"A History of SBTS" by William Mueller: A Review

Let the history, when written, tell only of the toils and trials and sacrifices, and wisdom and purdence and foresight, and prayers and tears and faith, of the people of God to whom the institution will have owed its existence and its possibilites of blessing. (vii)

-James P. Boyce

I had a professor in seminary once comment that most biographies and historical books fall into one of two categories: hagiography or critical analysis. To err on either side does not make a book worthless. But it is important to be aware of the bias of the author going into the book. The facts of history are what they are, but they must be interpreted and presented . And in there lies much of the bias.

Consider the 1959 book A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by William A Mueller. The book was published on the century anniversary of my alma mater, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have read most of the sesquicentennial history of SBTS by Gregory Willis published in 2009 simple entitled Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009. The two books tell the same history (at least regarding the first one hundred years) yet they read like two different stories.

I was alerted to this a number of years ago in conversation with an older minister who graduated from SBTS prior to the conservative resurgence at Southern. He was bitter about the latter volume and criticized it for rewriting history. That comment has remained with me ever since. Therefore, I picked up Mueller’s history recently to investigate how the original history was written and the liberal bias is overwhelming.

Southern Seminary opened its doors in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina. Due to the Civil War, it temporarily closed its doors and eventually moved to Louisville, KY where it remains today. Its founding faculty are key to understanding the history and legacy of the school. This is both the strength and the weakness of Mueller’s volume. All four men, James P. Boyce, John Broadus, William Williams, and Basil Manily, Jr., were ardent Calvinists who defended orthodoxy vigorously while promoting academic excellence.

In Mueller’s history, we are given that portrait with extra paint. Throughout the story, especially regarding the founding faculty, the author struggles to make the first four faculty members to be more liberal than what they actually were. It is important to note that throughout the book, the comments are slight, yet the agenda is clear.

Prior to establishing SBTS, Dr. Boyce insisted the school be founded on a confessional document as a means of protecting it from heterodoxy. This document, written by Basil Manly, Jr., is known as the Abstract of Principles and is still in force today. Regarding this confession, Mueller notes, “The Abstract of Principles is still in force. Dr. W. O. Carver has suggested that if it were composed today, certain changes might be made in this instrument . . .” (31-32) Though he would go on to largely praise the document, it is comments like this that liter the text.

His survey of Boyce, which dominates a chapter and a quarter, has consistent liberalization of the record. Regarding his systematic theology textbook, the author writes, “one will understand the vigor and persuasiveness of his position despite its evident methodological limitations.” (58) He then notes “Boyce’s high regard for textual criticism” and his “insight into the peculiar problematic of interpreting the Scriptures.” (58)

Or consider the following comment:

Whatever may have been the limitations of James P. Boyce’s theological outlook, one fact seems clear: his thinking had not yet been eroded by the impact either of liberal or romanticizing tendencies of his age. Dr. Boyce’s theology still had some of the “intellectual defenses of historic Puritanism” which, according to Dr. Hudson, had been dismantled by the work of men like Horace Bushnell, Mark Hopkins, an other neoromantic evangelicals. (61)

The author lays his cards on the table here. He places Bushnell ahead of Boyce. That is problematic as Bushnell was a heterodox liberal.*

Regarding John Broadus, the second president of the seminary, the author highlights his commentary on Matthew. Mueller almost seems surprised that Broadus would interact with some of the chronological challenges of the Gospels. The author unnecessarily walks the reader through a number of these and explores what Broadus had to say on each of them.

Likewise, Mueller highlights Broadus’ apparent hesitation to interpret “righteousness” in the Gospels in the Pauline sense. He writes:

It is highly illuminating to observe how Dr. Broadus was careful not to read Pauline ideas back into the Synoptic Gospels. At least four passages in the Gospels dealing with the idea of righteousness . . . come under Broadus’ critical review. In all these passages he rightly held that the idea of imputed righteousness, so evident in Paul’s writings, is absent. (73)

For those familiar with liberal theology, this is a crucial distinction.

Likewise, he informs the reader that “Dr. Broadus came to the conclusion that the Lord’s Prayer need not be considered original.” (74) Even more striking is when he asserts, “Dr. Broadus firmly yet modestly stated the case for Jesus the Christ, Son of man and Son of God. The language he employed was chaste and simple.” (75) What an odd way to report Broadus’ orthodoxy. He was not an orthodox Baptist full of doubt. He was an ardent defender of the faith!

Finally, consider the following:

But – and this is a most significant point – Broadus also made it clear that while the Word of God is true, “it does not follow that our interpretations are infallible.” Dr. Broadus affirmed himself to be an advocate of progressive orthodoxy. (81)

No he wasn’t. The writer wants us to associate Broadus with the word “progressive.”

This same pattern is followed regarding the biography of Manly. For example, he is described as being “solid though often overly cautious conservative without, however, ever being bereft of his critical faculties.” (87-88) So conservative believers refuse to use their mind?

This is the pattern throughout the book. Mueller inserts his liberal bias even if it requires him forcing it. Regarding the Crawford Toy controversy, his sympathy to the fired faculty is evident. He emphasizes the boards hesitancy in accepting his resignation and Boyce’s famous meeting with him afterward. Throughout the narrative, however, Mueller describes his theology in shocking ways. For example, while discussing the biography of Manly, Toy’s theology is described as being “advanced.” (96)

Overall, I appreciated Mueller’s approach to writing the story of the first one hundred years of Southern, but am disappointed by the clear bias of its writer. Having considered Mueller’s history of Southern, I disagree with the man I met a number of years ago. The story had to be rewritten and updated and I would recommend Willis’ volume. The liberal hijacking of Southern Seminary is its saddest chapter. Unfortantely, this book was written as those days were just beginning.


*Later, Mueller favorably references Friedrich Schleiermacher. See page 85.

"Theologies of the American Revivalists" by Robert Caldwell: A Review

One of the most significant events that shaped the founding of America was the two Great Awakenings between 1740-1840. Countless souls were saved in the colonies and on the frontier shaping what we now know to be America. The story of the First and Second Great Awakening is fascinating. The theology behind them is even more riveting. Robert W. Caldwell III explores both revivals in his book Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney.

This is a work of historical theology, an important distinction before cracking its spine. Though Caldwell tells the story of the Great Awakenings, it is not a history of those revivals. At the same time, this is not merely an exploration of the theology of Whitefield or Wesley or Edwards or Finney. Rather, it is a study of the dogmatic evolution regading revival theologies during this century.

I must confess that revival theology is an area I have given little thought to. Though I have done a lot of studying on the Second Great Awakening on the Kentucky frontier, I have not considered the theology behind it. Caldwell, however, shows that behind the story is the theology.

Exploring all the ins and outs of the book would go behind the purpose of a brief review. Instead I want to highlight some of the insight I gleaned from this volume. First, Caldwell showed that the differences between the two Awakenings is more complicated than I had previously assumed. I always imagined the First Great Awakening as a conservative, Calvinist triumph – the climax of the Puritan age. It was characterized by order and solid theology. The Second Great Awakening, however, was the triumph of Arminian and Pelagian theologies. It was more eradic, emotional, and too modern. It is no accident that many of the prominent heretical groups (like Jewhovah’s witnesses, Mormons, and others) came out of the Second Great Awakening. The author, however, showd that the history is more complicated than that. Finney was not an opportunists, but one sympathetic to some of Edwards’ theology who had taken the theological tragetry to the next step.

Secondly, I find myself pulled back and forth between the slower approach to conversion modeled in the First Awakening and the immeidate call to repentance modeled immediately after. Andrew Croswell I found particularly interesting. As Caldwell presents him, he shifts the emphasis from proving one’s conversion to the more contemporary emphasis on respondng to the gospel. I see merits in both. This volume lays out the context and history of that development.

Thirdly, Caldwell provides snippets of insight that are illuminating. For example, he explores the genesis of altar calls. Though the precise beginning is uncertain, it grew in popularity in the Second Great Awakening. Likewise, the author’s exploration of what sparked the revivals are instructive. Let us pray that a genuine revival will be stirred among us in this generation.

Ultimately, this volume illustrates why theology mattes and how it can shape a nation. We have benefitted from the fruit of these revivals for generations. Although not everything that came out of them was good, let us pray that God will send another revival among us. In the mean time, I would highly recommend this work.

(Image Source)

Kentucky & Virginia Baptist History Timeline

I have spent much of the past spring and early summer working on a book project on an ancestor of mine who was a Baptist pastor and church planter in Virginia and Kentucky who was persecuted for preaching without a license. His name was Lewis Craig (1737-1825). When preparing for such projects, I find it helpful to map out in timeline form the individuals biography. As I was finishing the project, my timeline grew into more than a biographical timeline of Craig, but one of both Virginia and Kentucky Baptist history. I am republishing that timeline in full below.

January 17, 1737 – Lewis Craig is born in Orange County, VA.
1743 – Elijah Craig is born in Orange County, VA.
February 4, 1747 – William Hickman born in King and Queen County, VA.
1747 – Joseph Craig is born in Orange County, VA.
October 27, 1752 – John Taylor born in Farquier County, VA.
1765 – Lewis Craig is converted under the preaching of Samuel Harris.
1766 – Lewis Craig baptized by James Reed.
1767 – John Waller baptized by James Reed.
November 20, 1767 – Upper Spotsylvania Church constituted by James Reed and Dutton Lane.
June 4, 1768 – Lewis Craig arrested along with John Waller, James Childs, and William Mash becoming the first instance of Baptist imprisonment in Virginia.
May 1769 – Daniel Boone leaves to explore Kentucky.
1769 – Lewis Craig ordained by Samuel Harris.
June 20, 1770 – John Waller ordained by Samuel Harris and Lewis Craig.
November 1770 – Lewis Craig is ordained and consecrated pastor of Upper Spotsylvania Church
May 1771 – Elijah Craig ordained and named pastor of Blue Run Church.
1772 – John Taylor baptized by James Ireland at the Baptist Church at South River.
July 19, 1771 –  Lewis Craig imprisoned in Caroline County, VA. He remained imprisoned for a month.
December 4, 1771 – Elijah Craig consecrated pastor of Blue Run Church
February 24, 1773 – William Hickman baptized by Reuben Ford.
1774 – Elijah Craig aides in the constitution of North Pamunkey Church in Virginia.
April 1776 – First sermon preached in Kentucky by Thomas Tinsley and William Hickman in Harrodsburg.
1776 – Over one hundred new members added to Upper Spotsylvania Church under Lewis Craig’s Leadership
1776 – Rev. Squire Boone performs first marriage ceremony in Kentucky.
1779 – Rev. Squire Boon moves his family to Louisville preaching the first sermon of the modern city.
Fall 1779 – John Taylor first visits Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap while Joseph Redding visits by traveling down the Ohio River.
Spring 1780 – John Craig and his oldest son, Toliver, along with Jeremiah Craig visit Dix River in Kentucky establishing Craig’s Station.
June 1781 – Severns Valley Church established becoming the first church in Kentucky.
July 1781 – Cedar Creek Church established becoming the second church in Kentucky.
September 1781 – The Traveling Church migrates to Kentucky under the leadership of Captain William Ellis and Lewis Craig.
September 28, 1781 – Providence Baptist Church constituted by Lewis Craig and John Vivion.
December 1781 – The Traveling Church arrive at Craig’s Station.
1783 – Lewis Craig constitutes South Elkhorn Church becoming its first pastor.
1783 – John Taylor emigrates to Kentucky joining Gilbert’s Creek Church and later South Elkhorn Church.
August 1783 – Silas Noel is born and becomes a major voice in promoting missions among Kentucky Baptist.
August 1784 – William Hickman and family emigrate to Kentucky and arrive in modern Garrard County at the home of George Stokes Smith.
April 1785 – The Baptist Church of Christ of Clear Creek organized (the second church north of the Kentucky River).
May 28, 1785 – Lewis Craig aides in constituting Great Crossings Church with John Taylor. Elijah Craig is named its first pastor.
June 1785 – The Elkhorn Baptist Association is formed meeting at South Elkhorn Church.
September 30, 1785 – Elkhorn Association is officially constituted at the house of John Craig on Clear Creek.
October 29, 1785 – The Salem Association established consisting of four churches: Severns Valley, Cedar Creek, Bear Grass, and Cox’s Creek.
April 16, 1786 – Lewis Craig aides in constituting Bryan’s Station Church in Lexington.
May 3, 1786 – Ambrose Dudley emigrates to Kentucky with his family becoming the pastor of Bryant’s Station shortly later.
July 1786 – Lewis Craig aides in constituting Town Fork with Ambrose Dudley, John Taylor, and Augustine Eastin.
November 1786 – Boone’s Creek Church established by John Taylor and John Tanner.
1786 – Gilbert’s Creek Church dissolves before being replanted later as Gilbert’s Creek Separatist Baptist Church.
June 1787 – Marble Creek (later East Hickman Baptist Church) is established from members of Boone’s Creek by Ambrose Dudley and George Stokes Smith.
1787 – John Gano emigrates to Kentucky from New York  becoming the pastor of Town Fork Church in Lexington.
January, 1788 – Elijah Craig opens his classical school.
June 7, 1788 – William Hickman establishes Forks of Elkhorn Church.
March 4, 1789 – The US Constitution officially comes into effect.
April 30, 1789 – George Washington inaugurated President of the United States of America.
1790 – The First African Baptist Church founded by Peter Durrett, the former slave of Joseph Craig, becoming the fist African-American Baptist church in Kentucky and the third in America.
1790 – There are now forty-two Baptist churches with sixty-one ministers (forty are ordained), and more than three thousand members.[1]
June 1, 1792 – Kentucky becomes the 15th state to join the union.
1792 – Lewis Craig moves to Bracken County.
Summer 1793 – Lewis Craig constitutes Bracken Church and becomes its first pastor.
1794 – Lewis Craig builds court house in Washington, KY.
February 5, 1795 – Toliver Craig, Sr. dies in Woodford County, KY.
September 1795 – McConnell’s Run Church (now known as Stamping Ground Baptist Church) constituted with Elijah Craig briefly serving as its first pastor and William Hickman serving as its second.
1796 – Lewis Craig constitutes Beech Creek in Shelby County.[2]
1796 – James Garrard, co-pastored with Augustine Eastin at Cooper’s Run (or Cowper’s Run) and frequent moderator of the Elkhorn Association, is elected second governor of Kentucky. He serves until 1804.
August 1799 – Elkhorn Association clerk, Augustin Eastin, laments in official minutes the poor state of “deadness and supineness in religion as were contained in our churches. The 31 churches had only baptized 29 people that year.
Spring 1800 – John Taylor preaches in the home of Benjamin Craig (brother of Lewis, Elijah, and Joseph) sparking the Great Revival among Kentucky Baptists and resulting in the planting of Ghent Baptist Church.
June 1800 – The Red River Presbyterian meeting house in Logan County takes place sparking revival.
Spring 1801 – Elijah Craig publishes the controversial pamphlet A Few Remarks on the Errors That Are Maintained in the Christian Churches of the Present Day which condemns financially supporting ministers.
August 1801 – Revival breaks out at the Cane Ridge Presbyterian meeting house near Paris, KY under the leadership of Barton W. Stone.
August 1801 – Elkhorn Association reports 3,011 baptism from their 36 churches. Membership nearly tripled.
August 1801 – John Young, a member of South Elkhorn, ordained and appointed as the first missionary to Native Americans living near the Great Lakes of Michigan, Superior, and Huron..
1802 – Augustin Eastin begins to embrace Arianism. John Gano preaches the annual associational sermon on the deity of Christ in August of the following year.
August 1804 – John Gano dies. The Elkhorn Association minutes record, “he lived and died an ornament to Religion.”
1805 – Elijah Craig publishes the bitter and controversial pamphlet A Portrait of Jacob Creath.
1808 – Elijah Craig dies.
August 1810 – Licking Association formed breaking off of the Elkhorn Association.
1813 – The Elkhorn Association sends financial support to William Carey after a fire destroyed the Baptist printing house in India.
1815 – Luther Rice speaks at the annual meeting of the Elkhorn Association promoting the cause of missions.
1815 – Franklin Baptist Association established.
January 4, 1817 – The First Baptist church of Lexington is organized by Jacob Creath, Jeremiah Vardeman, and Henry Toler.
1820 – John Taylor publishes Thoughts on Missions strongly criticizing the missions movement.
1823 – John Taylor publishes A History of Ten Baptist Churches (revised in 1827).
1823 – Alexander Campbell makes first visit to Kentucky.
1825 – Lewis Craig dies in Mason County, KY.
January 24, 1830 – William Hickman dies in Frankfort, KY.
April 12, 1835 – John Taylor dies

[1]This is according to Asplund, The Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination in North America (Baptist Banner, 1791).
[2]Spencer notes in his history that this is based on reliable tradition. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptist, 328.

What If Arius Won?

In his book, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth, Dr. Alister McGrath asks a provocative question: “[W]hat would Christianity have looked like if Arius had won?” (150) His answer is worth exploring.

Before beginning, a few words of clarity need to be said  The Council of Nicaea which condemned Arianism as a heresy was not a conspiracy. Though popular in liberal circles, Nicaea was not a political strategy of the Roman Catholic Church to consolidate power. Nicaea did not outlaw books of the Bible or any such thing. Any conspiracy theories regarding Nicaea are inevitably false.

Secondly, Arianism was condemned emphatically. Regardless of what Dan Brown has written through his fictional characters, the vote in favor of Athanasius Christology was not close. Related to that, the genesis of Christian Chrisotlogy by which Christ was viewed as divine was not at Nicaea, but in Christ himself. The Church did not make Christ divine, but recognized what Christians already believed.

With that said, here is how McGrath answers the above question:

It needs to be made clear that what Arius was proposing was not a minor rearrangement of the theological furniture of the Christian faith, to be compared with adjusting the position or changing the color of a favored chair in the living room. Arius’s understanding of the identity of Christ differed so greatly from that proposed by Athanasius and the orthodox that it can only be regarded as constituting a separate religion. Arian Christianity is much closer to Islam than to orthodox Christianity, in relation both to its notion of God and to its understanding of the religious role of its founder. its concept of absolute divine monarchia has important political associations in that it points to an analogy of absolute authority on earth and in heaven. (150, emphasis mine)

McGrath then shows that “Arianism emphasized the inscrutability of God” where there “was an absolute ontological gulf between God and the world of the creatures” (150). Because Jesus is not divine, He is not revelation from God. This is just one reason why John’s prologue is central to orthodoxy. Jesus, as Logos, reveals God. Without embodied divinity, God remains a distant deity.

This weaker view of Christ as revealer confuses the gospel. McGrath shows that “by failing to connect with God, it was unable to permit humanity either reliable or authentic knowledge of God or the salvation promised by the gospel” (151). The Arius Jesus delivered secondary revelation  and thus “may have been superior in quality to that of other human beings but was nevertheless equal in kind” (151).

In short, no orthodox view of Christ equals no gospel. Orthodox doctrines, in many ways, stand and fall on orthodox Christology.

In this regard, McGrath concludes by quoting Dorothy Sayers:

The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls. If Christ was only man, then he is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God; f he is only God, then He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life. It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (152)

The Greatest Cultural Gift of the Reformation: The Perspicuity of Scripture

This year we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of start of the Great Reformation. The official date is traditionally October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Castle Church door. This anniversary has me considering what the greatest cultural gift of the Reformation is. In my opinion, that gift would be the recovery of the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture.

Prior to the Reformation, it was illegal (and unthinkable) to read the Bible in any language other than Latin even though none of the commoners read Latin. Only the highly educated and priests could read and understand Latin. As a result, no one had access to the revelation of God. The Reformation changed all of that with a fundamental belief that God’s word was clear and ought to be read and understood by everyone from plowman to pastor.

This Protestant thinking is best reflected by William Tyndale who is most famous for translating the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament into English. He was later executed for that “crime.” The Tyndale translation was the greatest influence on the King James Bible. The story goes that a priest suggested to Tyndale that “It would be better to be w/o God’s law than the pope’s” to which Tyndale responded “If God spares my life, I will cause the plow-boy to know more about Scripture than you do!”

And he did.

Here are a few reasons why I believe the doctrine of Scripture’s Perspicuity is the greatest cultural gift of the Reformation. 

1. The Perspicuity of Scripture and the Freedom of Conscience

The Perspicuity of Scripture means I must interpret Scripture. It does not ignore other authorities, but does affirm that Scripture must be read by an individual and interpreted by an individual. This was blasphemous in pre-Reformation Europe. Once the clarity of Scripture was adopted and understood by Protestants, than the liberty of conscience becomes a natural right. The American cause is only possible due to this. One’s interpretation must be defended, it cannot and ought not be enforced. Such a world did not exist prior to the recovery of the perspicuity of Scripture.

The best example of this comes from Martin Luther while at the Diet of Worms in 1521:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I can do no other.

The King and Pope may be powerful, but they are not lord over the conscience.

2. The Perspicuity of Scripture and the Universality of Education

In order for Protestants to promote the universal reading of Scripture, the Reformation needed a literate population. It is no accident, then, that throughout the protestant world, Christians promoted education among both the rich and the poor, men and women.

Though the history of universal education is bigger than the Reformation, I do not believe we would have it today without the Great Reformation. Roman Catholicism largely limited education to those who could afford it. Remember that Martin Luther trained to be a lawyer only because his father had worked hard to save to send him to school and was extremely angry when he dropped out of school to join a monastery. Luther spent the rest of his life questioning if he dishonored God by dishonoring his parents.

