Critiquing Mysticism and Pietism: Six Points (Bavinck)

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity In his first volume of Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck spent quite some time discussing mysticism and pietism.  At the end of the section on mysticism and pietism, Bavinck wrote the following critique.  (For the record, I wish he would’ve expanded a bit on these points since they are helpful.)

However justified mysticism and Pietism were in their objection to rationalism and dead orthodoxy, both of which locate the seat of faith in the intellect, they are themselves also one-sided. Here are six points of critique:

1. Mysticism and Pietism put the seat of faith in feeling and thus do not embrace the fullness of our humanity. That which most affects and arouses feelings gets the emphasis.

2. This results in a denial of the faith’s objectivity—that is, the Word, the letter, the sacraments, the church, and even doctrine (e.g., satisfaction).

3. Another consequence is the formation of a pernicious group (club) mentality. The converted separate themselves, live apart, and leave family and world to fend for themselves. They are salt not within but alongside the world.

4. The covenant idea is lost altogether. The converted and the unconverted each live their own lives totally detached from one another. Mutual contact takes place only mechanically and not organically. The unconverted are left to their own devices.

5. This also has adverse results for the converted. Religion is limited to being busy with the things of God (reading, praying). Daily work becomes a matter of necessity alone rather than a holy calling. Sunday stays disconnected from the rest of the week; faith is not tested in the world. Christians become passive, quietistic.

6. By constantly attending to self-contemplation, people make their experience the norm for everyone else, and unhealthy, unscriptural elements enter. Simplicity and the childlike character of faith give way to sentimentality. Experience guides the exegesis of Scripture and even becomes the source of knowledge, materially as well as formally.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, vol. 1, page 309.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Gives to His Beloved, Sleep (NET)

 As I’ve mentioned here before, the NET Bible has been a helpful resource in my Bible studies.  Even though I might not agree with every single translation choice or footnote wording, the NET Bible is one that I use daily.  I especially like the translators’ notes which explain why they chose the translation they did.  The notes also explain legitimate alternate translations.  For one example, as I was studying Psalm 127 this morning, I noticed that the Hebrew in verse 2b is not overly simple.  The last phrase of the verse is something like this: “for/thus he gives to his beloved sleep” (כֵּ֤ן יִתֵּ֖ן לִֽידִידֹ֣ו שֵׁנָֽא).  Different translations use different words for this phrase.

The NET Bible translates it like this: “Yes, he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep.” Here’s the helpful footnote the NET Bible gives for this phrase in Psalm 127:2b:

Heb “he gives to his beloved, sleep.” The translation assumes that the Hebrew term שֵׁנָא (shena’, “sleep,” an alternate form of שֵׁנָה, shenah) is an adverbial accusative. The point seems to be this: Hard work by itself is not what counts, but one’s relationship to God, for God is able to bless an individual even while he sleeps. (There may even be a subtle allusion to the miracle of conception following sexual intercourse; see the reference to the gift of sons in the following verse.) The statement is not advocating laziness, but utilizing hyperbole to give perspective and to remind the addressees that God must be one’s first priority. Another option is to take “sleep” as the direct object: “yes, he gives sleep to his beloved” (cf. NIV, NRSV). In this case the point is this: Hard work by itself is futile, for only God is able to bless one with sleep, which metonymically refers to having one’s needs met. He blesses on the basis of one’s relationship to him, not on the basis of physical energy expended.

Again, I like the detail and explanation given.  It helps me work through the text and learn more about what the Psalmist is teaching about work, rest, and God’s gracious provision.  Without God, we toil in vain.  But with him, our work is not meaningless.  Or, like Paul said, “in the Lord our  labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

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

A Useful Hebrew Syntax/Grammar Abridgement

 I learned Hebrew in seminary using Mark Futato’s helpful resource called Beginning Biblical Hebrew.  In my view, it was very good and I still go back to it from time to time for a refresher.  I also try to keep up my Hebrew in other ways: primarily by studying the Hebrew Bible text itself but also by using other resources like Daily Dose of Hebrew (two thumbs up to that website!).  Last year I got A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bill Arnold and John Choi.  I’ve been meaning to mention it here on the blog before.  Since I’ve worked through big parts of it now, I think I can confidently say that it is a helpful resource for Hebrew students and Hebrew studies.  I’ve benefited from it quite a bit.

