The Christian Religion and Facts (Machen)

 The Christian faith is not based on feelings and emotions, but facts and truth.  The Christian religion is historical in that its main doctrines and teachings are part of history.  The Christian faith is a historical faith.  Scripture is a what we call a record of redemptive history, things that God did in history to save his people.  Of course, the centerpiece of redemptive history is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son.  The overwhelming witness of the Scriptures is that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners and three days later rose from the grave.  J. Gresham Machen commented well on this fact:

…If the Christian religion is founded upon historical facts, then there is something in the Christian message which can never possibly change.  There is one good thing about facts – they stay put.  If a thing really happened, the passage of years can never possibly make it into a thing that did not happen.  If the body of Jesus really emerged from the tomb on the first Easter morning, then no possible advance of science can change that fact one whit.  The advance of science may conceivably show that the alleged fact was never a fact at all; it may conceivably show that the earliest Christians were wrong when they said that Christ rose from the dead the third day.  But to say that the statement of fact was true in the first century, but because of the advance of science it is no longer true – that is to say what is plainly absurd.  The Christian religion is founded squarely upon a message that sets forth facts.  If that message is false, then the religion that is founded on it must of course be abandoned; but if it is true, then the Christian church must still deliver the message faithfully as it did on the morning of the first Easter Day.

J. G. Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, p. 95.

Shane Lems
Covent Presbyterian Chruch (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015



“The Preacher Who Takes Up Vos’ Biblical Theology…” (Clowney)

Preaching and Biblical Theology Over the past 15+ years I’ve come to a pretty strong conviction that an understanding of redemptive history is of utmost importance in the pulpit ministry.  Preaching that has no understanding of redemptive history is preaching that lacks.  There are nuances to this discussion of course.  I’m not an advocate of hyper redemptive-historical preaching.  And I believe there is a time and place in the pulpit for topical and doctrinal sermons as well as solid application.  Basically, my view is that the pulpit ministry should have a firm and balanced grasp of systematic theology and biblical theology, both of which should be generally evident in the preaching.  I like how Edmund Clowney spoke about this in his very good book, Preaching and Biblical Theology.

“There is…no opposition between biblical theology and systematic or dogmatic theology, though the two are distinct.  Systematic theology must draw from the results of biblical theology, and biblical theology must be aware of the broad perspectives of systematics. …The development of systematics is strictly thematic or topical.  …The development of biblical theology is redemptive-historical.”

Later Clowney mentioned Geerhardus Vos; I’ve always liked these paragraphs:

“The preacher who takes up Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ for the first time enters a rich new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher.  Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.  Beside Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ should be set his little book of sermons, ‘Grace and Glory.’  There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of his eternal counsel of redemption.”

Clowney then talked about the text and the pulpit.

“An old Dutch preacher has sagely observed that the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit.  In biblical theology that scriptural dynamic impels the preacher’s heart with unimagined strength.”

Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 18-19.

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

Dispensationalism, Theonomy, and Biblical Theology (Lints)

The Fabric of Theology It is very important to remember that there is historical progression in Scripture. The Bible is a historical book that records stories from the beginning of the world to the 1st century AD (and beyond, if you think of the prophecies).  But the Bible isn’t a regular history book; it is what we call redemptive history.  That means the Bible contains the inspired history of God’s redemption of his people.  Hand in hand with this truth is the fact that there is also a progression of God’s revelation in Scripture.  As time marches on, God slowly but surely reveals more of himself to his people.  There is progression in God’s revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  These are some assumptions of biblical theology gleaned from Scripture.

Richard Lints does a nice job explaining the importance of bibilcal theology in chapter seven of The Fabric of Theology. He wrote this in 1993, so it might be a bit more nuanced today, but it is still a helpful quote:

“A theological framework that fails to capture the ‘organic unity’ in this flow of redemption and revelatory history will likely be guilty of unnecessary abstraction from the text of Scripture.  Normally one of two errors is committed by modern evangelical interpreters who take this route.  Some overstress the continuity between the epochs (a la theonomy); others overstress the discontinuity of the epocs (a la dispensationalism).  I concur with Edmund Clowney’s observation that ‘modern dispensationalism rightly recognizes that there are great divisions in the history of redemption; it errs in failing to grasp the organic relation of these successive eras, as the developing manifestations of one gracious design.'”

“The theonomic movement rightfully recognizes the underlying unity of the Old and New Testaments but fails to notice the organic progression present between the two Testaments.  While I cannot settle all of the exegetical questions that arise in this context, I do think it is important to remember that an interpretive framework built on the assumption of divine authorship in history will seek to make clear the organic relations among the divergent epochs of the Bible.  This need not result in a bland uniformity or essential contradictions of principles across epochs; rather, it should help the reader to see the overarching purpose progressively revealed through the different epochs of the Scriptures.”

Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology, p. 278.

Shane Lems

Calvin on Christ in the Old Testament

I’m thankful that many preachers and teachers in conservative and broadly Calvinistic evangelical churches are talking about Christ in the Old Testament.  I do hope it keeps up, but I wish people wouldn’t act like this approach is novel, innovative, or ground-breaking – as if this is the latest “cool new thing.”  It’s not.  Our Christian forefathers have been talking about Christ in the Old Testament for hundreds and hundreds of years going way back to the early church.  Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament isn’t new; it’s part of historic Christianity.

One great example of this is found in John Calvin’s introduction to the French New Testament (translated by Pierre Robert around 1530).  This introduction has, as far as I know, only been published in English twice – most recently in Thy Word is Still Truth (p. 271-282).  Here is one excellent example of Calvin speaking of Christ in the Old Testament.

“For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him whom He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he has constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.  This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death.  This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over.  This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were.  This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all.  This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit.  This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land.  This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing under His hand every rebellious power.  This is the magnificent and triumphant King Solomon, governing His kingdom in peace and prosperity.  This is the strong and mighty Samson, who, by His death, overwhelmed all enemies.  And even any good that could be thought or desired is found in this Jesus Christ alone.”

Calvin’s entire preface to the French New Testament is a beautiful explanation of how the Old Testament leads us by the hand to Jesus God’s Messiah.  If you can find this essay, I highly recommend it.

John Calvin, “Christ the End of the Law,” found in Thy Word is Still Truth ed. Peter Lillback and Richard Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013).

shane lems

Why Read and Study the Old Testament?

Goldsworthy Trilogy Why should we read and study the Old Testament?

“The most compelling reason for Christians to read and study the Old Testament lies in the New Testament.  The New Testament witnesses to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the One in whom and through whom all the promises of God find their fulfillment.  These promises are only to be understood from the Old Testament; the fulfillment of the promises can be understood only in the context of the promises themselves.”

“The New Testament presupposes a knowledge of the Old Testament.  Everything that is a concern to the New Testament writers is part of the one redemptive history to which the Old Testament witnesses.  The New Testament writers cannot separate the person and work of Christ, nor the life of the Christian community, from this sacred history which has its beginnings in the Old Testament.”

“It is, of course, of great significance that the New Testament writers constantly quote or allude to the Old Testament.  One estimate is that there are at least 1600 direct quotations of the Old Testament in the New, to which may be added to several thousand more New Testament passages that clearly allude to or reflect Old Testament verses.  Of course not all these citation show direct continuity of thought with the Old Testament, and some even show a contrast between the Old and New Testaments.  But the over-all effect is inescapable – the message of the New Testament has its foundations in the Old Testament.”

“The more we study the New Testament the more apparent becomes the conviction shared by Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament writers in general: namely the Old Testament is Scripture and Scripture points to Christ.

Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2011), 18-20.

rev shane lems

The Lion and Lamb

These are great words from a great book: The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney.  This is a short commentary on Genesis 49:9-10.

“The ancient prophecy is recalled again in the last book of the Bible.  John weeps because there is no one who can open the book of God’s decrees.  One of the elders in the heavenly throne room responds, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’ (Rev. 5:5).”

“Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is also the Lamb that was slain.  He who is the Lord came as the Servant.  There is more than a chance similarity between the sign of Joseph and the fulfillment in Jesus.  Deep in the structure of God’s redemptive plan is the principle that His power is made perfect in weakness.  Not by human might, but by the power of God’s Spirit, the promises of His word are fulfilled.  God’s chosen Ruler is His Suffering Servant, betrayed by His brethren but raised up to fulfill God’s promise.”

Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1988), 84.

shane lems

New Book: Reading the Bible as the Story of Redemption

  Here’s a new book that has to do with reading God’s Word rightly and for profit: Welcome to the Story by Stephen Nichols.  In just over 150 pages, Nichols introduces the main storyline of the Bible, how our lives fit into that story, and how to read the Bible (story).  This is a helpful “big picture” introduction to profitable Bible study.

To give a little more detail, Nichols discusses creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  He then gives some specific examples of individuals in the Bible’s story and examines the main point of the story (God’s glory).  In the last section, Nichols explains what the Bible does to us and through us.  He closes by giving some practical advice for reading the Bible.  Along the way, Nichols covers most of the main truths of the faith in this book, including sin and bondage, salvation in Christ, Christian service out of gratitude, and so forth.

As a sort of minor side note, the only tiny quibble I have with the book is the amount of anecdotal stories Nichols used.  I realize this is subjective, and some people may appreciate it, but in my opinion there were simply too many illustrative stories.  It seemed like they made up about 20% of the book.

If you’ve done any amount of reading in redemptive-history (or biblical theology – i.e. Clowney, Vos, Horton, etc.) this book will be too elementary for you.  However, it is the perfect one to give to Christians who don’t really understand or know the overarching story of Scripture.  It also might be a good book to use in a high school setting.  I’m thinking about giving it to a few visitors at the church I pastor – visitors who are just learning about the grand story of the Bible.

Though there are already quite a few decent books that explain redemptive history in an introductory manner, and though there are a few good books out there that give practical advice on reading the Bible, this is the first I know of that puts these two things together.  If you want both of these things in one book, put Welcome to the Story on the top of your list (it’s only around $10)!

shane lems

sunnyside wa