials consisting of 19 articles, and an exposition of the doctrine of inerrancy in relation to the other teachings of Scripture.

The short summary statement posits the Scriptures as God’s self-revelation written by men and inspired by the Holy Spirit, who authenticates and illuminates its teachings. In addition, Scripture’s very words in entirety are inspired (verbal plenary inspiration) and therefore without error (inerrant). Finally, it asserts that to deny or limit inerrancy undermines the authority of Scripture.

The section of affirmations and denials include several other important points:

  1. Scripture’s authority comes from its being the Word of God, not from the church or tradition, and is thereby authoritatively binding
  2. The finitude of human language does not preclude it being used as a medium for divine revelation
  3. While inspiration did not eliminate human authorship and literary style, it did guarantee that their utterances were true and trustworthy
  4. Only the autographs of Scripture were inspired, but this does not render the doctrine irrelevant since an accurate representation of the autographs can be constructed from the manuscripts we have
  5. While inerrancy and infallibility can be distinguished, they cannot be separated; that is, the Bible cannot be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions
  6. Inerrancy is rooted in the doctrine of inspiration
  7. While affirming inerrancy is not necessary for salvation, it is vital to the Christian faith, and its rejection leads to serious consequences in the individual and the church

 

Contemporary Relevance

While not to be given creedal status, the CBSI is an important statement that Christians ought to affirm. One of the reasons is, the CBSI navigates between liberalism and fundamentalism. Liberalism so analyzes and assesses the historical background and literary features of a text (the human features) that the text’s authenticity and factuality is negated in the process. Fundamentalism so emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s activity in the writing of the Scriptures (the divine features) that the human authorship of the text is severely minimized or denied.

…to deny or limit inerrancy undermines the authority of Scripture.

Liberals deny inerrancy because of the multitude of differing manuscripts we possess, while some fundamentalists assert that only one version of the text (the KJV) contains the inspired words of God. Both positions fail to do justice to the dual authorship of Scripture asserted by the CSBI. The CSBI assures the Holy Spirit was indeed present in inspiring the text of Scripture—thereby ensuring its factual accuracy—while still allowing for the human elements of style to be present in the process and textual transmission.

The concept of inerrancy is not humanly constructed doctrine foisted upon the text of Scripture, but a result of the reliability and trustworthy character of God and an inevitable corollary of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The CSBI took an important step in responding to the critics of an historic doctrine of the church and asserting the classical teaching in a fresh and thoughtful way. Their response also serves to bolster the confidence of believers in the Holy Scriptures.

 

For further reading see Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler.

 

The Westminster Confession Of Faith

The Westminster Confession Of Faith

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) is an impressive summary of Reformed thought influenced by Puritan theology for the purpose of achieving doctrinal unity and clarity among a diverse group of Christians.

History

To best understand the WCF and how it came about, a historical primer on what was happening in Scotland and England at the time is helpful. Prior to the Westminster Assembly coming together, there was conflict in the Church of England. The main point of contention was the question over the role of the state in Church affairs. King Henry appointed himself as the supreme head of the church in 1534, a move that began a long discussion and power struggle concerning the roles of civil and church governments. A few years later in 1538, an English translation of the Bible was completed that allowed the people of England to have access to the Holy Scriptures in their language.

These developments pitted scriptural authority over and against the authority of both church and state government. What took place in England was a microcosm of the large scale Reformation taking place in Europe.

After Henry’s death, the Church of England continued to experience turmoil, and there were numerous attempts to unite the divided Church of England. However, reform was needed and the Westminster Assembly was summoned by the English Parliament in 1643 in order to organize the Church by revising the 39 Articles.

Content of the Westminster Confession

The Westminster Assembly met because of issues surrounding church government, church discipline, pastoral, elder, and deacon qualifications, and disagreements over ordination. But the scope of the resulting Westminster Confession was broader than that. All of the members of the Assembly were in basic agreement with the truth of the Calvinistic system of doctrine, and they believed the Roman Church and Arminianism to be in error.

The immediate result of the Westminster Assembly was the Westminster Confession, as well as the subsequent Shorter and Larger Catechisms. The Larger Catechism was intended for use in pastoral exposition, and the Shorter was intended for instructing children in the faith.

The Confession is overflowing with scriptural proofs, and it is anything but a cranky “hammer-headed” Calvinism.

The Westminster Confession is composed of thirty-three chapters. The opening chapter on the doctrine of Scripture was called by Benjamin Warfield “the best single chapter in any Protestant confession” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology). The doctrine of predestination is only discussed in four chapters of the Confession (chapters 3, 5, 9, and 17). Moreover, the Confession is very careful in its discussion of reprobation (chapter 3, articles 7 and 8), qualifying the doctrine in terms of an emphasis on human freedom (chapter 9). God’s covenants with his people are emphasized (chapter 7) and “its doctrine of redemption structured according to God’s acts (chapters 10-13) and human response (chapters 14-17)” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology).


Contemporary Relevance

While the entire Westminster Confession is relevant for Christians as a rich formulation of Christian theology, it has special relevance for the current situation in which the Church finds itself. First, the Confession would encourage those who claim to be Reformed to expand their theological horizon to embrace a larger system of Reformed theology rather than reducing it to only soteriology.

Additionally, the Confession is extremely careful, seeking to find a scriptural balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The WCF is more careful than most contemporary Calvinists.

Moreover, because the document is Calvinistic, its tone is that of a theology permeated by divine grace. The Confession is overflowing with scriptural proofs, and it is anything but a cranky “hammer-headed” Calvinism.

Finally, the Westminster Confession is thoroughly concerned with maintaining conversation with the great Creeds of the Church that elaborated a robust doctrine of the Trinity (Nicaea) and Christology (Chalcedon).