The Holy Spirit (John Owen) 2018 Reading Plan

Last year’s Church of Christ reading plan proved pretty successful, so this year we’re going to give John Owen a go. 12.5 pages a week will take us through volume 3 (‘The Holy Spirit’) in a year.

Making a reading plan was a lot easier this year, as the pagination in Logos is the same as the Banner edition.

Again, I’m sharing it here in case anyone else wants to join in, or finds it useful at a later date.

You can download the reading plan here.

God Is (book review)

God is: a devotional guide to the attributes of God
Mark Jones
Crossway, 2017

God is

I love Mark Jones. After all, he does say on p. 133 of this book: ‘You must love believers, even those who can be very unloveable’.

And I like this book. It’s a take on the attributes of God that shows how each of the attributes is seen most clearly in Jesus. After all, ‘Some even call Christ the ‘stage’ on which God displays his attributes in their harmony for the world to witness’. Each of the 26 short chapters is divided into three sections: the doctrine, how it’s fulfilled in Christ and application.
Apart from the Christ-centredness, the second best thing about the book is the liberal dollop of Puritan quotations throughout. Checking out the footnotes will open up a wealth of treasures.

In some ways this is a lite version of Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God – which Jones notes in his introduction ‘requires the sort of time and effort that very few have’. At the same time however, this is still a book which seems to be aimed at ministers and (third-level educated) theologically-informed laymen. A Christ-centred book on the attributes of God with short chapters that could be handed out to an average congregation would be great – but this isn’t that.

Jones being Jones, he can’t resist a pop at exclusive psalmody, even when advocating psalm singing. He calls it a ‘crime’ – but seeing it’s a ‘crime’ that most of the Puritans he quotes would have been guilty of, those who still hold to the Westminster Confession’s position on worship won’t lose too much sleep over it.

There are a few other things that may raise an eyebrow. Jones says we should ‘envy’ God’s attributes. He repeats an argument on which he’s been critiqued before, namely that ‘God’s great end is the glory of his Son’. He also raises controversial questions when there’s no need, eg Was God gracious to Jesus? Could God have forgiven sins apart from Christ?

Overall this is a great book. The short chapters mean it could be used as a pump-primer before your devotions. It’s one I can see myself coming back to if I’m looking for a succinct, theologically precise, Christ-centred treatment of an attribute of God. I haven’t (yet) read Charnock, but I’ve now read God Is, which is another indication that the book has achieved what it set out to do.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

Concerning Scandal (James Durham) 6-month Reading Plan

A couple of us here in Scotland have decided to read The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal by James Durham.

If you’re not familiar with it, here’s an endorsement from the RPCNA’s Gordon Keddie (formerly Wishaw RPCS):

“This book ought to be required reading in seminaries and, indeed, for all who would serve as elders in Christ’s church. It will repay careful study and breathe grace into our handling of the disciplinary problems that often confront us. Sessions will find real blessing if they study together Part Two [public scandals], especially.” (Semper Reformanda, vol. 2 No 3)

For a brief introduction to Durham, see this Meet the Puritans post from Durham expert Donald John Maclean.

As with James Bannerman’s Church of Christ I’ve done out a reading plan, which I’ll make available here for a wider audience. You can download it here.

The schedule starts this week, but here is the original excel document so the dates can be easily modified.

The plan is based around the chapter layout of the critical text produced by Naphtali Press (available to buy in the UK from James Dickson Books), and also available on kindle.

The 1659 edition is part of a 4-book Durham collection in Logos Bible Software, which will only see the light of day if it gathers enough support in their Community Pricing scheme. It’s also available on archive.org.

Are we turning baptisms into wet dedications?

“Baby dedications are about the parents making a vow to God about how they will raise the child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, which is the exact opposite of Biblical baptism, which is God’s promise to us and to the children. It’s a tragedy that they completely flip God’s ordained practice and turn it into a man-centred ordinance. Of course, parents make vows, but they are far secondary to God’s promise to be God to us and our children forever”

A one minute segment from Presbycast’s episode ‘Troubling Waters’

What a man is on his knees before God?

I’ve previously questioned whether Robert Murray M’Cheyne ever said: ‘My peoples’ greatest need is my personal holiness’.

Another quote often attributed to M’Cheyne is some variant of: ‘what a man is on his knees before God, that he is and nothing more’

A quick search of his works in Logos finds nothing, and in this case someone else has done some hunting as well.

Seems like he (or Owen who it’s also attributed to) didn’t say it after all.

Donald Macleod on the Free Church’s trajectory

“The worry is that repeated concessions on ‘things that don’t matter’ will one day completely change our identity. By the time we have praise-bands, responses, leadership-teams, dedication services, god-parents, junior churches and ministers trained by apprenticeships rather than educated by a rigorous theological curriculum, we’ll disappear in a shallow Evangelical mainstream clever enough to avoid heresy, but only at the price of diplomatic silence on the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith.”

The above comes from a post entitled ‘Should Presbyterians have dedication services’, in response to St Peter’s Free Church offering infant blessings and dedications as well as baptisms.

David Robertson’s response (while unlikely to convince Confessional Presbyterians to follow his lead) does provide an interesting critique of traditional Free Church attitudes to covenant children:

– “The Confession is quite clear that it is children of believers who are to be baptised…But the Free Church has in some areas (especially Lewis and the Highlands) operated a policy which is in contradiction of that. Following Kennedy’s lead it has been argued that the qualifications for the sacrament of baptism are lesser than that required for communion. Thus we ended up with the situation where in areas where the Free Church was de facto the parish church or sought to be, children of non-believing adherents who would not have been admitted to communion, were baptised. One minister told me that the main reason for doing this was simply that they did not want to lose their adherents to the Church of Scotland. Another told me that he would baptise anyone who asked. The elders I mentioned above spoke of how they regarded this practice as farcical. I remember one case where we refused baptism to a non-believing adherent and they just went to another Free Church where their child was baptised. I believe that it is this policy that has done far more to undermine the practice and the biblical understanding of baptism, than any infant dedication service ever has or will do. And yet I cannot recall Donald Macleod writing against this all too common practice. Why? If his concern is confessional adherence and uniformity of practice why the silence?”

– “In 1945 the Free Church and the ‘Liberated’ Churches in the Netherlands both had around 20,000 members, adherents and children. In the year 2000 I did a wee bit of research and discovered that whereas the Free Church had halved to 10,000 the Liberated had gone up to 120,000 plus. Why? What was the difference? It was not that the Liberated were better at evangelism, but rather that they retained their young people whilst we leaked ours like a sieve! When I went to Dundee in 1992 I eventually found around 20 children of Free Church office bearers – only one of whom attended the Free Church, and most of whom attended no church. These were children of office bearers – not just ordinary members. Another research project I did found that between 1990 and 1994 the Sunday schools in Lewis declined by 25%. Yet another found that of 40 baptised children in one Sutherland Free Church – only one was still in the Free Church.”