O Come, Let Us Worship

O Come, Let Us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church, by Robert G. Rayburn★★★★★

The author of this text was the founding president of Covenant Seminary, and a leading person in the formation of the denomination that I currently am a member of. He is also the father of my past pastor for about 25 years. Rayburn’s son seems to have followed almost completely the advice his father gave to many young seminarians going out to serve in PCA churches throughout the world. Though the book was primarily intended for pastors, the author notes that all readers would find value in the advice given. I agree.

Rayburn first emphasizes the importance of corporate worship, in that it should be the high point in a person’s week, where worship to the Almighty God is done in a corporate fashion with fellow believers. In order to establish a Biblical theology for worship, Rayburn first examines how worship was performed in the Old Testament, and then the New Testament. To my surprise, there is a wealth of information in Scripture on how God expects to be worshipped. Rayburn discusses the theology of what true worship comprises, as the Scripture is not silent to this. Though Rayburn never mentions the regulative principle of worship as was common among early Scottish Presbyterians, he is quick to note that Scripture has much to offer in the manner in which we worship. A number of chapters discuss the order in which worship should be performed, as well as advice as to how the pastor can most effectively draw his parishoniers into true worship of God. Rayburn devotes a full and lengthy review of church music and the hymns that we sing. He is NOT a strict Psalm-only advocate, and notes the value of various hymns from both the German liturgy, as well as that of Isaac Watts, the Wesleys, and a bevy of other English hymn writers from the past. The author then discusses the rituals of the sacraments and their most effective administration, without engaging in controversies that might be raised about the sacraments. Most notable is his view against the Zwinglian notion of the sacraments being simply symbolic, to the Reformed notion that they are a means of grace, a true sign and seal of the covenant, and thus vital for every believer. The book ends with the discussion of proper conduct of weddings and funerals.

I found this text most interesting, in that it was this type of service which was dutifully administered by his son (Robert S. Rayburn) which in part attracted me to the Reformed faith and Presbyterian worship. It is also totally and completely absent from the worship service that I now experience in another PCA church. The adjustments in worship style are for me most challenging to adjust to. Even when we attended Moody Church and our Amish-Mennonite church in Portland, Oregon, the worship had a much more meaningful and worshipful approach, with meaningful hymns and a liturgy that gave honor and dignity to the Almighty God of heaven. It is odd that though many members and elders in our current church have a deep respect for RC Sproul, his Sunday worship seemed to follow the principles of Rayburn to a “t”; why do they not see that?

I have written previously how contemporary worship is an insult and dishonoring to God. It is an entertaining performance meant to attract people to church, while losing God in the process of doing that. The praise ditties are practically meaningless, though sentimentality with the singing of these tunes can evoke a sense of contentless worship to a contentless God. Occasionally, hymns are used, but then the traditional tunes are changed to an upbeat hip-hop melody that attracts more to the music rather than to the words of the hymn. If only more pastors would be attentive to the advice of Rayburn in selecting hymns that support either the sermon or the moment in worship (confession, the sacrament, etc.) that is occurring. Without a true focus and true worship of a true God, church meetings degenerate into nothing more than a delightful social club gathering. The focus is on the self (“I” just want to praise you, “I” lift up your name, I, I, I…). The purpose of the church has switched from the worship of God to the marketing of the Almighty.

I don’t think my wife and I will be able to influence the present church that we attend sufficiently to give it a worshipful service. I feel like David in Psalm 42, as he recalls his past “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” and then his present sentiment; “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” There is hope, hopefully for my wife and I on this side of glory.

Bombs Away

Bombs Away: Fifty Old, Often Bad, and Mostly Forgotten Films, in No Particular Order, by John Vetto ★★★★★

This book is a totally first-class review of some very bad films, hopefully, rendered to the dustbin of history. J. Vetto is correct in asserting a particular value to these films, as they show a Hollywood and Americana scene of a bygone age, an age where Wokeness and political correctness were unheard-of terms, and where a general sense of public decency and morality prevailed. All fifty of these films, though some are exceedingly bad, are better than any of the rubbish cranked out nowadays from the cesspool of Hollywood.

I first met John in college, and we attended medical school together. Both of us eventually became surgical oncologists. During the first year and a half of medical school, John lived immediately above me (and eventually my wife) on Pill Hill in Portland, Oregon. As a token relief from the pressures of study, John and I (as well as some of John’s siblings and my new wife Betsy) would run downtown to a movie house on Broadway where we would watch old films. Since my wife and I grew up in an Amish-type setting, movies were somewhat foreign to us. Together, John introduced us to It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, the Thin Man series, North by Northwest, and many other films.

This book represents a practically encyclopedic review of fifty old and mostly forgotten films. They are not films that I would have any desire to see, as life is short and there still remain many old films of value worth watching at least once, if not a few times more. The value of this book is how it recalls the motivations and forces that drove the filming of B-movies (as well as a few A-movies that bombed). John’s knowledge of the actors, directors, and cameramen that made these films is outstanding. I’m not sure how he remembers such a vast compendium of movie trivia, while also remembering all of the latest-greatest studies and papers published in surgical oncology.

John has a particularly compelling writing style, throwing in personal vignettes and humorous anecdotes while recalling the movie plot and significant events of these films. Any old movie lover would find this book to be a real gem. Maybe John’s next book should be Gone Nuclear, where he reviews 50 of the greatest films of old times.

Reformed is Not Enough

“Reformed” Is Not Enough”-Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant, by Douglas Wilson★★★★

This book was written in 2002 during the inception of the so-called Federal Vision (FV) controversy. I’ve read books that allegedly refute the FV heresy, yet have failed to grasp exactly the core issue(s) at stake. Back then, my overwhelming problem was in grasping for a precise definition of FV, something that Wikipedia does not help with. Neither did I get help from the various books responding to the FV “heresy”, as even they noted that the FV movement is diverse and heterogeneous. Worse, the person who has written the most in defense of the FV movement, Douglas Wilson (and author of this book), now claims he is not a Federal Visionist. When a person focuses on movements rather than issues, problems will arise. It would be like refuting a Jehovah’s Witness while ignoring their Arianism. One particular text, Christ and Covenant Theology by Cornelis Venema, mentioned this book by Wilson frequently when refuting the Federal Vision concept of the covenant. In my recent review of Venema’s book, I suggested no interest in exploring the FV issue further. Yet, cold shoulders at church and mentions over the pulpit of the need to attack the FV heresy piqued my curiosity to no end. Curiosity did kill the cat, you know!

