A bevy of book reviews
It has been sometime since I posted a book review, so here are a few.
Christless Christianity by Michael Horton
This book is a great read. Horton’s style is one of smooth reading for the most part. Any pastor should not have any trouble at all. Laymen will occassionaly wonder at side tracks where Gnosticism and other such concepts are brought in without a lot of explanation. Still, even with that minor note, the book is great. It is a spot on critique of the American Church. In fact, the book has a wonderful and devastating look at Joel Osteen and many like him. This book profoundly made me stop and look at my own ministry to make sure I was holding up Christ showing I think that Horton does not just critique, but also extols the importance and place of Jesus Christ. He tears down, but he does not fail to build up and offer the only comfort in life and in death, Jesus Christ. I do not agree with absolutely everything in this book. One can see the hobby horses of Westmisnter West if you know what to look for, but mostly this book is just a good solid reminder of our absolute need for Jesus, and our propensity to replace Jesus with something a little more palatable to the Old Man in us all. I recommend this book to all. Get this book.
I will be reviewing the companion volume: Gospel-Driven Life when I finish it.
Martin Bucer the Forgotten Hero of the Reformation by David Lawerence
I hope that you all have heard of Martin Bucer. He is getting a bit of a revival these days. I saw this book on several walls of recommended reading, so I gave it a try. I was more than a little disappointed. Now this review is going to come off as harsh, but mostly because the book violated a few of my pet peeves. I did learn a great deal about Martin Bucer reading this bio. The book spoke not only of his life, but of his theology. The book is well written and a fairly easy read. So, it is not like the book was garbage. But I have these things against it. First, it really did put Bucer on a pedestal and basically played apologist for Bucer. That is not always a good thing. Bucer did some things that are not so good like his support of the divorce of Philip of Hesse. The author clearly believed Bucer’s view on other subjects were far superior to other Reformed views. This is something that also should have just been explained rather than championed. A little cheerleading is understandable, but this much was over the top. It led to occassional attacks on other reformers like Zwingli and Bullinger. Needless and turned me off a great deal. Second, it would off hand throw out things that you would want explained and then not explain them leaving me to wonder if it was just a made up point to try and improve Bucer as a role model. One such example was the assersion of the constant opposition and out right hostile stance of Henry Bullinger. This was never explained nor proved, and it was a piece of information I had never heard before? What caused this feud if it existed? Such details are important. Yet they went unprovided. Perhaps because it was better just to cast Bullinger in a bad light than actual put the two positions side by side. Who knows, but I would have liked to learn more about that point. Third, I think that a little more time on the implications of Bucer’s positions on the rest of the Reformation would have been nice. A lot was made of the Bucer-Calvin connection, and probably rightly so. Yet, a drawing out of this influence and its results could have been nice. The same goes for Bucer’s time in England. What happened to the friends like Cheek and Ridley that were mentioned? Did Bucer’s view play a role in the Puritan trouble of later English history. Also what happened in Strasborg or the other places he helped Reform? Those would have been some nice details.
In the end, I am unaware of a better Bucer biography. They are rare. But that does not mean that this is the be all; end all biography of Bucer. Clearly there is still a market for such a book.
Ten Great Feuds: That changed the World by Colin Evans
This book is good, but don’t go into it with the expectations raised by the secondary title. There is no discussion about how any of these feuds changed the world, and only about two had throw away sentences speaking about a possible world shaping influence. Most of them clearly did not shape the world in anyway whatsoever. So if you don’t have that expectation going into the book, then the book is great. The chapters are not too long, and divided so reading is easy. It is written interestingly making sure you are invested into each person in the feud. Then the feud is unfolded for you. The feuds include the Hatfields and the McCoy’s, Stalin versus Trotsky, and even King Charles versus Parliament. I don’t want to give away all 10, but most of them you probably don’t know all the details about, and they are fun reading. So if you want to bone up on your feuding, then this is the book to get it done. I enjoyed it a great deal. I never realized how much blood was spilled in the Hatfield McCoy feud, but I do now. Nor did I realize what a brat and jerk Robert Kennedy was (LBJ versus Robert Kennedy) What more needs to be said.
A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State by Charles Freeman
Freeman continues his assault on Christianity in his book A.D. 381 (see Closing of the Western Mind: the rise of Faith and the fall of Reason). For those of you who don’t know 381 is the date of the First Council of Constantinople. Basically this council reaffirmed the council of Nicaea and added to the creed a little bit, making sure the divinity of the Holy Spirit was understood as well. Well, Freeman tries to argue that this is the closing of all intellectual debate and free speech and the beginning of an overbearing monotheistic state. A point he fails to make despite his constant misinterpretation and omission of many important historical events. He makes strange statements trying to downplay the importance of Nicaea, and talks of Nicaea’s comeback with Athanasius. But when you do the math the “Comeback” is less than 15 years after the arrival. Add that to the fact that Alexander, the main opponent of Arius, was bishop before that, and it is hard to imagine it went away at all. While it may be true that the state was monotheistic from that point on, it is weird to see how he has such a hostile attitude to it. Arius and those guys wanted a monotheistic state as well, just a heretical one.
In short, Freeman argues that Emperor Theodosius imposed Nicaea on Constantinople and enforced it, and that the church would never have come to that conclusion. The bishops had little to no part in actually coming up with the creed. This led to religion proclaiming “certainties” which destroyed philosophical thought, started the war with science, and a host of other things that are just as stupid as they sound. Of course all church histories are unreliable and all histories written by people who do not believe the bible are better and thus right. It is really sad that this stuff poses as scholarship. It is more screeds and hatred than anything else.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A bevy of book reviews
Monday, August 16, 2010
Rev. Doug Wilson is at it again. He has now posted an article trying to explain why there is a Federal Vision (FV) controversy. He comes up with three reasons. Belief of FV men in 6 day creation, power struggle (which Wilson couches as no heirarchy), and creation of a new Christian Culture as shown in Moscow, ID.
