Author Archives: W C

2018 Year in Review: there and back again

Cloudless blue skies soar above us. Food and drink – all packed. We turn round the bend, then take a left onto State Highway 1. Two hours of driving towards the Southern Alps awaits. “It’ll be a day trip,” I assured the passengers: an elf queen and three hobbits. Yes – we’re going there and back again.


How to sum up 2018 – our second year in Sydney, our second year raising three kids, our second year digging into the riches of God’s Word? It’s been like a long stretch of gravel road sometimes – bumpy, never-ending, full of surprising potholes.

I learned to schedule important due dates a day or two early, and expect the rest of the time to be filled with unexpected moments. A difficult parenting moment. An impromptu confer and counsel with someone. A daddy date, a playground appointment, a train station excursion. A lecturer wisely pointed out that an essay takes as long as you give it. So this year was spent channelling research and essays into the allocated time. “Turn my eyes away from worthless things!” has been my constant, half-successful mantra this year.

Yet I’m grateful it’s a road others have travelled before us, and alongside us. It’s been amazing how fellow students were so willing to share ideas, resources, notes, and to spur each other on. What a privilege it’s been to learn in community.


“I want to see my name.” Dust billows behind us as we barrel towards our destination: Mount Sunday. Once upon a time, herders on horseback peeled away from their farms to meet on this rocky outcrop beyond the Ashburton Lakes. These drovers would perch on the rock to regale anecdotes of the past week, a tumbleweed-strewn valley before them, snowy peaks surrounding them.


My walk with God has been average this year. Some days were easier. Many days were hard. Is it ironic that I found it easier to parse Hebrew than to pray to the High King? “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps 94:19)

I’ve learned this year to try and give each area of my life full attention rather than attempt to power through multiple areas with partial attention. I’ve had to practice letting go of my need to perfect every assignment at the expense of sleep. It’s been a different rhythm this year: work hard during the day, then clock off and give Cheryl and the kids my full attention. Catch up on studies in the evenings, but be realistic. God will look after the results. And looking back, He really has. My proud self wants to claim credit, but no. It’s a work of God’s grace in me. My part to play remains – I want to keep changing and becoming more like Christ. To prioritise more than just my studies in 2019. I want to enjoy God, love Cheryl, nourish our children, and serve those around me: church and family, friends and neighbours.

We cross the one-lane bridge, and pause in awestruck wonder. At last! Mt Sunday these days is better known as the filming location for Edoras in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. You first meet Theoden, King of the Rohirrim, here: corrupted by the evil wizard Saruman. Hope seems lost for men, yet when Gandalf the White strides into Meduseld and reveals himself, he drives out the darkness in Theoden and the first ray of hope begins to shine through. Edoras becomes a Rock of Remembrance, where good starts to triumph over evil.


After God provides Israel with an undeserved victory over the Philistines in we read in the Bible that

Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12

As we look back this year – wow, hasn’t the Lord helped us! So many Ebenezers. So many Rocks of Remembrance. So many moments of God’s faithfulness and kindness. A band of brothers sharing our weakness to a groom-to-be. Nature walks and ant swarms. Games of Crocodile on the lawn. Quietly exchanging verses and prayers while watching children play. Belting out “All Hail, Redeemer, hail!” with a thousand voices. The still small voice of comfort at a spiritual retreat. Children’s birthday parties. Sunday night laughs and tears. Sharing the gospel with a fellow bus passenger, and hearing him trade an addiction for a worship service. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Sometimes we need to cross difficult waters to see our Ebenezers better.
“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” – Psalm 61:2

“Can we come back to my name?”
“I don’t know son. Perhaps one day.”


2019 will bring more adventures, more Ebenezers, more chances to reflect on God’s kindness to us as we sojourn a final year in Sydney.

So here’s to another year of walking by faith, amidst our failures, looking to our Solid Rock.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, 
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, 
Interposed His precious blood.”

Robert Robinson, “Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing”
Happy New Year! Much love from the Chongs for 2019.

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: