Triumph of the Lamb

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, by Dennis E. Johnson ★★★★

This is about the fourth in a series of commentaries that I have read on Revelation in the recent past. The first was by Hendrickson titled More Than Conquerors. The second was by Doug Wilson, When the Man Comes Around, the third by Vern Poythress The Returning King, and now this text. Hendrickson’s text was my favorite for providing an overall means of interpreting the book. Vern Poythress’ text really didn’t delve into hardcore analysis of the text. Wilson’s text was a joke. And now, this text. Johnson admits that many of us in America were weaned on Dispensational Premillennialism, and certainly my exposure to Hal Lindsey and all of his writings were in my youth taken with a deep degree of seriousness. I didn’t know better back then. I still have a reduced version of Beale’s text on Revelation to work through.

Johnson does a reasonable assessment of the text, and I appreciate his approach of not being militantly in favor of a particular school of prophetic interpretation. Indeed, he leaves the discussion of the scholarly approaches to Revelation to an appendix; I certainly can understand why he did that, yet, I think the book would have been better served with such a discussion given in the early section of the text. I, like Johnson, lean heavily towards an idealistic interpretation, which means, we approach the book from the viewpoint that it provides multiple recurring glimpses of the Christian era (from the birth of Christ until he comes again), with the “millennium” from Rev. 20:6 referring to the Christian era of the church. Even with its problems, I think that Hendrickson provides a bit better sense as to the seven-fold recurring history of the church, each from a differing though advancing perspective.

The strength of this text is Johnson’s ability to show the relevance of Revelation to everyday life. Each chapter started with some discussion from everyday life, and then morphs into the text of Revelation, showing its practical meaning. It is too easy to assume that Revelation is an obscure book, requiring smoking a hallucinogen before reading in order to best grasp textual meaning, something best left to Hal Lindsey and Doug Wilson. That is precisely what the book of Revelation is not! Christ’s return will be imminent, yet when least expected. Until then, Revelation paints out exactly what the Christian will be facing, a world hell-bent on destroying the Christian faith. Between the dragon (the devil), the beast (world government system), the false prophet (the lying press) and the prostitute (the pleasures of life, personal peace and prosperity), we can expect that Christians may see suffering and persecution. Yet, ultimately the lamb will triumph. Our vision must look for Christ’s ultimate victory, and not our immediate circumstances.

Maranatha, come quickly Jesus.

Darwin Comes To Africa

Darwin Comes To Africa, by Olufemi Oluniyi ★★★★★

I received this book from the Discovery Institute and promptly put down all my other books to read it. My wife and I had worked as medical personnel in Maroua, Cameroon, located in the extreme north of Cameroon in the Sahel, adjacent to Northern Nigeria, which is the region of this book’s focus. It was the Fulani people with whom we interacted. During our time of service among the Fulani people (in 2009), we were oblivious to their history. What we observed were a very remarkable people, intelligent, innovative, musical, and pleasant to be around. In many ways, they had social structures of caring for each other that is superior to what is found in the west. Our experience confirms what the author Oluniyi describes as the nature of African people.

This book is in two sections, the longer describes British rule in Nigeria as representative of how the African people were treated by their overlords. The later section then offers a brief polemic against Darwinism and in support of intelligent design. Finally, a defense against the notion of Africa being nothing but bands of warring tribes is capably sustained.

The arrogance of the British was witness against the Christian faith, and the logical result of their Darwinist Weltanschauung. A look at European colonization behavior demonstrates the global behavior of holding different races as evolutionary inferiors to their European counterparts. The British treatment of the aboriginal tribes of Africa, China, India, Australia, the south Pacific islands, and the Americas would leave any observer disbelieving that Great Britain actually was a Christian nation. Oluniyi’s analysis of British behavior in Nigeria convinces me that the British were nothing but civilized savages with no concern for their Christian roots. British behavior in India and with China similarly can easily be attributed to the same Darwinist notions that Oluniyi writes about regarding British behavior in Nigeria that guided the Brits to oppress anybody that was not European in origin. An example gleaned from the cinema can be found in the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The substance of the movie was that the Japanese captors were incapable of designing a reliable bridge and only the superior intellect of the captive British officers could accomplish the task. The Japanese are now getting the last laugh.

