Happy Birthday, Herman Bavinck!

On this day (December 13) in 1854 one of the premier Reformed Theologians of the

modern age was born in Hoogeveen in the Netherlands. Herman Bavinck first served as Professor of Dogmatics at Kampen Theological Seminary where he wrote the first edition of his multi-volume Gereformeerde Dogmatic (Reformed Dogmatics). He later accepted Abraham Kuyper’s invitation to teach at the Free University of Amsterdam. While a professor there he visited the US in 1908 and delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton on Philosophy of Revelation. Bavinck also served in Parliament and was a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics are still in print through Baker and these four volumes show a familiarity not only with the history of Reformed thought and with the Church Fathers, but also with the leading liberal thinkers and theologians up to his time.

Baker also has in print Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (which is edited by John Bolt, who also edited the Reformed Dogmatics) and P&R has a highly regarded biography of Bavinck by Ron Gleason entitled Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian.

Here are three of my favorite Bavinck quotes, all from his Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3:  Sin and Salvation in Christ. These are all from Chapter 8, “Christ’s Exaltation.”

It is the crucified but also the resurrected and exalted Christ whom the apostles proclaim. From that vantage point of the exaltation of Christ, they view and describe his earthly life, suffering, and death. For the work he now carries out as the exalted mediator, he laid the foundations in his cross. In his battle with sin, the world, and Satan, the cross has been his only weapon. By the cross he triumphed in the sphere of justice over all powers that are hostile to God. But in the state of exaltation, consequently, he has also been given the divine right, the divine appointment, the royal power and prerogatives to carry out the work of re-creation in full, to conquer all his enemies, to save all those who have been given him, and to perfect the entire kingdom of God. On the basis of the one, perfect sacrifice made on the cross, he now—in keeping with the will of the Father—distributes all his benefits. Those benefits are not the physical or magical aftereffect of his earthly life and death; the history of the kingdom of God is not an evolutionistic process. It is the living and exalted Christ, seated at the right hand of God, who deliberately and with authority distributes all these benefits, gathers his elect, overcomes his enemies, and directs the history of the world toward the day of his parousia. He is still consistently at work in heaven as the mediator. He not only was but still is our chief prophet, our only high priest, and our eternal king. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.[1]

All these ministries and workings proceed from the exalted Christ, who is the one Lord of the church (1 Cor. 8:6) in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col. 2:3; 1 Cor. 1:30). He came into the world to bear witness to the truth over against the lie (John 8:44–45; 18:36). He not only spoke the truth but is himself the truth who has made known the Father, leads us to the Father, and, in the knowledge of God, grants eternal life (John 1:17–18; 14:6; 17:3). In fighting falsehood, he therefore uses no other weapon than that of the word: this word is the sword of his mouth (Eph. 6:17; Rev. 2:12, 16; 19:15). By that word he judges and separates things (John 3:17–18; 9:39; 12:47; Heb. 4:12), but he also makes free and gives life (John 8:31–32, 51; 15:3; 17:3). To remain in his word and make his word remain in them is the calling of his disciples (John 8:31, 51; 15:7; 1 John 2:24). [2]

At the end of the days, when Christ has subdued his church and all his enemies, he will deliver the βασιλεια, the kingship, the royal office, to the Father. Then his mediatorial work is finished. The work the Father instructed him to do will have been completed. God himself will then be king forever. […] God will be king and [thus] all in all. But what remains is the mediatorship of union. Christ remains Prophet, Priest, and King as this triple office is automatically given with his human nature, included in the image of God, and realized supremely and most magnificently in Christ as the Image of God. Christ is and remains the head of the church, from whom all life and blessedness flow to it throughout all eternity. Those who would deny this must also arrive at the doctrine that the Son will at some point in the future shed and destroy his human nature; and for this there is no scriptural ground whatever.[3]

[1] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 473–474.

[2] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3, 475.

[3] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3, 481-482.

 

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Calvin on what passes for “Worship” in many evangelical churches

Too much “worship” in churches today is nothing more than the product of people’s imaginations designed to make them feel good. It should be the product of the study Scripture and designed to glorify God.

Having observed that the Word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a license of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his Word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.[1]

[1] John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 132–133.

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Calvin on the “Due Worship of God”

Let us now see what is meant by the due worship of God. Its chief foundation is to acknowledge Him to be, as He is, the only source of all virtue, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation; in accordance with this, to ascribe and render to Him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in Him alone, and in every want have recourse to Him alone. Hence arises prayer, hence praise and thanksgiving—these being attestations to the glory which we attribute to Him. This is that genuine sanctification of His name which He requires of us above all things. To this is united adoration, by which we manifest for Him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency, and to this ceremonies are subservient, as helps or instruments, in order that, in the performance of divine worship, the body may be exercised at the same time with the soul. Next after these comes self-abasement, when, renouncing the world and the flesh, we are transformed in the renewing of our mind, and living no longer to ourselves, submit to be ruled and actuated by Him. By this self-abasement we are trained to obedience and devotedness to his will, so that his fear reigns in our hearts, and regulates all the actions of our lives. That in these things consists the true and sincere worship which alone God approves, and in which alone He delights, is both taught by the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures, and is also, antecedent to discussion, the obvious dictate of piety. Nor from the beginning was there any other method of worshipping God, the only difference being, that this spiritual truth, which with us is naked and simple, was under the former dispensation wrapt up in figures. And this is the meaning of our Saviour’s words, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:23.) For by these words he meant not to declare that God was not worshipped by the fathers in this spiritual manner, but only to point out a distinction in the external form, viz., That while they had the Spirit shadowed forth by many figures, we have it in simplicity. But it has always been an acknowledged point, that God, who is a Spirit, must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.[1]

 

[1] John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 127–128.

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Happy Burning Papal Bulls Day!

On this day (December 10) in 1520, Martin Luther burned the papal bull Exsurge Domine that denounced 41 of his 95 Theses and threatened him with excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, Luther would be excommunicated the following year.

Here is a famous painting by Karl Aspelin of Luther burning copies of the papal bull along with books of canon law and works by scholastic theologians (source):

 

 

 

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The three standards to which every pastor is held

I have just begun my eighteenth year of ordained, full-time pastoral ministry so I can talk about this not only with confidence but with competence because I have myself been held to these three types of standards. Only one of these standards is healthy.

The Pastor Should Be Held to a Higher Standard

This is healthy. The pastor is supposed to represent Christ to the people under his care and lead them in walking with Christ and growing to maturity through Word, Spirit, and the Fellowship of the Saints. This doesn’t mean being perfect (more on that in a minute) but honest about the struggles of the Christian life and open about how Christ sustains one in the midst of those struggles. In interpersonal relations the pastor must take the high road and demonstrate the graciousness of God and the love of Christ to those inside and outside the church whether in business dealings, personal dealings, or opposition. There is much more that may be said about this but you get the point.

But there are two other standards to which pastors are often held that are not only unhealthy, but just plain wrong.

The Pastor is Often the Victim of a Double Standard

What I mean by this is that some people will expect that they can treat you in ways that they themselves would not tolerate from another. For example, it is wrong for a pastor to be rude, unkind, and mean during a meeting with other leaders in the church. That goes without saying (or should). But it is also wrong for any Christian, deacon, elder, average church member, to be rude, unkind, or mean during a meeting or anywhere else. The exhortations to gracious speech and grace in our dealings with each other do not apply only to the pastor, but to all Christians.

Hear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that if church members get nasty the pastor is justified in being nasty. I am saying the exact opposite: No one should behave this way in the body of Christ. If it is wrong for your pastor to behave this way, it is equally as wrong for you or someone else to behave this way. To expect the pastor to live by a Scriptural standard while refusing to live by it yourself is a double standard. And it is wrong.

Here is an example from my own experience. Back when the church was going through a difficult time financially, a man told me that if my wife would get a job (we had small children at the time) then the church could pay me less and save money. Now think about this for a moment. If this same man was working at Ford or GM (I live and serve in Metro Detroit), and his boss said this to him, he absolutely would not stand for it. Neither should a pastor.

This leads me to the final standard.

The Pastor is often Held to an Impossible Standard

This is a real and true conversation that once happened between me and an older woman in my congregation (who is now with the Lord).

Woman: Pastor, I am very upset! You didn’t visit me when I was in the hospital last week.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in the hospital.

Woman: You still should have visited me.

No, I am not joking. That is what she said.

Another time a woman chastised me in front of a crowd of people in the church auditorium for not visiting her after her (grown) daughter died. She was still angry after I reminded her that I was out of town when her daughter died and by the time I returned she had gone to stay with her sister, who lived several hours away, for six weeks (and I didn’t even know who her sister was or where exactly she lived).

You should be able to see my point. These are impossible standards. The previous pastor at this church would have apologized profusely and attempted to make up for it. But you do a disservice to the Gospel ministry, to the church, and to these people when you permit such things to go unanswered.