Nevertheless, the fundamental belief that Scripture is clear and must be read by every believer means that every believer ought to be literate and a literate populace will goes beyond the Bible and explore the world.

An example of this comes from the First Book of Discipline from John Knox under the headline “The Necessity of Schools”:

Seeing that God hath determined that his Kirk here in earth shall be taught not by Angels, but by men; and seeing that men are borne ignorant of God, and of all godliness, and seeing also he ceases to illuminate men miraculously, suddenly charging them as he did the Apostles, and others in the primitive kirk: Of necessity it is that your Honors be most careful for the virtuous education, and godly up-bringing of the youth of this realm: if either ye now thirst unfeignedly the advancement of Christ’s glory, or yet desire the continuance of his benefits to the generation following. For as the youth must succeed to us, so we ought to be careful that they have knowledge and erudition to profit and comfort that which ought to be most dear to us, to wit, the kirk and spouse of our Lord Jesus. Of necessity therefore we judge it, that every several kirk have one Schoolmaster appointed, such a one at least as is able to teach Grammar, and the Latin tongue, if the town be of any reputation. If it be upland [rural] where the people convene to the doctrine but once in the week, then must either the reader or the minister there appointed, take care over the children and youth of the parish, to instruct them in the first rudiments, and especially in the Catechism as we have it now translated in the book of the common order called the order of Geneva. And further we think it expedient, that in every notable town, and specially in the town of the Superintendent, there be erected a College, in which the arts at least Logic and Rhetoric, together with the tongues, be read by sufficient masters, for whom honest stipends must be appointed. As also provision for those that be poor, and not able by themselves, nor by their friends to be sustained at letters, and in special these that come from Landward. The fruit and commodity hereof shall suddenly appear. For first, the youth-head and tender children shall be nourished, and brought up in virtue in presence of their friends, by whose good attendance many inconveniences may be avoided, in which the youth commonly fall, either by overmuch liberty, which they have in strange and unknown places, while they cannot rule themselves: or else for lack of good attendance, and such necessity as their tender age requires. Secondly, the exercise of children in every kirk, shall be great instruction to the aged. Last, the great Schools, called the universities, shall be replenished with these that shall be apt to learning. For this must be carefully provided, that no father of what estate or condition that ever he be, use his children at his own fantasy, especially in their youth, but all must be compelled to bring up their children in learning and virtue.

The rich and potent may not be permitted to suffer their children to spend their youth in vain idleness as heretofore they have done: But they must be exhorted, and by the censure of the Kirk compelled to dedicate their sons by good exercises to the profit of the Kirk, and Common-wealth; and that they must doe of their own expenses because they are able. The children of the poor must be supported and sustained of the charge of the Kirk, trial being taken whether the spirit of docility be in them found, or not: If they be found apt to learning and letters, then may they not (we mean, neither the sons of the rich, nor yet of the poor) be permitted to reject learning, but must be charged to continue their study, so that the Common-wealth may have some comfort by them. And for this purpose must discreet, grave, & learned men be appointed to visit Schools for the trial of their exercise, profit and continuance: To wit, the Minister and Elders, & the rest of learned men in every town shall in every quarter make examination how the youth have profited.

And certain times must be appointed to reading and learning of the Catechism, and certain to the Grammar and to the Latin tongues, and a certain to the Arts of Philosophy, and the tongues; and certain to that study in the which they intend chiefly to travail for the profit of the Common-wealth. Which time being expired, we mean in every course, the children should either proceed to farther knowledge, or else they must be set to some handy craft, or to some other profitable exercise; providing always that first they have further knowledge of Christian Religion: To wit, the knowledge of God’s Law and Commandments, the use and office of the same: the chief Articles of the belief, the right form to pray unto God; the number, use, and effect of the Sacraments: the true knowledge of Christ Jesus, of his Office and Natures, and such others, without the knowledge whereof neither any man deserves to be called a Christian, neither ought any to be admitted to the participation of the Lord’s Table: and therefore these principles ought and must be learned in the youth-head.

3. The Perspicuity of Scripture and Tearing Down the Sacred/Secular Divide

In a previous post I provided a number of quotes from Martin Luther regarding the Sacred/Secular Divide. Catholicism promotes this divide, but Protestantism tore it down by showing that all of life is sacred. This is only possible with a firm belief in the Perspicuity of Scripture. Luther’s theological argument is rooted in the revelation of Scripture which was, itself, rooted in a fundamental belief that Scripture is clear.

4. The Perspicuity of Scripture, Liberty, and Democracy

The polity of Catholicism was mirrored in the monarchies around Europe. That is no accident. Is it any accident that the change in church polity out of the Reformation resulted in a change of European governments? Protestantism produced the democratic religions of Congregationalism and the Baptists, the Presbytery of Presbyterianism, and other forms of church government (like Methodism, Anabaptism, etc.).

The Acton Institutes shows that Luther’s priesthood of believers played an important role.

Luther’s doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” also heavily influenced the emergence of representative democracy. In addition, the Presbyterian style of church government further set the stage for individual rights and liberties. Responsibility for the governance of the church is not just for the clergy , but laity as well. This model of church government, where elders serve as leaders can be contrasted with the episcopal style of church government, which better reflects a monarchy. King James I of Great Britain rightly predicted, “If bishops go, so will the king.” At its very heart, it expresses a belief that humans in their depravity cannot set themselves above the law of God, no matter their office.