To be sure, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax isn’t a detailed and exhaustive resource where you can learn all the ins and outs of Hebrew syntax and grammar.  Instead, it’s an abridgment based on several well-known scholarly Hebrew grammars such as the ones by Waltke/O’Connor, Juoun-Muraoka and Gesenius (and a few others).  The authors themselves say that this reference book fills the gap between beginning Hebrew grammars and advanced Hebrew grammars (p. xi).

The first part of the book covers nouns (Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, etc.) as well as adjectives, names, and numbers.  The second part of the book covers the Hebrew verbs: Qal, Niphal, Piel, etc., as well as aspect, infinitives, participles, and so on.  The third part of the book discusses particles like prepositions, adverbs, and conjunctions (etc.).  Finally, the last part of the book covers clauses and sentences in Hebrew syntax and grammar.

I like the two short pictorial appendices that give charts of the Hebrew verbs.  I even copied it and hung it in my study for quick reference!  I also like how the book is formatted.  It’s pretty easy to read and reference. For example, if I’m studying the use of the conjunction אִם in Psalm 127:1 & 2 I can find it very quickly under the conjunction section where it lists and explains seven different uses of אִם (see pages 143-146).  Under each example, there are a few phrases from the Hebrew Bible to show the uses in Scripture.  There’s also a Scripture reference at the end of the book that gives the reference to each example used.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a readable, informative, and helpful reference guide to Hebrew syntax and grammar, I’d for sure check out this one by Arnold and Choi: A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax.

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


The Infallibility of Scripture (Murray)

Thy Word Is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today I appreciate how John Murray discussed the infallibility of Scripture in an address he gave to students in the Inter-Varsity Fellowship around 1960.  Here are a few excerpts of his speech:

“The doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture is derived from the witness of Scripture.  It is equally necessary to bear in mind that this witness is to be understood in the context of Scripture as a whole.  Any doctrine severed from the total structure of revelation is out of focus.”

“…Unless we assess infallibility in the light of the data with which Scripture provides us, we shall be liable to judge infallibility by criteria to which Scripture does not conform.  This is one of the most effective ways of undermining biblical infallibility.”

“When the Scripture uses anthropomorphic terms with reference to God and his actions, we must interpret accordingly and not predicate of God the limitations which belong to us men. …If Scripture uses the language of common usage and experience or observation, we are not to accuse it of error because it does not use the language of a particular science, language which few could understand and which becomes obsolete with the passing phases of scientific advancement.  The does not make itself ridiculous by conforming to what pendants might require.”

“There are numerous considerations that must be taken into account derived from the study of Scripture data.  And it is a capital mistake to think that the criteria of infallibility are those that must conform to our preconceived notions or to our arbitrarily adopted norms.”

John Murray, “The Infallibility of Scripture” in Thy Word Is Still Truth, p.970-971.

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

Psalm 121 and the Perseverance of the Saints (Calvin)

 Quite a few places in Scripture teach that God preserves his people.  The perseverance of the saints isn’t an obscure teaching found in one or two obscure verses.  Instead, it’s emphasized both in the Old and New Testaments.  Psalm 121 is one of the clear texts in God’s Word that teach how he preserves his people.  It’s abundantly clear there that God is our “keeper” or “guardian.”  The Hebrew word that is repeated six times in this Psalm is שׁמר, which means “to watch, guard, or keep.”  Here’s how Calvin nicely explained the repetition:

…It is of importance to mark the reason why the Prophet repeats so often what he had briefly and in one word expressed with sufficient plainness. Such repetition seems at first sight superfluous; but when we consider how difficult it is to correct our distrust, it will be easily perceived that he does not improperly dwell upon the commendation of the divine providence. How few are to be found who yield to God the honour of being a keeper, in order to their being thence assured of their safety, and led to call upon him in the midst of their perils!

On the contrary, even when we seem to have largely experienced what this protection of God implies, we yet instantly tremble at the noise of a leaf falling from a tree, as if God had quite forgotten us. Being then entangled in so many unholy misgivings, and so much inclined to distrust, we are taught from the passage that if a sentence couched in a few words does not suffice us, we should gather together whatever may be found throughout the whole Scriptures concerning the providence of God, until this doctrine—“That God always keeps watch for us”—is deeply rooted in our hearts; so that depending upon his guardianship alone we may bid adieu to all the vain confidences of the world.

 John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 68.

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

The Brain, Sex, and Our Hook-Up Culture (McIlhaney & Bush)

 This is a unique and helpful book: Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development by Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic.  Hooked is an in-depth look at what sex does to a person’s brain.  Most people in our culture think that the casual, hook-up kind of sexual encounter is a no-strings-attached, easy-come-easy-go type of relationship that doesn’t really affect a person.  So you can do it as much as you want with whomever you want and suffer few long term repercussions.  The authors of Hooked take that cultural view head on and prove scientifically that it is simply false:

A 2017 survey of high school adolescents illustrates that sexual activity has more ramifications beyond the physical.  The survey showed that both boys and girls who have had sex are more likely to be depressed than their friends who have not (p. 19).

…With the aid of modern research techniques and technologies, scientists are confirming that sex is more than a momentary physical act.  It produces powerful, even lifelong, changes in our brains that direct and influence our future to a surprising degree (p. 21).

Some individuals have been disappointed to find that as they move from one sexual partner to another, they not only are not finding ultimate pleasure but are feeling worse about themselves and their many sexual partners.  In fact, studies show that those in casual relationships find that these sexual patterns often prevent such relationships from blossoming into romance.  They wonder why they feel this way (p. 23).

…Engaging in sex almost always carries long-term psychological consequences, either life-enhancing or life-limiting.  The brain chemical effect of sex has happened, in varying degrees, to everyone who has experienced sexual intercourse (p. 71).

This book isn’t necessarily a Christian book and I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it.  But it is a great resource to have as we think about our “hook up culture” from a Christian perspective. When God told us to live sexually pure lives and to keep sex in the realm of a man-and-woman marriage relationship, he wasn’t cruelly putting shackles on us out of spite.  Instead, he was giving us parameters to live within for the sake of human flourishing, freedom, and safety.  It shouldn’t surprise us to learn from scientific studies that promiscuous sex is harmful for people while sex inside a man-and-woman marriage relationship is a good thing.

I’ll come back to this book later.  For now, do check it out: Hooked.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Lever of Truth (Warfield)

Faith and Life Here’s a great excerpt from a chapel sermon by B. B. Warfield on Acts 26:18.  It’s especially for pastors or those who are studying for the pastorate:

Mark, then, first of all, the function which the Ascended Jesus assigns to His witnessing servants. It is summed up in a single term—it is “to open men’s eyes.” Now, of course, the eye of the heart can be opened only by the Spirit of God; and it is not this unperformable duty which Christ lays on His servants. But the eyes of the mind are opened, in a lower sense, by the presentation of the truth and it is this that the Lord requires of His servants. They are “witnesses”; their duty is not to tickle men’s ears or to allay [diminish] their fears; their duty is to make known the truth, though it is precisely the truth that is not agreeable to their ears and that arouses and gives leash to their most terrifying fears.

What men need is to have their eyes opened, and the duty laid on Paul and on all who would be followers of Paul is to open men’s eyes. That it was in this sense that Paul understood his commission is obvious from the succeeding context. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, he tells the king, but having been sent to open men’s eyes, that they might turn to God, he preached the Gospel of repentance and turning to God, bearing his witness to small and great alike. So will we, too, fulfill our commission as messengers of God’s grace. We owe, as ministers, a teaching duty and our prime duty—our one duty—is to teach: we must open men’s eyes.

…Truth exists only to produce godliness; that is true and needs to be kept constantly in mind. But no truth, no godliness —that, too, is true and that, too, needs to be kept fully in mind. The only instrument in your hands or my hands for producing godliness is the truth; we are not primarily anything else but witnesses to truth; and the truth of God is the one lever by which we can pry at the hearts of men. Preach the Word; that is our one commission. And it is no more true that the Word cannot be preached without a preacher, than that the preacher cannot preach without a Word. Men are in darkness, they need light, and we are sent to give it to them.

 Benjamin B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Bellingham, WA: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1916), 173–174.

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