Oluniyi gives a historical perspective. The Brits viewed the less dark Fulani of the North to have a superior genetic structure than the darker southern Nigerians. Through the administration of Lord and Lady Lugard, the black populations were treated with an inferior human status, unworthy of receiving an education or promotion within the British system. Population control, world hegemony, and harvesting the African wealth was the British summum bonum. Oddly, these supposedly Christian Brits gave precedence to the Islamic populations of northern Nigeria. The British militia in northern Nigeria (just as William Carey experienced in India) erected formidable roadblocks for missionaries, preventing the gospel from being taught freely to the inhabitants. Imagine if St Patrick were prevented from preaching in England or St Boniface in Germany! History can be the Darwinist’s worst enemy—within 50 years of the first European missionaries to the savage illiterate Teutons, the Teutons had become Christianized and were establishing schools, monasteries and the civil structures which we commonly identify as defining “superior” western culture. The only reason to believe that such a phenomenon could not happen in Africa, India, China, among the Australian aborigines, and many many other people groups is Darwinian hubris. This is not an affliction of just Caucasian colonists; every civilization does this. But, as Oluniyi points out, what’s new is that the Darwinist Weltanschauung served as a methodological rationale for diminishing other races.

Part 2 of the book departs from a historical review of the British in Nigeria. He offers a very brief chapter defending intelligent design and follows with a chapter discussing how the genetic composition of all the various human families of earth are essentially the same. Science cannot defend the notion that genetic traits allow for superior intellect. Oluniyi ends with a chapter detailing how there is great evidence of advanced culture and education from the past even in the heart of Africa. What caused Africa to lose that intellectual advantage is probably the same events that are leading to the demise of Western culture.

The reader of this book would be disadvantaged if they were to leave thinking that the Europeans were alone to blame for the non-Christian travesties committed against peoples of the world. A reverse discrimination is happening in America where Black lives seem to matter, but white (or Asian) lives do not. Again, Darwin is to blame, but that is the topic of another book. Two sins do not correct a problem, and the Christian notion of forgiveness, identification of our own personal sin, and repentance for that sin has always been successful at advancing true civilization. Reverse discrimination doesn’t solve problems. Christianity and the eradication of a Darwinian worldview is our only hope.

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2 (ANF2), edited by Philip Schaff ★★★★★

It has been a while since my last post, but that shouldn’t imply that I haven’t been busy. I’ve just finished the second of a 37-volume set of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers of the church. I certainly won’t read every volume, but am sticking with reading this in a serial fashion. As you will see later, volume 3 is the writings of Tertullian, who is most enjoyable to read. This volume was far less laborious than reading volume 1, though a few sections were rather obtuse. Volume 2 includes Christian writers of the middle to the late second century.

The first book was The Pastor of Hermas, but mostly known as The Shepherd of Hermas. The author was unknown. It was read by many Christians in the early church, and highly regarded for its devotional instruction. The book is broken up into three parts (books), the first recalling visions of Hermas, the second an elucidation of the 10 Commandments, and the third a collection of similitudes of mostly moral instructions. Its value is in gaining a sense of how early Christians were thinking. Tatian is the next author, with an address to the Greeks as a polemic arguing for the Christian faith, followed by fragments retained of his writings. Theophilus next is presented, with a book in three parts of a set of letters that he wrote to the pagan Autolycus arguing and defending the Christian faith, but also developing a primitive theology of the church. Athenogoras’s book is next, titled A Plea for the Christians, again arguing in defense of the Christian faith. A lengthy section by Clement of Alexandria closes this set and includes several of his writings, the first titled Exhortation to the Heathen, again, consisting of a defense of the Christian faith. The Instructor follows, consisting of three parts, all of which relate to moral instructions for fellow Christians. This was a fascinating read, advising against various things such as overeating or overdrinking, excess laughter, sleep, appropriate clothes and shoes to wear, and wearing jewelry. This is a wonderful book to read to have a sense of how Christians conducted themselves in the second century. Finally, the ANF2 volume ends with a lengthy collection of Clement’s writings called the Stromata, or Miscellanies. This was a slightly more tedious read though instructive, discussing pagan culture and countering with the superiority of Christian culture. It also includes a discussion of issues of what Christians believe. Clement chooses to identify Christians as the true Gnostics, which can be a bit confusing owing to him not referring to the heresy which goes by the title of the Gnostics. There is a segment that is untranslated in Greek, and Schaff feeling the inappropriateness of the content to be put into English. The remainder of the Stromata is a collection of refutations of pagan thinking and philosophical ponderings on the nature of knowledge and truth.

I would not recommend this volume to most people, but only to those who hold a fascination for church history and the patristic writers. It is charming and informative, though at times a little bit laborious to read. It can be challenging to try to connect with the Greek/Roman second-century mindset. The reward to the reader is enormous.

The Crown

The Crown: Seasons 1-4, produced by Peter Morgan

The Crown is intended to be a “made for television” series that will run for six seasons. The fifth season has currently been shown but is not available for download. The series is written and produced by Peter Morgan. The Crown is the story of Queen Elizabeth II from the time of her coronation up to her death. Season 1-4, which I am now discussing, covers the Queen up to about 1990, which would be just before the divorce of Charles and Diana.

Apparently, the series was very expensive to produce. Settings include palace props that I believe were not in the actual location, such as the events transpiring within Buckingham Palace were not actually filmed in Buckingham Palace.

While Morgan is not a historian, he has endeavored to create a story that reflects actual history. Morgan utilized respected historians in the weaving of his tale. A large portion of this series portrays private conversations with family or other personal relationships, or on a government level that could only be conjectured by Peter Morgan as to what actually happened. The reconstruction of closed-curtain affairs might resemble the truth or could be wildly in error. I’m inclined to believe that there is a little bit of both.

This series has come under heated debate, perhaps because it has a disparaging leaning toward the royal family. Numerous independent articles, as well as a book, have been written, mostly in regard to the truthfulness of the series to history. The book, The Crown Dissected was written by Hugo Vickers, who is a royal historian and takes issue with much of the veracity of this series. Yet, Vicker’s issues seemed to be over issues of minutia rather than the general course of what historically transpired. Even with multiple errors, the greater story is not destroyed. Trivial issues, such as the question of who actually burned the portrait of Winston Churchill or whether or not there actually was a “Balmoral test” don’t distract from the storyline. Some articles offer complaints about the factual content of the series, but are written by those who claim that they were “in the know” regarding royal proceedings behind closed doors, though most of the harshest royal conversations had no third-party observer. Besides, an intimate friend of the royal family would be biased to protect the family rather than have the truth be told.

This tv series brings up the issue of historical fiction. One might read James Michener as historical fiction yet be aware that it is truly just fiction within a true historical context. The movie industry offers the pretext that their story is a mostly non-fictional account of past events. Though I am not a fan of “Hollywood” historical fiction, it provides a fruitful curiosity and engages my mind to explore the true histories of events. Usually, there is a blank wall, since most events in life are not historically recorded. Thus, a screenwriter like Morgan necessarily must engage in presumption as to the events which occurred behind closed doors, and, as is said in 1 Samuel 15:23, “presumption is as iniquity and idolatry”. There may be moderate inaccuracy behind the story that Peter Morgan is painting, but there still may be a general ethos of the royal family that is accurate even though the events are only partially true. I’ve watched a number of other historical fiction series including those from ancient Rome, the medieval popes, and 14th-16th century kings of England, and find them informative only in that they get the general events correct. Specific events are dramatized and created to improve the theatric impact. Videntium cave: let the viewer beware.

An minor side comment need by stated since the first season brought up the matter. Those of my dear readers who know me also know how much I detest Winston Churchill. It is true that the Winston Churchill fan clubs, both in the USA and in Great Britain, tend to be drooling, fawning, and adulating folk of all stripes, including conservative, liberal and confused folk. This series did not paint Churchill in a kindly light, but rather as a petulant, arrogant, and obnoxious personality. If pride were Churchill’s only fault he could easily have been forgiven. His deceiving, lying, belligerent manner does not get so easily excused, and his lust for war and incompetence in managing war make him a competitor with Stalin and Hitler for the lowest rungs of hell. (Just my two cents worth)

The western concept of Royalty was based on the mistaken medieval notion of the divine right of kings, a notion that seems to be missing from the pages of Scripture. It is true that all of society is ordered by divine providence, including that of kings, emperors, dictators, Führers, presidents, and any other legitimate or illegitimate potentate. It has rightly been said recently by the head coach of the Boston Celtics Joe Mazzulla when asked what he thought of the royal family (referring to William and Kate Middleton who attended a game involving the Celtics). His response was “Who, Jesus, Mary and Joseph?”. This should be all of our responses when asked about “royalty” since there is only one true King of the universe.

A common answer obtained when I’ve asked many people as to why Great Britain still has a royalty is that it generates revenue for the state. So does Disneyland. The royalty no longer is the leader of the state in the most important matters, which is the duty performed by the prime minister. They may serve as advisors, but usually are marginal in that duty. They may serve as public relations officers, but the prime minister stands as the most important “public relations officer”. Frankly, royalty in today’s world is as useless as an ice delivery service to the South Pole. The British people now have the BBC to entertain them, and they don’t need royalty to accomplish that function. The only entertainment function of the philandering royalty is to generate an astronomical volume of gossip.

I am told that the royalty is not terribly costly to the British government. Last year, British taxpayers supported the Crown to the tune of £104 million, which is a pretty penny in my estimation. Any expense seems in need of accountability, something lacking with the royal household. The royal family does pay income taxes, but that is not obligatory. I presume that property taxes and other taxes are waived. The British government is essentially funding a single family to live a life of leisure and pleasure. Few other people enjoy the delights of having minimal responsibilities, minimal risks, and minimal fears. The only negative aspect of being a part of the royal family is that you live in a glass house. Something in my brain suggests that I am missing something. Am I? Could an entire country be so stupid as to be paying a single “privileged” family massive amounts with minimal return on their investment? The British taxpayer would probably be better off eliminating the royalty, confiscating their properties, and turning their palaces into museums, parks, and public showplaces. The entrance fees alone would probably return much of the £104 million annually that it costs taxpayers. Besides, the castles of the royalty will allow prime minister Rishi Sunak more room to house illegal aliens.

Queen Elizabeth was portrayed as a Christian Queen. She said her prayers before bed. She often attended church on Sundays. She had a heart for the poor and downtrodden. If her true faith is reflected in her children and many of her actions, then we have a problem. Only God knows her heart, and He will deal wisely with her soul. It is not ours to judge her Christian status. I respect her as a past Queen only in that she could have been infinitely worse. Her children and grandchildren leave great doubts in many minds as to the viability and sustainability of the royalty concept in Great Britain. Muckraking, as performed by Peter Morgan, may have done the royalty and image of Queen Elizabeth II a minor disservice. Perhaps the royalty of Great Britain is their own worst enemy and not the imaginative portrayals of the BBC and Hollywood. I probably will not be living long enough to see the final outcome.

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, compiled with comments by Philip Schaff ★★★★

This is the first of a series of 37 volumes comprising the Ante-Nicene and Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers, compiled by Philip Schaff. Each volume contains translations of writings of the early church fathers, and this volume has many of the first fathers of the church, including Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus.

It is a healthy exercise to read what our fathers in the faith had deemed important enough to put down in print. The thoughts and concerns of these early fathers related mostly to moral purity, and combating the enemies of the faith. Predominant in the writings of the earliest church fathers was opposition to Gnosticism, which was creeping insidiously into the church all the way up to the bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope). It is fascinating how our church doctrines were formed as a response to the various heresies that arose. JI Packer once commented in Systematic Theology class that systematic theology was always written as a response to the ongoing heresies of the age, and historical studies of the fathers prove this to be quite true.

Most of this volume entailed the five books of Irenaeus titled Against Heresies. This was a lengthy segment and quite tedious to read; I’m not sure I grasped all of his points, and often because he tended to repeat simple truths of the faith without a specifically stated objective. It is fascinating how only a few hundred years and such greats as Augustine taught the church how to write in a more concise, organized, systematic style.

I am already blazing into volume 2 of this series, but not sure that I’ll make it through all 37 volumes. Eventually, I may end up skipping around a bit. Particular authors that I’ll be interested in are Tertullian, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Gregories, Chrysostom, Anselm, and Augustine.

The Returning King

The Returning King; A guide to the book of Revelation, by Vern Poythress ★★★★

The book of Revelation has a multiplicity of commentaries. If one were to read the commentaries without actually having read Revelation, one would think that they were reading commentaries on vastly different books. The interpretations among conservative Biblical scholars has great diversity, as well as a diversity of fanaticism. I recall well as a teenager when Hal Lindsey produced his dispensational premillennial spin on the book. Of course, his books (Late Great Planet Earth & Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) required multiple revisions and updates during the 20-30 years that the Lindsey books remained popular. Conversely, I recently read a postmillennial preterist spin on Revelation by Doug Wilson titled When the Man Comes Around which was a bit of scholarly trash, in which I never even wasted my time to write a review. Both the dispensational premillennialists and postmillennialists have used their eschatology as a litmus test for orthodoxy, though they tend to have enough disagreements among themselves as to suggest that perhaps we should all have a little bit of humility with our opinions. Perhaps the best book I´ve read so far, and I´ve read it more than once, is William Hendrickson´s More Than Conquerors. He takes an amillennial approach and considers Revelation to be a 7-fold retelling of the history of the world from the time of Christ to the consummation. This book has been the most scholarly and convincing to me.

In The Returning King, Poythress suggests an eclectic approach to Revelation, using all 4 so-called interpretive schemes, the historicist, the futurist, the preterist, and the idealist. He would label Hendrickson as a perfect example of the idealist approach. It seems on reading Poythress’s volume that he tends to concur quite strongly with the Hendrickson approach, viewing Revelation as a seven-fold telling of Church history, progressing timewise from the first accounts of church history as focusing on early events and later accounts as focusing more on future events. Hendrickson would divide the 7-fold accounts a little differently from Poythress, yet ultimately the end interpretive result is quite similar. Poythress is soft on the millennial issue, but his discussion shows a very strong leaning toward the amillennial position.

Like most commentaries, the first few chapters of Poythress’s commentary discusses sundry issues such as the author, the date of writing, and technical aspects of how the book will be interpreted. This is followed by section-by-section interpretive suggestions. What do the various colors of things symbolize? What is the meaning of an animal with 7 heads or multiple eyes? Why does a last battle occur a number of times in Revelation—were there multiple last battles, or is the Apocalypse pointing us to a recurring retelling of the same story from various perspectives. Who or what is the beast? The prostitute? The dragon? What is the meaning of all the numbers given? Why is 7 so frequently used? What is 666? What is the meaning of the 144000? Why are precise measurements given to the new earth, something that would be an impossibility in the physics of our current world? Thankfully, much of the symbolism of Revelation has reference to Ezekiel, Daniel, other minor prophets, the prophetic speeches of Christ, and the prophetic discussions of Paul in his epistles. Dangers exist—the most popular danger is to read much of the book as figurative and yet to force literal interpretations on selective items, such as the 1000-year reign of Christ. Poythress is wise in not forcing interpretations that he might later regret, a trait most associated with Hal Lindsey. Poythress’s strength is that of bringing the necessity of reading and heeding the warnings of Revelation to everybody, young and old, in all generations. The book is an unveiling, not an encryption of the past, present, and future, and should be read as such. It is as much a story of the present as it is a story of the future.

Poythress does not offer us a thorough scholarly review of Revelation. There is no shame in that, and his little volume is quite effective at conveying an overall method for approaching what might be termed an obscure book. Poythress is no light-weight in the academic field, and this little tome on Revelation can be regarded as a decent summary of the book, releasing Revelation from either fatalistic obscurity or from livid and wild abstractions, as might be found in the premillennial dispensational approach of Hal Lindsey. Thus, I would commend it as a worthwhile summary of the book of Revelation.

We are currently starting through the book of Revelation in Sunday School, with the idea of completing the book within the span of several months. They are using a text written by a Southern Baptist individual J. Scott Duvall, The Heart of Revelation: Understanding the 10 Essential Themes of the Bible’s Final Book Reading the first pages of the book on Amazon, it is difficult to sort out its orientation, something Scott seems to try to avoid, focusing instead on the thematic material of the book, i.e., as Henrickson has stated, that we are more than conquerors. Duvall has written a commentary on Revelation, so this book attempts to serve not so much as a commentary as a discussion of the relevant themes in the book. I probably will not be reading that text, mostly because I feel that further insights into the book would not be gained by reading it. I’ll be most interested in the ensuing discussions at church.

Introducing Covenant Theology

Introducing Covenant Theology, by Michael Horton ★★★

I’ve read a number of books by Micheal Horton, and have appreciated not only his theology but also his teaching style. In this book, my expectations were a touch higher than Horton delivered, as I’ll explain later. Horton writes well, so this book was not a challenge to read. It’s 194 pages long, yet Horton has been able to keep repetition to a minimum.

The book starts out with a definition of a covenant. Horton breaks down covenants into two types, suzerainty covenants, and promissory covenants. Covenants, by their nature, are one-sided events, with suzerainty covenants entailing obligations on the part of the covenant individual, and promissory covenants based solely on the trustworthiness of the covenant giver. As examples, the Noahic covenant was promissory, in that it did not demand obedience for God to promise never to flood the earth again; the Mosaic covenant is a suzerainty covenant that states essentially “Do this and you will live, don’t do this and you will die”. Much of his references in the first part of this book were to Meredith Kline and to O. Palmer Robertson. I’ve read Robertson, whose writings on the covenants are superlative.

After developing the nature of the covenants, Horton explores several other areas related to covenant theology. Common grace is mentioned, which is the blessings God bestows even on the ungodly. Evil people also enjoy good health, a good brain, sunshine and rain, as well as a society in good behavior. These are all a part of the promissory covenants which God makes with man. The people of the covenant are discussed, as well as the status of the Israelites. Here, Horton drives a strong stance for amillennial eschatology as best fitting a covenantal approach to Scripture. Horton discusses the Sacraments and develops support for the Reformed thinking of the nature of the Eucharist. He discusses the means and implications of signs and seals of the covenant. Finally, Horton closes with a chapter offering last words on the law-grace tension.

What are my misgivings with this book, why do I only give it 3 stars? Firstly, I believe Horton holds too heavily of a stance with Kline. Kline appropriately noted how the Biblical covenants strongly resemble many of the covenants of the Ancient Near East (ANE) kings. Such information is helpful but certainly not necessary in grasping the significance of a covenant-making God. It also leaves one in the lurch; did God model His covenants after the ANE kings, or vice-versa? If the latter, then Biblical covenants explain the secular covenants and not vice-versa.

Secondly, Horton does poorly in detailing the history of Covenant Theology. Was Calvin adherent to covenant theology? Where could you prove it in Calvin’s writings? Why is Witsius only mentioned as a footnote? How do the Heidelberg and Westminster Confessions promote the theology of the covenants? In what ways do the theology of Cocceius and Witsius differ? How is it that covenant theology was developed out of the Biblical Theology movement, and not the Systematic Theology movement? How did Reformed thinkers after Cocceius and Witsius further develop the theology of the covenants?

Third, Covenants, including the covenant of grace in which we are currently living, say something about the children of believers, yet Horton is totally silent in this regard. Why?

Fourthly, what are the main arguments against Covenant Theology? A chapter comparing and contrasting Covenant vs. non-Covenant theology would have been very helpful. Is Covenant Theology truly synonymous with Calvinism/Reformed thinking? Can one be a partial Covenanter, or a halfway house covenant theologian? How does one answer the individual who claims that they are in the Reformed (5-star Calvinist) camp and yet disavow Covenant Theology? Reformed Baptists offer a distinctive twist on the theology of the covenants which would have deserved a mention.

Fifthly, many of the Israelites from Moses to Jesus were saved, and the saved Israelites were all saved by grace rather than by keeping the law, though Horton implies that the Abrahamic covenant (promissory, by grace) was in action here. This is a weak argument since the Abrahamic covenant applied to the land but not for personal salvation. This is an issue that could have been more strongly developed.

Finally, Horton seems sufficiently concerned about not being confused with advocates of salvation by works, so he doesn’t deal adequately with the beauty of covenant theology in reconciling the tension between salvation by faith and salvation by works. This is a bit understandable. Many of contemporary Reformed theologians’ most fierce battles have been over the accusations regarding grace “vs” works (sola gratia)*, as though grace and works were competitive ideas. Recent attacks on Federal Vision (not to be confused with Federal Theology) bear witness to how brutal Christians can be in their accusations of heresy over this single issue. Please make no mistake, I am not a Federal Vision advocate, mostly because it has failed to adequately define itself precisely. Or, perhaps I am a Federal Vision advocate since it has no clear definition????

Though Horton argues against it, his tendency is to regard the law as solely deontological, that is, consisting of nothing but a list of duties with promise (the land and health) rewarded for obedience. The authors who penned the Psalms seem to mention the law frequently, and always as a source of joy, wisdom, guidance, strength, and delight. The Psalms destroy the notion that the law simply addresses our actions and not our thoughts. Psalm 119 is especially noted as an encomium to the law. The mistaken interpretation of the law by the Jewish community at the time of Christ saw the law (works) solely as a source of salvation without the necessity of faith and true love for God. In this, I believe the Reformers rather than NT Wright were right (no pun intended).

JI Packer’s short Introduction to Covenant Theology as well as Geerhardus Vos’s The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology were previously read by me in preparation for reading Horton. Packer was definitely the most insightful, selling Covenant Theology not as a particular theological movement, but rather as a hermeneutic for interpreting Scripture. This seems to make the most sense to me. Vos is erudite but sharp in his readings, offering good historical insights and not being afraid to be mistaken as a “legalist”. For example, “Thus, it is that in the covenant of grace, too, the participants are exempt from the demand of the law as the condition for eternal blessedness, but not from its demand as being normative for their moral life.” With both authors, the superiority of seeing Scripture in a Reformed covenantal fashion is a necessity. JI Packer notes, “1. The gospel of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame,… 2. The word of God is not properly understood til it is viewed within a covenantal frame”. I wholeheartedly agree with Packer on these points, and his short tome is valuable reading.

This was a worthwhile book to read, written in a scholarly but quite readable format. If Horton were to address my concerns mentioned above, the book would be awesome but also considerably lengthier. IMHO, I think it would be worth it.

-* moral law is not an arbitrary set of rules/laws given by God for man to obey, but is based on the very nature and character of God, ie, God is by his very being ontologically moral. Thus, any claim to be free from “the law” is a claim also to be free from God. Another way to say it, ontology and ethics are separate topics for created man, though with God they are a unity.

The Mortification of Sin

The Mortification of Sin, by John Owen, translated and adapted into Modern English by Aaron Renn ★★★★

Pastor Rayburn had recommended this book to the FPC in Tacoma, WA as an excellent treatise on dealing with sin. It has been a classic text regarding personally killing sin in one’s life, and quoted by JI Packer as an anecdote to the more casual or even “magical” ways in which sin is dealt with in one’s life. This book is now being reviewed in Sunday School at church, a chapter at a time. I opted for a modern rendition, very well done, by Aaron Renn. Owen could be a bit stodgy to read, partially because it is a language we don’t necessarily think with (King James English), and Owen’s academic accuracy sometimes clouds his ability to make clear what he is trying to say.

The book is 18 chapters long, Owen’s text being only 13 chapters long, but Renn turned one chapter into five, giving it a few more chapters. Owens makes very clear that Christians must always be engaged in a battle against sin, that there is no alternative for a Christian, and that the only victory against sin is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. Again and again, Owen stresses the necessity of the Christian not being lax against sin, and always battling for victory over sin. Though Owen doesn’t stress it in this text, sin will remain an enemy for life; there is no moment of absolute surrender and total victory over sin, that is, until we die.

Martin Luther had a different approach to sin, in part owing to his struggle to differentiate law from grace. Luther’s quote “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ”. Luther, like Owen, had a strong repulsion for sin in a person’s life, yet tends to approach sin by advocating the replacement of the sin act with an act of obedience. Both Luther and Owen need to be taken seriously in their appeal for a righteous life of a believer in Christ. They offer contrasting but complementary means of killing sin in our life.

The Great Reset

The Great Reset and the War for the World, by Alex Jones ★★★★

I received this book in the mail several days ago, a personally signed copy by Alex Jones. Jones is an erudite and perceptive individual, though his manner and style of expression sometimes is a touch bothersome to me. His literary style would be well served with a smidgen of polish. Alex is highly controversial to many people, and the manner in which he has been silenced and sued by the Marxist left stands as a witness that America is no longer a great country. Globalism has been the liberal theme song ever since I was in college in the 1970s, and we are now witnessing its ugly face as it manifests itself in a maturing form. Much of the book is a review of the writings of Klaus Schwab and his minions. I laud Alex for even being able to read much of that garbage!

The first few chapters of the book detail the nature and character of the great reset. Using 4 books recently published by Klaus Schwab, Jones proceeds to show how the great reset is none other than a takeover of the world order. It is a Platonic dream in which a few enlightened individuals will be the world managers. Democracy and the choice of the people have no regard. People will NOT have private property, and all of their moves will be monitored. A version of Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World will be the theme song of the great reset. It is an atheistic world, God has no place, and hedonistic pleasure is the summum bonum of existence as well as the means of control of the populace. Alex provides a brief history of Schwab’s World Economic Forum (WEF), in that it was an outgrowth of the Trilateral Commission, started by Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. The effects of the Wuhan bat virus (COVID-19) on creating a crisis to further strengthen the globalist power is detailed. Jones spends an entire chapter discussing Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli intellectual and praised by Klaus Schwab, who proposes a dystopian future where humans will be phased out, with the replacement being robots, cyborgs, genetically recombinant humans, and, of course, the rulers.

Alex selects three areas of concern that are under the evil eye of the WEF. The first is the digital age and its ability to selectively control not only the media but also the financial world. A “rebel” can become a non-entity, losing any ability to interact, purchase things, or travel. The WEF is also focusing on the issue of energy. Environmentalism and climate change have become perfect means of creating a crisis to control people. Energy will soon become a scarce commodity. Equally scarce will be that of food, when the WEF and Great Reset take control of the food supply of the world. Meat will be removed from consumption (except for the controlling elite), and bugs will be offered in replacement.

Jones ends by discussing the bungling nature of the world’s elite globalists, and how they may become their own worst enemy. Such may be true, but it is amazing how often the most incompetent, inept people rise to positions of power; just look at our current president and members of Congress!

Alex Jones has tended to be correct in his predictions. In this book, I don’t think it is a perfect portrayal of the future, but offers a serious warning about where our world is headed. The Bible suggests a one-world government and authoritarian control of the masses; whether we are reaching that point or not remains to be seen. Jones attests that he is a Christian, and I have no doubt about that. I am troubled that oftentimes, Jone’s Weltanschauungen is everything but Christian. Jones reflects on a high point in Western Civilization being during the enlightenment; I would take serious issue with that. Though Jone’s heart is right, I believe he needs to spend a bit more time thinking through the full implications of his philosophical approach to the New Word Order, aka The Great Reset.

Introduction to Covenant Theology

An Introduction to Covenant Theology, by JI Packer ★★★★★

Curiosity left me restless until I re-read Packer’s treatise on Covenant Theology, following my reading of Vos’s exposition of Covenant Theology (see my preceding book review). The contrast could not be more profound. If a dog comparison could be made, Vos was a raging pitbull and Packer a loveable golden retriever. Packer, in a much shorter space than Vos, elaborated more fully, replete with multiple Scripture arguments, the fundamental themes of Covenant Theology, while still giving it a historical perspective. Perhaps I have a bias because I took Systematic Theology from Packer. But it is his approach to theology that I have learned so greatly to appreciate; Packer is NOT a bull in a china shop like Vos. While Vos mostly held up the example of Cocceius as representing covenant theology, Packer takes issue and contends that Cocceius was “a stormy petrel” who “muddied his exegesis by allegorical fancies and… needless attacks on the analytical doctrine-by-doctrine approach to theological exposition”. For Packer, Witsius is the less tempestuous theologian who “manages to correct some inadequacies and errors that poor exegesis in the Cocceian camp had fathered”. Cocceius essentially fathered Biblical Theology, which attempted to separate itself from the then predominantly Systematic Theology techniques of doing theology. Witsius was able to calm a turbulent contention between the Cocceians and Voetians by showing the importance and necessity of both branches of academic theology. Witsius remains the text that Packer advises should one wish to go into depth regarding the study of covenant theology. Interestingly, while Vos tended to attack the Lutherans for having a substandard theology, Packer will frequently quote Lutheran theologians including Luther. The difference in styles could not be more plain.

This brings us to the topic under discussion… this book. After a brief introduction of Herman Wits (Witsius, 1636-1708), the question is first asked, “What is Covenant Theology?” The simple answer is that is really nothing but a hermeneutic or a perspective for reading Scripture. Packer would call a successful hermeneutic a consistent interpretative procedure yielding a consistent understanding of Scripture which in turn confirms the propriety of the procedure itself. He contends that covenant theology meets that description and then goes on to explain. I won’t detail Packer’s arguments as this book is easy to read and inexpensive on Amazon.

A covenant relationship is a voluntary mutual commitment that binds each party to the other. While many covenants are negotiated, God’s covenants are unilaterally imposed. Still, “the relationship depends simply on the fact that mutual obligations have been accepted and pledged on both sides”. God’s covenant promises are constantly repeated throughout the entirety of Scripture, the promise that God will be our God, and then the promise that God will supply our needs. The God-given covenant carries the obligation for a life of faith and repentance and obedience. Thus, the struggle that Lutherans had with salvation by faith alone is expanded to show how they are correct yet need not feel that obligations are in contest with sola fide.

Thus, Packer notes three things. 1) The gospel is NOT properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. 2) The word of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. This is elaborated at length, concluding “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.” And 3) The reality of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. Again, Packer elaborates at length on what he means by this. He ends this part of the discussion by quoting numerous hymns of the past that refer to the covenant that we live under. Quoting Packer, “One way of judging the quality of theologies is to see what sort of devotion they produce. The devotional perspective that covenant theology generates is accurately reflected in these (the quoted) lyrics. I can think of many hymns to serve this end, including “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” (quoted by Packer), “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”, and even “Amazing Grace”, even though the word “covenant” is never used, it is the backbone to the meaning of that hymn.

Packer feels “that the Bible ‘forces’ covenant theology on all who receive it as what, in effect, it claims to be”. This is accomplished 1) by the story that it tells, 2) by the place it gives to Jesus Christ, 3) through the specific parallel between Christ and Adam that Paul draws, and 4) by the explicit declaring of the covenant of redemption.

Packer ends with a brief relapse to the history of covenant theology, arguing that it was a natural development in Reformed thought, starting with Zwingli, Calvin, Ursinus and Olevianus, etc. As a person convinced of the truth of Reformed thinking, I find nothing to disagree with in Packer’s treatise. I especially appreciate his thoughtful and always irenic process of presenting the case for covenant theology. I have left out much in this review, and any curious individual would be served best by downloading a digital copy of this short treatise which may be read within 1-2 hours’ time. I believe it would serve well both those for and against the covenant approach to theology to best understand what the hermeneutic is all about and how it can help in obtaining a better grasp of the riches of Scripture.