When Martin Luther declared his “conscience was captive to the word of God” it had political repercussions. Luther’s protest showcased a primary debate about ultimate authority, and where this authority stems from. The legacy and impact of the Reformation directly affect our society today, especially in relation to government, human rights, and religious and political freedoms.

At the root of all of this, however, was the Perspicuity of Scripture. If Scripture is not clear, then Luther could not be believed and the Catholic Church could not be questioned. Furthermore, the clarity of Scripture placed God’s Word as a higher authority than the Pope and one’s interpretation and opinion as an authority.

5. The Perspicuity of Scripture and the Power of Preaching 

Consider the following regarding know from Richard Kyle:

“[Knox’s] approach to Scripture impacted his preaching in still other ways. Not only did he regard the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, but he upheld the [clarity] of Scripture – that it is clear and intelligible to the average person. Phrases such as ‘the plain Word of God,’ the ‘strict Word of God,’ ‘the plain Scripture,’ and the ‘express Word of God’ frequently bombard even the casual reader of Knox’s works. . . .. [I]n one of his encounters with Queen Mary of Scotland, Knox insisted that he Bible was intelligible to all people, and thus the native meaning of the Bible with the aid of the Holy Spirit sufficed. The Holy Ghost had inspired every verse and, as God, he can never be self-contradictory. Therefore, the meaning of vague texts must be in agreement with the interpretation of distinct passages: ‘The Word of God is plain int eh self; and if there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost which is never contrarious to himself, explains the same more clearly in other places: so that there can remain no doubt, but unto such as obstinately remain ignorant.” (Richard Kyle, God’s Watchman, 162-163)

The legacy and power of preaching is, no doubt, rooted in a firm belief in the Perspicuity of Scripture.


These are a few of the reasons why I believe that the greatest cultural gift the Reformation has given the west is the perspicuity of Scripture. Without it, we would not recommend the world we now enjoy.

"John Knox" by Jane Dawson: A Review

This particular day in his life has been reconstructed to challenge many of the traditional assumptions made about John Knox. he has been regarded, especially within Scotland, as the personification of the puritanical kill-joy who championed the strictest Presbyterian tenets on all issues and delighted in haranguing Mary, Queen of Scots. Having been claimed as the country’s Protestant Reformer, Knox’s activities in Scotland have taken centre stage, downgrading or even excluding other periods of his life. The concentration upon his famous tract with its eye-catching title, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, has given rise to the view that Knox was a misogynist or a woman-hater and has distorted understandings of Knox’s political thought and his other writings. The reconstruction of the happy day in 1557 when Nathaniel Knox was baptized in the English-speaking exile church in Geneva offers a sharp contrast to that conventional image. The relaxed and happy John Knox was not preaching or prophesying doom, but behaving as an ordinary father and family man. He was not expounding misogynist ideas but was surrounded by female friends and about to return to his dear wife. He was not in Scotland bringing in the Protestant Reformation, but was part of an English congregation located in a Swiss city. He was not behaving as a puritanical Calvinist, but was laughing, joking and looking forward to a celebration. This biography also acknowledges, and even emphasizes, the darker side to Knox with his ‘holy hatred’, increasing intransigence, bouts of depression and gloomy predictions about the future of Protestantism. By challenging the monochrome portrait of the dour Scottish Reformer that has dominated popular perceptions, it shows the many different shades within Knox’s character that make this complex man such a fascinating subject. This fresh and more nuanced account of Knox’s life reveals new aspects of the interconnected and many-layered story of Protestantism in the sixteenth century. The biography also provides a re-assessment of the worlds through which Knox moved as he lived during the age of Reformations in Scotland, Britain and Europe. (3-4)

One of my favorite pastor-theologians from history is the Scottish Reformer John Knox who is often overlooked among the great 16th century Protestant Reformers but is certainly one of the great giants of that era behind Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwinglii. In 2015 Yale published a new biography written by Jane Dawson which promised to unveil new information on Knox that shed new light on him. As such it has been on my reading list. In short, the biography, simply entitled John Knox serves as one, if not the, standard bearer of John Knox biographies.

First, Dawson is a gifted writer of history. I have always believed that history well-written is better than fiction and books like Dawson’s is a reminder of that truism. The art of writing history requires thorough research, familiarity with the world of the subject, and an expertise with storytelling that does not compromise the historians responsibility to history itself. Dawson does an excellent job balancing all of these.

Secondly, the author reveals the significance of the new material. I will let her discuss it herself, but the discovery of six previously unknown letters from Knox fills in significant gaps in the Knox narrative and Dawson navigates those gaps and how the new material helps historians and scholars alike.

Thirdly, and most notable to me, Dawson presents a unique side of Knox. Most biographies of Knox either present him as a violent monster who hated women and advocated rebellion or borders hagiography that emphasizes the softer side of Knox the pastor and letter writer. Dawson, however, while pointing out both extremes of Knox’s personality, repeatedly directs us to note the Reformer who struggled with depression.

It is no secret that ministers frequently struggle with depression. Knox was no different. Dawson’s biography reveals the frequency of his melancholy. For example:

Overwhelmed, Knox burst into tears and rushed out to hide in his own chamber. For many days he was miserable, his heart full of ‘grief and trouble’. Normally gregarious and ready with a joke, he shunned company and could not even raise a smile, let alone a laugh. Teaching his pupils in the chapel would only remind him of the painful experience of that public call. When backed into a corner Knox’s instinct was to come out fighting, but in this situation the only person with whom he could fight was himself. (43)

On the next page, Dawson notes Knox “sat weeping and praying in his room in the castle in St. Andrews, Knox was not sure if the Holy Spirit would speak though his mouth when he stood in the pulpit.” (44). Again, looking at Knox the pastor, Dawson notes that “Knox remained vulnerable to inner doubts about his performance as a pastor of his flocks.” (90) Before long, in a moment of deep despair, Knox “was searching for a way to leave this ministry and possibly the city.” (95) And then there is the death of his first wife Marjorie which wounded him deeply. One of the best sections exploring this aspect of Knox’s life is as follows:

In the Order of the General Fast one rvealing phrase summed up the paralysing effect of doubt upon a Christian’s life: ‘the murtherer of all godly exercise is desperation’. Although Knox appeared to have few doubts about his personal salvation, he was deeply afflicted by what had happened in Scotland since the return of the Queen. his withdrawal in 1565 from his previous style of political engagement placed much greater stress upon the spiritual weapons of preaching, pentience and prayer. His own inner spiritual strength was tested when he was banned from preaching and the first period of ministry at St. Giles’ came to an end. As one disaster followed another during that year, Knox lost his decisiveness and slide into doubt and desperation. In his characteristically dramatic fashion, he described his mood swings in a deeply gloomy letter written on 12 March 1566 and concluded that he had learned little from the experiences of his long life and many troubles. ‘In youth, myd age, and now, after many battelles, I find nothing into me bot vanitie and corruption. For, in quyetnes i am negligent, in trouble impatient, tending to disperation; and in the meane state, I am so caryed away with vane fantasizes, that (allace), O Lord, they withdraw me from the presence of thy Majestie.” (247-248)

To a minister like myself, there is much comfort to gain from such giants. We are not alone today. Dawson reminds the reader that in such despairing moments, Knox “was sustained by the conviction that he was ‘cald by my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowfull, confirme the weak and rebuke the proud by tong and livelye voyce’.” (38) When life became difficult and he felt all alone, Knox returned to that divine calling and moved on. This was a side of Knox that I enjoyed exploring with Dawson in this volume.

The author also explored an aspect of Knox’s life regarded his almost-ministry in Ireland. Knox ultimately turned his good friend Goodman down in joining his work there. Yet Dawson contemplates the great “what-if.” One can only imagine what would have happened if Knox and Goodman, along with the other Protestants already there, had the opportunity to spread Protestantism more fully in Ireland. No doubt, Dawson suggests, the history of Ireland would have been very different.

Overall, Dawson has written one of the most important works on John Knox and the Scottish Reformation. It is neither critical nor hagiographical. Instead, she tells the story of Knox and his world. The discovery of new sources is vital to telling the full story of Knox and Dawson does an excellent job showing its significance. In the end, anyone serious about Knox or the Scottish Reformation must read Dawson.

Books on Knox:
“John Knox: Fearless Faith” by Steven Lawson – A Review
“John Knox: An Introduction to His Life and Works” – A Review
“John Knox” by Rosalind Marshall: A Review
“The Mighty Weakness of John Knox” by Douglas Bond: A Review
“John Knox & the Reformation” by M. Lloyd-Jones & Iain Murray: A Review
“John Knox For Armchair Theologians” by Suzanne McDonald: A Review

For more on Knox:
“Scottish Theology” by T. F. Torrance: A Review
A Nestorian Heresy?: John Knox & His Rejection of Particular Redemption
Douglas Bond on the Legacy of John Knox
“The School of Faith” by Thomas F. Torrance: A Review
John Knox on the Threefold Office of Christ
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By – The Dead
John Knox on the Importance of the Ascension 

Man’s Maker Was Made Man

From Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1):

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

HT: Trevin Wax

For more:
Odd Thomas on the Incarnation

"American Crucifixion" by Alex Beam: A Review

The dining room resounded with weeping and moaning. Joseph was the Saints’ living, breathing, wrestling, drinking, sermonizing, truth-revealing champion. No one in Nauvoo didn’t know him. Almost every resident had bought something – a pinch of tobacco, a plot of land – at his redbrick store. Joseph had greeted thousands of Saints at the riverside landing slips, may of the believers at the end of harrowing trans-Atlantic or transcontinental journeys. Every Mormon man, woman, and child had stood or sat on a bench or tree stump for hours at a time in the grove, listening to Joseph’s speeches and sermons. Every Nauvoo resident had uprooted himself or herself, and their families, either because of Joseph Smith’s preaching or because they had read the sacred Book of Mormon he composed as a young man. As he instructed they gathered to Zion to worship int he city of their Prophet. and now, inexplicably, int he prime of his vigorous life, at thirty-nine years old, he was dead. (195)

One of the most influential and yet enigmatic figures from American history is Joseph Smith – the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all of its off-shoots. Smith came to prominence in the early to mid-nineteenth century and was a product of the burn-out district which produced a number of revivalist and eschatological movements and cults. Mormonism is by far the most successful of them all.

The story of Smith typically centers on his supposed discovery of the golden plates, his translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, and his establishment of the Mormon Church. Yet what is often overlooked from Smith’s biography is his death which came at a tragic end at the Carthage jail in Nauvoo, IL – a city larger in population than Chicago. Alex Beam in his book American Crucifixion: the Murder of Joseph Smith and the ate of the Mormon Church tells that story.

From the perspective of a good history narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed Beam’s work. He is a gifted writer of history – a feat that not many have. The murder of Smith is an intriguing tale that requires a talented storyteller who has done his research. Beam has produced such a work.

Yet this volume is more than just about the story of Smith’s death, but about the events leading up to his arrest and murder and the fallout from it. In fact, most of the book regards the latter. This approach allows the author to explore Smith’s more controversial aspects of his biography and theology from a narrative perspective as opposed from a theological one.

For me, central to this exploration regards Smith’s supposed revelation regarding plural marriage. Though the church has largely rejected plural marriage, it is no doubt part of its past. Beam tells the origin of this story and how it was first received by Mormon adherents. Long before the sexual revolution and the confusion over the definition of marriage, Beam provides documented evidence regarding this shocking “revelation” and how it was received.

One humorous antidote regarding plural marriage regards Smith’s wife who was, rightfully, offended by her husbands assertion. When Smith shared this new teaching to his brother Hyrum, who also died at the Carthage jail, Hyrum agreed to explain it to Emma, Smith’s wife.
“If you will write the revelation, I will take and read it to Emma,” Hyrum assured his brother. “I believe I can convince her of this truth, and you will hereafter have peace.”

Hyrum’s mission failed utterly. Returning from his audience with Emmas at the Mansion, he announced that “I have never received a more severe talking to in my life. Emma is very bitter and full of resentment and anger.”

Emma “did not believe a word” of the revelation, Clayton wrote in his diary, noting that she destroyed the text Hyrum had handed her. (88)

Who can blame her? On the next page, Beam shares the legend(?) of Emma grabbing a woman by the hair who was with her husband and throwing her out onto the street. The young woman, named Eliza Snow, supposedly had a miscarriage as a result. Snow would later marry Brigham Young after Smith’s death. Later, when asked by a visitor where Joseph received the doctrine of “spiritual wives,” her answer was dead on: “Straight from hell, madam.” (89)

In many ways, this doctrine began Smith’s downfall. Though he was extremely egotistical believing to be prophet, priest, and king and borderline dictatorial as mayor of Nauvooo, it appears that plural wives called into question his judgment and theology. During this time, Smith was running for the Presidency and was largely unpopular throughout the country but within Nauvoo he was beloved by most, at least among his fellow Mormons. As this new doctrine began to spread, his hold on them began, it seems, to unravel.

The real unraveling, however, began once one of the key leaders within the church refused to share his wife with Smith. This led him to the establishment of a rival paper which, after just one edition, was shut down by Smith. This action ultimately led to Smith having to flea Nauvoo only to return and be arrested. The governor of Illinois, a grossly incompetent man in this episode, became involved. In the end, a mob attacked the jail holding Smith killing him. Before falling to his death, Joseph, armed with a smuggled gun, shot at least three people in the mob.

I will let Beam tell the rest of the story for he is better than I, but I would highly recommend anyone interested in the history of Mormonism to invest in this work. One cannot understand Mormonism without engaging Joseph Smith. If Smith is a fraud, the faith he founded is as well. One of the benefits of this work is that through the unfolding of the historical narrative, Beam presents a picture of the Mormon founder as a man of questionable character. This is their prophet and he is, frankly, not one I would want to be the founder of my faith.

"Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce" by John Piper: A Review

Thus began a forty-five year investment in the politics of England. He began it as a late-night, party-loving, upper-class unbeliever. he was single and would stay that way happily until he was thirty-seven years old. Then he met Barbara on April 15, 1797. he fell immediately in love. Within eight days he proposed to her, and on May 30 they were married, about six weeks after they met – and stayed married until William died thirty-six years later. In the first eight years of their marriage they had four sons and two daughters. (28)

As I am typing this, the primary choices for the American presidency in the 2016 election is Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R). I am unaware of a more depressing time to be a Christian voter on the national scene in America. The two candidates clearly lack any clear moral barometer. In light of that, it seemed appropriate to return to one of my favorite all-time politicians: William Wilberforce. I began by reading the short book by John Piper entitled Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce (download the book for free here) which is a great resource for those new to the British leader.

Wilberforce is best known for his work in abolishing both the slave trade and slavery in England. The abolition of slavery required a war and an executive order in America, but the work of leaders like Wilberforce accomplished the same without a single shot. Yet Wilberforce accomplished more than that. He was a man driven by his Christian faith. His political courage and the causes he fought for were the fruit of his robust theology. In a day were many politicians are either hesitant to embrace faith or are outright faithless, Wilberforce embrace the gospel openly and served his country well through it.

Piper’s brief book offers both a biography and theological treatment of his life and thought. It is precisely what one would expect from a pastor-theologian who is not a biographer or a historian. That is a not a critique of the book, but the reader should know what this volume is and is not. The origin of its pages come from a sermon preached by Piper available below.

The advantage of this approach is that Piper shows how deep Wilberforce’s theology was and how it shaped his life in a unique way. Historians get distracted by political and historical detail whereas Piper shows us how Wilberforce’s deep faith was the driving force behind all that he did.

The one critique I would have for the book would be his heavy reliance on John Pollock’s biography on him. The author does reference and quote other works, but Pollock dominates the pages. I would not recommend the same practice for any other author.

Nevertheless, this is a helpful introductory to a great man who was used mightily by God. Wilberforce loved Jesus and did not run from his vocation in that affection but understand that God called him to public service and that politics was his ministry. No doubt he fought the good fight and finished the race. Literally. The news of the abolition of the slaves came to him three days prior to his death. What an answer to his prayers!

For more:
“Seven Men” by Eric Metaxas: A Review
William Wilberforce and the End of Slavery: A Legacy of the Gospel