The Way of Salvation As Seen Through the Heidelberg Catechism

Here’s my interview with Cornelius VanKempen about his book The Way of Salvation As Seen Through the Heidelberg Catechism. n.p., 2017, 206 pp., paperback.  thewayofsalvation

Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed about your meditations on the Heidelberg Catechism. Here are some of my questions for you about your work:

 

1. Can you please tell us more about yourself and the occasion in which you wrote your book?

I was born in the Netherlands and came to the United States with my folks and sister at age 6 in 1949.  I spent my childhood on a farm in Coopersville, Michigan.  Most importantly, I was raised in a Christian home. To be right with God was emphasized as the one thing needful.  As a teenager, sports became an obsession which led me away from where I should have been.  God sent callings into my life. At age 15 I came down with rheumatic fever, not being able to get out of bed for 3 months (all summer). My life was stopped and I had much time to think.  I made promises to God that I would change my ways and live to His honor if He would heal me. God did, and for a few weeks I was healed, but soon I went back to my old ways, now to the sorrow of my parents, although I continued to go to church every Sunday, outwardly I looked like a Christian.  This continued for many years.  I married a wonderful woman, Susan GeBuys in 1965 and together we had 5 children (4 boys and 1 girl).  I worked in the automotive field my whole life, still obsessed with sports.  But God was not done with me, in the eighties through the preaching of His Word I came to see my wasted life; sin became sin.  The most concerting was that God brought the vow I had made when I was 15 to my conscience.  All I could expect was to be cast away for the Bible says, “it is better not to make a vow than to break it.” At the same time my whole life was a testimony against me.  I became a lost sinner with no hope of ever being saved.  I had sinned against God’s love.  But I began to earnestly reform my life, sports were out, God’s Word was studied. Good books were read. I became legalistic trying to impress God.  But the more I tried the more sin surfaced, until I cried out, “I am undone, O God be merciful to me!”  No hope only condemnation for me. I came home from work one evening, there was a mid-week service and I felt compelled to go. Dr. Joel Beeke was preaching. His text was from Hosea 14:4, “I will love them freely.”  The Holy Spirit opened my heart to see that all my work would amount to nothing, but it was because of God’s love that made the difference.  All my repentance before was only trying to escape judgment, but God gave true repentance and forgiveness of sins for His own name’s sake.  This brought hope into my heart that it could also be for me.  The cross of Christ became my refuge and my hope, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus would do.”  God was and is so merciful. All that I am I own to Him!  Reading, meditating, and praying on God’s Word became my life.  There is still much sin that brings grief, but when God again shows Himself through His word, by preaching and reading, He opens for me that fountain filled with blood by which I must daily be cleansed.

My book came about some years ago by the Spirit awaking me during the night many times with the words, “What is thy only comfort.”  This puzzled me and in prayer would ask God what are you saying to me?  I’m not able to write. I don’t have the training to do this great work.  But it just kept coming back.  I sought out help and went to the seminary and as I drove up, Dr. Jerry Bilkes came out.  I spoke to him and he asked me how my writing was doing.  I told him what was on my heart and my inability for such a work.  He told me it is God that gives the ability. Then he said to me, “follow Him, pray to Him and write.”  What happened then is inexpressibly.  Never had God drawn so near and so dear as one question after another opened up showing in each one that it is the Triune God, through Jesus Christ who is the only comfort.  Yes! It was a special time in my life which I shall never forget.  I had more blessings myself than ever the book will be to whoever reads it.

2. What is the Heidelberg Catechism and why should one spend time studying or at least reading it?

The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the three Articles of Unity adopted by the Reformed churches as to our beliefs.  The Catechism is known as the “Book of Comfort.”  It brings forth the preciousness of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, through the God-Man Jesus Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism was written at the request of Elector Frederick III to bring harmony to the Protestant teaching and to the establishment of the Reformed Faith.  He appointed Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus to write it to address the errors of the day, bringing out the doctrines necessary to know for this life, but also for the life to come.

The Catechism is broken down into three main categories of the experiences of God’s people: misery, deliverance, and gratitude.  It has been and still is a blessing for God’s people, and as a preaching tool, it brings out many of the doctrines of the Bible which would otherwise be forgotten.

3. A number of commentaries or meditations have already been written on the Heidelberg Catechism. What do you think is the unique contribution of your book to the study of this catechism?

There are many commentaries written on it, but short meditation on it, are few and far between.  To sit down and read a commentary takes much discipline and soon it is left setting on the table.  These meditations are short and bring you to search the Bible for the truths found in the catechism.  In our times meditation time becomes secondary to our way of life.  I find that though they are short, they may open the heart by God’s grace, so that we may find enjoyment in them.  We were created to do all to God’s glory and honor.  My prayer is that God would use it for His glory.

4. In your study of the Heidelberg Catechism, what did you find to be the catechism’s strengths and weaknesses?

Its strengths are the doctrines that are expressed in it, leading us to learn who we are, but also who God is.  It lifts us above the things of this world to see the glory of the Triune God in Jesus Christ.  Its weaknesses I guess I don’t see because the more I study it the more precious it becomes.

5. The Heidelberg Catechism has 129 questions and answers. What is your favorite of all of them? Explain why.

I love the whole Catechism, but since question and answer 1 was so laid upon my heart, it has a special place in my heart.  Salvation is a personal experience. It must be for me!   When reading this, take notice of the personnel pronouns.  Salvation is a precious doctrine, but as precious as it is, it must be for me! The plot as you read through it, it shows man in his desperate need for deliverance which he cannot earn for himself, bringing us to the only way of salvation, When this is experienced there cannot but be gratitude for so great salvation.

Question:  What is thy only comfort?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of death, and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to life unto him.

This question and answer is the summation of all the 129 question and answers in the precious Heidelberg Catechism.

6. What projects are you currently working on?

I write short meditation on many texts as God opens them for me.  I do have a complete set on all 150 of the Psalms, the beatitudes, the Christian Armor, and the Seven Cross Words.  My hope and prayer is that God would use them for His glory and the salvation of sinners.

thewayofsalvation

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Heidelberg Catechism Interview

The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts

Here’s my interview with Chris Fenner about his edited book The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts. Frisco, TX: Doxology & Theology Press, 2016, 641 pp., hardcover.  Watts

Chris, thank you for editing The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts. I thought you did an excellent job. I have some questions for you:

1. Can you please tell us more about yourself and the occasion in which you edited this book?

I am the Digital Archivist in the archives office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). My job in general is to digitize and preserve old media formats (audio and video tapes, LPs, etc.), but my academic research specialty is hymnology. I am also a minister of music at Green Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I have worked at SBTS for eleven years now, starting when I was a graduate student in the worship arts program. I finished that degree in 2011, then completed a  Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Kentucky in 2017.

In 2016, Matt Boswell, director of Doxology & Theology Press, had been preparing a new edition of hymns by Isaac Watts, and he asked my colleague Esther Crookshank to write a foreword for it. Crookshank shared a draft of the project with me, and upon examining the work, I had several ideas for how it could be improved, so I got in touch with Matt and persuaded him to allow me to help him craft the book into something that would reflect the highest standards of scholarship possible, something that would really stand out from what other publishers had done before.

For the work, I was able to examine digital copies of Watts’ original collections. We included both of his original prefaces (this is really two books in one volume, Hymns and Spiritual Songs with the Psalms of David Imitated). We included all of Watts’ original footnotes for the Psalms, which explain his methodology and theology. We added some detailed indices, with pastors worship leaders in mind. We also included a set of tunes that had never been reproduced in any edition of Watts over the last 250 years. The whole project is a major improvement over any other edition of Watts currently on the market.

2. Who was Isaac Watts and why did he write his hymns?

Isaac Watts was a pastor in the dissenting tradition (Protestant, separate from the Church of England). Watts had some serious concerns about the condition of congregational singing in his time. In Protestant churches, the norm had been to sing only from the Psalms and a few select passages from the New Testament (like the Song of Simeon, for example). If people are only singing from the Old Testament, then they are singing an incomplete theology, and a theology rooted in the Old Covenant. Watts found this unacceptable, for good reason. So for his poetic translations of the Psalms, he wanted to infuse the texts with New Testament ideas, making connections to the work of Christ, as if David had been a New Covenant believer. In this regard, Watts was charting new territory.

Watts also wrote new hymns intended for congregational singing, for similar purposes, because he felt the Psalms weren’t enough for a well-rounded theology. All of this came at a point in time in which Protestants had been debating about whether it was OK to sing hymns in church, because when people start writing their own songs, doctrinal error can creep into the church. People had written hymns and poems before (George Herbert was very well loved in the previous century, for example), but Watts was so good at what he did, that people embraced his hymns and abandoned the strict adherence to the Psalms.

3. What are the key features of his hymns?

In addition to his infusion of New Testament theology in the Psalms, Watts strove to make his texts understandable to the average worshiper by using plain language and avoiding complicated terminology. Even though he wasn’t happy with the pre-existing tradition of Psalm singing, he wrote his hymns in such a way that they could be sung using the old Psalm tunes. This meant most of his texts fit into three different syllabic structures: common meter, long meter, and short meter, with some other exceptions. This is partly why his hymns have endured, because they are easily understandable and singable.

4. What are the weaknesses and strengths of his hymns?

If his hymns have any weaknesses, it would be because the English language has evolved, and the world has evolved, so Watts isn’t able to keep pace with all of the issues and perspectives that worshipers face today. In his day, his language was plain and simple, but in our day, his language can be a little antiquated at times and require some adjustment. His hymn “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” for example, is written from the perspective of someone who lived in a time of Colonialism and Imperialism, in which he was able to write about other nations being “barbarous.” Others are written very much from a British perspective and don’t work in other contexts.

5. Of all his hymns, what is your favorite? And why is this one your favorite?

I have a special love for his rendition of Psalm 23, “My shepherd will supply my need,” especially with the American folk tune known as RESIGNATION. It is a very thoughtful and tender paraphrase. In 2015, when my son Garrett died at the sweet age of 5, I sang this at his funeral. Where the psalmist had written “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” Watts wrote these beautiful lines:

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may thy house be mine abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home.

My eyes get watery and my soul burns just thinking about it.

6. What projects are you currently working on?

I recently finished a new edition of Charles Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book for Matt Boswell at Doxology & Theology. It hasn’t yet gone to press, but it is going to be a beautiful, scholarly book, full of great insights into Spurgeon and the hymns that he loved.

This past summer, I launched a new website, HymnologyArchive.com, for the serious hymn lover and scholar, offering a visual history of great hymns, full of the best scholarship that simply isn’t available anywhere else. It’s still new and still growing; I add material almost every day.

Lastly, I am compiling and editing a new collection of essays related to the hymns of Charles Wesley, featuring contributions from many gifted scholars, to be published next year by Biblical Spirituality Press.

Watts

Hymns Interview

The Pursuit of Glory

Here’s my interview with Jeffrey D. Johnson about his book The Pursuit of Glory. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018, 113 pp., paperback.the pursuit of glory

Thank you for your willingness to be interviewed about your well written book which I enjoyed reading. Here are some of my questions for you about your work:

1. Can you please tell us more about yourself and the occasion in which you penned your book?

I am a pastor of Grace Bible Church in Conway, Arkansas (gbcconway.com) and the academic dean of Grace Bible Institute of Pastoral Studies. I have been married for 15 years to my wife, Letha, and we have four children (three boys and one girl). I love to snowboard, play the banjo, and write.

The book is a byproduct of the many years of counseling I have done. After teaching anger management for 10 years and counseling for 15 years, I saw the need for such a book. I wanted something I could give to people who were depressed about life. Our culture is screaming that our identity and purpose is found in ourselves. So many people feel empty, so it seems, because they have such a small and trivial purpose (such as getting a few “likes” on Facebook), and because they are unable to live up to this superficial and artificial standard. That is, people cannot even reach the low and insignificant standard they have place upon themselves. Deep down, we know we were created for something greater, something more lasting, and something real. If we can’t satisfy even a superficial purpose, what makes us think we can stratify a divine and eternal purpose? I wrote this book to explain that we were made for something beyond our abilities to reach, but also I wrote this book to show how God enables us, through faith in Christ, to obtain the highest possible objective—God’s glory. I am convinced that only when we live for the glory of God that we will find our happiness, purpose, etc…

Much of my counseling brought me to explaining these truths, so I thought, why not write a book on it.

2. Your work deals with nine topics: (1) glory, (2) happiness, (3) purpose, (4) freedom, (5) companionship, (6) truth, (7) peace, (8) holiness, and (9) life. In light of this, why did you entitle your book The Pursuit of Glory which is the title of your book’s first chapter? Why not The Pursuit of Happiness, or The Pursuit of Life?

I started with “glory” and ended with “life” because these two things are essentially the same thing. Kind of like a circle that brings the readers back to where we started. I titled the book “The Pursuit of Glory” because I believe the word “glory” best incorporates all the longings that God has placed within our heart. We all desire happiness, purpose, freedom, etc…, and all these things can be summarized by our longing for glory. That is, we long for something eternal, something lasting, something real, something truly praise worthy. Ultimately, we are all longing for God—to know and enjoy God.

And I believe that the world is seeking to replace the reality of the glory of God with some cheap counterfeit that can never satisfy. Man is depressed, guilt redden, and miserable, a state which leads him or her to be utterly discontent. Man longs for the glory of God, even though he or she does not realize it. And as long as they are seeking for glory in all the wrong places they will remain disillusioned and frustrated.

I have counseled hundreds of people over the years, and it seems that much of the time their emotional problems comes from having their eyes placed on the wrong thing(s), and their values being shaped by the customs of this evil world. Living for the American dream ends with dreamers waking up to a nightmare.

3. You state in your book that every human being is looking for glory that can truly satisfy him or her. What is this glory that people are looking for?

The short answer is God. God is the only thing that is truly glorious. The longer answer is that man is looking for glory, which can only be found in loving and enjoying fellowship with God. The Bible tells the strong not to glory in their strength and for the wise not to glory in their wisdom. Rather, the only ones who have the right to glory are those who can glory in the fact that they know God. We too often, myself included, want to find our purpose and happiness in ourselves—ether in who we are or what we have accomplished. Such thinking leads us to vain-glory and pride. Moreover, such thinking leaves us feeling empty and unhappy because we know that we are not even good enough for ourselves. It is a terrible enslavement to depend on the constant affirmation and praise of others. We all need something more, something greater, and something more glorious than self-praise and popularity. We need God. It is only when we are satisfied with God that we will ever be satisfied at all. He alone is enough. Everything else put together comes up short—way short.

