Author Archives: W C

Greater Than We Can Imagine – Praise & Prayer 2018 – Set List

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of organising a praise and prayer evening for our bible college community. It all started with a fireside conversation: “Wouldn’t it be great to come together for singing and prayer?”

We’re incredibly blessed at college to spend hours and hours drinking from a firehose of theology, missions, languages and ministry training. Also, God seems to have given us a range of gifted musicians, poets, artists and songwriters at present. So it seemed fitting to set aside a few hours to respond to God’s greatness: both in who he reveals Himself to be, and in how He saves us through Christ.

So on the 28th August, we had a room full of students and families, young and old, all worshipping God in song, prayer and reading His Word. The theme of the night, “Greater Than We Can Imagine”, came from Psalm 145:

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
– Psalm 145:3-7, NIV

I had the job of picking songs for the night, while my fellow music coordinators Luke and Alastair prepared the rest of the program and arranged the space beautifully. I really appreciated how varied the contributions were from everyone, and how there was a real freedom to enjoy God together and to delight in His Word, and to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord…” (Eph 5:19)

If you’re interested, here’s a recap of what we did together on the night. We sang a variety of songs from a range of sources including Sovereign Grace Music, Stuart Townend, Indelible Grace, CityAlight, Hillsong, and even a few homegrown offerings from SMBC songwriters.

Part 1 – The God Who is Greater Than We Can Imagine

  1. Welcome & Prayer: an invitation to prefer one another and “let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor 14:26)
  2. Read: Group reading of Psalm 145
  3. Sing: All Creatures of our God and King by Sovereign Grace Music
  4. Sing: How Great is our God by Chris Tomlin (with How Great Thou Art)
  5. Pray: 1-sentence “popcorn” prayers to praise God for who He is
  6. Sing: Psalm 62 (My Soul Finds Rest) by Stuart Townend & Aaron Keyes
  7. Pray: Silent, self-directed reflections on Psalm 145
  8. Listen: Poem on Psalm 145 by Sam Gempton
  9. Listen: You Won’t Forsake Me by Matt Lo
  10. Sing: Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe) by Indelible Grace
  11. Sing: Only a Holy God by CityAlight
  12. Pray: A free response
  13. Sing: Great Is Thy Faithfulness (My Treasure) by Thomas Chisholm, John Piper

 

Part 2 – The God Who Saves is Greater Than We Can Imagine

  1. Welcome: a reminder our great God is also the one who redeems us through Christ Jesus
  2. Sing: Come Praise and Glorify by Sovereign Grace Music
  3. Sing: You Are the God Who Saves Me (Psalm 88) by Nick Freestone
  4. Sing: Love, You Will Not Let Me Go by George Matheson, music and lyrics by Brian Leung
  5. Sing: I Stand In Awe by Mark Altrogge (with scripture reading of Rev 4)
  6. Listen: Lord of the Heavens by James Peters
  7. Listen: Poem, “Here I Am” by Steph Leung
  8. Sing: Let Your Kingdom Come by Sovereign Grace Music
  9. Read: Revelation 5
  10. Sing: Revelation Song by Jennie Lee-Riddle
  11. Sing: O Praise the Name (Anástasis)
  12. Pray: To give thanks and close


SPOTIFY PLAYLIST:


 

Book review: The Extent of the Atonement by David Allen

The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (B&H Academic, 2016).

by David L. Allen

Genre: Biblical Reference / Christian Theology

Size: 820 pages (and weighs in at 1.7 kg!)

What’s the big idea: David Allen makes a comprehensive biblical, historical, theological case that the majority of Christians, even within those who are considered Reformed, affirm an “unlimited atonement” as the best understanding of the extent of Christ’s saving work.

Easy to read? It was OK. It’s certainly an extensive tome on the atonement’s extent, so I’ve read through about a third of it so far. The sheer size of the book will probably appeal to those interested in the topic, rather than general readers. That being said, B&H editors have helpfully indexed the book by subject, author and Scripture passage. If you know how to search through this book, it becomes easy to read and a goldmine of information.

What I appreciated:

  • It’s comprehensive. From Irenaeus to Al Mohler, Allen surveys what every well-known (and more unfamiliar) Christian leader has believed regarding the extent of the atonement. You’ll need to discern between the historical data and Allen’s own commentary and assessment interspersed throughout. But a lot of research has gone into this book, which we can be grateful for.
  • I appreciated the tone of Allen’s work. He doesn’t play the man but seeks only to critique the positions that they hold. This kind of writing style is often lacking in the intramural debates on this topic.
  • He provides two helpful charts (p.xxviii, 766) – one is a summary of four different views of the extent of the atonement. Another is a comprehensive list of theologians and their view on this matter.
  • Part 3 of the book comprises a chapter-by-chapter critique of Jonathan and David Gibson’s From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, the most comprehensive defence of definite atonement to date. Even for someone who’s persuaded by the arguments for definite atonement, I found it helpful to understand the objections from Allen’s side of the fence. He summarises each contributor’s arguments fairly, and offers thoughtful and persuasive rebuttals.

What I would have liked to see:

  • For an 800-plus “tour de force”, there was surprisingly little discussion on OT conceptions of the atonement. For example, the Day of Atonement is only referenced twice (p402 in a discussion of Robert Lightner, and when Allen critiques the article on definite atonement in the OT in From Heaven He Came And Sought Her).
  • A bit less of an inquisitionary tone. I understand that this is meant to be a comprehensive historical survey, but Allen seems to take aim at any and every author who’s ever published about the atonement’s extent. In some cases, he pulls apart their arguments in the kind of lengthy, meticulous manner one normally associates with blog posts you disagree with (e.g., poor Paul Jarvis in p.610-12). At times, it seemed like a meeting or phone conversation would have sufficed in place of the extended critique.
  • Some more trimming. I appreciate how extensive the data is out there, but there’s no reason why some of the historical surveys couldn’t have been abbreviated.
  • Allen sometimes adopts unclear labels to describe his and other viewpoints. He insists that no Baptists can be “Reformed” in the confessional sense (p.xv), and goes so far as to call his own view not Arminian, or Moderate Calvinist – but simply, a “Baptist” perspective (p.xviii).

Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone who is interested in the debates about the extent of the atonement. Carl Trueman (an advocate of definite atonement) offers a warm endorsement: “While David Allen and I disagree on the matter, this work is an irenic and learned contribution to the topic which carries the historical, and thus doctrinal, discussion forward in an extremely helpful way. I am thus happy to recommend this work of a friendly critic. It deserves wide readership and careful engagement.”

Verdict: Not for the faint-hearted, this extensive tome about the atonement’s extent serves as a thorough, critical companion to From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.

More info:

  • Jeff Johnson offers a detailed critique of Allen’s book from a definite atonement perspective.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

 

Book review: Amyraut on Predestination

Amyraut on Predestination: The First Published Translation from the French (Charenton Reformed Publishing, 2017).

by Matthew Harding, with a biographical sketch by Alan Clifford

Genre: Church History, Theology

Size: 190 pages – a 30 page biography, some translation notes, and then 100 pages of Amyraut’s own words from Brief Traitté de la Predestination et de ses principales dependances (Brief Treatise on Predestination and Its Dependent Principles).

What’s the big idea: Never heard of Amyraldianism? This English translation of his seminal work on predestination and the atonement (which sparked three heresy trials!) will help you understand where the idea of “4 Point Calvinism” or “Moderate Calvinism” originated from.

Easy to read? Definitely. Harding’s translation is lucid and clear, and even sounds like a “French” person is saying it. I found the book easy to use when preparing a theology essay on Amyraldianism.

What I appreciated? A few things:

