A Proud Calvinist

In May of 2009 Dr. Joel Beeke and I were in the Philippines to attend a conference on reformed theology in which Dr. Beeke was the speaker. During the Q&A session one of the delegates asked, “Can you be a Calvinist and at the same time proud?” To this question Dr. Beeke initially replied, “To be a Calvinist and proud at the same time is an oxymoron.”proud calvinist

Indeed, a proud Calvinist is a combination of two terms that have opposite meanings. A true Calvinist is one who humbly submits to God’s sovereignty. A proud person is one who places himself above God. A Calvinist prays with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” A proud person prays with the Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11-13).

I think the aforementioned question arose out of a concern that some of those who have discovered Calvinistic theology have become proud of themselves. What does a proud Calvinist look like?

  1. A proud Calvinist looks down on those who are not Calvinists. He thinks that he is superior to them. And when he refutes their unscriptural doctrines, he does so very sarcastically. He acts like the unbelieving criminal, who railed at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! (Luke 23:39). Likewise, when he defends his faith, he does so with harshness and disrespect. This proud Calvinist should learn from Peter: “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
  1. A proud Calvinist brags about his collection of reformed books. He gathers books for his self-glorification, rather than for his sanctification and God’s splendor. John Bunyan calls this kind of sin “the pride of the library.”[1] According to Bunyan, this particular sin is committed:

When men secretly please themselves to think it is known what a stock of books they have; or when they take more pleasure in the number of, than the matter contained in their books.

When they buy books rather to make up a number, than to learn to be good and godly men thereby.

When, though they own their books to be good and godly, yet they will not conform thereto.[2]

 

  1. A proud Calvinist is only concerned with theology (the study of God); he does not care about piety (the practice of godliness). For instance, with great diligence he reads a lot of books on reformed theology but only to increase his knowledge, so that he can show to others how theologically intellectual he is. This proud Calvinist should realize that the Reformers as well as the Puritans did not only write to inform the head (know God) but to touch the heart (love God) and move the hands (serve God). In fact, the very purpose of John Calvin in writing the Institutes, his great theological work, was “solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.”[3] In short, Calvin wrote to promote what John Murray called “intelligent piety,” spirituality that is rooted in Scripture. In Calvinism, theology and piety are inseparable. The study of God prompts the practice of godliness.

Are you a proud Calvinist? Does your study of reformed theology produce piety in your Christian life? Does your study make you love Christ more and hate sin more? Pray with Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.” Remember, a true Calvinist is marked by piety not pride, humility not haughtiness.

 

 

                 [1] John Bunyan, “A Holy Life,” in The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan, vol. 9, gen. ed. Roger Sharrock (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), 324.

                 [2] Bunyan, “A Holy Life,” 324.

                 [3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1:9.

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Martin Luther’s Influence on My Prayer Life

I was once interviewed about my co-edited book Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011). The interviewer asked me this question: Which one of these godly men has influenced your prayers the most. Here’s my reply:takinghold-3d

 

Allow me to give you two: Martin Luther (one from the Reformers) and John Bunyan (one from the Puritans). These two men have profoundly shaped my spirituality, particularly my prayer life. For example, they taught me to maintain the priority of prayer. Luther once said, “I have so much scheduled for tomorrow I must pray for that I must arise an hour earlier to have an extra hour alone with God” (p. 224). Similarly, Bunyan wrote, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed” (p. 231). How often we do the opposite and only set apart a little time to pray because we are too busy in our work. May we capture the prayer life of Luther who “Even in the busiest periods of the Reformation,” says Andrew W. Kosten, “averaged two hours of prayer daily” (p. 24). And how true that we accomplish little because we do not pray to God for help. This is basically the point of James: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). I am more and more convinced that behind the effectiveness of these men in the ministry was their powerful prayer life.

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A Brief Purpose of “The Very Heart of Prayer”

The purpose of my book is twofold:  first, to demonstrate that while John Bunyan (1628-1668) historically belonged to the sectarian world, he can still rightly be considered a Puritan; and Book on Bunyan (picture)second, to reclaim Bunyan from scholars who not only dispute his identity as a Puritan but also overlook his rich and peculiar spirituality.

The volume has only three chapters. Chapter 1 carefully explores Bunyan’s religious identity, leading to the conclusion that he may be labeled a sectarian Puritan. Chapter 2 critically examines his theology of prayer, one important aspect of his spirituality. In this segment, I particularly scrutinize Bunyan’s treatise I will pray with the Spirit (1662). The analysis of this treatise shows Bunyan’s radical emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work in prayer. It also shows both Bunyan’s sectarianism and Puritanism. Chapter 3 probes his teaching on piety, as found in A Holy Life (1684). This chapter demonstrates that Bunyan’s goal in all of his life was the pursuit and promotion of piety. Sadly, some scholars who put Bunyan within a sectarian context not only suspect his identity as a Puritan but also slight his rich spirituality. Chapter 3 seeks to recover Bunyan from such scholars who depreciate his piety.

I hope my work will create a thirst among readers to pray more—to pray with the Spirit, which for Bunyan is “the very heart of Prayer.”

Note: If you purchase a copy of my book from Reformation Heritage Books, you save $5.00.

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Prayer—“the hardest work of all”

Studying the subject of prayer has made me more aware of two basic truths: first, because of my indwelling sin, my soul acts unfriendly toward prayer; and second, because of my indwelling sin, I absolutely need the Holy Spirit’s assistance in order for me to pray.

Prayer is such a difficult work that it requires strong discipline. Martin Luther (1483-1546) is not exaggerating when he declares that prayer is “the hardest work of all.” I am not embarrassed to admit that sometimes I find it more enjoyable to play basketball than to pray to God. Sometimes prayer becomes more of a burden than a joy to me. Writing in his treatise I Will Pray with the Spirit (1662), John Bunyan (1628-1688) understands what I mean here when he says:

May I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you poor, blind, carnal men, to entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so loath [unwilling] to go to God, and when it is with him, so loath [unwilling] to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers; first to beg of God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there (Psalm 86:11). Nay, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only (blessed be grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities [Rom. 8:26].    

Michael Haykin, commenting on this quote, notes, “From personal experience, Bunyan well knew the allergic reaction of the old nature to the presence of God. So were it not for the Spirit, none would be able to persevere in prayer.” Since my indwelling sin makes me unfriendly and even ignorant towards the necessity of prayer, I desperately need the help of the Spirit. Why? Because in the words of Bunyan, a “man without the help of the Spirit cannot so much as pray once; much less, continue…in a sweet praying frame.”

O my blessed Holy Spirit give me more grace to pray!

 

 

 

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New Book on John Bunyan (1628-1688)

The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming the Spirituality of John Bunyan

 

“Najapfour advances a well-researched thesis that Bunyan was in fact a sectarian Puritan. While Bunyan was not a Puritan in the sense of a reformer within the Church of England, Najapfour demonstrates that Bunyan embraced a Reformed and Puritan spirituality—godliness empowered by biblical truth. Not only does Najapfour bridge the gap between scholarly and pious readings of Bunyan, but he also explores Bunyan’s view of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and godliness in a way that enriches our minds and souls.”

—Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

__________________________________________________

“Brian Najapfour has provided the church with a helpful introduction to Bunyan’s spirituality. I commend this book, and more importantly Bunyan himself, as a conversation partner for all evangelicals who desire a Word-centered, Spirit-led, gospel-driven spirituality.”

—Dr. Nathan A. Finn, Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

__________________________________________________

“This new study by Brian Najapfour opens up to us Puritan views on what it means to pray in the Spirit and how deeper godliness is to be sought. Here we have solid help from some of Bunyan’s lesser known devotional writings. Those who are seeking serious godliness in our own times will find a good deal to help them in this book.”

—Rev. Maurice Roberts, Minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, Scotland, and former editor of Banner of Truth magazine.

____________________________________________________

“A blend of history, biography, and practical theology, Najapfour’s book will be of profit to anyone who wants to learn more about either the life and times of the remarkable John Bunyan or about prayer.”

—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

____________________________________________________

To purchase this book, click here.

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FORTHCOMING BOOK: The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming the Spirituality of John Bunyan

Forthcoming book: The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming the Spirituality of John Bunyan

“Najapfour advances a well-researched thesis that Bunyan was in fact a sectarian Puritan. While Bunyan was not a Puritan in the sense of a reformer within the Church of England, Najapfour demonstrates that Bunyan embraced a Reformed and Puritan spirituality—godliness empowered by biblical truth. Not only does Najapfour bridge the gap between scholarly and pious readings of Bunyan, but he also explores Bunyan’s view of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and godliness in a way that enriches our minds and souls.”

—Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

__________________________________________________

“Brian Najapfour has provided the church with a helpful introduction to Bunyan’s spirituality. I commend this book, and more importantly Bunyan himself, as a conversation partner for all evangelicals who desire a Word-centered, Spirit-led, gospel-driven spirituality.”

—Dr. Nathan A. Finn, Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

__________________________________________________

“This new study by Brian Najapfour opens up to us Puritan views on what it means to pray in the Spirit and how deeper godliness is to be sought. Here we have solid help from some of Bunyan’s lesser known devotional writings. Those who are seeking serious godliness in our own times will find a good deal to help them in this book.”

—Rev. Maurice Roberts, Minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, Scotland, and former editor of Banner of Truth magazine.

____________________________________________________

“A blend of history, biography, and practical theology, Najapfour’s book will be of profit to anyone who wants to learn more about either the life and times of the remarkable John Bunyan or about prayer.”

—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

_______________________________________________

Brian G. Najapfour holds a Th.M. in Historical Theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS). From 2001 until his coming to PRTS in 2006, Najapfour served as a pastor in the Philippines. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is co-editor (along with Joel R. Beeke) of Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer. He is married to Sarah J. Najapfour.

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An Interview with Roger D. Duke about his co-edited book Venture All for God: Piety in the Writings of John Bunyan. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011, 194 pp., paperback.

Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed. As an admirer of John Bunyan, I am pleased to see a new book on Bunyan that especially highlights his spirituality.

Here are some of my questions for you about your co-edited work:

 

  1. The book focuses on the piety of Bunyan. What do you exactly mean by the word piety, especially since the term is rarely used today? Is this term different from the word spirituality? Also, what is central to Bunyan’s piety?    

Piety– We mean by piety, something very similar to the Free Merriam-Webster (online) Dictionary meanings: 1) The quality or state of being pious: a) fidelity to natural obligations (as to religions or God), b) dutifulness in religion, i.e. devotion to a religion or religious ideals, 2) an act of inspired by piety, 3) a conventional belief or standard such as orthodoxy.

Truly it is our belief that Bunyan was an orthodox Christian who was a totally devoted follower of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the main purposes of our contribution to this Reformation Heritage Books series was the belief that Bunyan was one who demonstrated true piety towards God because of persecution in such a politically turbulent time. This is demonstrated by the extracted works in the second half of the volume.

Spirituality-Please allow me an anecdotal observation on this concept of spirituality. I have been in the classroom teaching World Religions for about fourteen years. There is spirituality in all of the major world religions. That is, there is a sense that most devotees have a sense of the “other” or the “divine” or a sense in which there is a spiritual realm or world beyond ours.

What I talk about in my classes, for I teach classes with person from all of the world religions in them, is that we are all spiritual.  We have a sense that there is a higher and better in humanity than the animal kingdom. This entire discussion is “teased out” under the Image of God Christian concept. Then I bring to the discussion that we are all made intrinsically to worship. And that we all do worship something or someone. But generally the object of our affection ends up looking like us, or something that can be seen with the eyes, or fashioned with our hands, or can be held in our hands. There is a sense in which “spirituality” has seen a recent revival. But it is not a Christian spirituality. This small Bunyan contribution, we believe, speaks to that.

What is central to Bunyan’s piety: Here I am speaking for myself alone. It seems to me that Bunyan was overwhelmingly concerned with being “right with God” and then “having an assurance” of that right standing with God. When one does just a cursory reading of his Grace Abounding this is so very easily seen. Secondly, the persecution of the non-conformist of his day put him in a position where he had to decide personally whether or not to pay the price for his convictions even to the point of spending years in imprison. This time of persecution defined and deepened, from my perspective, his deeply pious commitment to Christ and to preach his Gospel at whatever it might cost him.

 

Note: Roger D. Duke, a professor at Union University, would like to inform his readers that his answers do not necessarily speak for his co-editor Dr. Phil A. Newton.

To continue reading the interview, click here.

 

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