Assurance, Good Works, and Sovereign Grace (Berkhof)

Assurance of Faith The Heidelberg Catechism says that the Christian’s good works help in the assurance of faith: “we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits” (Q/A 86).  The Westminster Larger Catechism notes under assurance that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to “discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made” (Q/A 80).  Biblically speaking, James said that true faith is shown to be true by works (James 2:18) and John wrote that we can tell we have new life when we love other Christians (1 John 3:14).

I appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanation of how assurance of faith is related to good works in the Christian’s life:

…Reformed Confessional Standards also clearly indicate that assurance is based in part on the so-called syllogism of faith, in which the believer consciously and deliberately compares the graces that adorn his life and his general conduct, with the biblical description of the virtues and the godly conversation of those who are born of the Spirit, and on their relative correspondence bases the conclusion that he is indeed a child of God.

Berkhof ended the section this way – by emphasizing sovereign grace:

…Some object to this method of seeking assurance altogether. They claim that it directs believers to seek the ground of assurance within themselves, and thus encourages them to build on a self-righteous foundation. But this is clearly a mistake. Believers are not taught to regard their good works as the meritorious cause of their salvation, but only as the divinely wrought evidences of a faith that is itself a gift of God. Their conclusion is based exactly on the assumption that the qualities and works which they discover in their life, could never have been wrought by themselves, but can only be regarded as the products of sovereign grace.

 Louis Berkhof, The Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), chapter 6.

(As a side, The Assurance of Faith is only $5.99 on Logos.  It’s very much worth that!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Lutheran Confessions: Concordia

  (This is a re-blog from November 2009)

Concordia is an outstanding Reformation resource.  It is handsome, sturdy, well-formatted, and easy to use.  The subtitle is correct: it is A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.  Editorial props go to Paul McCain, Edward Englebrecht, Robert Baker, and Gene Veith as well as Concordia Publishing House for a job well done.

Now, I’m not a Lutheran, but this book “almost maketh me” one!  Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto is right: the book is “a wonderful guide out of the spiritual labyrinth created by liberal fudge on the one hand and simplistic self-righteousness on the other” (ix).

Why the title, Concordia?  It means with and heart in Latin.  “It describes a commitment to the truth so strong and so deep, it is as if those who share it have a single heartbeat” (xiii).

What is genuine, historic Lutheranism?

“To embrace the freedom of truth means rejecting the slavery of error.  That is why this book uses two phrases to capture the essence of biblical confession: ‘we believe, teach, and confess’ and ‘we reject and condemn.’  One cannot believe, teach and confess the truth without also rejecting and condemning everything that endangers or contradicts the truth” (xiv).

What is in this 700+ page book?  A helpful introduction to confessional Lutheranism, how to use the book, overviews, a Reformation timeline, and what it means to subscribe to Lutheran confessions.  The confessions are: The three Creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian), The Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), The Smalcald Articles (1537), The Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537; the title is a tad misleading – this treatise discusses authority in the church from a Lutheran perspective), The Small and Large Catechism (1529), The Formula of Concord, Epitome (1577) and The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577).  There are also great historical introductions to those confessions, as well as a glossary, topical, and Scripture index.

You can get Concordia shipped to your door for under $30 if you shop around.  I’ll post on it from time to time, to be sure, but suffice it to say that this is a mini “Lutheran Library” in one book.  All students of theology and church history should have one of these so you can learn from confessional Lutherans what they teach and confess.  Though I have the usual Reformed qualms with certain aspects of Lutheran theology, I respect their emphasis on the gospel and their confessional stance in a day and age of confessional drifting.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Not Trusting My Own Merits (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.)  Those whom God justifies he also sanctifies.  These two truths are twin truths.  Where one is the other will also be.  We don’t want to separate justification and sanctification.  On the other hand, we don’t want to mix them together.  We need to make a proper biblical distinction between the two or we mess up the gospel of grace.  John Calvin understood this and explained it well more than a few times.  Here’s one instance from his tract called “On the True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church.”  (Note that “regeneration” in this context is broadly defined and means renewal and sanctification.)

Let the children of God consider that regeneration is necessary to them, but that, nevertheless, their full righteousness consists in Christ:

—let them understand that they have been ordained and created unto holiness of life and the study of good works, but that, nevertheless, they must recline on the merits of Christ with their whole soul;

—let them enjoy the righteousness of life which has been bestowed upon them, still, however, distrusting it so as not to bring before the tribunal of God any other trust than trust in the obedience of Christ.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 246.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Sola Scriptura: What It Isn’t (Muller)

Product Details The Reformation teaching of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) does not mean that the Christian alone reads the Bible alone and interprets it alone.  Sola Scriptura does not at all mean we should be lone rangers when studying, interpreting, and applying God’s Word.  According to sola Scriptura private devotions aren’t bad, but private interpretation is.

And historically speaking we probably shouldn’t use Luther on trial at Worms as an illustration of what sola Scriptura means unless we give it a fuller contextual explanation.  The Diet of Worms wasn’t at all “Luther alone and his Bible alone against the Roman Catholic Church.”

Here’s how Richard Muller describes it.

“…It is…entirely anachronistic to view the sola scriptura of Luther and his contemporaries as a declaration that all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text.”

“It is equally anachronistic to assume that Scripture functioned for the Reformers like a set of numbered facts or propositions suitable for use as ready-made solutions to any and all questions capable of arising in the course of human history.  Both the language of sola scriptura and the actual use of the text of Scripture by the Reformers can be explained only in terms of the questions of authority and interpretation posed by the developments of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  Even so, close study of the actual exegetical results of the Reformers manifests strong interpretive and doctrinal continuities with the exegetical results of the [early church] fathers and the medieval doctors.”

Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 p. 63-64.

(This is a repost from July 2013)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Worldview: Idols Have Consequences (Pearcey)

 So far I’m very much enjoying this book by Nancy Pearcey: Finding Truth.  It’s a great Christian resource for evaluating various worldviews in light of Scripture.  In this book Pearcey gives five biblical principles for unmasking idolatrous “-isms” like atheism, secularism, materialism, and so forth.  This morning I was reading the section where Pearcey noted that many people who reject God live, think, and act in illogical and inconsistent ways.  Here’s one example:

When God gives people up to their idols, they experience a growing conflict between their worldview and their lived reality.  When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is “Flesh and Machines” by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT.  Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine – a ‘big bag of skin full of biomolecules’ interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry.

In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way.  But, he says, “when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, …see that they are machines.”

Is that how he treats them though?  Of course not: ‘That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level.  They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.’  Certainly if what counts as ‘rational’ is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational.  It has no basis within Brooks’s worldview.  It sticks out of his box.

How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t.  Brooks ends by saying, ‘I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.’  He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience.  He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.  He has no defense.

Later Pearcey notes that this illogical type of worldview will eventually erode since inconsistencies give way.  For example, “If the leadership classes in a society genuinely think people are machines, that conviction will eventually erode political liberty.  Idols have practical consequences.”  Exactly.  For example, see what Paul says in Romans 1:18ff!

For the above quotes, and to note how Christianity answers the call for a logical, consistent worldview, see chapter 3 of Finding Truth.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Pride, Celebrity, Self-Flattery, and Donkeys

 Andreas Kostenberger has a nice section about humility in his book Excellence.  He notes that humility is one of the “cardinal virtues in the Christian life and in academic work.”  In the chapter Kostenberger quotes Calvin:

I was always exceedingly delighted with that saying of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility”; and yet more pleased with that of Augustine: “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery: so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.”

Kostenberger also spends some time saying that we should be humble in our academics and ministry because 1) we could be wrong, 2) we are not nearly as brilliant as scholars before us, 3) our ministry is at most a mere footnote in history that will barely be mentioned by others in the future, and 4) in the overall scheme of things we are not that important.  Our life is a vapor (James 4:14).  Kostenberger then talked about celebrity pastors and near the end of this section on humility he noted a great quote by Luther:

[If] you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it– if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.

Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, ‘See, see! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.’ That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this Book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet. 5:5); to whom be glory, world without end, Amen.

The above quotes came from chapter 15 of Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Marriage Conflict and Separation

 No marriage is perfect.  Husbands and wives sin.  Every marriage has at least some conflict from time to time.  I probably don’t need to explain this fact since most of us know it from experience!  Sadly, however, some marriage conflict is destructive and dangerous.  There are husbands that emotionally and physically abuse their wives and children, and there are wives that regularly manipulate and deceive their husbands.  In fact, sometimes conflict gets so bad that separation is one of the few options on the table.

Of course there are many factors to marital conflict and every situation is different.  After weighing the options, praying, and consulting with wise Christian friends and/or counselors, separation can be a legitimate choice.  Leslie Vernick puts it this way:

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers instead of peacekeepers,who pretend all is well in order to maintain an illusion of peace.  Terri tried that for years with John (see chapter 1), and her passivity almost ended up destroying her and their marriage.  Seeking genuine peace between two individuals may require tough action, especially when one party continues to be blind, unresponsive, or unrepentant. As a Christian counselor, I do not advice marital separation lightly; however, in some cases it is the only way to obtain the necessary space to think clearly, pray, and heal, as well as to communicate to the destructive partner in the strongest possible way that the relationship will not continue without change.

Paul encourages us to distance ourselves from other believers who are sinning and refuse correction.  (See for example, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15).  If the circumstances of your relationship are not changing in spite of everything else you have done thus far, it may be time for you to consider separating for the purpose of genuine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 7:10). [pg. 169-170]

Another similar angle is to think of the Proverbs that wisely tell us to “leave the presence of a fool” because “the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 14:7, 13:20).  It is not unbiblical to flee harm, pain, or abuse.  I realize a blog post is not the best place for discussing all the nuances of marital conflict and possible separation.  Face to face is best for that.  However, it is worth noting that sometimes marital conflict gets to the point where separation is a hard, but viable option.  See chapter nine of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick for more on this topic.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI