Category Archives: doctrine

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.)

The playground of Eden, the patience of God

At 21 months old, our eldest daughter E amazes us. Each day she seems to pick up something new. I’ve been sitting here at the playground and she’s climbed each of the ladders (all different sizes) on her own, and slid down the slide (she loves it by the way, especially once she’s at the bottom, where she copies me and stares up at the sky for a moment and says, “Sleep”).

She can now walk along the rickety bridge, climb up the slide with the help of her sticky shoes, and hoist herself up on the see-saw before declaring to the world, “Horse!”, followed by a small galloping motion that is better seen than described.

She now also picks up random bits of rubbish, and at my encouragement instead of eating it, motors towards the rubbish bin and drops the cigarette butt/sweet wrapper/paper bag into the bin. High fives and fist bumps all round.

And when she climbs up the ladder to get to the slide, she’s very careful. She takes small, calculated steps with her legs. She’s patient to move one leg only after the other and her hands are holding firm. And the beam on her face as she stands above the ladder victorious is priceless.

This evening I juxtaposed our playground moment with some light reading, Joel Beeke’s Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. And at the end of chapter 4, he summarises what the Puritan Stephen Charnock says about one of God’s attributes, His patience:

The wickedness of man is an affront to God, but God nevertheless exercises patience in terms of delaying His wrath and tempering it. The question inevitably must be raised as to why God does so. The answer given above has in view the mediatorial work of Christ. This is certainly the main reason, but the patience of God toward sinners on account of Christ also shows God to be appeasable. God desires reconciliation with His creatures and so He does not destroy them at once, but gives them space for repentance.

Practically speaking, the patience of God also allows for the propagation of the human race. Mankind would be unable to increase in number if God killed all humans upon their entry (or even conception) into the world. More specifically, God’s patience allows for the continuance and growth of the church… in this light, Charnock observes, “There could not have been a saint in the earth, nor, consequently in heaven, had it not been for this perfection”…

So if God were not patient and merciful, slow to anger, these precious playground moments wouldn’t have existed. E would not have lived past one moment of conception. I would not have done so. Cheryl would not have.

Whether E or sister H end up worshipping God in Christ, the Patient One knows. But I can be thankful to God that His patience means salvation for girls and boys, men and women of every race.

Why we don’t believe sin provokes the wrath of God

Webtreats Tileable Light Blurs and Abstract Circle Patterns in Bright Lights 4

In Chapter 4 of The Cross of Christ, The Problem of Forgiveness, John Stott identifies five vivid metaphors used in Scripture to illustrate that sin cannot approach God, and God cannot tolerate sin: height (Psalm 7:17), distance (Josh 3:4), light (1 John 1:5), fire (Heb 12:29), and vomiting (Rev 3:16).

He continues,

“[these] all say that God cannot be in the presence of sin, and that if it approaches him too closely it is repudiated or consumed.

Yet these notions are foreign to modern man. The kind of God who appeals to most people today would be easygoing in his tolerance of our offences. He would be gentle, kind, accommodating, and would have no violent reactions.

Unhappily, even in the church we seem to have lost the vision of the majesty of God. There is much shallowness and levity among us. Prophets and psalmists would probably say of us that ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes’. In public worship our habit is to slouch or squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God. It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame or tears. We saunter up to God to claim his patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that he might send us away.

We need to hear again the Apostle Peter’s sobering words, “Since you call on a father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives… in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17) In other words, if we dare to call our judge our Father, we must beware of presuming on him. It must even be said that our evangelical emphasis on the atonement is dangerous if we come to it too quickly. We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won only after we have first cried, “Woe is me for I am lost.”

In [R.W.] Dale’s words, “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 128-9.

We need to hold fast to the biblical revelation “of the living God who hates evil, is disgusted and angered by it, and refuses ever to come to terms with it.” That’s the essential background to amazing grace offered at the cross.

 

Raising my Ebenezer and changing hymn lyrics

Waiting for Indiana Jones by Pandiyan V

Anyone sung the following hymn line from “Come Thou Fount” recently?

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

The word Ebenezer there is a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12, where the prophet Samuel takes a stone and names it “the stone of help”, for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” When understood, it’s a great reminder that God’s faithful to his people throughout biblical history.

Russell Moore recently tweeted the following about it:

Which sparked a conversation about whether song leaders should change obscure words in hymns, or teach them what they mean each time:


 

Following this exchange, Stephen Altrogge fleshed out in a blog post why he errs on the side of Biblical illiteracy, and makes his case for dropping words like Ebenezer. He shares:

…the reality is, our culture is becoming more and more Bible illiterate. Words that once were commonly understood are no longer used. We can’t assume that our friends, coworkers, and fellow students understand what we mean by traditional Bible words, such as “repent”, “sin”, and “forgiveness”. We can’t assume people understand what we’re talking about when we use Bible-rich words like “propitiation” and “justification”. These aren’t commonly used words in our culture anymore. There is no moral majority. We are living in a post-modern, post-Bible culture that doesn’t have a shared repository of religious words.

… Plus, certain words are more important than others. I would prefer that people understand “repent”, “believe”, “grace” and, “forgiveness” before they understand “Ebenezer”. I would prefer that people be firm on “justification” and “sanctification” before they be firm on the word “fount”.

The more biblically literate might argue that it’s a false choice to say people can’t learn about justification, sanctification and Ebenezer. I agree we shouldn’t underestimate the ability to understand Biblical allusions, but we don’t want to presume on people understanding them either.

So some Sundays I’ve taken the time to explain words and phrases that are unclear (it’s even better when our pastors would do this). It usually only needs to take half a minute and can be immensely beneficial.

Here’s two points I think was missing from the conversation.

1. Come Thou Fount has always had more variations than we realise.

From Hymnary.org:

The original hymn includes five verses, but most modern versions use only the first three. There are a few common word changes in different versions. In some texts, instead of “Here I find my greatest treasure,” (Psalter Hymnal) the first line of verse two reads “Here I raise mine Ebenezer,” a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12, in which Samuel sets up a stone and names it Ebenezer meaning “The Lord has helped us” (Episcopal Hymnal, Presbyterian Hymnal, Baptist Hymnal, Methodist Hymnal). As well, the last line of the second stanza can be read “Interposed his precious blood” or “bought me with his precious blood.” The two verbs signify different metaphors of the atonement of Christ.

So most of our hymnals and arrangements don’t even use Robert Robinson’s original 5-verse text anyways. Hymnal collections adapted the words for the audiences in their time (e.g. “Here by Thy great help I’ve come” to “Hither by Thy help I’m come”), and others have done the same in recent years to make the words more understandable.

2. Songs teach Scripture, they’re not Scripture.

Unless you’re singing word-for-word from the Bible, the words in our hymn books and song sheets weren’t breathed out by God. So let’s not treat them that way.

Granted, I think it’s important to sing lyrics consistently to help the words dwell in us easily (when our eyesight fails and our bones grow weary, having songs memorised can be a real encouragement). I probably won’t help my church family if  I’m flipping the words to our hymns every other week.

But if some hymn lyrics we’re asking our brothers and sisters to memorise are too archaic or too obscure, I think we have an opportunity to change them so that they better communicate the Scriptures. That’s what drove hymn writers like Isaac Watts went against the grain in his time, and rewrote metrical psalms to help people understand and connect emotionally to what they sang.

So I think it’s in the same spirit that we adapt the language of hymns for the sake of modern congregations.

Of course, we should change words to hymns with care and sensitivity: care for an accurate meaning, and sensitivity to the needs of your particular church family. Children, visitors, new Christians, old Christians, English-as-second-language Christians will all benefit from better understanding what we sing.

So in conclusion, I think I’m in agreement with Stephen on this question (thanks for raising the topic!), and see no problem with changing hymn lyrics with care and sensitivity. How about you?

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Further reading: 

Raising Ebenezer – Gary A Parrett argues against modernising hymn texts.

How to revise hymns without destroying them – Bobby Gilles talks about the balance between when to revise and when not to revise lyrics.

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1000 km of cycling later…

image

 

It was after a “setting smart goals” session at work and realising I hadn’t been exercising since Eden’s arrival, that I resolved to start cycling.

At the time it was a pretty daunting prospect since the only time I had cycled in the past 18 months was to move my bike (which I got as a present when I turned 12) from one house to another (it was not far, and I remember it was extremely tiring).

As for other types of exercise: I used to run a fair bit bit but since getting married I’ve not developed a consistent habit to run, nor get involved in other sports out there (watching the All Blacks on the couch, sadly does not count).

 

Yet today I’m reflecting on the fact that since November, God’s graciously kept me safe on my bike for over 1000 km.

And I’m still enjoying it!

http://runkeeper.com/user/wchong/fitnessReports/cycling/view

 

Some fun personal stats:

  • Over 150 times on my bike since November
  • Over 1000 km pedalled since November
  • elevation climb of over 9000 m (equivalent of Mt Everest) since November
  • top speed I’ve reached is 50 km/h (zipping down Botany Rd)
  • longest bike ride was for an hour on New Year’s Day, cycling 18.4 km to the Panmure basin, the Rotary track and back
  • Petrol spend down from $94 to $72 a month since getting on my bike (now that the car’s mostly for weekends and specific trips)

 

Cycling 1000km

 

As a Christian I can expect God to teach me things about living in His world under His rule, using a variety of experiences. Here are two things God’s been showing me through my attempts to make cycling a habit:

1. Habit-forming is a daily commitment, not a one-time decision.

My success or failure in maintaining a habit isn’t the result of one big decision (I’m going to start cycling), but making small daily decisions (I’m going to cycle today). Each time I’m presented with the choice of slothfulness or faithfulness (though the temptation to be slothful grows with cold, rainy weather!)

This truth is surprisingly transferable.

In the same way, faithfulness as a husband doesn’t happen because of the one decision to get married, but comes about as I daily commit to the woman I made the promise to.

Consistency as a father doesn’t happen just from a big decision to care for your child, but to daily say no to hundreds of me-first activities and to say yes to feeding, clothing, showering, rocking, nappy-changing her.

And being a faithful servant of Jesus Christ isn’t the result of one decision to “ask Jesus into my heart”, but a daily, moment-by-moment call to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him.

I need this reminder because when I’m discouraged from reading my bible after missing a few days, or frustrated about a sin I’ve lapsed into again, rather than “let go and let God”, or just giving up, or blaming others, it’s more helpful to put my head down and strive to do it right the next time. And the time after that. And so on.

 

(Explored) by Wen-Cheng Liu

2. Yet habit-forming does not equate to legalism.

I think it’s actually commendable to form habits. The error of legalism is to claim that because of these habits, God is satisfied with me (when he’s already satisfied with me through His perfect Son).

Yet sometimes in an overreaction to legalism, we can almost swing away from seeing diligence at anything as a virtuous thing.

It’s probably too big to explore in one sitting, but at the very least, I think I often forget that working at a craft or habit is a normal means that God uses to grow in holiness, or to improve our skill. The oft-quoted statistic is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.

In an interview, worldview theologian James KA Smith points out that

“most contemporary evangelical understandings of discipleship have no place to appreciate the power of habit (except perhaps negatively). But that is a very odd scenario since Christians across the ages have long understood habit formation to be at the center of spiritual formation and discipleship.

 

The balance between God’s enabling and our efforts I think can be seen in Philippians 2:12-13, where the Apostle Paul exhorts his readers to

“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

 

 

I haven’t read Kevin DeYoung’s “Hole in our Holiness” book but I’m sure there would be helpful points in there too about this balance between what God enables us to do and actually doing it.

So I can reasonably say that God grants me the grace to ride my bike, read my bible, love my wife and daughter consistently, yet he achieves this through me making daily decisions to do what’s right.

I’m given both the power do something, and the responsibility to do it.

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