  • The fact that this work now exists. A lack of primary sources has been a longstanding barrier to evaluating Amyraut’s teachings accurately – for example, if you want to know what Calvin himself taught you can read his Institutes. Matthew Harding and Alan Clifford have done a service to the church by publishing the first English translation of Amyraut’s most well-known work, This will hopefully provide clearer insight into Amyraut’s teachings.
  • The biographical sketch by Alan Clifford reads well. While he comes across as very adoring of Amyraut (complete with photos of the archway he used to walk under!), it doesn’t seem to seep into hagiography.
  • Harding is a careful guide – his explanatory notes are helpful, particularly when Amyraut seems to his metaphors or says confusing things, e.g. a “predestination unto salvation” and a “predestination unto faith” in Chapter 13.
  • Amyraut’s words exude a warm and pastoral tone. It certainly helped me to gain a fuller picture of his teachings, not just as an abstract theology, but motivated by real issues from real people. It’s much harder to see Amyraldianism in this way if you’re reading him through the lens of secondary authors who seem more interested in dissecting his theology rather than listening to his words.
  • While I don’t agree with Amyraldianism myself, reading his words directly helped me to appreciate his view as a legitimate view of the atonement within the Reformed evangelical tradition.

Who I’d recommend it to: Two kinds of people – those who call themselves Amyraldians (e.g. Sydney Anglicans) but have never read Amyraut’s own teachings; and those who are wrestling with the idea of the “L” in “TULIP” (limited atonement). Don’t discount Amyraut’s views before studying him first-hand.

Verdict: Lisez-le s’il vous plaît! (Please read it!)

Get the book from Amazon or Book Depository.


(I’m grateful to Dr Alan Clifford who provided a review copy of this book, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

Book review: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Crossway, 2013).

by David and Jonathan Gibson

Genre: Biblical Reference / Christian Theology

Size: 704 pages

What’s the big idea: This is a well-researched resource on definite atonement (i.e. Christ’s death actually secured the salvation of those whom the Father elects and the Spirit regenerates) from a variety of historical, Old Testament, New Testament, systematic and pastoral angles.

Easy to read? Yes and no. As each chapter is written by different contributors (including J.I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson, Carl Trueman, John Piper, Alec Motyer and so on), the readability varies throughout. You may need to pause and re-read some sections to understand them.

What I appreciated:

  • The book’s range of contributors is impressive and it was great to see so many angles covered.
  • The inclusion of pastoral application is immensely helpful in showing how definite atonement offers Christians assurance and brings glory to God
  • The chapter by Amar Djaballah (pp165-200) offers a rare, primary-source engagement with Moïses Amyraut, a little-known French theologian who popularised a view that many Reformed evangelicals hold to today. It’s great that Djaballah translated so many sections of Amyraut’s writings on the issue.
  • The authors were honest where there was less evidence, or difficulties in supporting their conclusions (for example, Paul Williamson: “One most readily admit that the Pentateuch may seem infertile soil to yield the doctrine of definite atonement.” (p.227)

What I would have liked to see:

  • A bit more help for non-Hebrew readers in Alec Motyer’s chapter – the lack of transliteration may be off-putting for some.

Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone x

Verdict: A tour-de-force of compelling arguments for a definite atonement. It’s a long book, but worth the investment to peer at the heart of God’s difficult but definite love for His people.

More info:

Wishing tree thoughts

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, we were walking through a local shopping mall and saw they’d put up this tree:

It turned out to be a wishing tree – people were invited to write their wishes on a card, and hang them on the tree. The branches were full of notes.

Some were predictable:

I wish for endless love! And lots of money!

Good health for my parents

To find a good job

Some were lovely:

That Josh proposes to me

Dear God, May we love each other just as you have loved us.

Some expressed pain and longing:

For us to fall pregnant with a healthy baby

For my parents to choose who I love

For my son to come home

Some were sad:

For my Mr Grey to find me

For my family to get along, 

For my parents to stay together

I think what kept Cheryl and I there for over an hour, reading message after message, was this: what we wish for is a window into our hearts.

So I started to pray to the Triune God for each card I read. After all, who else can answer our prayers? Who are we wishing to? God? A Higher power otherwise undefined?

I found it hard to stop thinking about the messages afterwards, so jotted a few lines of verse down.

// WISHING TREE //

Under the Wishing Tree hopes expressed
dreams declared
reunions requested
and names signed
Among them
Tamara pleads for a family in heaven
A prayer that God in Christ sought to answer
When he too dangled his message on wood
Jesus Messiah laid bare for sinners
Our names bound to him by scarlet thread
His death and revival
Brings the arrival of riches exceeding red packet provisions
This New Year lift your eyes to true prosperity
God’s Son wishing life from his death on a tree.

16.2.2018