I had other reasons for not wishing to read this book, mostly related to the person of Douglas Wilson. I have nothing against Dougie, and there is a lot about him that I like. His fervency for the Lord cannot go unnoticed. His desire for a truly Reformed belief system is admirable. His willingness to stick his neck out against authorities is praiseworthy, especially his unwillingness to shut down his church during the so-called Covid “crisis”. Yet, I believe that Dougie spent too many hours down under riding in a (yellow?) submarine during his Navy years. Doug has a veneer of haughtiness and rough edges that are grating. Doug is most arrogant about matters of theology that can be questioned, not from a heretical standpoint so much as from a point of simple differences in interpretive position, such as his views on eschatology (post-millennialism) and theonomy (offering flashbacks to the Reconstructionist period of the 1990s). Doug’s viewpoints often fluctuate over the years, as his views on race and slavery in antebellum America, and his stated adherence to the FV movement. I get a sense from his videos that any and every theological controversy is best resolved with a debate or argument. Some of his publications are so bad as to deserve negative stars, such as his commentary on Revelation, and his book on how to exasperate your wife, or his books on raising so-called “real” men. So, bluntly stated, I am NOT a Dougie Wilson fan. Still, I needed to pinpoint straight from the horse’s mouth exactly what heretical statements Dougie was making. This book was read with an extremely critical spirit, rooting through each page as a pig roots through the mud.

To my joy (dismay?), I found little in this book to take issue with, especially regarding the main themes of the book. It was well-written, Dougie’s attempts at humor were more subdued, and Dougie followed a logical, though not comprehensive argument. It was all consistent with what I’ve learned from my reading of the Puritans, and from the most influential contemporary Divines that have graced my life, including John Gerstner, JI Packer, and especially my old pastor Rob Rayburn. FV was never (or perhaps, rarely ever?) mentioned in this book. Doug focused on issues at stake. I am left deeply perplexed as to how the PCA could possibly bring charges of heresy against the so-called Federal Vision movement if this book is representative of FV theology. I am even more perplexed as to why so many theologians of the Ivory Tower would take issue with the claims of this book, especially regarding the assertion that FV denies the doctrine of sola fide or the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. All that I can determine at this point is that some of the elitist Ivory Tower theologians have had their dander ruffled by a rough-and-tough, crude submarine-ist turned theologian. The arguments result in ad hominem vindictives rather than substantive rebuttals. I have a sense that if the two Johnnies (Calvin and Knox), most of the Puritan Divines, and any 19th-century Reformed scholar were to visit today’s Reformed scene, they wouldn’t recognize it as Reformed. If I’m not mistaken, Dougie’s entire intention in this book is to return us to a Reformed cultus as found in the Christians of yesteryear.

The book has four parts. The first details thoughts on the nature and extent of the Covenant of God with his creatures. It does not wrangle over the issue of the “covenant of works”. The second part focuses on the sacraments and the significance of those sacraments. Wilson refutes the action of “magic” in the sacraments, and yet affirms that there is an objective reality, being true signs and seals of the covenant, which occurs as we partake in the sacraments. Partaking of the bread and wine is far more than a means that God uses to help jog your memory that Christ died on the cross for your sins. The third is a necessary focus on a problem area for Reformed theologians, that of the apostate. Covered in this second are not only the apostates, but those who would be deemed to be a part of the covenant community through baptism, yet never show signs of true faith. The fourth part contends with the faith/works issue. I recall RC Sproul exegeting the book of James as being in the wisdom genre rather than the theology genre. Even a short reflection will demonstrate this to be eisegesis rather than exegesis. The “James-ian” notion that works saves a person from the world’s perspective but that “Romans-style” salvation is in God’s eyes is total nonsense and inconsistent with so many other passages of Scripture. This is an example where the explanation of the ex-submarine-ist Dougie transcends that of the Ivory Tower-ist Robbie (RC) Sproul. Before the concluding chapter, Wilson includes a chapter on covenantal succession, a doctrine that is sadly too often ignored or rebutted.

FV type issues were not mentioned. Wilson notes his belief in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but doesn’t explore the uses and abuses of that doctrine. Wilson speaks much about paedobaptism, but almost nothing about paedocommunion, which is a strange trigger point for the anti-FVists. What do they suppose will happen? When a neonate or newborn (freshly baptised, of course) comes forward for their communion experience, they will be offered pureed bread and wine, applied to the baby bottle nipple or to the mother’s teats? I’m neither for or against paedocommunion, as there is insufficient data from either the Old or New Testament to argue one way or another. Any age determination for first communion is fraught with problems as Scripture is entire silent on the topic. So, how can paedocommunion possibly be grounds for heresy? Equally ridiculous is the suggestion of administration of the host to a newborn… don’t the Reformed scholars have anything better to argue about?

Summary: 1. I have not become a Federal Visionist. How can I be if I can’t have a well-formed definition of what it is? 2. If this book represents the sum total of Federal Vision thinking, then the heretic hunters have some serious explaining to do. 3. Wilson provides a beautiful reply to the Sola-fide-ists about the nature of “works”. 4. I commend Wilson for a well-written text.

Ante Nicene Fathers Volume 3

Ante Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Philip Schaff General Editor ★★★★★

It has been a little over a year since I published the review of volume 2 in this series. The folk who scanned and digitized these volumes did an excellent job of maintaining all of the quality, as well as the references as found in the print edition of this book. I am reading this on my iPad mini.

This volume consists entirely of Tertullian’s works. Tertullian was a Latin saint, but is a touch controversial, in that in later years, was a separatist in the Montanist camp. Thus, he is not regarded as a “saint” by the Roman church. Tertullian is frequently quoted (e.g., the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church), and wrote frequently in defense of the faith as well as on morals and practice in the church.

The lengthiest part of this volume is his writings against heretics, especially his 5 book series against Marcion. Such is relevant for today, as there is a strong Marcionizing tendency within the theology of the Christian church. Many other works are included, such as his defense for a resurrection of the body. The last portion is the discussion of various topics, including repentance, prayer, patience, and baptism. A jewel in this set includes a biography probably edited and not written by Tertullian on the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicia.

This volume was a gem, and most informative of the thinking of Christians in the early centuries of the church. Tertullians’ works extend into volume 4, but I will be taking a break from the Ante-Nicene Fathers and jumping ahead to the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, namely, reading the works of Augustine and Chrysostom.