4. What do you think is the unique contribution of your book to the study of glory? And if there are three important lessons concerning glory that you would like your readers to learn from your book, what would they be?

Overall, I hope my book demonstrates that our own pursuit of glory is tied to the glory of God. If we want to find glory, it will be found only when we enjoy God’s glory. Once our lives are satisfied in God’s glory, will we have glory—meaning, purpose, life, and others.

Three practical lessons would be:

First, having innate desires, cravings, and passions are not (in-and-of themselves) sinful. Even the longings of the body are good when we seek to satisfy them by lawful means and do not exalt the things of the world above God.

Second, the body and the soul both have longings/desires. The five senses of the body crave the things of this world, while the craving of the soul craves after God. Though our depravity and selfishness tell us that we can only be happy when the insatiable longings of the body are being contentiously fed, that real satisfaction is only found when the longings of the soul are satisfied in Christ.

Third, that every longing of the soul (e.g., the longing for glory, happiness, purpose, freedom, etc.) is satisfied in one place—knowing God through faith in Christ.

5. What projects are you currently working on?

For the last 10 years, off and on, I have been working on a systematic theology.  I am about 1/3 done, so it will be a lifetime project. I have other smaller projects, however, that I am working on as well, such as revision and expanding a book I have written on the atonement, and a small little book on cessationism.

 

Note: To purchase a copy of The Pursuit of Glory, click here.

the pursuit of glory

Interview

The Church Fathers as Our Spiritual Mentors

Here’s my interview with Dr. Michael Haykin regarding his book The Church Fathers as Spiritual Mentors. Dr. Haykin has a doctorate in patristics and is a member of North American Patristics Society. He is also the author of Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church and the series editor of the Early Church Fathers series.

“The patristic era,” says Dr. Haykin, “though not a golden age as some would depict it, is nonetheless one of the most significant eras in church history.”

Haykin

Church Fathers Interview

An interview with Phil Johnson by Rob Ventura

Guest Post by Rob Ventura

Phil, please tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been saved? How long have you been married? Do you have children, grandchildren? What do you enjoy doing outside of ministry?

phil johnson

Phil Johnson

 

My family were Methodists for several generations before me, so I spent my formative years going to Sunday school every week in a theologically and politically liberal church where if we ever heard anything about doctrine, it had a left-leaning Wesleyan Arminian slant. I don’t remember ever hearing the gospel declared plainly. We did sing some of the classic hymns of Christianity, and there were responsive readings whose words were drawn from Scripture, but those things made very little conscious impact on me.

When I was in junior high school or thereabout, just old enough to form discriminating thoughts of my own about what we were being taught, I realized that the Sunday school teachers were constantly telling us that we shouldn’t take the Bible literally; Jesus didn’t really say what Scripture attributes to him; and this or that miracle didn’t really happen. And it occurred to me that no one in that church really believed the Bible is true, so I was mystified about why they would want to spend an hour or two every Sunday talking about it. I finally raised that question in class, and the pastor of the church summoned me to his office to straighten me out. He told me if I didn’t change my way of thinking, I might grow up to be a fundamentalist.

          So in high school, once I was permitted to make my own decision about whether to attend church or not, I quit going and took up watching the NFL pregame show on TV instead.

          A few years later, in my final year of high school (barely a month before graduation), a friend of mine became a Christian. He changed overnight from being the class comedian to being the school conscience. Watching the change in his life and character, I began to realize how devoid my own life was of anything holy. I still believed in God, but you’d hardly know it from my pastimes or my reading list. My time and energies were almost totally devoted to politics. I believed good and evil were divided along party lines, and my goal was to gain political power and use it to change the world for good. I believed that by striving to be a knowledgeable, wise, and noble person, I could earn the favor of God.

          But one night the weight of my own guilt prompted me to pick up my Bible and read it. I opened it randomly, intending to read no more than a few (hopefully serendipitous) verses. My Bible fell open to the first page of 1 Corinthians. So I thought it might be a good exercise to read the whole epistle. I had never read that much of the Bible at once.

          The first three chapters of 1 Corinthians are an all-out assault on human wisdom, and by the time I finished those three chapters, I knew I was totally lost, and I cried out to the Lord for help. I kept reading, and while I didn’t understand everything I read, by the time I got to 1 Corinthians 12:3, I understood that I needed to confess Jesus as Lord—and instinctively understood that meant yielding to Him as my Lord. I understood that I needed to become a disciple of Jesus with the same kind of total commitment I had devoted to politics.

          Over the following week, a series of remarkable events kept confronting me with gospel truth. The very next day, I was handed a tract that explained the doctrine of justification. The day after that, a friend invited me to an evangelistic meeting where the preacher preached on the crucifixion from Isaiah 53. When I heard that sermon, I realized for the first time that the Old Testament was pointing to Christ—and from that night until now, I have never had any doubt about the truth of God’s Word. At some point during the course of that week, the Lord opened my heart to believe. That was April of 1971.

          A few weeks later, I found a church in my neighborhood where the Bible was taught and the gospel believed. The pastor of that church heard my testimony and baptized me. In the course of giving him my testimony, I mentioned that I needed to learn the Bible, and that I wanted to serve the Lord in some way with my life. He recommended that I attend Moody Bible Institute, so I filled out an application and was accepted.

          In my final semester at Moody, I took a part-time job proofreading for Moody Press. I loved the work and decided after graduation to stay on and become a book editor. I met my wife, Darlene, exactly 40 years ago, in 1977, when she came to work at Moody Press. We got married a year later and started our family a year after that. We have three sons, all adults now. All of them are believers and still attend Grace Church. (One is a writer for Grace to You online; one is a tax accountant; and one is a police officer with the LAPD.) They are all three married and have given us seven grandchildren. The Lord has greatly blessed us.

 

How long have you been working at Grace to You and what particularly attracted you to Dr. John MacArthur’s ministry?

This is my 35th year at Grace to You. I first heard John MacArthur speak in 1977, shortly after I met Darlene. He came to Moody to speak at a student chapel, and I was in awe of the clarity and biblical content of his preaching. I’d never heard of him before. He had not yet published any major books. And my first thought as a book editor was He needs a literary assistant to help him get his material organized and edited for publication.

          The “Grace to You” radio broadcast debuted in 1978, and I began to listen to John every day. Every time I heard him, I lamented that he wasn’t publishing books. I found his expositions of 1 John especially instructive, because I was wresting with some things Charles Ryrie had written that didn’t sound quite right to me—namely, a chapter titled “Must Christ be Lord to be Savior?” in Ryrie’s Moody Press book Balancing the Christian Life. John brought far more clarity and biblical weight to that question than Ryrie did, I thought.

          Then in 1981 I met John for the first time. He visited the Moody Press offices for an initial discussion about The MacArthur New Testament Commentary series. It was the largest academic-book project Moody had ever initiated, and the meeting was to discuss editorial strategy. A dozen people were involved in that discussion, mostly book editors. I didn’t say much if anything at all during the meeting, but when it was over, I had a moment to talk one-on-one to John. I explained that I was a regular listener, and I suggested he should consider writing a book on the lordship issue. He brightened immediately and said, “I intend to do that. I even have a title in mind: The Gospel According to Jesus.

          That was the start of our relationship. Over the course of the next year, I more or less became the main contact between John and Moody Press. I was intrigued by some material he had preached on worship from John 4:23: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” I took verbatim transcripts of his sermons on worship and edited them for a book titled The Ultimate Priority.

          When my work on The Ultimate Priority was finished, John came to Chicago for some meetings. For some reason, he came via train, and I volunteered to meet him at Union Station and drive him to his hotel near the airport. When we were about halfway to O’Hare and in the middle of a conversation about Robert Schuller and his Self-Esteem doctrine, John suddenly changed the subject. Out of the blue, he said, “You should quit your job at Moody Press and come to work at Grace to You. You could help me with my writing projects.”

          I said, “OK.”

          He said, “No, I’m serious.”

          I said, “So am I.” And within a few weeks, I had moved to Los Angeles, and I have been working at Grace to You ever since.

 

Could you please tell us what you do for Grace to You and what is your favorite part of the work there?

I’m the executive director. There are more than 50 paid employees who work under me, so I have the luxury of being able to delegate virtually all the hands-on duties. We have a team of very competent people, and my main duty is to keep them on task, establish and maintain our policies and procedures, and make sure everything we do is done with excellence in a way that honors the Lord.

The most important part of my job is still the work I do as a book editor—translating John MacArthur’s material from sermonic form to book form. My favorite part is when a major book project is finished. A famous author once said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” I’d say the same thing about editing.

 

What are some of your favorite books by John MacArthur and why?

  1. The Gospel According to Jesus. People tell me all the time that their lives were changed completely when they read that book. It shatters the false assurance of people who are trusting in something they have done—walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or whatever. It gives a solid, biblical answer to the question of what Jesus meant when He said, “Follow Me.”
  2. The Vanishing Conscience—editing this book reshaped my understanding of sanctification.
  3. Ashamed of the Gospel—this is the book that first sparked my interest in Spurgeon and helped me understand that all the fads and ministry philosophies that today’s evangelicals hail as “new” and “revolutionary” are really just recycled mistakes from the past.
  4. The Jesus You Can’t Ignore—this is a vastly underrated book, in my opinion. It refutes postmodern efforts to reinvent Jesus as a politically-correct, quietly reserved self-help guru.