Now, before we dismantle these obviously wrong points, we need to recognize what Rev. Wilson is doing. These are not serious points. He does not honestly believe these are the reasons there is a FV controversy. If he did then he would have dealt with them in the Joint Federal Vision Statement. Only the third point comes up in that statement and that only barely. None of the points comes up in say the Knox meeting published as Federal Vision: Pros and Cons. Not a single one of these points is honest. This is really an attack on the Westminster faction in the URC. One can describe this as an attempt to split or at least play on the tensions within the URC now, probably in hopes of increasing the CREC.
Now before anyone accuses me of assuming motives just read his piece again. He mentions creation and links to multiple articles about the disagreement over creation in the URC, both of which point out the Westminster West crowd is Framework. This also cannot be a reason for the FV controversy because despite his linking to the weakness in the PCA, OPC, and the URC, Rev. Wilson has forgotten the other major NAPARC denomination that condemned the FV: The Reformed Church in the United States. Now the RCUS has a crystal clear position on 6 Day creation, yet we passed unanimously the condemnation of the FV views. I won’t go into the opposition in the PCA comes from pro-6 Day creation men like Dr. Joseph Pipa and others. Clearly this is not a real reason. It is however a well aimed attack.
The second reason is also meant to pick at the recent scab of who runs the URC. Many during the CanRC union talks accused Westminster as well as Mid American Reformed Seminary as trying to run the URC and the reason why mergers did not happen. They were accused of the same thing in the Shepherd Controversy. See a recent motion at the last Synod that the 9 points of the URC were not properly before Synod. The accusation was that a group of men pushed heirarchy down the throats of the confederation by considering and passing the 9 Points. Heirarchy is the theme of Rev. Wilson’s second point.
The third point is about the latest controversy on the URC message boards. The two kingdoms theology versus Abraham Kuyper’s Christian culture theology (or at least the Dutch understanding of it). Wilson claims to be the heir apparent of Kuyper, and the two kingdoms approach advocated by Westminster West looked down on. Well, the URC is Dutch and Kuyper is a hero. Already this same debate is coming up in the URC and will probably split that church. Wilson is getting his vote in now so that people will know where to go when the split occurs. It should go without saying that many of Wilson and the FV critics are Kuyperian.
No, these are not Wilson’s thoughts on why there is a FV controversy. These are shots at Westminster West and an attempt to widen the gap that is growing in the URC.
Monday, August 09, 2010
I know that the movement is underway to celebrate the Reformation’s 500th birthday in 2017. This is of course dated from Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses on the door at Wittenburg. The problem is I do not believe that is a good starting point for the Reformation. It is an easy one because it is a day that everyone can point to and say this day it started. But the Reformation was really already under way. It is impossible to point to a spot and say here it began, nor a time and say it started at this minute. But, if I had to give it a shot, I would say Basel 1505-06. Let us look at why.
In Basel in 1505 there were many future reformers. Leo Juda was graduating and about to take his first call in Alsace as a priest. Juda would end up in Zurich as a Reformer. It was probably at this time that he met Ulrich Zwingli who was also in Basel. Zwingli was teaching at a prepatory school in Basel. Yes, Zwingli was suspected of heresy at this time for refusing to condemn some writings that disavowed the use of images and indulgences and even the sign of the cross. Such things show Zwingli already leaning toward the Reformation though it had not yet begun. Also teaching in Basel at that time was Thomas Wittenbach. Wittenbach was teaching Protestant principles like Justification by faith alone. Wittenbach would later break from the church at Rome and become a Reformer. Leo Juda and Zwingli both sat in on his classes and credit him a great deal for his teaching evangelical doctrine.
1515 saw the hiring of Erasmus, which shows that Basel University and thus the town counsel were still fostering a spirit against the Roman church at least. The Cathedral called Wolfgang Capito to Basel, where he served for 4 years. Capito began correspondence with Zwingli during this time as well as Luther. Casper Hedio appears to have been in Basel as well. Both men probably leaned toward the Reformation already at this time. John Oecolampadius also first arrived in Basel in 1515. He would leave before his final return as the leading reformer of the city, but he was there during this time working closely with Erasmus. When Oswald Myconius arrived is a little unsure. He was student at Basel at some point, but he began to teach there in 1514. Myconius would become a gifted educator and great Reformer too. The Spirit of Basel was surely one of Reformation.
The town did not officially accept the Reformation until 1529, although it was inevitable in 1528. Still, the town showed the way for the Reformation in many ways. In 1522, Oecolampadius was back and openly preaching the Protestant Gospel. In 1522, Wilhelm Reublin was kicked out of his pastorate at St. Alban for being Reformed, but another church in town St. Theodore took him showing their acceptance of the Reformation. Marcus Bertschi also held evangelical beliefs and pastored St. Leonhard in town by 1523. In 1524 the town did excommunicate Jacob Immeli for getting married. That is a priest getting married before almost any of the other Reformers with the exception of Martin Bucer. Yes, Immeli was married before Martin Luther. He would be rehired after the Reformation took hold for good.
It should be noted that Basel then had a hand in the Reformation of Bern (Wyttenbach), Zurich (Zwingli and Juda), and Strassborg (Capito and Hedio). Other lesser known men were influential in St. Gall and its Reformation. And we have not even begun to talk of the printing industry in Basel and the effect it had. Basel in a very real sense is the mother church of the Reformation because of its far reaching effects. People networked and learned the true gospel of Jesus Christ while in Basel. It was here that the Reformation was born.