The Farm At the Center Of the Universe

The Farm At the Center Of the Universe, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jonathan Witt ★★★★★

This book was sent to me by the Discovery Institute, and is fictional story of a young boy Isaac who just lost his father to cancer, and had gone out to his grandfather’s farm to recover. Grandfather is a retired scientist who takes Isaac out into nature and discusses with him the wonders of creation from an intelligent design perspective. Isaac is brought to the farm by Charlie, who acts as the antagonist, as Charlie is a school teacher who teaches the mainline Darwinistic arguments.

The book is very clever at introducing kids (roughly high school age) to arguments of the intelligent design movement. The book is quite easy to read, and presents science in an understandable fashion for teenagers. It’s a book that I wish I could have had as a kid. Hopefully, the Discovery Institute is able to produce more of this type of book.

The Whole Christ Part 2

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson (part 2—an addendum)

More Reflections on The Whole Christ

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson is the object of an every other Saturday men’s group that meets at church. This is a good book and addresses some of the issues that churches struggle with in dealing with either legalism or antinomianism.  Even still, there are incomplete issues that Ferguson leaves standing, which unfortunately can lead to conclusions that are extra-biblical and thus unwarranted. Let’s begin…

Whole Christ vs whole counsel of God?

A favorite phrase of one of my favorite theologians, John Gerstner, is “the whole counsel of God”. What is meant by this is that every jot and tittle of Scripture must be taken into account when organizing a theological statement. Theologians of the past were particularly keen on this issue, though it makes for very laborious reading of their theological writings. Just think of John Owen, who is practically uninterpretable in today’s world. John Owen forced himself to follow a very logical sequence of thinking that left no stone unturned. I am currently reading through the works of Tertullian, a third century saint. Yet, even in the Patristic era, the church fathers like Tertullian painstakingly worked through the entirety of Scripture in arguing against heresies. When Scripture seemed to conflict, they offered explanations rather than ignoring some texts that didn’t seem to fit. The Westminster Divines also assiduously held to the principle of the whole counsel of God. 

How does this affect our theological outcomes?. A whole Christ is by necessity a testimony that all of Scripture, OT and NT, are witness to Christ, and thus the whole counsel of God would be equivalent to speaking of a totus Christus, a “whole” Christ, or a tota Scriptura. I discussed in my main review of this text the impossibility of dividing the actions of Christ from the person of Christ. In other words, you either have the “whole” Christ or no Christ at all. Thus, I’m puzzled as to why Ferguson would make this the title of his book.

Tim Keller writes the Foreword?

Tim Keller held to a number of heresies. I don’t hold him to be condemned to hell, and will certainly see him in heaven. Yet, his belief in a number of issues have done great harm to the cause of Christianity, for which he will need to be accountable. The web site Jude 3 PCA (https://jude3pca.org/) has a whole section on Keller, how he was willing to compromise on social justice, on a non-offensive “gospel”, on homosexuality, and most importantly, his highly public stance in support of the troubling heresy of theistic evolution. I won’t belabor the problems of theistic evolution, but you ultimately have a Deistic god who stands back while random Darwinian events take their course to develop mankind, and then are left with a population of about 10K-100K humans (humanoids) for which Adam served as their representative agent. Theologically, this is beyond troubling to me. I realize that Keller and Ferguson both worked at Westminster East Seminary together, and probably were close friends until Keller’s death. Ferguson’s choice of Keller to write the foreword for such a sobering topic as found in this book was a grave mistake. Oddly, on the Jude 3 website, refutations to Tim Keller’s position on many issues are given by Sinclair Ferguson!

Does this book truly answer the tension between antinomianism vs. legalism? 

Both antinomianism and legalism are misuses of the law. Ferguson is correct in identifying that the solution is not to find a middle ground, where you have some law, but not so much law that you become a legalist, or to replace law with the “guidance of the spirit”. You will NEVER find a proper balance because any balance or replacement is an abuse of the “law”. The moral law describes holiness, and holiness is exactly what God is! Thus, the moral law describes an ontological character of God; law is an aspect of His very being. The big question remains; what is the purpose of the moral law in regard to the Christian? Let me explore that question by means of a diversion.

We are accustomed to speaking of the ordo salutis. Looking at the portions of the ordo salutis that are monergistic vs synergistic, we see the following…

predestination – monergistic (God alone does it)

election – monergistic (God alone does it)

calling – monergistic (God alone does it)

regeneration – monergistic (God alone does it)

faith – monergistic (God alone does it)

repentance – synergistic (God and us are involved; the law convicts and “brings” us to Christ, though it is also a work of God)

justification – monergistic (God alone does it)

adoption – monergistic (God alone does it)

union with Christ – monergistic (God alone does it)

sanctification – synergistic (there is involvement on both ours and God’s part)

perseverance – monergistic (God alone does it), though it could be argued to be synergistic

glorification – monergistic (God alone does it)

Thus, repentance is a synergistic action, fulfilling what is called the first use of the law. In agreement with John Calvin in the Institutes, repentance is a daily, lifetime activity, and thus should have no special position in the ordo salutis. Sanctification is also synergistic. To quote Berkhof “It (sanctification) is essentially a work of God, though in so far as He employs means, man can and is expected to co-operate by the proper use of those means”. One of those means is in ordering one’s life according to holiness, and, holiness is not a vague notion, but a manner of behavior as described by the law of God. It is too easy for modern theologians to confuse one’s talk about sanctification, which is a synergistic activity, with justification, which is a monergistic activity. 

Ferguson’s thesis is that our union with Christ resolves the antinomian/legalist tension. I don’t follow his logic. Everything that is done for us in a monergistic fashion, especially that of justification, resolves the antinomian/legalistic tension. If Ferguson had chosen anything else, he would have been safer choosing adoption. Adoption is something done for us and cannot be undone. We play no part in it. Yet, as a family member, we are told of the rules of the family. The rules are just another way of speaking of God’s law. We obey God’s law because we want to please the Father, out of gratefulness to Him. We also obey God’s law because we are ordered to do so by our Father in heaven. Only muddled thinking will imply that we are using the law to save ourselves. The confused mind may conclude that because we are commanded to obey God, we are diminishing the doctrines of sola fide and sola gratia. 

Ferguson presents union with Christ as the solution for negotiating the wiles of the law or lack of it. It is almost as though “union” is a talisman or magic solution for resolving the issue of law. It reminds me of the follies of my youth when the solution for engaging in the higher and sin-free life was to be “filled” with the Spirit in a very Pentecostal sense of the word. Truth be told, there is no magic solution for spirituality, and it will always be a struggle. There is danger in omitting the use of the law in ordering our walk with God. If sanctification is deemed to not be a synergistic activity of God and man, the result is Quietism (“let go and let God”) and an antinomianism that is repulsive to God. Union with Christ stresses a mongergistic action in being a Christian, but the synergistic action as found in repentance and sanctification emphasizes the need for personal choices and struggles to be holy.

I recall being at a Ligonier Conference in Dallas, TX in the mid-1990s, and two speakers followed in succession. The first was Chuck Colson, who gave a very moving talk about doing right even when it is costly and difficult. John Piper followed, refuting everything that Colson said, and insisted that as Christian hedonists, we will always have joy and delight in serving God, and that Colson needed to essentially “chill out”. RC Sproul got the last word in, claiming that both were correct. Sproul seemed quite embarrassed by the Colson-Piper interchange and sought a political resolution rather than speaking Scripture. I’ve never had a serious regard for John Piper after that event. The story reflects that there are those theologians that try to resolve the legalism problem by forming, as John Piper has done, a modified form of antinomianism that uses the gloss of defending the doctrines of sola fide and sola gratia. I’m not fooled.


Assurance is a major topic in the later chapters of this book. Sadly, there is no sure-fire means of providing assurance to the godly person who is trusting in Christ, and yet doubting his salvation. There are churches where assurance is considered not possible. The Roman Catholic Church is a prime example. The Netherlands Reformed Church, from which Joel Beeke was expelled as a “heretic” is another. Our baptism is a definite assurance, even though baptism does not save us. Pastors can attest that there are godly members who struggle with accepting their own personal assurance, and words and comfort fail. Even the Westminster Confession admits that at times God may be leading a person through a dark valley where one’s salvation becomes in doubt. Perhaps assurance is also a monergistic work of God? 

Redemptive-Historical (RH) exegesis and preaching- does it help in the issue of legalism?

Redemptive-historical exegesis is a manner of interpreting Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, which seeks to see Jesus in everything. While there is value to that, it seems to me to be a return to the school of Alexandria, where allegorical interpretations were held in the highest value. This is in contrast to the other main theological academy of Christendom in Antioch in the 3rd century AD, which taught grammatical-historical (GH) exegesis. Though it may sound like redemptive-historical exegesis does the most honor to Christ, it does just the opposite, by not allowing Scripture to speak for itself. The entire process is to drain Scripture of its moral and devotional elements. This can be seen in the outcome of RH preaching, where moral elements are missing. The preaching of imperatives is rendered the equivalent of preaching legalism, and thus to be avoided. Similarly with the preaching from the Old Testament, especially from Psalm 1, 19, and 119. To denigrate the preaching of the law is a evil distortion of the meaning and significance of the law, and a misinterpretation on Paul’s invective against the law. Augustine never did it. Luther never did it. Calvin never did it. The Puritans never did it. Why is it now quasi-heretical to preach law???

Several results of this are found in the RH preaching method. First, the whole counsel of God is no longer preached. Second, it makes much of the text of the OT irrelevant. Reformers taught (appropriately) that salvation was the same in the OT as in modern times. Yet, much of the OT text is moral admonitions. If OT saints were saved similarly as NT saints, why are we claiming the message is now so much different? Why is the text of much of the Psalms, the major and minor prophets, and historical books offered in terms of obedience to the moral law of God? Third, it does violence to the words and ministry of Christ while on earth. Here is a perfect example of a Biblical narrative in which RH preachers would have to perform Marcion-style slashes to the text to make it consistent with their thinking. When the rich young man (ruler) came to ask Christ how he could be saved, Jesus should have replied, “Just have faith in me”. Instead, he gave the “legalistic” reply, “Have you kept the 10 commandments?”. The man ultimately went away sad when Jesus noted that he needed to sell all that he had. Jesus then commented to the disciples as to how anybody could be saved, and noted firstly the emphasis that it is impossible to keep the law to be saved. Jesus then did a major “blunder” by commenting that “everyone that has left houses and family… will inherit eternal life”. Heavens to Mergatroyd!!!!! Jesus never grasped the new interpretive theology of modern Presbyterianism! Someone please inform Jesus in heaven of the doctrine of sola fide!!!!!! Maybe the next time Jesus comes back to earth he’ll have it right!

But, there are Scriptures that are also in my defense.

What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
Psalm 34:12-16 and re-quoted in 1Peter 3:10-12!!!!!! (i.e., NOT legalism to say such things!)


All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work
IITim 3:16-17


But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained  by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Heb 5:14

RH preaching also does violence against the entirety of Christian worship. RH preaching would make you think that when preaching for reproof, correction, or righteous training, it should be deemed legalistic because it denies the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Horse feathers!!!!!  When  preaching is cheapened, everything is cheapened. “Church” becomes just another form of entertainment, and an appeasement for the guilt of not attending church. Music becomes contentless, and the praise ditties speak of nothing but repetitive garbage which I liken to Tibetan prayer wheels—repetitive vacuous statements to a god, powered by the blowing of the wind. Sadly, at the start of the contemporary Christian music (CCM) scene, back in the late 1960s at Calvary Chapel, the hippies would write Scripture to music; though typically not suitable for corporate worship, it was quality music. Today’s music scene lacks both significant content as well as creative tunes that match the lyrics, and depend entirely on an upbeat rhythm to stimulate the emotional sensitivities of the singer.  

All of this is the result of fear that any moral instruction will evoke a legalistic attempt to justify oneself. Protestants attack Roman Catholics with vim and vigor over their failure to properly distinguish justification from sanctification, yet Protestants are offering another form of confusion between the two. We have little ground for theological superiority. 

In conclusion, Sinclair Ferguson does good in this book by pointing out a great historical doctrinal issue in the church and how it was partially resolved by the Marrow Men. Better thought regarding doctrinal issues of law, grace, antinomianism, and legalism now need to follow. 

Post Script

I’m not a professional theologian, yet it doesn’t escape my notice that seminaries are generating much of the rubbish theology that we pew sitters have to endure. Perhaps my contemplations in this article are wrong in certain respects, and I am more than willing to be corrected by any theologian who can give a Biblical explanation for my errors. There is nothing above that I would take as personal, should someone rightly correct me. Neither am I addressing a particular congregation, even my own, as this seems to be a widespread problem in today’s churches. My rant is universal.

Christ and Covenant Theology

Christ and Covenant Theology,: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants,  by Cornelis Venema ★★★★

This a very thought-provoking set of essays, written and compiled by Cornelis Venema, the president of the mid-America Reformed Seminary. In defense of what Venema identifies as the historic Reformed faith, Venema tackles the issues of Republication, the association of the Covenants with the doctrine of election, infant baptism, the Federal Vision movement, and new thinking on righteousness and justification as presented by NT Wright. I will discuss each of them separately.


Republication is the idea that the covenant of the law was reproduced (republished) with the Mosaic law, forming (though he doesn’t use the term) a hybrid of the covenant of works (as found in the prelapsarian period) with the covenant of grace. The covenant of works is a misnomer (and identified as such by Venema) of the covenant that God had with Adam before the fall, and though found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), has been questioned by theologians as notable as John Murray. The “covenant” with Adam is noted in Gen 2:16,17, with orders to not eat the fruit of a particular tree in the garden or he would die. Perhaps the so-called creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it would also be a part of that works covenant? In the discussion of the covenant of works, Reformed Theologians evoke a counterfactual, arguing what would have eventually happened had Adam NOT committed sin. Insistence of God’s design and rule throughout history does not allow for a counterfactual. We can not ask what might have happened if Adam remained sinless. It would do violence to my thinking of predestination, foreordination, and election to imagine that the fall came as a surprise or as a two-branch option for God. 

Venema continues his argument to maintain that grace was NOT present in the infralapsarian period, a thought I find misguided and troubling. Venema does this through a sleight of hand, stating that “grace” is defined as “God’s unmerited favor to sinners”, rather than the more obvious definition as simply “God’s unmerited favor”. Grace was abundant before the fall, as Adam and Eve did not earn the right to live in the garden, and did not earn the right to have the blessings of an unblemished (perfect) paradise. The obligation to live a holy life was as strong in the prelapsarian period as in the postlapsarian period. Seriously, it is idle thinking to claim that the covenant of “works” was “republished” conjointly with the Mosaic covenant of grace. Are Christians in the NT epoch now relieved of this “covenant of works”? Is the law now written in our hearts, to the extent that we don’t need a written law? Have we all just become Quakers? What about the period between the fall and Moses? If the law wasn’t “republished” in the preMosaic epoch, was there no guidance or obligation as to right and wrong? How did Enoch or Noah do it? Was it purely natural law in that period? I don’t believe so, yet the Scriptures are entirely silent on this issue, and so should we. How contemporary Reformed theologians formulate the covenant of works vs. grace is bothersome to me, and leaves more questions than answers!

There is a similar movement, either tacitly assumed or overtly stated, to diminish the idea of moral obligations of the covenant of grace. It is thought that to stress our obligations as sinners saved by grace does violence to the sola fide/sola gratia doctrine. Most notably, a thoughtful but definitely slightly misguided move against preaching “the law” can be found in the Redemptive-Historical preaching movement. I encourage those who have read my review thus far to stop for a moment and read a well-stated argument about Redemptive-historical preaching as found on the Banner of Truth website. (https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2018/redemptive-historical-preaching-and-the-decline-of-the-preaching-of-repentance/). Those in the Redemptive-Historical camp may claim to not be antinomian, but their preaching certainly denies that claim; perhaps they should be titled neo-antinomians. Venema comes dangerously close to neo-antinomianism by confusing our covenantal obligation to live holy with that of a works righteousness. Of course, he will deny that claim. Venema puts in great effort to attest that OT and NT saints are similarly saved, yet remains silent as to why the preaching and writings in the OT, in the ministry of Christ, and in much of the NT  are so “law” oriented. Why in the world would John write in Rev. 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”? Why in the Sam Hill did John not take the time to read Paul’s Romans letter before writing this “ridiculous” statement? Indeed, theologians have formed a new type of thinking, calling it either neo-Marcionism or neo-antinomianism, but the latest Reformed thinkers have chased themselves down a rabbit hole in not thinking the entire counsel of God regarding this matter. As many Reformed theologians (including Venema and Bavinck) have noted, this covenant entails both gracious, unmerited promises, as well as obligations. While those obligations are obeyed by us out of gratefulness (as noted in both the Heidelberg Catechism as well as the WCF), to make those obligations nothing but a sign of our gratefulness does travesty to the meaning of an obligation. It would be best to call them the 10 Suggestions on how to please God. 

Several contemporary theologians provide a better answer to this dilemma. JI Packer, in his wonderful treatise on the covenants (An Introduction to Covenant Theology, found on Amazon.com) was reviewed by me a few years ago. In this, Packer wisely avoids the covenantal “clash” by insisting that covenantal theology should be viewed as a hermeneutical principle in understanding how God deals with man. Was there one covenant (Murray), 3 covenants (works, grace, and redemption: Venema), 6-10 covenants (Dispensationalists), or what? The escape from this morass is to view the covenants as nothing more than how God deals with his people; God interacts always with us in a covenantal fashion.

Robert S. Rayburn in his masterful text The Truth in Both Extremes provides a second solution to the grace-works problem, a solution that can also be found in Packer’s writings, as well as that of many Puritan Divines. This provides that Scripture has a tension between grace and works, both must be held true, and both must not be confused or placed in competition with each other. Rayburn’s text allows for the reality that we are entirely predestined creatures, yet from a human perspective, we make free choices in life. It does NOT deny the bondage of the will or the fact that all events in life are foreordained by God, but offers an explanation as to why we can believe in two seemingly opposite truths, that we are foreordained and yet must make choices in life and have moral responsibility for our actions. There is no Quietistic “let go and let God” type of thinking in Rayburn (or Packer), or a sense that Christ’s obedience (imputed active obedience of Christ) relieves us of strong moral obligations to obey God’s law. 

In summary, republication reflects confusion as to the nature of God’s covenantal interactions with man. We should not fight over the number and nature of the covenants but rather focus on the beauty of the covenantal nature of God. I highly advise the reader to read Packer’s treatise on covenant theology for the best understanding of the nature of the covenant!

Covenants and Election

The writings of a few contemporary cavalier theologians suggest the necessary connection between covenants and election. Make no mistake, all theology is necessarily and logically connected in one manner or another. But, to force the idea that someone who is a member of the covenant is necessarily also elect, an election which could be undone, is (in my opinion) wrong thinking. One only need to remind themselves that the OT Israelite community was covenantal yet not all those within the covenant were elect. 

This section has two divisions, the first entailing two chapters reviewing Herman Bavinck’s thinking about the covenants in his Reformed Dogmatics, and the second related to the issue of paedobaptism. The section of Bavinck’s theology of the covenants gets no disagreement from me and attests to Bavinck’s brilliance as a theologian. The paedobaptism question did not seem to be a contentious issue with me, as I transitioned from adhering to the adult baptism belief to the paedobaptistic belief many years ago, so I won’t belabor the issue. Sadly, so many theologians and pseudo-theologians try to resolve the baptism issue in debates, which is a terrible way to resolve theological doctrines. 

Venema ventures slightly upon the issue of paedocommunion, for which he is less consistent. At stake in this debate is the meaning and significance of the sacraments. Those of us in the Reformed faith recite thoughtlessly that the sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant. We easily attest to both baptism and the eucharist as being a sign of our covenantal status with God. When we speak of the sacraments as being a “seal”, our thinking tends towards muddiness. If the sacrament of baptism is nothing but a sign of the covenant, then those who adhere to the believer’s baptism are most correct. We like to think of something more important as occurring in the sacrament. When we partake of baptism or communion, we hold that Christ is actually present in the sacrament, something that John Calvin (and even Martin Luther) would heartily agree to. Venema discourages the idea that we can use our baptism as the assurance of our salvation. Yet, my baptism was most assuredly that, even though I absolutely do NOT feel that baptism saved me! If baptism doesn’t provide assurance, then the sacraments of both baptism and the Lord’s supper lose meaning and become nothing but good suggestions on how to make God happy. When we speak of the sacraments as also being a seal of the covenant, many Reformed theologians remain inconsistent in their thinking. I hold the sacraments are also a means of grace, that is, something else is happening when I partake of the bread and wine or experience baptism. The exact nature of that means of grace and how we are sealed in the covenant are legitimate topics of discussion. I have no opinion as to paedocommunion, but wish that church leaders would be more consistent in their thinking. So many pastors in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) are adamant against paedocommunion but offer only a confused argument in their defense. I am neither for nor against paedocommunion, as I defer to other minds to decide that, only wishing that church leaders would cast their personalities aside and think clearly on this issue. The argument in this book against paedocommunion is that the partaker needs to be able to search themselves. This is a weak argument, as I’m still learning how to really search myself. Perhaps the Lutheran or Catholic approach of confirmation at age 12/13 when a child can demonstrate a solid grasp of the faith is a better approach?

Federal Vision

I first sought illumination on the Federal Vision (FV) movement in the book edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters titled By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification. Those of us in the Reformed Faith feel that the doctrine of sola fide is the foundation for our faith. Yet, Johnson and Water’s book left me more confused than enlightened. It was then that I felt that I was experiencing a gaggle of theologians suffering from theological constipation. They were the ones that were supposed to bring sense to “false” doctrines, rather than vomiting simple rants that FV adherents were denying the doctrine of sola fide. 

Venema provides a clearer account of the FV movement, and actually discusses doctrinal issues at stake with the FV movement, and thus is greatly appreciated. Before I started reading this text, I was not a FV adherent, and after completing this book I remain against the FV movement, though I see strengths in FV thinking; I will not throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is cruel and misguided to call FV thinking a heresy. Many moons ago, I took systematic theology from JI Packer, and when discussing the theology of the Holy Spirit, Packer mentioned that the Pentecostals were a gadfly to force mainline theologians to think more clearly about Holy Spirit doctrines. He would never disparage the Pentecostals or accuse them of heresy. I feel the same about the FV movement. The FV folk bring up some important issues, and rather than reacting strongly against them, theologians need to welcome their thinking as a guide for resolving sticky issues in the Reformed and WCF doctrines of the faith. Among those issues include thinking better about the nature and extent of God’s covenant with man, thinking more clearly about the nature and significance of the sacraments,  and thinking more clearly about exactly about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (most notably, the meaning of the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness). I’ve had brothers in the faith tell me that FV denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which is something that FV certainly does NOT do. Yet I’ve had other brothers tell me that we don’t need to keep parts of the law (like the Sabbath) since Christ kept the law for us and that Christ’s obedience has been imputed to us. Venema (and Johnson/Waters) tempts me to read some FV writings to discover what they actually are saying since I’m having trouble trusting their bias. Don’t worry, as my interest in the FV controversy has already waned sufficiently to defer the matter to younger and brighter folk. 

NT Wright

My introduction to NT Wright came from a few of audio lectures by DA Carson regarding the new perspectives movement. The New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) thinking seemed odd to me, and Venema’s discussion of Wright maintained that impression. Carson’s arguments stemmed from linguistic studies of the Greek and Hebrew words for “righteousness” as found in the Scripture. Neither knowing Greek nor Hebrew, I simply had to defer to his research, which was quite massive. NT Wright possesses much wisdom, and apparently, he and Carson are close friends who have studied together, so, I don’t think Carson’s attack on the New Perspectives is personal. I am troubled that some are graduating from Covenant Seminary with an affection for the NPP. The arguments for and against  NPP are beyond my reach. I don’t see any patristic literature in support of an NPP version of righteousness and justification. I’m left with thinking that Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and the bevy of Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed scholars perhaps had it right. I’m forced to leave the discussion at that. Again, NT Wright raises questions about the exegesis of Rom 5:12-21. The passage in Romans can be confusing regardless as to how you read it, and the doctrine of Universalism is the easiest misguided reading of that passage. I don’t need NPP thinkers to add to that confusion.

Venema ends his text with a chapter summarizing the preceding essays. I commend Venema for an excellent text, that should be thought-provoking to anybody who is thinking deeply about his faith. This is not milk-of-the-word teaching. As you can tell, I had sufficient objections to where Venema was going to hope that theologians in like vein would produce clearer answers to the doctrine of sola fide and sola gratia that account for both God and man’s perspectives on the nature of the covenant we have with God. 

The Swamp Fox

The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, by John Oller ★★★★

This book chronicles a portion of the history of the Revolutionary War that was never taught in school. More lives were lost and more battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other theater of the war, yet scarce mention is made of it in school. Oller, in writing this biography of Francis Marion, had the challenge of contending with the large number of myths that grew up surrounding the swamp fox, such as the near-total mythical presentation of Marion as found in Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot. Oller describes a brief description of Marion’s life before and after the Revolutionary War. However, most of the book involves how Marion became a warrior in the war, and how he rose in prominence to eventually become a brigadier general in the war.

The Revolutionary War was both a rebellion against Great Britain as well as a civil war against the loyalists who wished the 13 colonies to remain a part of the British Empire. Besides the patriots and the loyalists were a substantial number of people who would flip-flop between British and Colonial allegiance, which included a number of folk who would first fight in Marion’s brigade, and then fight for the Crown. Several factors led to this vacillating behavior. First, the US could not afford the war, and thus was only able to pay soldiers as IOUs. Many of the soldiers had families and farms that had to be taken care of, meaning that they would come and go with the army as exigencies allowed. Secondly, soldiers desired to be on the winning side, and so would switch sides as the winds of victory blew one way and then another. Thirdly, a problem especially for Marion, was that Marion refused to allow his soldiers to pillage the homes and farms of loyalists, feeling that it would only further inflame the loyalists’ flames against the patriots. In contrast, Thomas Sumter and most other leaders would allow his soldiers to gain reimbursement for their soldiering by helping themselves with the property of the enemy. Marion maintained strict discipline with his soldiers and yet treated them most kindly, evoking harsh punishment and even the death penalty only to the most flagrant offenders.

The British were another issue. Though they claimed adherence to the Christian faith, their behavior with the treatment of the enemy was no better than the savage Indians or Japanese in WWII. Integrity was not a virtue among the British who often cried foul with any alleged violation of the international laws of war and then felt no compunction to keep those laws themselves. It is a wonder that many of the elites in the young USA desired friendly relations with Great Britain in the postbellum period. It is quite unlikely that Britain has developed virtue following the Revolutionary War, leading me to wonder why the USA wasted effort in saving them from the two major wars of the twentieth century.

It is well known that colonels and generals tend to have strong egos. In the South Carolina campaign, this created the most serious issues. Marion and Sumter did not get along and had completely different approaches to the war. Officers serving under Marion were also a great source of trouble which led to many instances of subordinates failing to properly execute orders from Marion, resulting in many partial victories over the enemy. Only late in the war would Marion allow direct confrontation with the Red Coats; otherwise, he would choose strategic skirmishes, that seemed to harm the British war effort far more than grand-scale direct confrontations.

Marion’s greatest virtue was that of being able to forgive his enemies, and he sought reconciliation and soft treatment for the loyalists with whom he had to battle during the war. Patriots who caused much grief to Marion also were forgiven, and a few of them worked together with him in the South Carolina legislature. Marion truly paints a picture of a virtuous soldier.

This book is a wonderful source to read. Much was not taught in school; as an example, the Revolutionary War persisted for several years following the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Eventually, the patriots were victorious even in South Carolina, driving the British out of the interior of the state, and then out of Georgetown, and ultimately out of Charleston. The book was read entirely while camping at Echo Canyon State Park. My only misgiving with the book is the absence of maps. There were a total of three maps, but many battles and placenames cannot be found within the maps provided in the book. If the author ever issues a second edition, I dearly hope that more maps are also provided.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, by H.W. Brands ★★★★

I have continued reading biographies of the presidents of the USA and recently reviewed a biography of James Monroe. I have skipped over John Quincy Adams, a one-term president, and now resume with the biography of Andrew Jackson. There are a number of biographies available and the choice of this biography was somewhat arbitrary. It was a good decision, as this book is very readable, though with minor reservations noted below. The next presidential biography will be Polk, and then I will segue into civil war narratives. Because of an upcoming trip to the coast of South Carolina, I will next review a Revolutionary War narrative of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.

Andrew Jackson was the first truly controversial president, not fitting the mold of the presidents before him. Unlike the six presidents before him, Jackson was not heavily educated and grew up among normal people. He lost both parents at a fairly young age, and at the age of 12, participated in the Revolutionary War, even receiving a saber slash to his head in one altercation with a British soldier. He received a law degree by working in a law office for several years, and then moved from South Carolina to the city of Nashville, which at that time was more a colonial settlement rather than a village or city. Jackson had many struggles in the pre-presidential years and tended to get himself into trouble frequently. His marriage to a lady not yet widowed from her last husband, his penchant for duals which led to multiple bodily injuries that vexed him throughout his life, his tendency to create multiple enemies, and his impulsive spirit all lent to the controversial nature of this person.

Jackson was involved in politics early on and was voted in as senator from Tennessee, only to resign the senatorship after a year of service. This actually happened twice in his life. He eventually was commissioned by the Governor of Tennessee to be the head of the state militia. This became relevant during the War of 1812 when he was deployed on several occasions. Any student of the war of 1812 will realize that it was a poorly planned and executed endeavor, leaving one surprised that the USA came out as well as it did. Jackson’s excursions into western Florida were highly controversial as well as enacted entirely outside of the orders of the military higher-ups, even though it ultimately resulted in the USA purchasing Florida from Spain at a bargain price. The major battle that led to Jackson’s infamy was the battle of New Orleans, where he fought against a general on the British side victorious from the Napoleonic wars and with seasoned professional troops, using a ragtag bunch of militiamen. With good generalship, the battle ended as a terribly lopsided victory for Andrew Jackson.

Jackson returns home after the war, hoping to throw in the towel and retire from public life. The fates would not allow that to happen. He was nominated for president and won the popular vote. The electoral college deemed it to be a tie between him and John Quincy Adams, and after lengthy deliberations and deeming Jackson a low-life outsider not worthy of the presidency, installed Adams. This immediately set Jackson on a 4-year campaign strategy which resulted in him becoming president in 1829, and after winning a second term, until 1837. During his presidency, there were typical accusations of scandal (eg., the Eaton affair) which Jackson weathered without a problem. Jackson’s wife died just before he won the presidency, leaving a dark cloud over his eight years in office. The notable issues of his presidency were a) the Indians, b) slavery, c) Texas, d) South Carolina and the issue of nullification, and d) Biddle and the Bank of the United States.

The Indians: Jackson had both strong support from Indian populations in the South and in Florida, as well as trouble from the ever enduring fear of Indian attacks. To compound matters, those white settlers in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi simply wished the Indians to be gone, even if they adopted the culture and laws of the United States. Jackson suggested a land swap with the Indians, moving them out of sight and out of mind, west of the Mississippi. Thus became the “trail of tears”, and perhaps the South bears more of the blame than Jackson, though Jackson sought eagerly to be as kind as possible with the Indians. It is easy to view this issue from modern lenses where we don’t have to fear daily of our homes being attacked by Indians, our wives being raped, and children being adopted into the Indian family. Even in Jackson’s times, the New Englanders, who had this same problem 100 years ago, were bitterly judgmental, to their own shame. The Florida Seminoles continued unceasing trouble to the white settlers, showing that a clash of cultures had no viable remedy.

Slaves: Jackson owned slaves. He owned a lot of slaves, perhaps as many as 160+ slaves. Even though Jackson saw slavery as an evil, it also served him extreme economic benefit. Regardless of what modern libertarians claimed (that slavery would become economically unfeasible and quickly die out), the opposite was happening. Lost cause advocates falsely deem that the troubles that led to the civil war were NOT about slavery but a host of other issues, including that of tariffs. See below on the issue of South Carolina for more of this. Yet, slavery remained an issue, especially when it came time to admit Texas (and Oregon and California) to the union as states. Perhaps in some macabre sort of way, this issue still hasn’t been resolved in the USA.

Texas: In the battle of New Orleans, Jackson had both David Crockett and Sam Houston as officers in his militia. Crockett went on to die in the Alamo. Houston had a strange personal affair of having his new wife suddenly run off without notice or explanation. Houston, in despair, heads west and ultimately ends up in Texas where he leads troops to victory over Santa Anna. If there was no slave issue, Texas would have immediately become a state, but Texas allowed slaves. Thus, it became its own Republic until a later president could resolve the Texas problem.

South Carolina: Congress imposed import tariffs to encourage people to use products made in America, as well as a means of revenue. This led to a disproportionate disadvantage with the South, who had little to gain by these tariffs. South Carolina then resurrected the issue of nullification of federal law, and spoke of succession from the Union. Jackson, though a Southerner, attacked this possibility with great vehemence, though it took Henry Clay of Kentucky to propose a compromise on the tariff issue that set South Carolina at ease. Issues of nullification still bedevil the USA; aren’t sanctuary cities just another example of nullification of federal law? Some libertarians will claim that the civil war was fought over issues such as tariffs, yet the tariff issue was adequately resolved long before the first shots at Fort Sumter in 1861.

The Bank of the United States: Jackson had no love for the Federal Bank and felt that it served only the interests of the rich, the elite, and the bankers. I have no disagreement with that. When the bank charter expired, Jackson refused to renew it, and requested that the deposits be moved to the state banks. Biddle, the president of the Bank of the US decided to make life as miserable as possible for Jackson by contracting the money supply leading to an economic downturn. Jackson had the guts to hold his ground, eventually leading to moderate economic stabilization. This is a thorny issue which I’m sure will generate comments either in strong support or opposition of Jackson’s actions. Certainly, the libertarian holds up Jackson as a hero to their cause. Yet, I can see both sides of the argument for a national bank. Does not a state bank also guarantee corruption? The utilization of a rare specie (such as gold or silver) to keep bankers honest is a solution for which I would strongly agree. Outside of that, in a fallen world, there will never be a solution for graft and corruption, and that is true of all of government. This doesn’t equate with the call for no government or anarcho-capitalism, the darling of Libertarians, who remain doubly clueless about evil in the heart and soul of all mankind.

I could say much more about these issues, except that the purpose of this essay is to review a book and not to discuss the pros and cons of various issues, such as State/National banks, nullification, slavery, Indians, etc. After all, isn’t the point of reading history is to learn from the mistakes of the past? Outside of Scripture, no approach to life really works. But this begs the question: was Jackson a Christian driven by Scriptural norms? True, Jackson was a Presbyterian, and his wife Rachel was a rather devout churchgoer. But, the question still remains in the bizarre and chaotic life of Andrew Jackson as to what were his primary motivating influences?; the answer is only known by God.

In the beginning, I mentioned that I would discuss some issues with this book. The author seems to be a progressive liberal, yet keeps that disguised in writing this book. The only hints of his liberalism is his portrayal of legislative, judicial, as well as executive mayhem throughout the book. As he might contend, there never was a golden age in America, and thus, the Constitution needs to be viewed as a living document that needs constant correction. In a sense, he is correct, though the Constitution allows for correction in an orderly manner. Advocates of a fluid constitution cannot appeal to the past as proof for their diminishment of the constitution. Some oppose the Constitution on the grounds of theonomistic principles. I will not waste my time arguing against theonomists, equally clueless, as they essentially make themselves out to be God’s spokespeople. Theonomy has been tried many times throughout history with failure. It’s not that it’s a bad idea, but that it establishes a “pope” to declare God’s will in civil affairs. This is an issue that would take great lengths to discuss, and as I said before, this is a book review and not a springboard to a bevy of relevant topics.

A Reformation Debate

A Reformation Debate: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto, Edited by John Olin with a historical forward by Lester DeKoster ★★★★

This book is constructed as follows. DeKoster provides a historical overview of the current debate, followed by the letter that Jacopo Sadoleto wrote to the people of Geneva, and then followed by a rebuttal by John Calvin. The appendix then contains a review (extracted from Calvin’s Institutes) of Calvin’s theology of justification, followed by statements from the Council of Trent regarding justification by faith. The historical setting is 1539, and Calvin is in Strasbourg, having been ousted from Geneva. Knowing of the absence of Calvin and Feril in Geneva, the Catholic Cardinal writes a letter appealing to the folk in Geneva to return to the Roman Catholic church. Geneva, realizing Calvin’s literary skills, appeals to him to write a rebuttal, which he does. Soon afterward, Calvin returns to Geneva to continue a ministry there until the end of his life.

Both Calvin and Sadoleto write eloquently, though both debaters would be labeled a touch prolix by today’s standards. Sadoleto appeals to the absence of salvation outside of the Roman Catholic church, while Calvin rebuts how the Catholic Church has turned itself into a corrupt institution that preaches a false “gospel”.

The appendix is of great value in reminding the reader as to what is at stake in this argument. The vast divide between Roman Catholic thinking on justification versus Reformed/Lutheran thinking on justification will be noted by simply reading the two statements, that of Calvin in the Institutes compared to that as found in the output of the Council of Trent. In the church where I was saved, the doctrine of justification would have fit quite well with the Council of Trent. Over time and much reading of Scripture, my leaning has turned very strongly in favor of the Reformed view of justification. I believe that Luther and Calvin got the essentials of justification correct. Still, there are canons (anathemas) of the Council of Trent which I (and most Protestants) would favorably agree with. There are a few canons that the Protestant Church has not adequately addressed. I refer as an example to canon 21 “If anyone says that Christ Jesus was given by God to men as a redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey, let him be anathema”. This statement rings loud as a parallel to the Auchterarder creed which was bitterly fought over in Scotland a century later. It reads “It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we are to forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in our covenant with God”. Perhaps the Auchterarder creed was written in the light of and to counter canon 21, perhaps not, yet both statements need much clarification before deeming them most consistent with Biblical teaching.