 

Who are some of your all-time favorite preachers and authors besides Dr. MacArthur?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller, Thomas Boston, Jonathan Edwards, R. L. Dabney.

 

What are some of the dangers that you see in the church today, both in Reformed and non-Reformed circles?

Number one on my list would be a fleshly craving for social and academic esteem, political clout, and the world’s admiration that permeates the evangelical culture. Elite evangelical leaders in particular seem to have a pathological fear of being critical of popular trends and majority opinions, and as a result, the conservative evangelical movement today is neither conservative nor evangelical in the true and historic sense of that term.

I actually have a much longer list of concerns than that, but I blogged about all those issues for nearly a decade, and all that material is still online and searchable via Google, so in the interests of not sounding totally negative, I’ll refer anyone who is interested in hearing more to my now-nearly-defunct blog at teampyro.blogspot.com.

 

Phil, on the weekend of May 5th & 6th 2017, you will be speaking at the Southern New England Reformation Conference in North Providence, R.I., on the topic of Answering the Skepticism of an Unbelieving Generation. Please tell us why you think this topic is particularly relevant and how you plan to address it.

          The Internet has given rise to a hostile, aggressively outspoken brand of militant atheism that seems to be growing and assimilating students from Christian backgrounds who grew up in youth groups that existed to entertain them rather than instruct them. Christian apologists need to be more diligent than ever to answer the barrage of skepticism that is being blasted to the world via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and every other popular social medium. The Bible does answer skeptics, and Christians need to have those answers.

For more information about the Southern New England Reformation Conference please go to: www.gcbcri.org or call (401) 826-3121.

Grace to You Interview John MacArthur Phil Johnson

An Interview with Adam McClendon about his book Paul’s Spirituality in Galatians

Paul’s Spirituality in Galatians: A Critique of Contemporary Christian Spiritualities. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015, 208 pp., paperback.     

Brother, congratulations on your well-researched book. I read it with delight.  Here are some of my questions for you about your book:

 

1. What do you think is your book’s unique contribution to the study of spirituality? Also, can you please briefly define the term spirituality and explain how your definition differs from the other definitions that you critique in your book?   

One of the more unique contributions this book provides is a merging of formal theological study, resulting in practical theological corrections, all based primarily on Galatians 2:20.  The real heart of the book rests in addressing the issue of the basis of Christian spirituality.  As Christians, our spiritual life should be based on the firm foundation of God’s Word as our primary rule for faith and living.

This point naturally leads into the question concerning what “spirituality” means.  A brief history of the use of that term is provided in the book.  “Spirituality” on the most basic level in today’s society should be understood as the life one lives in light of one’s understanding of and experience with god.  Notice “god” and not “God” is referenced here. Everyone is spiritual on some level and the “god” that has influenced a person’s understanding and experience is that standard that drives the values of his/her life.  Christian spirituality, however, is that process of spirituality brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  So, when Christians refers to “spirituality,” they are meaning the life that is “spiritual” or influenced by the Holy Spirit in their lives.  The problem today then becomes two-fold.  First, that which has traditionally been categorized as Christian continues to be broadened to included non-Christian beliefs that directly contradict the fundamental tenant of faith in Christ alone.  Second, it is becoming increasingly common to hear of non-biblical, extra-biblical, or just strange teachings and behavior being attributed to the “Spirit” in some vague context without any biblical justification.  This book then seeks to reorient the spiritual life as necessarily being grounded upon the clear revelation the Spirit gave us in the Bible.

In reference to the last part of your question, this book doesn’t necessarily critique other definitions of “spirituality” but challenges the foundation upon which the convictions of various Protestant traditions are based.  The point pressed throughout the book is that for Christian spirituality, the Bible should serve as the supreme foundation for Christian living versus being set along side or even subject to one’s own experience, one’s religious traditions, and/or one’s cultural sense of morality.  Key staple positions within various protestant traditions are taken and contextually examined in light of Galatians 2:20 to show how a proper understanding of that verse can help correct certain teachings within that particular movement.

 

2. You call your first two chapters (1) The Centrality of the Cross and (2) The Centrality of Christ. In the context of Pauline spirituality, is there really a difference between the word cross and the word Christ? Does not Paul sometimes use these two terms indistinguishably (see Gal. 6:14, “boast…in the cross” & 1 Cor. 1:31, “boast in the Lord”).    

Paul certainly does use them interchangeably at times, just as Paul does the idea of the cross and the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 23); however, the interchangeable use of the terms in some contexts does not mean that in other contexts distinctions do not exists especially as it relates to the believer’s justification and sanctification.  Paul in Galatians 2:20 utilizes the necessity of the cross in reference to the believer’s justification, particularly in dying to the law.  So the cross involves a death while the focus on Christ as a whole emphasizes the life that flows out of this death.  The text explains that as a result of being crucified with Christ, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  The phrase “Centrality of Christ” is used to emphasize the specific means by which Christ lives in the believer while “Centrality of the Cross” emphasizes the specific means by which the believer dies to the law and the nature of the flesh (Gal. 2:19; 5:24).

