Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reformed or not Reformed? - Happy Reformation Day!

Today is celebrated by some as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted 95 theses questioning indulgences on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. This act accelerated the Reformation in Germany and elsewhere. 

Before recommending some resources for remembering the Reformation, I would like to offer some thoughts on the term 'reformed' as applied to modern Christians who believe in the sovereignty of God, election, perseverance of the Saints…etc. My dad and I have had several talks about this term.  To put it plainly, we do not like the term. The Reformation was about reforming back to the Bible, God's Word, as the so-called 'church' had strayed from that foundation.  I was born into a Christian family, we go to a church that is Biblically grounded, so we have no need to reform, but rather focus on conforming to God's Word.  The word 'Reformed' always points back to the Reformation, and the doctrines that the 'reformers' rediscovered.  As Christians, ought we not to base our beliefs on the Bible, God's Word, and those doctrines that have been in that book for 2000 + years?  By focusing too much on the people God used and the books they wrote about the Bible, we are in danger of doing what the Catholic Church did and end up revering men as objects of worship and holding the books of those Reformers, Puritans and Modern Reformed people as a replacement for the Bible itself.  Ironically, we will need to reform the Reformed.   

My dad believes that 'Biblicist' is a better term for Christians than 'Reformed'.  It makes sense doesn't it? Instead of insinuating that our doctrine is that of the Saints rediscovery of a particular era, we should particularly associate ourselves with the authoritative Word of God.  Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards are mere men, who made mistakes(yes, even in Biblical Interpretation), they were not the originators of truth, they were merely focusing on studying the Word of God as we should be doing.   

L. S. Chafer makes a good point:  "It is a bad indication when, in any period, men will so exalt their confessions that they force the Scriptures to a secondary importance, illustrated in one era, when as Tulloch remarks: 'Scripture as a witness, disappeared behind the Augsburg Confession" ...No decrees of councils; no ordinances of synods; no "standard" of doctrines; no creed or confession, is to be urged as authority in forming the opinions of men. They may be valuable for some purposes, but not for this; they may be referred to as interesting parts of history, but not to form the faith of Christians; they may be used in the church to express its belief, not to form it."  And no, I do not agree with Chafer on everything as I do not agree with his interpretation on certain things, but the statement above is an excellent summary of the point that I am trying to make.  Let us get back to the Bible, not back to the Reformers.  

All of this is not to say that I don't appreciate these men.  I do!  I love reading about God's usage of them, and like to read their writings.  I just want to be wary of focusing more on the instruments God used more than God Himself and His Word.  We do not need to know about the Reformers or their writings in order to discover the Truth as we have the Word of God. 

My favorite books about the Reformation are Jean Henri Merle D'Aubigne's History of theReformation of the Sixteenth Century and the sequel to that work, "TheHistory of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin."  He does a pretty good job of keeping the focus on God's Word rather than on the men God used.  His aim is to show God's working in History.   

Also would recommend a 1980s movie on Luther entitled, Martin Luther: Heretic.  The music is horrifically cheesy at parts, but the acting is okay.  I was surprised at how much this movie actually dealt with Luther's discovering Biblical salvation, rather than just focusing on His discovery of the love of God as other movies do.  They even dealt with his excited finding of the Greek word for repentance, and what means: changing one's mind, which was against the Latin translation: 'do penance'.  The biggest complaint I would have about this movie is that it is too short (only about 70 minutes).  We got the dvd for free from just had to pay for shipping and handling), and it looks as though they still have that deal:
Today let us thank God for convicting Martin Luther of sin, for giving him faith in His Word that tells the true way to be saved, and for the grace to act upon what he believed. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Merle D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin

If you liked The History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, you'll be as excited as I was at finding out that there is a sequel, and a long sequel at that(8 Volumes). "The History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin". The sad thing is that Merle D'Aubigne didn't live long enough to finish it. But he did get a lot done. In this history, we'll return to France, Germany, Switzerland and visit some new places, including: England, Scotland, Italy, Spain and Geneva.

What do you think of when you think of Geneva in connection with the Reformation? Calvin? The Geneva Bible? What about a fight for a Republic based on a constitution? That is where D'aubigne begins this work. Calvin isn't even at Geneva yet, nor has it been reformed. There is an evil bishop trying to gain control over the Republic, and there are disputes between the liberals and conservatives about giving up their liberties. If you find the History of the American Revolution interesting, then you might find this fight of Genevese to keep their political liberties interesting. In the midst of this violent political struggle in Geneva, the Gospel beings to enter and do its work among the people. Calvin doesn't come for quite a while, and even when he does, he his ejected from the city only to return later.

"What was the soul of the Reformation ? Truly, salvation by faith in Christ, who died to save - truly, the renewal of the heart by the word and the Spirit of God. But side by side with these supreme elements, that are found in all the Reformations, we meet with the secondary elements that have existed in one country and not in another. What we discover at Geneva may possibly deserve to fix the attention of men in our own days: the characteristic of the Genevese Reform is liberty.

If the empire of Charles V. Was the largest theatre in modern history, Geneva was the smallest. In the one case we have a vast empire, in the other a microscopical republic. But the smallness of the theatre serves to bring out more prominently the greatness of the actions: only superficial minds turn with contempt form a sublime drama because the stage is narrow and the representation void of pomp. To study great things in the small is one of the most useful exercises. What I have in view - and this is my apology - is not to describe a petty city of the Alps, for that would not be worth the labor; but to study in that city a history which is in the main a reflection of Europe, - of its sufferings, its struggles, its aspirations, its political liberties, and its religious transformations...

It is in this small republic that we find men remarkable for their devotion to liberty, for their attachment to law, for the boldness of their thoughts, the firmness of their character, and the strength of their energy. In the sixteenth century, after a repose of some hundreds of years, humanity having recovered its powers, like a field that had long lain fallow, displayed almost everywhere the marvels of the most luxuriant vegetation. Geneva is indeed the smallest theatre of this extraordinary fermentation; but it was not the least in heroism and grandeur, and on that ground alone it deserves attention."

We will also reencounter William Farel and follow him in his perilous mission to preach the Gospel in Switzerland and thence to Geneva. We'll meet again with Marguerite De Navarre, and see her struggle with trying to support the preaching of the Gospel and yet please her brother the King of France at the same time. As D'Aubigne points out in contrasting Calvin and Marguerite, "while Calvin desires truth in the Church above all things, Margaret clings to the preservation of its unity, and thus becomes a noble representative of a system still lauded by some protestants - to reform the Church without breaking it up: a specious system, impossible to be realized." You'll be taken back in time to the beginnings of the preaching of the Gospel in England, Ireland and Scotland. And then go back to the Sixteenth century and see the King of England, his troubles with divorcing his wife Catherine, marrying Anne, her subsequent execution, the break with the Catholic Church...etc. D'aubigne will peak in at Luther and Melanchthon here and there too.

All in all it is just as good as his former work, and introduces more obscure, yet interesting, characters I had never heard of before.

Here are the links to the free versions:  Volume 1  Volume 2  Volume 3  Volume 4  Volume 5  Volume 6  Volume 7  Volume 8

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic - By Mark David Hall

Who is Roger Sherman?  The name sounded vaguely familiar to me but didn't bring up any definite information in my head. I understood that he had something important to do with the founding of our nation.  What interested me in this book was that it appeared to be an argument against an exclusively secular interpretation of the founding documents.  "Historians are better than political scientists and law professors at recognizing that faith mattered to many Americans in the founding era, but even they have a tendency to treat America's founders as deists who embraced a rationalist approach to politics and who embraced secular documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…"  Hall points out that, when discussing the founders' views of the separation of Church and State, people normally look at a select group of the most famous founders.  He believes that this is not the best course of action as, "these men are not representative of the founders as a whole." 

The more I read, the more interesting Rodger Sherman himself became to me.  Sherman was the only founding father who signed and helped create all what are probably the most important documents in the formation of America:  The Declaration and Resolves, the Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and also helped with the Bill of Rights.   This book is not really a biography, though it is biographical. Using Sherman as the primary example, the author makes a compelling case that many of the founders were Calvinistic/Reformed or that that was their religious background, and he demonstrates how their views of government were impacted/formed by their religious beliefs.  Hall states that, "Within a generation of Calvin, virtually every reformed civil and ecclesiastical leader was convinced that the Bible taught that governments should be limited, that they should be based on the consent of the governed, that rulers should promote the common good and the Christian faith, and that unjust or ungodly rulers should be resisted or even overthrown."   It is observed that this political Calvinism was more influenced by Theodore Beza and David Pareus than John Calvin.   

Sherman did not believe that he was disobeying God by going against England, being "convinced from a relatively early date that Parliament's constitutional authority extended only to geographical areas represented in the body."  Having no representation in that governing body, he believed that colonies were their own governments.  And as the King was not doing his duty of protecting them, he believed that they were not obligated to remain loyal to him.  When it came to the formation of a new government, he believed that man was innately sinful, not basically good, and so was for limited government with checks and balances, and was very much for states' self-government in the making of the United States.  It was very interesting to read about some of the debates that took place in the drafting of our ruling documents. Sherman and other 'Reformed' Founders were significant participants in the  founding of our nation, and so deserve more attention in our examination of its principal documents. Hall makes the significant point that "Sherman, like Thomas Jefferson, authored a significant state law concerning religious liberty, and, unlike Jefferson, he participated in debates on the First Amendment.  It is therefore striking that when Supreme Court justices have used history to interpret the First Amendment's religion clauses, they have made 112 distinct references to Jefferson but have mentioned Sherman only three times."

This book was well written and, in a way, riveting.  It was very exciting to learn of what type of men God used to form the United States of America.  Even though it was more of an overview and not very long, Hall does a great job of making a good argument in a small space.    On a side note, I was fascinated to discover that Jonathan Edwards Jr. (son of sr.) became Sherman's pastor, and that Sherman "remained supportive of Jonathan Edwards Jr. after most of his church abandoned him."  

I highly recommend this book to those interested in the history of the U. S. A.  To end this review, here is one more quote from the book:  "Like their descendants, Puritans were concerned with "liberty", but it is critical to recognize that they never understood the concept to include the excessively individualistic idea that men and women are free to do anything except physically harm others.  They distinguished between liberty and personal license.  Puritans were primarily interested with freedom from sin, but they also understood liberty as the ability of a people to govern themselves and to do what God requires of them."
Many thanks to Oxford University Press for sending me a free review copy of this book(My review did not have to be favorable).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When God Spoke Greek - By Timothy Michael Law

What Bible did the Apostles use to teach and evangelize the Gentiles and Hellenized Jews who spoke Greek?  What did they use when they wrote their epistles?  Many of them(if not all) used a Greek translation of the Hebrew, commonly called The Septuagint.  In this book the author, Timothy Michael Law,  explains the Septuagint's possible origins and talks about the significant differences that are found between this translation and the text of Hebrew manuscripts that we can reference.   This part of the book was what I was most looking forward to, where he would deal with the Apostles quotations from this version against what our Hebrew text says.  One of the most significant examples is found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10 verse 5, where the writer is proving the sufficiency and necessity of Christ's sacrifice by quoting a portion of Psalm 40:  "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, But a BODY didst thou prepare for me…"(Heb 10:5 ASV emphasis added) But if you turn to Psalm 40:6 in basically any Old Testament of a Christian Bible, or any Tanakh(vs. 7 in the JPS), It will read something along these lines:  "Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in; MINE EARS HAST THOU OPENED: Burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required."(Psa 40:6 ASV emphasis added) This rendition takes away the prophetic statement about the Messiah's coming in the flesh.  So either the translators of the Septuagint mistranslated this verse or someone miscopied the Hebrew, and I believe it to be the latter case. As Law explains, "The Hebrew Bible in the editions we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text…in many cases the Septuagint provides the only access we have to the oldest form." 

Timothy Law is pushing for a greater knowledge of the Septuagint amongst Christians, it being the Bible of the Apostles and of the early Church.   As Law states, "The prejudice in the contemporary Church in favor of the rabbinic Hebrew Bible is startling, but not unexpected given that Christian educational institutions teach future scholars and clergy the Old Testament exclusively from the Hebrew Bible, relegating the Septuagint to the sidelines of an upper-level elective course.  Students thus graduate from schools that teach Christian history and theology without ever considering that the scriptures used by the New Testament writers and the first Old Testament of the Church is not the Hebrew Bible they spent time and money to study."  I completely concur with him in this, but our assumptions move on from that belief in contradictory ways. Having been looking into the Apostles' use of the Septuagint for a year or two now, I was very excited about this book, but have been disappointed to a degree that I did not expect.  This may sound odd, but I was extremely disappointed that Timothy Law turned out to be unbiased towards the Apostle's(I thought he was a professing Christian).  From the beginning of the book and on the reader will  find statements like this, "We can also see that the New testament authors sometimes use Septuagint readings we know to be mistranslations of the Hebrew, an unsettling reality but a reality nonetheless." and again, "….it is not insignificant that the apostle Paul and his later interpreters in the early church will employ these mistranslations in the reformation of Christian theology." 

Mr. Law contradicts himself by those statements. He talks about how there was a plurality of variant readings in the Biblical texts in the days of the Apostles and so they could "choose whichever reading best suited their purposes to open up new avenues for biblical interpretation" but makes statements like "We also sometimes see the New Testament authors quoting what is unquestionably the Septuagint's mistranslation of the Hebrew, which is not to say they are 'wrong' by doing so…"  These statements are quite confusing…the Apostles were right to use an 'unquestionably wrong' translation from a random manuscript among an alleged plurality of texts, any one of which could be right?  And yet, despite not knowing what Hebrew manuscript the LXX translators used, and apparently ignoring the fact of the admitted antiquity of these translators' manuscripts,  Mr. Law makes a judgment call and says they were wrong.  I don't buy it.  And also  his statements about Matthew's use of the prophecy of the virgin birth are shocking(Matt 1:23, Isa. 7:14):  "The Greek Septuagint and not the Hebrew Bible gives Matthew the textual 'proof' to connect Jesus to the prophecy."  And this conclusion is apparently reached because the Hebrew word in our Hebrew texts allegedly does not mean 'virgin' but 'young girl', and since WE don't know of any ancient Hebrew manuscripts that read 'virgin' then the LXX translators didn't have one either.  Again, this reasoning is absurd.  Law states, "they were told in Greek that Jesus fulfilled the Greek Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint."  And we are just supposed to assume that the majority of Hebrew texts(or all of them) in the days of Christ and the Apostles did not support Christianity. 

Mr. Law seems to be okay with the idea that Christ and the Apostles fabricated Christianity, but I am not.  And therefore, I cannot recommend this book.   

I am very grateful to Oxford University Press for the review copy of this book(my review did not have to be favorable), and am very disappointed that I could not give it a good review.