“For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests on God’s mercy and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith…Since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation.” – The Institutes of the Christian, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 12
I’ve wrestled with how to say what I’m about to say for close to a year and a half. If there is one group of people who generally fail at self-criticism, it would probably be Reformed folks. Even now, I’m sure some people are preparing their copies of The Institutes of the Christian Religion to launch at me in a manner consistent with causing bodily harm but hear me out first.
First off, this is not an anti-Reformed rant. I am a card-carrying five-point-Calvinist with a great appreciation for historical, confessional Reformed theology. I don’t agree with every tenet of classic Reformed thought (my view of the covenants would be one example – another would be my view of baptism) but I would say it speaks closest to what I believe as a Christian. In short, guys, I’m on your side.
It is exactly because I am on your side, friends and brethren, that I have to call a huddle in session. For folks who profess to believe in such earth-shattering truths, some of the attitudes worry me. Here are a selection:
Some of us are unnecessarily combative:
I thoroughly believe in contending for the faith but I don’t believe every hill is a hill to die on. Sometimes, I fear that the new generation of young Reformed folks – of which I would like to think I am one – just want to fight all the time and it’s not a good look. 2 Timothy 2 is clear:
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.
Even if they’re wrong, folks are not your punching bag for every time you want to lay a theological or methodological smackdown. No one cares how much you know when they don’t know how much you care.
Some of us have no distinction between open and closed-handed issues:
Some things are non-negotiable – we don’t get to discuss the Trinity, justification by faith, the Bible as God’s Word (despite the intelligent minds of the day telling me that we should), etc. Other things are very negotiable – worship styles (gasp!), Bible translations, who wrote Hebrews, (some elements of) evangelistic strategy, whether you go to conferences or not (I’ve actually had this discussion in the past week)
You tread water when you try to make everything a closed-handed issue – and that is an attitude I observe with some reformed types. Not everything is of first importance – or even second importance – and it is both unrealistic and downright ugly when we think everything is of primary import.
Some of us worship the past without realising we were in the present:
This is one thing about reformed circles that makes me very confused. Now understand – I do not advocate any form of what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. I think there are things we do in the twenty-first century (and plenty of them at that) which are bone stupid and we could do well to take a leaf out of the past. That said, the idea that anything contemporary1 is inherently deficient is simply untenable.
Few areas demonstrate this than what some have called “the worship wars”. I like to believe there is a middle road when it comes to this and that by God’s help, churches like the one I call home do our best at walking it. Not so among a lot of reformed folks (even the younger ones) – no, if it looks like Hillsong, it’s Hillsong and we want no part. Out with forms of percussion, out with guitars, out with anything written of late that doesn’t sound like it was made for the 18th or 19th century. Depending on who you speak to, you’ll hear it’s “irreverent…ungodly…worldly.”
Now this isn’t the place for talking our view of corporate worship but I mention it because I fear in our reformed circles, there is a subtle idolatry of what X or Y would have done, such that when someone comes along and does it differently, the reaction ends up being:
A fitting segue to my final grievance…
Some of us are too concerned with being “Reformed” and not with being Biblical:
This is where the crowd of Institute-throwers start working their throwing arm for a pitch. It is my opinion that, in the minds of some, the quest to be well and truly “Reformed” has taken on a perverse life of its own. Now we can’t appreciate preaching that is true for just that – no, we see whether it is ‘truly reformed’, we can’t sit in a meeting where the musical style used in the corporate singing might be different because ‘we’re reformed’, we can appreciate a commentary by someone because they’re “not confessionally reformed”, we can’t lift hands in corporate worship or say “Amen” too loud during preaching…because ‘we’re reformed’
At some point, we have to get over this subtle desire to be accepted by the ‘team’ and be prepared to say things that might challenge the “Reformed wisdom” – even if it leaves our reformed credentials open to question. As I am very fond of saying these days, “I refuse to lose sleep about how Reformed I allegedly am or am not”
That’s just disrespectful! Well maybe it is but it is profoundly honest. There are some things in the reformed tradition that are exactly that: tradition – and tradition is only as good as you re-examine and refine it, not rarify it and put it behind bulletproof glass and velvet ropes.
Kinda ironic from a tradition that has semper reformanda – always reforming – for a motto.
- A word despised by some [↩]
Cracking on with my list of 10 books that have influenced me…
A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson: I have spent more money in either buying this or replacing personal copies of this book than any other book. It’s that kind of book.
I first heard about this book through the recommendation of my previous pastor, Dr Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. True story: he told me to sell a shirt and buy one! As someone who I held (and still hold) in incredibly high regard, I picked up a copy (while holding onto my shirt)…and I wasn’t disappointed.
Weaving theological precision with penetrating insight, Watson expounds on the themes taught in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in a memorable way that is sure to be a blessing.
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul: In three words: a modern classic. Dr Sproul has been a faithful defender of Reformation truth and in his seminal work, he takes up on top of the mountain with him and shows us what it is that we serve a God who is Holy, Holy, Holy(!) The chapter on The Trauma of Holiness is worth the price of the book itself. Dr Steven J Lawson has a saying that certain subjects are the equivalent of saying some subjects are the equivalent of “playing big boy football” – Sproul’s treatment of the Holiness of God makes you realize that God’s holiness is more than just fodder for worship music – it’s an earth-shattering reality for all of life!
The Cross of Christ by John Stott: I took this book with me to university and read it during “Fresher’s Week”. A captivating read on the redemptive work of Christ and why it ought to be central for the life of the believer as well as the Church, it, along with Pierced for our Transgressions, established the importance of a proper understanding of the Atonement for me. (Pro tip: if you do get a used copy, get one with the study guide ;))
Knowing God by J.I. Packer: Another modern classic. I understand that in many reformed circles (and with good reason), the name of J.I. Packer arouses deep disdain but this work is one you need to read. Taking the theological cookies off the top shelf and putting them on the bottom shelf where even folks like I can get to them is a rare gift and Packer uses it marvellously. If Watson provides us with exhaustive theology, then Packer provides us with accessible theology. My recommendation is to start with the chapter on The Heart of the Gospel – sooooo good!!!
Holiness by J.C. Ryle: One of few men I am comfortably with calling ‘Bishop’, J.C. Ryle’s Holiness is a must-read for the Christian who desires to grow in holiness and Christlikeness and yet wants to avoid the twin ditches of either legalism and/or license.
As the good Bishop puts it, ““Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.”
Desirous of living a life like this? Ryle is your man (accompanied by a open Bible and a praying heart as you read)
And there’s my ten! What books would you add? Take out? Swap with another? Leave me a comment!
There’s this thing that has been going round on Facebook asking folks to list 10 books that have personal meaning to you and so I thought I’d post ten of “those books”, books that have left their fingerprints all over me. The list is no particular order.
Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like The World: I was 19 and a member at the Metropolitan Tabernacle when I borrowed this from the Doctrine Class library. I got home that evening and decided to read a chapter before bed. Before I knew it, I had read the book cover-to-cover and it was 4:30am, Monday morning.
Using the life of C.H. Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy, Dr John MacArthur reminds us that the circumstances that led to the first “downgrade” haven’t changed all too much. If anything, we’ve come further down the slide than they were. Combining contemporary analysis, historical lesson and biblical and theological precision, Ashamed of the Gospel reminds us that the Gospel is always at stake and it is our job to defend it. I regularly pick it when I feel cold or complacent (read: A LOT)
The Bruised Reed: Those who have known a little longer than the last two or so years will know that in my early teen years, I struggled terribly with depression. It came to a height when I took off to my first year in college to study journalism. While I enjoyed the solitude of living on my own, I simply couldn’t cope with how lonely it got at times. A friend of mine in the US sent me a copy of this when he got to know what I was going through. What a tonic for the soul this little Puritan Paperback was! I recommend this for the believer who is prone to introspection, to looking within for assurance or is generally come on a “down season” as I like to call it.
Pierced for Our Transgressions: Now I have to name-drop a little since I studied for a year with one of the authors on a guided reading course and can vouch that he is both a godly man and a generally sharp individual! Personal connections aside, this book will stir you to think and feel deeply about the central article of our faith as Christians – “Christ and Him crucified”. The first half of the book is devoted to making the case for what is theologically called penal substitution while the second part deals with the objections with a concluding chapter dealing with the implications of this view. Highly recommended.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion: No card-carrying Calvinist could do a top ten who likes to read would go without mentioning Calvin’s magnum opus…right? Jokes aside, I put Calvin in the list because he weds theology and pastoral application so well that you can’t put it down until he gets there. Not the lightest of reading but not the most difficult either, my advice is to start with Book 3, Chapters 4-10 which is his teaching on the Christian life. In fact, you can read it online if you want a taster of what’s on offer – pretty certain it’ll be a blessing.
Desiring God: Some books you read and you are thankful you did…and then some books you read and it is like a two-tonne train hitting you at full speed. Desiring God was the latter – in the best way possible. Expounding his philosophy that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, Piper looks at issues in the Christian life such as conversion, worship, love, the way we view Scripture, money and suffering, showing how the pursuit of God results not only in God’s glory but our joy as well. The book has its controversial moments – from his use of the phrase “Christian hedonism” to his slight amendment of the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism – but I would be lying to myself if I didn’t consider this book to be one of those life-altering books, if anything for showing me that it is not wrong to pursue joy in serving the Lord, provided it is in its proper perspective.
The last two or three weeks have been something of a confused time for me. On the one hand, it’s been a time of a lot of blessing and clarity on a lot of things I’ve been praying and thinking about but on the other hand, it’s been a time where everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. By nature, I hate to cause people sadness and so I tend to “suffer in silence” a lot and so I haven’t really told a lot of people what it’s been like. In that sense, I’m thankful for friends near and far who have stuck their foot in the door and basically said, “How about no to that idea?”
With their love and support and the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit through a few moments where my response to circumstances has been either abject frustration or just to cry, I’m glad to see I’ve been getting through it a day at a time
Part of my way of navigating through this tough season has been realising how underprepared I’ve been for the reality that we as Christians are engaged in all-out war against the world, the flesh and the Devil and so in part to maintain some kind of sanity in everything that has been happening and in part for the edification of my own soul, I’ve been thinking deeply about this issue on spiritual warfare.
The heart of that study has been a concentrated look at Ephesians 6:10-20:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS,
15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE;
16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
A few thoughts from this passage have become so precious in this season:
You’ve already been empowered for this battle: One of the astounding things in this season has been to look at Ephesians 6:10 and realise that the command here wasn’t for me to be strong in and of myself. Without getting to a lecture about the Greek, the point is that we are to be strengthened in the Lord (which is how the HCSB renders the verse: Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength) – left to me, I haven’t felt very strong in the last month in and of myself…and being myself, there isn’t much to be strong in.
But what a relief it is that the Lord promises to supply the strength for the battle – HE will empower me to go on when I want to throw in the towel, the Lord pours out of His vast supply and says, “Press on, son (or daughter for my sisters), press on!”
You’ve already been equipped for this battle: Paul reiterates this twice in the passage – we have the armour of God, God’s own gear to get us through the battle. Perhaps I’ll do a series on the armour of God some day but suffice it to say for now that we have a comprehensive armoury! The temptation is to say, “I don’t have what it takes to get through this…I”m not gonna make a day through it, talk less of a month!”
Brother or sister, YES YOU DO and by God’s grace, YES YOU WILL! You are as equipped as you’ll ever be, dearly beloved one. I encourage you to study this section in Ephesians, study the promises of God and study the lives – both in Scripture and outside it – who have made it through and you’ll come to realise (as I did last night and hence why I got to writing at 1:45am with work the next day!) that you have what it takes!
You have a real enemy: I have to confess – I really haven’t thought much about the Devil as I probably should. Coming from the African Pentecostal background I did, all I seemed to hear about was the Devil…and demons…and witchcraft – endless prayer meetings (while next to no-one attended the Bible study), endless prohibitions against things which would give him entry (more often that not, the prohibition had more to do with hearsay than the things God actually tells us to abstain from) and after a while, you simply switch off to any talk of the Devil. You still believe he’s real – after all the Bible says he is – but you just don’t care.
While that seems an admirable course of action, you have better believe it is not a Biblical course of action. The Bible goes to great length to tell us that (a) there is a Devil, (b) He is the enemy of God and so (c) he’s your enemy!
Now understand, in the words of Dr Warren Wiersbe, “We don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory!” – the Devil is a real enemy but He is an already-defeated enemy who one day will finally get the already-declared victory served on Him once and for all.
In the meantime, though, he fights against us, giving all he’s got. No surprise there since this is the same Devil who went after God incarnate and gave it his best shot! Jesus, however, put him to flight with the Word of God (which incidentally is the only weapon in the armour of Ephesians 6) and since Jesus is the Great Exemplar (1 Peter 2:21-25), we fight this enemy with the same weaponry the Word of God
It’s a battle of blood, sweat, toil and tears – sometimes all four at once! – but always remember though we have an enemy, we also have the empowerment to fight and the equipment to fight. And guess what?
It’s Tuesday…and another edition of Tuesday Tunes.
This week’s Tune of Choice is by one of my favourite choirs in Gospel music, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and it’s an old track but such a good one:
Picking up from where we left off last week…
2. Very little is told about negative situations (and we are awful at handling the fallout)
In other words, no one is writing books about when you finally pluck up the unnatural courage and she says no or the relationship breaks down and you’re left lamenting what might have been.
Perhaps it is an extension of my general ability to suss out all the ways a situation can grow before it’s even happened – and usually one of them happens (just saying) – but I feel we are doing a massive disservice in telling our men to jump out of the trenches and not telling them there is a firm chance you’ll get shot a few times.
Sometimes you can only patch up a wound after it appears – but maybe it would be good sense to prepare ourselves for the reality that you may very well get hurt.
I’ll never forget sitting on the floor in my room on the phone to a guy who had been in a relationship and was even preparing to propose to his then-girlfriend only for her to call one day out of the blue and say she didn’t want to marry an aspiring missionary. If anyone tells you men don’t cry, I’d throw them into a TARDIS and make them sit there as my friend and brother – now off serving the Lord back in Ghana – wept his eyes out as such disappointment.1
Oh, he needs to man up – you take a risk when you get into a relationship…
True but if I fire back (this is FieryLogic.com after all) – the church has done an awful disservice to its young people in not spelling out the reality that sometimes it’s a lonely business being alone and that loneliness only gets compounded when disappointment comes along.
But surely we should teach people to find their contentment in Christ – they would feel so disappointed afterwards, would they?
Possibly but such an answer betrays an underlying belief that Christians should never feel disappointed or let down or sad. Disappointment is real and we shouldn’t minimize it when it comes or try to theologize it away.
So what did I say to my brother? It sucks this had to happen to you and I am so sorry. I’ve been there and it’s not a nice place to be in – the hurt is real and don’t try to tell yourself otherwise. But that hurt is temporary – you’ve never been more loved than you are in Christ… – and then came the call to find rest, contentment and peace in Christ.
You can’t predict where a tree will fall in the forest but surely we should prepare for the likelihood it might.
To be continued next Tuesday
- Thankful to my brother who will remain nameless who gave me permission to share his story. [↩]
So I’m starting a new feature here on the blog.
Anyone who knows me real well knows I am in love with music and have quite a bit of an oddly wide taste – from Christian music to classical to jazz fusion and a few random bits in-between.
For today’s opening gambit, I introduce to one of my favourite living acts on the planet right now, The Robert Glasper Experiment. Headed by pianist Robert Glasper and featuring the talents of Derrick Hodge on bass, Mark Colenburg on drums and Casey Benjamin on vocoder/sax, the Experiment play with music and come up with innovative and enjoyable results every time.
This is my favourite live performance of theirs – mixing Little Dragon’s Twice and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (a song I never enjoy listen to)…and well, I’ll let you see what happened.
Check back next Tuesday for another instalment of Tuesday Tunes!
I didn’t get to post last week’s lesson so here are weeks five and six:
In week six, I alluded to a walkthrough of 1 Cor 12-14 done by my pastor, Tom Drion: