Two Models of Christian Education

In his book Gospel & Wisdom, Graeme Goldsworthy makes a helpful comparison of two Christian education models:

In our twentieth-century western culture we can see at least two models of comprehensive Christian education in day schools. A more traditional model emerged when church and state were much more closely aligned than they are today. The curriculum mirrored the view of reality held by a society which was largely thought of as Christian. With the gradual secularizing of society and the breakdown of Christian values, the educational curriculum of many institutions simply followed the same process of secularization. A school chaplain and weekly religious instruction were all that marked the school out as Christian. The chaplain did his bit according to his convictions to try to inject a bit of Christianity into the pupil’s thinking. Meanwhile, a largely secular staff taught subjects from the same humanist perspectives as those which came to be established in state run schools. The traditional church-linked schools of today frequently exhibit this pattern. Such schools are often Christian in name only and in their being to some degree controlled by denominational synods or assemblies. There is no overall Christian view of reality underpinning their education processes.

A relatively new phenomenon is the independent Christian school often organized on the ‘parent-controlled’ principle. This is a deliberate move by Christians to break the stranglehold on education of a secular humanist state. Two distinct issues are involved. One is the right of Christian parents to control the education of their children. The other is the importance of a distinctly Christian view of reality. Some Christian schools have successfully established a measure of parental control within the limits of a state imposed standard, but find the development of a curriculum which embraces the whole of education within a Christian framework a much more difficult matter. Christian educators are being forced to ask whether being Christian affects in any marked way the approach we should adopt to teaching science, language, the humanities and mathematics. It is recognized that making Bible knowledge a full compulsory subject, teaching creation as an alternative model of origins to evolution, and using the Bible as a reading text, does not necessarily make the curriculum Christian. But what, after all, is a Christian approach to mathematics, or to the study of Japanese or Indonesian? The task is not so much to make these subjects somehow religious in themselves, as to find their relationship to an integrated Christian interpretation of the world and of our place in it. I suggest that the wisdom literature of the Bible has something to teach us here.

—Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy pg. 480-482

When the closeness of church and state that gave rise to model #1 no longer exists, I think that model needs to go.

Goldsworthy’s observation, made in 1987, is still true today: church-linked schools follow this pattern. They willingly go with the flow of society into secularization. Indeed, they are expected to conform. The distinction between “Christian school” and state school blurs to nothing. You wouldn’t know they were Christian apart from the school’s name (possibly) or the church in the nearby vicinity. They do not fight to maintain Christian theology as the basis for education, nor do they intentionally integrate the subjects into a comprehensive Christian perspective. As a result, what they learn in the school proceeds from an antithetical basis to what they learn at church or home, leading to a dichotomized life.

Christians should know better. They should know that requiring a “religion” class where they learn the Bible is not enough. It does not make the education philosophy, the curriculum, or the school Christian. Who is going to ask the all important question: what is the foundation? I actually don’t know if there are any model #2 schools in this country, schools that are independent and controlled by Christian parents. It is in fact the responsibility of Christian parents to educate their children in a fundamentally religious way. However, that requires an understanding of the covenantal basis for education. Considering how covenant (Reformed) theology is doing in this country, that’s doubtful. Apart from that, I’m not sure how Christians could recognize and embrace the God-given right to determine their children’s education, and then ensure a truly Christian education.

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Reflections on Teaching the Westminster Standards

I have now taught the Westminster Standards twice. I have expounded every section of every paragraph of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and every question and answer of both the Shorter, and even the Larger, Catechisms. Twice. The first time was over a 15-ish week semester. The second time was 5 days straight. Exhausting, yes. But I loved it.

I don’t want to waste the experience, and since evaluated experience is the best teacher, I want to reflect a bit. I want to think about teaching the Standards from various angles:

  • The Westminster Standards as subject matter for exposition.
  • The experience of teaching the Westminster Standards.
  • Teaching them over a semester, in an academic setting, to a certain class of students.
  • Teaching them in one week, in a non-academic setting, to a voluntary audience.
  • Finally, comparing those two rounds of teaching.

*Henceforth, I will refer to the Westminster Standards as simply “the Standards.”

Let us begin.

The Standards as the Subject Matter for Exposition

Not everything under the sun is included in the Standards. However, there is so much. It will nail, meaning confront, so many issues. And those will be the important issues.

The Standards cover a lot of ground. And they should. A ten point, one page “statement of faith” won’t thoroughly prepare you for that church you plan on visiting. It doesn’t even give the people already there a scope of what that church believes. But the Standards will tell you exactly what to expect from the teaching, worship, structure, and discipline of any church that subscribes to them.

You’ll know the summary of Scripture if you know the Standards. Yet, the Confession is brief, containing the essentials. The Shorter Catechism is short and to the point. It’s impressive what a small book the Standards do make, considering everything they contain and imply (even including the Larger Catechism).

Though the Standards are Reformed creeds, they obviously contain more than the so-called “5 points of Calvinism,” also known as “the doctrines of grace.” They are present, though they aren’t stated that way. And they aren’t necessarily front and center as you might expect. Rather, the Standards contain complete Calvinism. Indeed, this might be a newsflash, but “Calvinism” includes more than a mere five points concerning salvation. Those few points alone don’t make anyone “Reformed” or “Calvinist.” They are necessary doctrines, but by no means sufficient. Calvinism, or Reformed theology, is a complete system. And so the Standards contain not only doctrines beyond salvation, but also ethics, worship, and even church government. A full-orbed doctrine of the church is expounded in the Larger Catechism. Yes, Calvinism includes ecclesiology. Oh, and corporate worship!

Two of my absolute favorite parts of the Standards are: the Law and Prayer. What’s funny is that the Confession of Faith is greatly overshadowed by the Catechisms, on these points.

First, the Law of God. About 30% of the Larger Catechism, and 42% of the Shorter, is devoted to the Law (and they say Reformed people aren’t “practical”). Reading every word of the Larger Catechism’s exposition of the Ten Commandments was excellent. You wouldn’t get that if you only learned the Confession (the Shorter Catechism having a more simple exposition of the decalogue).

Likewise, prayer is given a thorough examination. The Shorter Catechism devotes 10 questions and answers to prayer. The Larger has 18. So, reading every word of the Larger Catechism’s general view of prayer, but especially its exposition of the “Lord’s Prayer” as the special rule, was excellent. Again, you wouldn’t get that if you only studied the Confession (like most seminaries, I guess).

Not so focused on the “abstract” after all, are we?

At the same time, there is an admirable degree of broadness in the Standards. And the broadness is the kind that I think is appropriate. It’s a proper broadness. It’s the right way to be inclusive. For example, the Standards will not restrict you to a specific view of eschatology. The Standards are covenantal, so any dispensational viewpoint on Christ’s return is not an option. But within covenant theology, you aren’t limited. Premillennialism is inconsistent at worst. What this means is that a Reformed/Presbyterian denomination cannot restrict it’s people to one perspective on the “last things.” Allowance is there for difference of conviction. Another example is the mode of baptism. The Standards are not going to tell you that your baptism wasn’t real because you used less water! I appreciate this broadness, coming from a “fundamentalist” background that allowed only one eschatological view (guess which one?) and only one mode of baptism (guess which one?). They had elevated such things to a high level of importance, such that it determined who was in the fellowship. You could not be ordained unless you signed on that dotted line. In contrast, the Standards are broad, where it is appropriate.

All of this makes the Standards a joy to expound. Their wording is near-perfect. Many times they simply quote the Bible. They are systematic, making crucial distinctions. They faithfully reflect Scripture. They are beautifully written. The Standards have become my favorite thing to teach.

The Experience of Teaching the Standards

Committing to expound the 33 chapters of the Westminster Confession of Faith is a great undertaking. There’s a lot there. Many sections make up the chapters themselves. It’s a huge time commitment, as well. More popular, because it is more direct by design, is teaching the 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. That was my introduction to the Standards. We studied it in community group at our PCA church. The Shorter Catechism is also a favorite for Sunday school. Even though it’s shorter and to the point, it will still take a while. But exceptionally rare, and practically unheard of, is the dedication to study the 197 questions and (often paragraph-size) answers of the Westminster Larger Catechism. The Larger Catechism surpasses even the Confession in some of it’s formulations. Most churches never intend to take that baby on. No sir. It’s simply too massive, and would take far too long.

Yet, it is virtually unrealistic that anyone would commit to engaging in an exposition of all 3 of those documents, and at the same time. Not one after the other, but in harmony. Trudging through the Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, and Larger Catechism, simultaneously. If teaching the Confession and Catechisms require dedication on their own, then tackling all 3 of the documents that make up the Westminster Standards is truly a massive undertaking.

To make that task even more difficult is the lack of books to help. To my knowledge, there’s only one book currently available that expounds the Standards in harmony: The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms by Francis R. Beattie. It’s an excellent book, and one reason is because it is the only one. I have to say, it is my opinion that the fact this book has gone out of print and isn’t being published today is evidence that Presbyterians are unwilling (for myriad reasons, no doubt) to do the very thing Beattie does. That’s a shame.

One major disappointing discovery I made was with the seminary classes. I thank God for the abundance of recorded seminary classes available for free, so I went looking for some to help me prepare. I found a few. Guess what they only expound? The Confession of Faith. And that’s it. I was looking for one that expounded all 3 of the Standards. Nope. I even, out of curiosity, checked what syllabi I could find for classes that were not available. No, again. To their credit though, even if lecture time wasn’t given to all the Standards, a few courses required reading a commentary on the Catechisms.

Speaking of commentaries. There’s many available on the Confession, even for free online. There’s a saturation of studies on the Shorter Catechism, which always gets the most attention. Many are free online, also. Guess how many commentaries there are for the Larger Catechism? One. Honestly though, it’s one of the best works I’ve ever read, on anything (the quality of the kindle edition leaves much to be desired, however). So there’s plenty of help in studying the Confession, too much help on the Shorter Catechism, but only one help on the Larger. I think this disproportion also reflects on Presbyterianism. [I have since managed to find Thomas Ridgley’s 4 volume exposition of the Larger Catechism]

Since Beattie’s exposition follows (mostly) the order of topics in the Shorter Catechism, and in keeping with the seminary course being “catechism” originally, I decided to go with that order. Having followed Beattie’s outline of things twice, I now want to rearrange the order of study, for different reasons. There’s nothing wrong with his order, I just think I could achieve greater harmony on some of the subjects and be less redundant. The greatest example would be transferring the exposition of the Ten Commandments from the “Means of Grace: the Word” to right after the exposition of “the Law of God” in general. It’s simple preference. My goal is to reduce repetition and gain more coherence.

Teaching the Standards Round 1: Seminary

The seminary is purely for fulfilling denominational requirements. As far as the students, some of them are already pastoring, despite not having studied to be qualified. The rest have “ministries” within their churches. Consequently, this education is remedial in every case, but also to qualify them for ordination which will supposedly happen in the future. Yes, the students have a measure of choice in the matter. They want to be there, perhaps because they know they need to learn. Or, because if they drop out, that will mean losing whatever ministry they have. But, they have also been told to be there. Because they are in ministry, they are required to finish their studies. It’s essentially playing catch-up.

I was offered the opportunity, and great privilege, to teach a course called “catechism.” Supposedly, the course is based on the Shorter Catechism. I was invited to teach the course because I was already teaching the Westminster Shorter Catechism to high school students and for Sunday school. So, I was offered the seminary also. I thought, “excellent, but not enough.” Instead of merely teaching the Shorter Catechism (which was the intention for that course, apparently), I decided to teach the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism, as well. My reasons were multiple. First, and primarily, the Shorter Catechism is not our only creed (as Presbyterians). So it’s simply not good enough to teach that alone to those who will be officers in the church. Also, merely learning the content of the Shorter Catechism is insufficient. The Confession and Larger Catechism contain much that the Shorter does not (like ecclesiology). Third, children learn the Shorter Catechism. My high school students are learning the Shorter Catechism. But, this here is “seminary.” They can, and should, do more. The standard should be higher than high school. That’s another blog post.

These students are here to become trained and qualified as ministers in a Presbyterian denomination. Hence, they need to master all the doctrinal standards, and all they contain. They’ll take ordination vows to uphold that system of doctrine as given in the Standards. They can’t do that with integrity if they haven’t so much as read them. Until now, they hadn’t, despite having been given ministry responsibility in Presbyterian congregations already (including pulpit ministry). So, that was my audience for round one of teaching the Standards.

The course was composed of lecture, reading assignments, quizzes and exams, and a term paper. Again, it was about 15 weeks, and class was once a week for three hours. The textbooks I assigned were The Presbyterian Standards by Francis Beattie and Truth’s Victory Over Error by David Dickson (the first commentary ever written on the Confession of Faith). I mapped out ahead of time the sections of the Standards that we would cover each week, and the corresponding chapters of the textbooks, so they knew exactly what to read each week in preparation for class. I also provided a copy of the Westminster Standards which they were required to read within the first few weeks of class. So, they were to read each week, then those subjects would be covered in lecture during class. In addition, there was a quiz at the beginning of class, based on the previous lesson.

As far as lecturing, it was almost all syllabus. Occasionally I would read from the Standards themselves (but Beattie nearly quotes them, actually). It was never my intention to read the Standards in class. The students were to do that on their own time. A portion of class time was already devoted to quizzes and exams, so I wasn’t going to surrender even more lecture time to reading the Standards when they had plenty of time to do that and read their textbooks.

The pace was slower than I would have liked, but it wasn’t unexpected. There were various reasons for that. Honestly, language was an obstacle, and I know that. However, I’m persuaded that it was not the chief obstacle. Sure, a barrier was the newness of the content. Another definite barrier to their learning was the surprising level of un-Reformed theology they came to class with. That naturally affected their interpretation of the Standards and their acceptance of them. However, simple laziness to do the work required (i.e. read) was the chief obstacle. When students come to class unprepared, naturally their ability to follow a lecture is severely handicapped, even if they had the full notes in front of them. Answering cell phones, walking out of class frequently, and chronic lateness to class certainly didn’t help either. Yet, while irritating, I actually can understand all that. If you’ve already been given the job of pastoring without this study, then why do you need it? Why commit? It clearly wasn’t important enough, before. So, a lack of incentive makes perfect sense to me.

Because of all that, I remember at least one occasion where we practically had to skip a small section. We just didn’t have the time left (the combination of slow pace, too much time spent on quizzes, and lateness putting the class behind). So all those factors were negatives the first time of teaching the Standards. And of course, that means less comprehension than was desired.

I was regularly taking the opportunity to revise my syllabus throughout the semester. I would notice things that could be improved. I was also continuing to study the Standards myself. I was listening to William Still’s exposition of the Confession, reading The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith by Robert Shaw, and reading Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Shorter Catechism (A Body of Divinity and The Ten Commandments). So, occasionally I would run across something that would need to be added. I was already thinking about the future, too. I had a hope of teaching the Standards again during the summer to one or two who had already graduated, and therefore had never studied the Standards. So instead of letting revisions pile up, I did them as the semester moved along.

To summarize round 1, the course was to qualify students for ministry, they had to be there, and they were responsible to actually read the Standards and accompanying textbooks. The pace was slow and the comprehension poor. It was an academic setting, so work and effort was actually required of the participants.

Teaching the Standards Round 2: Conference

First, why I wanted to do this. I had been informed that those who had already finished their studies at the seminary had not learned the Standards. They had passed through the “catechism” class, but left without a solid grasp of even the Shorter Catechism. So I thought that a remedial course would be helpful for a few guys who hadn’t learned the Standards (yet are already pastoring Presbyterian churches). Naturally, this would be totally voluntary. I looked forward to teaching people who actually wanted to learn. They in turn invited others to join. Two of them took charge of logistics, while I buckled down and finalized my syllabus.

The course ended up taking place about one month after the semester ended.

The format was a conference, seminar, modular course, whatever you want to call it. It was 5 days, morning to late afternoon or evening. We would break for lunch and dinner together, plus 10 minute breaks after every hour of lecture. The whole week totaled roughly 37 hours of lecture time. Being concentrated, it would be more intense simply because it wasn’t spread out over a long period of time. Less time to process, sure. But, that also meant no gaps in between subjects, so the flow was better and the connection within the theology was very clear. A huge positive was there would be no time wasted on quizzes, exams, or any of that nonsense.

A negative was there was no advance reading. Maybe one or two read some of the Standards ahead of time. Everyone was pretty much cold-starting. However, that didn’t really seem to get in the way. Even though the content was new, they could still process it.

There was more content, this round. I had revised and made some helpful additions to the syllabus from the semester. Perhaps the largest, most time consuming revision was adding citations within the notes. After teaching the first round, I realized that throughout the notes, we needed to know exactly where in the Standards whatever topic is, step by step. Beattie would refer to the Confession or a Catechism, but not cite the chapter and section, or which Catechism Q/A. That won’t do. So I went through the entire syllabus and added those citations. It turned out to be really helpful, so they knew exactly where this thing is that I’m saying. I didn’t have that the first time. It took me forever to add those throughout the syllabus. But worth every minute, without a doubt.

Since there was no time before the lecture for them to read the Standards that would be expounded, we actually read the Standards in class. Not every word, but most. I knew we would need to do this, so for this round of teaching the Standards, I had my copy of Reformed Confessions Harmonized open. It was extremely helpful to have the Confession and Catechisms synced together on the same topic. Flipping back and forth from each document would have consumed too much time. However, the Reformed Confessions Harmonized doesn’t follow the order we were taking through the Standards, or even any of the Standards. It follows the Helvetic Confession. So every time we would progress to the next subject, I’d have to look back to the contents, find where we would be, and turn there. Several times, the harmony on a subject would not include all the parts of the Confession and Catechisms, for some reason. In which case, I dropped that book and had to find my place manually. Inconvenient. So, for next time, I would like a harmony of just the Standards that follows the order of one of them (probably the Confession). More likely, I’ll have to put together my own.

Another helpful component was a cellphone app containing the Standards so they could read along, in addition to hardcopies of the Standards.

The study moved at a much faster pace, thanks entirely to my audience. Class size was the same as before, ironically. We expected more, but the majority of my target audience didn’t attend. I am thankful for who did attend. They followed quickly and the study moved along faster than I had projected. For round two, we covered all the ground we planned on. No skipping, or even breezing over things, this time.

My audience was able to follow superbly. I was shocked. It might sound terrible, but I guess I had gotten so used to teaching a particular kind of audience that I was really impressed just by the fact that these people could keep up with my normal talking speed. I asked after the first day, because it was a huge concern of mine, if they could handle the pace. Too fast, could they keep up? Every single one said it was a great pace, and they in fact liked the speed we were going at. They wouldn’t like anything slower.

They also mentioned that having the complete syllabus enabled them to follow the quick pace we were taking. And I’m thinking to myself, “I did the same thing last time, and it didn’t work out!” Frequent walking out of class, sometimes for extended periods of time, was still an issue this round, however. More than once, a participant would miss an entire subject. That seriously doesn’t make sense to me at all.

Surprisingly, we had time for quite a bit of application to their specific context. I think half of that was brought up by them! It was encouraging to hear them make the connections. Something the Standards said conflicted with what they’ve been taught, or with current practices or traditions. And they recognized it. Furthermore, they were motivated to make changes, to do something about it.

Audience interaction was really good. I’m surprised we had so much, considering how much content we needed to cover in such a short time. They were able to interact with the material. They asked intelligent questions. They saw connections within the Standards. They saw conflicts with their personal beliefs or practices. The youngest one there, grade 10 high school, asked the best questions out of anyone. I was genuinely impressed this round. The age range was 16-24, and everyone could keep up, process, interact, and apply what we were studying. Credit to them. I was encouraged that this endeavor actually was possible, and was not asking too much of people.

Comparison

Who I was teaching were like night and day.

I recognize that I can’t say this with certainty, but I do have an idea. I think that the 2nd audience will actually do something with what they learned. Their discipleship was advanced. From the 1st round, perhaps 1 or 2 of them will be changed long term. We’ll see how that goes, considering they’re within a system that’s indifferent to the Standards in theology, worship, discipline, etc.

There was more reinforcement in round 1 than round 2. Round 1 was reading the Standards, reading commentary, then lecture on top of that, then review the following week. Round 2 was single exposure, only. I can’t imagine how well the round 2 audience would have learned and retained the content if they had the reinforcement of round 1.

By far, in so many ways, round 2 was a better teaching experience than the first. It was almost entirely the audience. Despite being the same age or younger than round 1, they were simply more capable (or more motivated). Probably both. And that simply isn’t a good sign of those who want to be teachers and preachers. If they can’t follow an exposition of their doctrinal standards, how can they presume to be teachers of others? I’ve spent a whole school year teaching these people already, so this isn’t a snap judgment. They are “training” for ministry, yet are behind those that are not in training for ministry nor will ever be in ministry.

There was more correction of unbiblical beliefs and practices in the second round. I’m certain that it’s not because there was more to be corrected the second time. Rather, I’m sure it’s because there was greater comprehension the second time. Or maybe it just didn’t come out in discussion the first time. In any case, the first time, I was surprised by what beliefs and practices, that were contrary to the Presbyterian Standards, were still being held by the time they got to my class. They’ve been in the Presbyterian church for years, now. And they had been studying for 1-2 years already. The second round was even more surprising. One participant had already completed his studies, and still had those same beliefs intact! Every day, almost every lecture, something was nailed. A discussion would follow, objections raised, back and forth. Anger or dissatisfaction with previous (incorrect) teaching and practice, and for not being corrected until now, usually followed these moments. And now, having experienced that, they don’t want that to happen to anyone else, and are thus motivated to teach sound doctrine. It was great. That’s how it should be.

I can only conclude that that’s the theological state of the rest of those who are in ministry. This only validates the plan to teach the Westminster Standards. It’s painfully obvious that it is desperately needed.

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Why Did Jesus Resurrect?

I was floored. It was such a simple question. A question that nobody in the church asks. So basic, yet so taken for granted.

In the midst of a lesson on Christ’s exaltation (WSC Q/A. 28), one of our students asked: why did Jesus resurrect?

“Wow,” I thought. Excellent question.

Why did Jesus resurrect? Why did he need to? Usually, we only hear about his death for our sins, so we could be forgiven. It’s quite possible that our people have never been told why Jesus resurrected. We know it happened, but don’t know why.

I was so excited, because this one student was actually engaging the material. She was thinking about what the Bible was saying. So she asked a question so basic, it stunned us for a bit. Nobody asks that. If that’s because they already know the answer or not, I’ll leave for you to speculate.

Instinctively, I turned to the Westminster Larger Catechism. *Hint: if you’ve got a question, the first place you should look is the Larger Catechism. With 196 questions, chances are good yours (or very close to it) is already there, with an answer from Scripture.

The Shorter Catechism doesn’t directly address the question. It covers Christ’s exaltation in one question.

Q. 28. Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation?
A. Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.

The Larger introduces it similarly, following the same steps:

Q. 51. What was the estate of Christ’s exaltation?
A. The estate of Christ’s exaltation comprehendeth his resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his coming again to judge the world.

The Larger Catechism doesn’t stop there, however, but breaks it down. It truly gives an exposition of the doctrine, giving separate questions to each of the steps of Christ’s exaltation (Q/A. 52-56). That includes the resurrection.

So, to the question of why did Christ resurrect:

Q. 52. How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?
A. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a public person, the head of his church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.

Let’s look at everything following “whereby.” That’s where the significance of the resurrection is, what the resurrection means. Why did Christ resurrect? We’ll split up the answers with the Scripture proofs

To declare himself the Son of God:

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord —Romans 1:4

And that he satisfied God’s justice:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? —Romans 8:32

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. —Romans 3:25-26

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. —Hebrews 9:13-14

To show death defeated, along with the devil:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil —Hebrews 2:14

To show himself Lord of both the living and the dead:

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. —Romans 14:9

That’s a lot of significance. Furthermore, Christ did all those things as the representative of his people, the elect:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. —1 Corinthians 15:21-22

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. —Isaiah 53:10-11

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. —Ephesians 1:20-23

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. —Colossians 1:18

He resurrected for their justification:

who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. —Romans 4:25

And so they would be made spiritually alive:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus —Ephesians 2:1, 5-6

having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. —Colossians 2:12

Also, that they would be supported against enemies:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. —1 Corinthians 15:25-27

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” —Psalm 2:7-9

And finally, to guarantee to the elect that we also will be resurrected like him in the last day:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. —1 Corinthians 15:20

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. —1 Thessalonians 4:14

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t be saved without it. A very basic Christian doctrine, part of the Gospel itself. How often do we say or hear, Christ lived, died, and rose again. Yet, can we say why? We should.

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Knowledge is Obtained by Diligent Study

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But if grace find a man ignorant, unlearned, and of mean abilities, he must not expect to be suddenly lifted up to great understanding and high degrees of knowledge by grace. For this knowledge is not given, now, by sudden infusion, as gifts were, extraordinarily, in the primitive church. You need no other proof of this but experience, to stop the mouth of any gainsayer. Look about you, and observe whether those that are men of knowledge, did obtain it by infusion, in a moment? or whether they did not obtain it by diligent study, by slow degrees? though I know God blesseth some men’s studies more than others. Name one man that ever was brought to great understanding, but by means and labour, and slow degrees; or that knoweth any truth, in nature, or divinity, but what he read, or heard, or studied for, as the result of what he read or heard. The person that is proudest of his knowledge, must confess that he came to it in this way himself.

—Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory vol. 1, loc. 3052

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The Grind: Reading and Listening in 2017

LibraryIt’s the beginning of a new year! For me, that means mapping out a curriculum. Not for others, but for myself. At the beginning of a new year, while most talk is about planning a diet or some other “resolution,” I figure out what I will study that year. I learned right after graduation that if I didn’t take initiative, I would never learn another thing. I know too many who have done just that, not so much as picking up a book after their “education” ended. And I’m talking about people in “ministry.”

Ever learning should we be. Can’t afford to continue my education, academically? Not going to let that stop me. There’s no excuse for stagnation. So one thing I do is plan what to study throughout the year.

Last year was unique, as far as my regimen goes. I kept having to change it up! I didn’t read as much as I usually do. Part of that was because of my new teaching responsibilities. Then once second semester rolled around I read quite a bit out of necessity on something I didn’t plan for. Overall, I didn’t get through everything I wanted. But I usually aim high, anyway. I think it helps.

As you read on, if you find yourself asking me “why do all that?” then go read why I study so much.

Of course, any period of time is not perfectly predictable. One thing that likely will change up my study plan will be what classes I’ll be teaching next school year. But, until something comes up, here’s what I plan to get through in 2017.

Happy New Year. Let the grind begin.

Reading Together

The wifey and I read together. I could probably write about that discipline, some other time. What we are into right now:

Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism (4th Edition — Revised, Updated, and Expanded) by Edward Dalcour

Oneness theology has a real presence in our context, and I don’t understand it very well. So, this is one way we prepare ourselves. It’s a great book and has already proven useful. We read this in the morning, over coffee.

Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by J. Gary Millar

We like reading volumes of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, together. They are great books. When we saw this one that traces the development of prayer from Genesis to Revelation, we knew this was our next read. So far it’s good. We read this at night.

Now to what I’m doing.

Books to Finish

18 Minutes by Peter Bregman. That’s ironic. I would probably be done with it already if I gave it 18 minutes.

I will continue reading J.C. Ryle. No matter what. Once you start, you’ll never want to stop.

I am determined to finish An Introduction to Systematic Theology by Cornelius Van Til, as soon as possible. That book keeps haunting me. After that, I can breath.

Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams. I just need to buckle down and do it. I could probably finish it tonight, if I wanted.

I will pick up again in The Church of Christ by James Bannerman. Great book, and necessary.

J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir by Ned B. Stonehouse (free).

Worship

First, How Then Shall We Worship? by R.C. Sproul (I finished it, already). I have begun to dabble in Calvin’s Treatises on the Sacraments. Calvin is always a delight.

Westminster Standards

One of my habits is to continue studying a topic even after finishing considerable preparation and am teaching that subject. I’ve decided to call it “binge study.” My current binge study: the Westminster Standards. Some of it made my Best of 2016 list.

I will be listening through William Still’s exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. So far, it’s good.

I’ll also read Unity and Continuity in Covenantal Thought: A Study in the Reformed Tradition to the Westminster Assembly by Andrew Woolsey. Presbyterian and Reformed Churches: A Global History by James McGoldrick would be most interesting, as well as The Presbyterian Conflict by Edwin Rian (free). And I may read the History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines by William Hetherington. Robert Shaw’s exposition of the Confession, The Reformed Faith, would probably be a good idea, as well. (*As of 1/9/17, available online as daily readings)

Update: Received them 5/11/17!

But, I don’t want to stop there! God willing (because I don’t own these books, yet) I really would like to continue my study of the Standards through reading R.C. Sproul’s 3 volume commentary on the Confession, Truths We Confess, and the 3 volumes of The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, edited by Ligon Duncan (see all three here). Since they are not ebooks, they might take quite a while for me to acquire. Why they are not ebooks yet is beyond me.

I have also added a book to my re-read list, this year: Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark. I’m looking forward to reading it again. It was excellent the first time. The difference now is how much I have learned since. Hopefully, I can appreciate this work more.

Lastly, I will finish the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer.

(After I finish Thomas Watson, I will definitely pick up another Puritan to read. There are too many to choose from, so I don’t know which one. Owen’s 2 volumes on the Holy Spirit, Pneumatologia, has my eye. Or perhaps the unabridged Communion with God. We’ll see.)

That sums up my continuing study of the Westminster Standards that I would like to accomplish this year.

Education

Educational Ministry of the Church, taught by John Muether at Reformed Theological Seminary. Finding myself in the role of an educator, in 4 different environments, I need all the help I can get. I’m aware of my need to learn more and improve in educating. Hopefully this class can help.

To that end, I’ll also read Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together by Paul R. House.

Productivity

My consistency and productivity went through the wringer last year, to my great dissatisfaction. I need to read What’s Best Next by Matt Perman and Focus by Daniel Goleman. If I could just focus.

Pastoral Theology

Later this year I’ll probably read more pastoral theology. It’s a subject I tend to read consistently no matter what else is going on. I have a few books that are interesting. The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine, On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor by Clay Werner, and The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. Preaching? by Alec Motyer would make a nice addition.

Biographies

I need some biographies in my life, so I want to finally read John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist by D. G. Hart and Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat by James Bratt.

Misc.

I’m going to read Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment by Brian Godawa, when I need a rest. That will be a “fun read” for me.

I should finally read Salvation by Grace by Matthew Barrett.

Historical Theology by Gregg Allison would be a good one to regularly read from throughout the year, little by little.

New Focus: Doctrine of God

A new study for me: the doctrine of God and the Trinity. Naturally, I’ve covered this doctrine before. But I haven’t studied it intensely, as I have other subjects.

I started reviewing the doctrine of the Trinity in Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton, which I have read several times already (it’s on my annual read list). Then, I decided to just read the more full treatment in his The Christian Faith. So, instead of Pilgrim Theology, I’ll just finally read that larger systematic theology all the way through, throughout this year.

The thing is, I’m a bit lacking in material on the doctrine of God and the Trinity. I was looking at my library the other day. I see a lot of Christian worldview, apologetics, hermeneutics, pastoral theology, but not many systematic theologies, or any books on the doctrine of God or the Trinity. I hadn’t notice that, before.

To help remedy this void in my studies, I will finally listen to The Doctrine of God class taught by K. Scott Oliphint at Westminster Seminary. Also, ST: Scripture, Theology Proper, Anthropology taught by Douglas Kelly at Reformed Theological Seminary (since I don’t have his book, below). This class seems to have quite an emphasis (6 lectures) on Trinitarian doctrine. If I still want more (and can dedicate the time), there’s God & His Word taught by Michael Williams at Covenant Seminary.

My library is lacking in this department, so should the Lord provide, I hope to acquire some new books on the subject, specifically:

The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham. Apparently the best overall treatment of the Trinity.

Systematic Theology: The God Who Is: The Holy Trinity by Douglas Kelly. Michael Horton recommended this for the “marvelous integration of covenant theology and the doctrine of the Trinity.” So that’s good enough for me.

Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Andreas J. Kostenberger & Scott R. Swain. Unfortunately, not available in Kindle edition.

Reformed Dogmatics: Theology Proper by Geerhardus J. Vos, edited by Richard B. Gaffin.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for sales.

2017 is going to be a full year.

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Best Books and Classes of 2016

Books and eBooks

My favorites of what I read and listened to this year.

Best Books:

The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms by Francis R. Beattie. My favorite book this year, maybe. Partly because it was such a providential find. So unique. The thing is: it’s out of print, no longer being published. It’s public domain. I don’t think that speaks well for the Presbyterian church, today. How is this book not in its nth edition?

It’s so good because it is a concise exposition of not just one of our creedal documents, but all three. A book like that is hard to find. Commentaries or expositions of the Confession are abundant (see below) and so are those of the Shorter Catechism. It’s more difficult to find an exposition of all three. It’s one of my textbooks for the Westminster Standards class. Available for free.

Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith by David Dickson. The second textbook. This book is a gem. The first commentary of the Confession of Faith, written just three years after the Confession itself. It’s a confessional apologetic. And all those heresies and errors? We are still fighting them today. This book will never get old. I’m glad it’s recognized, still being published by Banner of Truth in a very nice edition. Chapters 1-22 can be read here.

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. I finally finished this monster of a book. Well worth it. Full of my highlights. This will consistently be a reference.

A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson. The first of three volumes of sermons, following the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Thomas Watson has such a way with words. An excellent introduction to the Christian faith. Available for free, as well as the other two volumes, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer.

Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by J.G. Vos, edited by G.I. Williamson. I loved this so much. I love the Larger Catechism. This is truly a neglected treasure of a neglected part of Presbyterian heritage. However old Vos is, it still packs relevance. A new edition of this would certainly be of great benefit to the church.

Essays on Christian Education by Cornelius Van Til. Education, from a distinctly Reformed perspective. Education must be built on a Christian foundation. Only then is it truly education, and truly Christian. As in everything, there is no neutrality. This is a good advanced read for Christian educators.

The Professor’s Puzzle: Teaching in Christian Academics by Michael S. Lawson. So helpful. I would not have been able to write my syllabi from scratch without this book. Oh, and the part about testing! I’ll be reading this book every year. It’s that useful and that full. I couldn’t possibly absorb all of the new things the first time. And his style is so easy to read. I recommend it for every Christian teacher.

Holiness by J.C. Ryle. It’s Ryle, period. Consequently, I am now always reading something by Ryle. An essential part of a healthy diet. Available for free.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. So great. A lot was familiar from his D.Min class on preaching from RTS.

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern Poythress. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to share and read this book with others. See my little recommendation. Available for free.

Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie Baucham. I was so looking forward to this book after watching Voddie Baucham’s lectures at DTS. This book is every bit as funny and powerful. It’s the textbook for our apologetics class, making a very nice introduction to the discipline.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. “For what we think God is like must shape our godliness, and what we think godliness is reveals what we think of God.” An easy to read introduction to the most important doctrine of the Christian faith.

The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White. Living in a culturally Roman Catholic country, I really needed this one. I learned a lot. Honorable mention: The King James Only Controversy, also by James White.

Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem. This book was fun, as in entertaining. It was really helpful. The various arguments are given and responded to. It’s methodical. I learned from this book and was even corrected by it. I needed it because evangelical feminism is very healthy here in our context, even within “Reformed” denominations.

Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel by Mbugua, Maura, Mbewe, Grudem, & Piper. The prosperity “gospel” is the bane of the church’s existence in our part of the world. Not a week goes by that I don’t detect its influence. This book is written by pastors in Africa to answer that false gospel spread throughout that continent. I hope it gets put to use in Southeast Asia as well.

What is the prosperity gospel? It is a ‘gospel’ claiming freedom from sickness, poverty, and all suffering on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross. Promising material, physical, and visible blessings for all who would embrace it, the prosperity gospel insists that God’s will is for all his children to prosper here and now. But this prosperity gospel contains four crucial distortions that are four differences from the biblical gospel. It proclaims a small God; it fails to identify man’s greatest need; it empties the gospel of its power; and it robs God of his glory.

—Kenneth Mbugua, pg. 3

If ever a group would be formed at church for reading books together, I would make this book the first. Available for free. Read it. Share it.

Best Classes:

This year was unique. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do, and instead invested more time in classes. These are all available for free.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, taught by Dr. John Gerstner. Hands down my favorite class on the Westminster Confession. He was such a great teacher, and it was obvious that he loved what he was teaching, and that was contagious. His way of explaining was so clear. This class was a delight. I wish I had watched it years ago when I first got it.

Educational Foundations, taught by Dr. Donald Guthrie & Dr. Tasha Chapman, Covenant Seminary. So great. I listened through this twice. Everything from the learning theories, to the classroom assessment techniques (CAT), all of it was so helpful and directly influenced how we teach. This is our role, now. So we had better prepare. This class helped do that.

History & Philosophy of Christian Education by Mike Lawson, Dallas Theological Seminary. I was loving his book so much, that I wanted to see if any of his classes were available for free, to listen to simultaneously. They are actually video recordings. That was great. He’s such a great teacher to watch. An emphasis of the class was that our theology must determine our philosophy of education. Having already read Van Til’s Essays, I really liked hearing that. Solid. I really enjoyed these lectures.

Christ-Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, taught by Bryan Chappell, Covenant. Really challenging. I learned so much.

Theology of Ministry taught by Joel Hunter, Reformed Theological Seminary. The sessions on spiritual gifts, and consequently what your staff dynamic will be like, definitely made this class.

 

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The Gospel Cannot Be Altered

To put the question in another shape, “For what if some did not believe?” Will God alter his revealed truth? If some do not believe, will God change the gospel to suit them? Will he seek to please their depraved taste? Ought we to change our preaching because of “the spirit of the age”? Never; unless it be to fight “the spirit of the age” more desperately that ever. We ask for no terms between Christ and his enemies except these, unconditional surrender to him. He will bate not jot or tittle of his claims . . . If you wait till there is a revised version of the gospel, you will be lost. If you wait till there is a gospel brought out that will not cost you so much of giving up sin, or so much of bowing your proud necks, you will wait until you find yourself in hell. Come, I pray you, come even now, and believe the gospel. It cannot be altered to your taste; therefore alter yourself so as to meet its requirements.

—C.H. Spurgeon, “God Justified, Though Man Believes Not”, The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon: Vol. 1 loc. 2325

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