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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A Sketch of Christian Spirituality: From the Patristic Period to the Evangelical Era (Part 2 of 5)

Different Forms of Spirituality

The discourse of Christian spirituality may be grouped denominationally into four categories: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical spiritualities. In this essay however, the following historical approach will be followed: patristic, medieval, Protestant, and Evangelical spiritualities.

 

Patristic Spirituality  

William Harmless, a member of the Society of Jesus and professor of historical theology and patristic studies at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, has noted: “The Church Fathers rarely discuss ‘spirituality’ separate from biblical interpretation or doctrinal debate or liturgical mystagogy. For them, Christian theology was all of a piece.”[1]

The eminent Catholic historian Robert Louis Wilken, an early Christianity expert, also supports this statement. In his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Wilken contends that the essence of early Christian thinking was “Seeking the Face of God,” derived from Psalm 105:4, which is the subtitle of his book. Wilken observes that the intellectual work of the church fathers “was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to change their lives.”[2] In other words, the ultimate end of the pre-medieval thinkers in searching the Bible was not to produce a set of dogma, but to lead people “to holiness of life.”[3] For the church fathers life and doctrine were integrally connected and the “goal of life came to be understood as likeness to Christ.”[4]

Wilken’s purpose in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought is to show the spirituality of the church fathers through their apologetical writings. Wilken asserts that “[w]hether the task at hand was the defense of Christian belief to an outsider, the refutation of the views of a heretic, or the exposition of a passage from the Bible, their [the church fathers’] intellectual work was always in service of praise and adoration of one God.”[5] For instance, the Christian philosopher and apologist Justin Martyr, in his polemical piece First Apology, demonstrates his spirituality. Written to the government as a plea for justice on behalf of Christians who were mistreated because of their faith, Justin states that sound “reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical [i.e. lovers of wisdom] to honour and love only what is true.”[6] Christians were being charged with crimes that were based on traditional and superstitious opinions and senseless rumors. Justin maintains that a truly pious person will not love such opinions and gossips, but the truth—and only the truth. For Justin, as well as for other church fathers, piety and truth are intertwined; they believed that piety is, in fact, rooted in the truth. In the last part of this treatise, Justin also stresses piety in worship, prayer, baptism and the Eucharist.

In his book, Wilken refers mostly to four church fathers: Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and Maximus the Confessor, because according to Wilken “in the early church these four stand out as the most rewarding, the most profound, and the most enduring.”[7] Wilken also quotes from the writings of the eighth century Christian authors such as John of Damascus, who is commonly regarded by some historians as the last church father.

When studying the church fathers, some patristic scholars are only concerned with the mind of these fathers, neglecting the heart of their spiritual life. As Wilken notices, “[T]he study of early Christian thought has been too preoccupied with ideas.”[8] Consequently, the reading of early Christian thinkers becomes boring to many. In contrast to these scholars, Wilken, while dealing with doctrines and debates, engages with the spiritual life of the church fathers. Wilken’s book is scholarly, and yet very devotional, doxological, and pastoral. Thus, this masterful piece can be read for both scholarly enrichment and spiritual enjoyment and profit.

Moreover, since Wilken, especially in the last two chapters of his book, gives special attention to patristic spirituality, it is a considerably useful resource for the study of the spirituality of the church fathers. In Wilken’s mind, one unique feature of patristic spirituality is thinking coupled with living. He singles out Gregory the Great for whom “union of life and thought, of contemplation and action, gives him an honored place among church fathers.” “For Gregory,” adds Wilken, “as for all the figures who have made an appearance in the pages of this book, thinking about the things of God, like grammar, was not an end in itself; its aim was the love of God and holiness of life. He [Gregory] did not construct a world of ideas for others to admire but one to live in.”[9] Further, Wilken mentions that often the treatises of the fathers “ended with a doxology to God, as in Augustine’s On the Spirit and the Letter: ‘to whom be glory forever. Amen.’” These early thinkers “wished not only to understand and express the dazzling truth they had seen in Christ, by thinking and writing they sought to know God more intimately and love him more ardently.”[10]

Despite the rich gleanings to be found in Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, it should be noted that Wilken is a former Lutheran convert to Roman Catholicism, and therefore, his interpretation and presentation of pre-medieval spirituality are shaded by his Catholic worldview. This Catholic bias does not mean, however, that protestant and evangelical readers cannot benefit from this great work. Rather, Wilken’s piece should be read with careful discernment.


[1] William Harmless, available from http://moses.creighton.edu/harmless/bibliographies_for_theology/Mysticism_2.htm; Internet; accessed 12 June 2012.

[2] Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (New Heaven: Yale University Press, 2003), xiv.

[3] Ibid., xxii.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 25.

[6] Justin Martyr , “First Apology,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, eds. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint, 1989), 163.

[7] Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, xix.

[8] Ibid., xiv

[9] Ibid., 313.

[10] Ibid., 25-26.

Patristic Spirituality Piety Spirituality

A Sketch of Christian Spirituality: From the Patristic Period to the Evangelical Era (Part 1 of 5)

Christian Spirituality: An Introduction, by Alister E. McGrath (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1999); 204 pages.

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, by Robert Louis Wilken (New Heaven: Yale University Press, 2003); 368 pages.

The Law of Love: English Spirituality in the Age of Wyclif, ed. and trans., David Lyle Jeffrey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988); 404 pages.

Puritan Reformed Spirituality, by Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004); 475 pages.

What A Friend We Have In Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition, by Ian Randall (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005); 230 pages.

 

In the course of the history of the church, from the patristic period to the present, various patterns of spirituality have been developed. Each of the books above, with the exception of McGrath’s Christian Spirituality: An Introduction, represents a certain type of spirituality. There are four major kinds of Christian spirituality that have evolved from the early Christian church to the present: patristic, medieval, Puritan Reformed, and Evangelical. Before I survey these various forms of spirituality, it is important to define the word “spirituality,” especially as this term is understood in diverse ways. For this task, McGrath is very helpful—a reason why his text has been included in this review article.

 

Definition of Spirituality

In the introductory chapter of his book Christian Spirituality, McGrath, head of the center for theology, religion and culture at King’s College, London, has done a remarkable job in defining and clarifying the complex term “spirituality.” McGrath first explains the term “spirituality” by stating that “Spirituality is the outworking in the real life of a person’s religious faith—what a person does with what they believe.”[1] Following this definition, he elucidates the more particular term “Christian spirituality,” writing that “Christian spirituality concerns the quest for a fulfilled and authentic Christian existence, involving the bringing together of the fundamental ideas of Christianity and the whole experience of living on the basis of and within the scope of the Christian faith.”[2]

While some writers use the terms “mysticism” and “spirituality” interchangeably, McGrath prefers to utilize the latter because the former “has so many unhelpful associations and misleading overtones that its continued use is problematic.”[3] Some Protestant writers, on the one hand, tend “to use terms such as ‘piety’ or ‘godliness’ to refer to what is now generally designated as ‘spirituality.’”[4] In this present essay, I will employ synonymously the terms “spirituality,” “piety,” and “godliness.”

As the title of his book indicates, McGrath deals with the types of spirituality that “ultimately flow from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[5] Any form of spirituality not rooted in Christ is therefore excluded in this book. However, since McGrath’s approach is neutral and inclusive, he presents certain kinds of spirituality that are not necessarily biblical such as that of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Yet this rightly serves the purpose of his book as an introduction to Christian spirituality. It should be noted that the book does not claim to be an introduction to biblical spirituality, but Christian spirituality.[6]

Chapter two discusses how the spirituality of one Christian can be affected by his personal character, geographical location, historical background, theological persuasion, and religious or denominational identity. For example, if one’s religion is Roman Catholic, his spirituality will be distinctly sacramental as the Catholic Church places considerable emphasis on the sacraments.[7] This truth is evident in the definition of spirituality by a prominent Catholic author William Reiser. For Reiser, spirituality “refers to the unfolding, day by day, of that fundamental decision to become or remain a Christian which we make at baptism, repeat at confirmation, and renew each time we receive the eucharist.”[8]

Spirituality may be distinguished from theology in that the former is about the experiential or practical aspects of faith, while the latter is about the theoretical aspects of faith. Yet, in chapter three, McGrath shows how these two are closely related: theology gives substance to spirituality; and spirituality gives life to theology. What a person believes (theology) affects the way he lives (spirituality). In chapter four, McGrath explores seven facets of Christian theology that he thinks have great effect on spirituality. They are: creation, human nature and destiny, the Trinity, incarnation, redemption, resurrection, and consummation.

McGrath’s book is an outstanding introduction to Christian spirituality. It is well-organized and easy to read. While especially designed for undergraduate students, advanced readers will also find it helpful. It is filled with quotes and references from patristic to modern Christian writers, showing McGrath’s great familiarity of the subject. One of the admirable features of the book is its aim to be fair in presenting various types of Christian spirituality. Hence, even if McGrath’s religious stance is Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant readers can still appreciate his work.

Nevertheless, the author’s desire to produce a neutral and inclusive introduction to Christian spirituality inevitably entails a problem. For instance, he is forced to use the biblical term “Christian” to apply to people who do not truly believe in the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Such people are members of the Catholic and Orthodox religions. Moreover, by trying to be impartial and ecumenical in his approach, he leaves some unorthodox forms of spirituality unrefuted (e.g. asceticism and monasticism). He also leaves some key elements of biblical spirituality unemphasized (e.g. the Bible, the cross, personal conversion, and evangelism).

 


[1] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ibid.

[6] For an excellent introduction to biblical spirituality, see Michael A. G. Haykin, The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical Spirituality (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2007).

[7] The Catholic Church has seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony; whereas the Protestants have only two: baptism and Lord’s Supper. For the Catholics, these sacraments are a special means for experiencing God’s saving grace. This Catholic teaching is rejected by the Protestants who believe that the only means of God’s saving grace is faith in Christ alone.

 [8] Cited in McGrath, Christian Spirituality, 15. The quote is taken from William Reiser, Looking for a God to Pray: Christian Spirituality in Transition (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), 2.

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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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“The Piety of Joseph Hart as Reflected in His Life, Ministry, and Hymns”

In June 5, 1768, John Hughes preached a sermon during the funeral service for his brother-in-law, Joseph Hart. In that sermon, which was based on 2 Timothy 4:7, the Baptist Hughes appealed four times to his audience to remember their dear and godly departed friend Hart: “O ye saints of God, he [Hart] has a right to be remembered of you all.” Indeed, Hart, regarded by one of his admirers as “the most spiritual of the English hymn-writers,” deserves to be remembered. Yet, sadly, today his name is almost forgotten. In fact, since 1910, no major biography has been written about him, and, since 1988, no major article on him has been published. His hymns, even among evangelical churches, are rarely sung. This article hopes to contribute to the study of Hart by examining his piety as reflected in his life, ministry, and hymns.

 

To continue reading the article, see Brian G. Najapfour, “The Piety of Joseph Hart as Reflected in His Life, Ministry, and Hymns,” Puritan Reformed Journal 4, no. 1 (2012): 201-22.

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An Interview with Joel R. Beeke about his book Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage. Cruciform Press, 2012, 96 pp., paperback.

Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed about your book that is filled with godly wisdom. As a newly married husband, I read this volume with great profit. I especially liked the biblical, pastoral, practical, honest, and balanced tone of your book.

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

  1. Can you please briefly explain why friendship and sexual intimacy are “two key ingredients in a vital marriage” (p. 8)?

From the beginning God designed marriage to be a bond of personal and sexual unity. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Cleaving (or clinging) expresses the commitment or bond of a shared life. One flesh expresses sexual intimacy. It is interesting that the desires of women tend to major on the bond of friendship, and the desires of men on the sexual bond. In reality we need both to make a vibrant marriage. There is something inexpressibly beautiful about making love with your spouse as your best friend, and sharing life with your lover.

 

  1. You say that “[f]ew books on marriage include even one chapter on friendship” (p. 13). Why do you think this is so?    

That’s a hard question to answer with certainty. Perhaps part of the reason is that we have become a culture obsessed with skills, but awkward about relationships. There are lots of books about how to find your dream mate, how to communicate well, how to make love well, how to avoid tragedy well, etc. But as a culture North Americans don’t seem to know how to “be together” well.

Another factor may be the negative influence of communications media. We have traded real friendships for superficial forms of intimacy flashing on screens both large and small. Social media allow people to network and share information at an unprecedented rate. These are useful tools for work and business. But they are no substitute to eating dinner together every night, talking about what’s going on in your hearts and lives, reading and discussing the Bible, and praying hand-in-hand in the presence of the living triune God.

 

To continue reading the interview, click here

Note: Friends and Lovers can be obtained from Reformation Heritage Books for the discount price of $7.00 plus postage.

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