 

3. In your book you examine Paul’s spirituality by specially focusing on Galatians 2:20. Why did you choose this verse?

Galatians 2:20 has always been a special verse in my life going back to high school, and I’ve spent considerable time meditating on the implications of the truths it conveys in my own life.  So, it’s a very personal verse for me, but the nature of the verse also worked well for the approach of this book for several reasons.  First, it comes at the end of an incredible section in Galatians where Paul condenses much of the overall argument for the entire book.  Within that context, the verse provides an intensely concise statement regarding both the believer’s justification in Christ and the sanctified life to be lived.  Second, Galatians 2:20 is important to the approach presented in the book because it frequently appears within various writings on Christian living without any clear explanation concerning the meaning of the verse itself.  Within more critical works, it has long been used to promote the mysticism of Paul or, as more often than not, the verse finds itself tucked away within the huge theological discussions surrounding the context of Galatians 2:15-19 without being given specific consideration.

 

4. What do you think are some advantages and disadvantages of the kind of approach that you use in your book to study Paul’s spirituality?

The greatest advantage to this approach is that it drives us to examine the biblical evidence and highlights our predisposition to rely on emotion, tradition, and culture to shape our religious ideologies, convictions, and lifestyles.

The disadvantage to this approach is that it is critical.  The book is designed to be a critique of modern theological expression.  While I approached this task as graciously as I could acknowledging my own tendency to read Scripture in a manner that most naturally fits my theological tradition, it is still a critical approach.  Such approaches are often not as well received in a culture that overemphasizes a false understanding of relativistic tolerance.

 

5. What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to the normal projects involved in pastoring a church, I’m currently working on a book I plan to call “Square One” on the basics of the Christian faith.  The book is specifically designed for people who are interested in Christianity or spiritually young believers; however, it will also be a great resource for reminding mature believers of the essence of the call to follow Christ.  Our church plans on using this work as a means for discipling new believers. Lastly, I’m also working on a parental prayer guide to help parents in praying for their children.

 

 Note: This post also appears on christianity21st.com. To purchase the book, click here.

 

Book Interview Spirituality

An Interview with Paul M. Smalley about his co-authored book Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.

Brother, congratulations on your well-researched co-authored book with Dr. Joel Beeke. I am confident that Prepared by Grace, for Grace is destined to be a standard work on the subject.index

Paul Smalley: Thank you, Pastor Najapfour. We hope that by God’s grace the book will be useful.

Here are some of my questions for you about your book:

1. Could you please briefly define the following terms as used in your book? I think defining these terms will help the readers of this interview better understand your discourse.

a. Reformed, Puritan, & evangelical

Reformed refers to the stream of Christianity beginning with sixteenth-century Reformers such as Zwingli and Calvin, and defined by adherence to confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Standards.

Puritanism was a movement of British Christians from the 1560s through about 1700 that emphasized applying the biblical doctrines rediscovered in the Reformation to one’s personal life, family, church, and nation.

The Reformers (including Reformed and Lutheran Christians) called themselves “evangelicals” in the sixteenth century because God has restored to the church the biblical gospel (“evangel”) of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for the glory of God alone. The term continues to be used today.

b. Doctrine of preparation (Is this doctrine biblical? How is it different from the so-called preparationism?)

The doctrine of preparation is the idea that God’s general way of bringing sinners to Christ is to awaken them to a sense of their spiritual need before they trust in Christ to save them. Preparationism is really a term used to accuse someone of legalism based on the idea that sinners can (or must) work themselves up to a level of spirituality in order to be prepared for salvation. The doctrine of preparation is biblical, as long as we remember that God works in a variety of ways with various people. Christ came not to save people who think that they are righteous, but people who by the Holy Spirit’s conviction know they are sinners (Luke 5:32). Preparationism is unbiblical, for sinners are born again by grace alone, and justified by faith alone (Gal. 2:16).

c. Conversion (Is it a one-time event or a process? How is it distinct from regeneration?)

Regeneration is the miraculous event where God brings a person from spiritual death to spiritual life by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5). Conversion is the experience and process of change where a person turns from his former beliefs and practices that were against God towards the Lord. Conversion can be viewed narrowly to refer to the first motions of faith and repentance, or more broadly as a process, and in its broadest sense it includes a lifelong process of change. Regeneration takes place in a moment, but that moment may not be easily recognized by a person for the Spirit’s work is mysterious (John 3:8).

d. Legal repentance & evangelical repentance

Legal repentance is the outward change of behavior based on guilt over sin and fear of God’s punishment. Evangelical repentance is a saving grace from God, in which a sinner out of a true sense of the evil of his sin, taking hold of God’s promise of mercy in Jesus Christ, does with grief and hatred of his sin turn from it to God, with sincere intention and working to perform a new obedience.

e. Legalism & antinomianism

Legalism is resistance against Christ the only Mediator by putting something in his place as our Prophet, Priest, and King. It has many forms. It can involve adding anything to Christ’s Word as the standard for true belief, obedience, or worship (against Christ as our Prophet), adding anything to Christ’s obedience and death as our justification and righteousness before God (against Christ as our Priest), or adding anything to Christ’s power as the effective cause of our sanctification (against Christ as our King).

Antinomianism, which means being against God’s law, is actually a form of legalism. It may replace obedience to Christ’s laws with an unbiblical mysticism. Or it may reject Christ’s power to save all in union with him not only from the condemnation of their sins, but also the reigning power of their sins. Either way, Antinomianism tries to use Christ as an excuse not to follow Christ’s Word by Christ’s power.

 

2. In the minds of the Puritans what is God’s ordinary way of causing sinners to come to the point of believing in Christ alone for salvation? Were the Puritans united in their view of the doctrine of preparation for saving grace?

After researching the views of many theologians on this subject, Dr. Beeke and I concluded that the Puritan tradition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was united around a belief in preparation for conversion. In every case we examined, the Puritans taught that before God brings a person to saving faith in Christ, he works a conviction of sin and humbling sense of one’s inability to save himself. Even when a Puritan writer critiqued another Puritan’s view of preparation, the difference was in the details, not the core doctrine. We also discovered that in cases where scholars have thought a Reformed writer was attacking preparation, in fact the writer was attacking the Roman Catholic view, not that shared among the Puritans.

 

3. Why do you think pastors should spend time studying the doctrine of preparation? How is this doctrine important to the ministry?

I would not make this doctrine central to pastoral ministry and the life of the church, for that place belongs to the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, the doctrine of preparation is important, especially for those called to preach, teach, and counsel the Word. If you are planning to preach a message especially to the lost, should you speak only of God’s love and Christ’s grace, or should you also speak of God’s law and man’s violation of the commandments? If a person comes to you for counsel because he is experiencing a sense of guilt and fear of damnation, what do you say to him? Do you tell him to brush it off as unhealthy or inconsistent with God’s love? Do you tell him that if he feels guilty and cleans up his life then he must already be saved? These are the kinds of practical questions that the doctrine of preparation addresses, for it teaches us that the condemning power of the law to produce guilt and fear is helpful in evangelism, but in itself cannot save. Only the gospel is the instrument of saving faith. Preparation also helps us to appreciate (and pray for) the work of the Holy Spirit even before regeneration, for it is the Spirit who convicts of sin (John 16:8). Thus the doctrine honors the triune God.

 

4. On page 7, you state with your co-author, “Though we affirm the fundamentals of the Puritan doctrine of preparation, we do not always agree with the details of each Puritan’s way of working out the implications of this doctrine.” In what areas do you disagree with the Puritan doctrine of preparation? And please name some Puritans with whom you are not comfortable as far as this doctrine is concerned.

The most significant area of disagreement would be the idea that a person must experience such a level of humbling over his sins that he is content to be damned by God if God so chooses. It seems that Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepard taught this, but it was rejected by the mainstream of Puritanism. The Bible nowhere teaches such a thing. We must acknowledge that God could in all justice damn us to hell for our sins, but that is far from being content to be damned. Rather, we should long for salvation. Another concern is that some Puritans such as Hooker may have become imbalanced in their preaching, emphasizing the guilt and fear of preparation so strongly and so long that they temporarily obscured the free offer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We always want to urge sinners to come to Christ immediately and not seek any other qualification than the gospel call itself. There are also other theological caveats and qualifications that we make about the Puritan view of preparation in the last chapter of the book. However, we were encouraged to find that most Puritans had a very biblical and balanced approach to evangelism. Hooker himself said, “The Lord proclaims his mercy openly, freely offers it, heartily intends it, waits to communicate [share] it, lays siege to the soul by his long sufferance: there is enough to procure all good, distrust it not: he freely invites, fear it not, thou mayest be bold to go: he intends it heartily, question it not: yet he is waiting and wooing, delay it not therefore, but hearken to his voice.”

 

5. What projects are you currently working on?

I am editing the second volume of The Works of William Perkins, his exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. That is a very satisfying project, for it is full of gospel truth and was written by a premier Reformed and Puritan author. I am also working with Dr. Beeke on another co-authored book, The Holy Fear of John Bunyan. Bunyan’s life and teaching on the fear of the Lord are remarkably beautiful and God-honoring, and so the research has strengthened my soul, and I hope it will do the same for others.

 

__________

Paul Smalley is a member of Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. He served as a pastor for twelve years, and presently works as a teaching assistant to Dr. Joel Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

Interview Puritan Reformer