In both cases I graciously reminded them that what they were demanding was impossible. How am I to visit you in the hospital when I don’t even know you’re in the hospital? How am I to visit you at your sisters house when I have no idea where it is, or how even to get in touch with you?

You must be gracious, but you do not have to allow them to do this. Graciously and lovingly manage their expectations by letting them see what is reasonable and right.

And hopefully you’re already holding yourself to a higher standard. Demanding more of yourself will eventually do away with the other two standards.

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This is what happens when you let research assistants write your books for you: Statement from Zondervan Academic on Dr. Andreas Köstenberger’s John Commentary

This is one of the possible problems that arise when a prof has research assistant writing for them. I had a prof in grad school who published a dictionary using research assistants. I don’t know how the others fared, but five of the six articles in that dictionary are word-for-word exactly what I wrote. The sixth is my work in the same manner with only the intro removed. I did get a thank you on the acknowledgements page, but he is still listed as the author when the work (at least in my regard) was not his. I know that’s how many do it but it’s still just wrong. The next time he asked me to serve as a “research” assistant for him, I politely declined.

Statement from Zondervan Academic on Dr. Andreas Köstenberger’s John Commentary

In October 2017 Dr. Andreas Köstenberger informed Zondervan Academic that his commentary on the Gospel of John in volume 2 of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Commentary: New Testament (ZIBBC: NT) contained “a series of inadvertently unattributed references” to D. A. Carson’s The Gospel according to John in The Pillar New Testament Commentary published by Wm. B. Eerdmans. After careful consideration of the evidence, we concluded that the problem was so extensive that there was no acceptable way to fix the problem. Since the commentary on John in volume 2 of ZIBBC: NT does not consistently follow commonly accepted standards for the use and documentation of secondary resources, our commitment to high publishing standards leaves us no choice but to put volume 2 of the ZIBBC: NT out of print in its print form and to destroy the remaining inventory. The digital formats of the John part of volume 2 are also out of print and withdrawn from the market.

 

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Paul’s view that suffering is essential for Christian growth


My dissertation explores Paul’s theology of suffering. Part of my thesis involves demonstrating that Paul’s view of suffering was radically different from that of the ancient philosophers. The view of the ancient philosophers, especially the Stoics, whose philosophy had become the standard worldview in by Paul’s day, is that suffering is to be avoided and that one’s desire should be to eliminate the emotional distress (λύπη) caused by suffering.

Paul’s prescriptions for dealing with λύπη make clear that Paul’s view is polar opposite from the philosophers (and perhaps I’ll explain that in another post). Here in Romans 5, Paul’s use of καυχάομαι coupled with κατεργάζομαι also demonstrates his departure from the prevailing view of viewing sufferings.

I note that Paul here does not use λύπη because he is not talking here about the emotional effects of the suffering so much as he is talking about the sufferings themselves. Paul uses a generic, catch-all, word for “sufferings,” θλῖψις,[1] but his claim that believers “boast” in or “glory” in (καυχάομαι) is the most striking feature of this sentence.

There are a few places in the philosophers suffering is seen as a neutral, something that one could allow to triumph over a person or that the wise person could turn around and use for his or her advantage, but nowhere will one find the advice to “glory” in or “boast” in sufferings.

Paul’s use of κατεργάζομαι to describe the result of suffering and tribulation supports this view. If Paul only intended to say that suffering can be used to bring about growth, then we might reasonably expect to see simply ἐργάζομαι. Instead, Paul uses a verb that also focuses on result. As Moo points out, κατεργάζεται “sometimes stresses the end result (“produce”) more than ἐργάζομαι.”[2] Consequently, many translations use “produce” to translate κατεργάζεται, a translation that itself focuses on result.[3]

 

So Paul is not simply saying that one can turn one’s sufferings around so that they bring about produce growth, Paul is saying that suffering is essential to growth as a Christian. Since suffering is so essential to growth as a Christian, when one endures sufferings, one may “boast” in those sufferings (rather than in oneself), because these are the very things that will produce the necessary and desired growth in the Christian life.

[1] Cranfield (ICC 149) notes that “θλῖψις can denote tribulations of various kinds” which is consistent with the broad use of θλῖψις both in and out of Scripture. Paul may have chosen this word because he anticipates his letters being read by a wide range of people.

[2] Moo, (NICNT 116, n. 128)

[3] NLT has “develop,” which, while within the semantic domain in κατεργάζεται falls short of how this word is usually employed.

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