“A Well-Ordered Church” – A Review

We live in a time when local churches come and go.  Sometimes a person gets a “vision” to plant a church, so they just go ahead and do it with very little planning or purposely formed biblical foundations.  On the other hand, some local churches that have been around for a while simply go on and end up moving away from a biblical foundation.  A biblical foundation is absolutely essential for a true Christian church.  Speaking of church foundations, here’s a good book on the topic: A Well-Ordered Church by Bill Bookestein and Danny Hyde.  This is a readable survey of the biblical principles of a church.  It’s under 200 pages and includes a few study questions at the end of each of the eleven chapters.

There are four main parts to the book: 1) Identity, 2) Authority, 3) Ecumenicity, and 4) Activity.  The first half of the book is structured liked Ephesians 2:20 – Christ is the cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are the foundation.  After talking about Christ the head of the church, the discussion moves to Scripture as the authoritative Word and then talks about the officers of the church who serve under Christ and his word.

The last half of the book talks about the church’s activity, which includes teaching, worshiping, witnessing, and discipline.  Here Boekestein and Hyde highlight the importance of preaching and how the Scriptures inform our worship services (which are aimed at praising and glorifying our triune God).  The appendix is the URCNA’s 17 Scripture based foundational principles for Reformed church government.

I appreciate and recommend this book because it is biblical, outlined/organized well, and an easy read (in the very best sense of the term).  I also thought the discussion on ecumenism was helpful and balanced.  I do wish there was more talk about the sacraments and church membership (though I do realize a book can only cover so much ground).  Even if one disagrees with a few things in the book, I submit that its strengths far outweigh its (very) few weaknesses.

The book will for sure be a help to any one who wants a basic overview of a Reformed ecclesiology.  It would be good to give to someone coming into a Reformed church, or it would be a good read for those who are in Reformed churches and need a readable “study guide” to Reformed ecclesiology.

William Boekestein and Daniel Hyde, A Well-Ordered Church (EP Books: Welwyn Garden City, 2015).

NOTE: I received the book from the publisher for review purposes, but was not compelled to write a positive review.

Shane Lems

Latin Lesson: Historic Protestantism on Christ’s Kingdom

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology As a few of our readers may know, in some small pockets of Reformed Christianity there is strong opposition to making distinctions in the way Christ reigns over the world.  Some say we must not distinguish between Christ’s general rule over all and his saving rule over his church.  (FYI, if you’ve not heard of this issue, it’s probably not something you need to dig into.)  I have to admit that I’m not sure why there is such strong opposition to this distinction, since Protestant and Reformed theologians have made distinctions – based on Scripture – in this area for quite some time.  If one doesn’t agree with this teaching, that’s OK; but if one calls this teaching un-Reformed or heretical, that’s simply not acceptable.  In case you’re wondering, here’s how Richard Muller describes the historic Protestant view of Christ’s kingdom (I’ve edited it for length):

Regnum Christi: the rule or kingdom of Christ.  The Protestant scholastics recognize several distinctions that can be made with regard to the exercise of Christ’s rule.  The Lutherans tend to argue a threefold-kingdom: 1) the regnum potentai, or kingdom of power, according to which Christ, as divine Word and Second Person of the Trinity, rules the entire creation providential and is Lord of all without distinction; 2) the regnum gratiae, or kingdom of grace, in which Christ governs, blesses, and defends his church on earth; and 3) the regnum gloriae, or the kingdom of glory, in which Christ governs the church triumphant, when he will subdue his enemies and bring the whole church into her triumphal reign.  These divisions do not indicate several reigns but merely distinctions in the manner and exercise of Christ’s rule.

The Reformed scholastics express essentially the same distinctions in a twofold division of the kingdom into 1) the regnum essentiale (the essential rule, or universal/natural rule) and 2) the regnum personale (the personal rule or economic, soteriological rule).  The former set of terms (essential rule) corresponds to the Lutheran definition of the kingdom of power, and the latter set of terms (personal rule) corresponds to the Lutheran definitions of the kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory.  The kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory belong to Christ as the Mediator of salvation, and are thus both personal and economic.

Muller goes on to note that though Lutheran and Reformed theology differ on some aspects of Christology (related to the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper), the Reformed and Lutherans agree on the eternal duration of the reign of Christ and the “cessation of certain modes of administration.”

The Protestant theologians that made these distinctions in the past also gave us some excellent resources on justification by faith alone and on Christian ethics – living the Christian life in light of God’s law.  Based on these things, again, I’m not sure why some are so opposed to this teaching.  It honors Christ as sovereign king over all and goes hand in hand with how live for him in this world.

As Herman Bavinck said, “To distinguish is to learn.”

For the entire article, see pages 259-261 of Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics Volume One – A Brief Review

Vos As some of our readers know, Geerhardus Vos was an excellent Dutch Reformed theologian and professor around the turn of the 20th century.  At one point, he wrote out his notes from his systematic theology class and kept them in five volumes, which were transcribed and printed in 1910 (in Dutch).  Lexham Press has done the good work of translating and publishing these volumes for the public – both in hard cover and in e-format (on Logos Bible Software).  I have the first three volumes in my Logos Reformed library, but since I don’t like reading lengthy and detailed books in e-format, I decided to get the print version.  I’m glad I did!  Below are my thoughts on volume one, Theology Proper.

First of all, I should mention that Vos’ treatment of systematic theology is presented in a series of questions and answers.  In this first volume Vos covers 1) the knowability of God, 2) the names, being, and attributes of God, 3) the Trinity, 4) God’s decrees in general, 5) the doctrine of predestination, 6) creation, and 7) providence.  There are a total of around 400 questions and answers in these seven sections.  For example, here are a few random questions: a) “How do theologians divide the external works of God?”, b) “What are the main divergent theories regarding the origin of the universe?”, and c) “What must be maintained regarding concursus?”.  Some of Vos’ answers are just a few sentences, others are several paragraphs broken into outlines with subpoints.

In this volume, Vos shows to be a thoughtful Reformed theologian who interacts with philosophy, alternative views, and the exegesis of Scripture’s words and texts.  For instance, Vos goes into depth about the decrees and will of God and also spends much time on exegeting Romans 9 in his lengthy discussion of predestination and election.  There aren’t many footnotes and Vos doesn’t refer to other theologians extensively, but it is clear that he understands the issues and topics of theology.

Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics is not for beginners; it’s not even what one might call an intermediate systematic theology resource.  It’s advanced and detailed – some places require a few reads to get the gist of Vos’ argument and meaning.  The theology is deep: he covers classic Reformed doctrines like God’s free and necessary knowledge, the economy of God, the concepts of God’s freedom, the external works of God, concursus, and so forth.

Interestingly, I found that sometimes Vos seems to be too brief; it seems like he doesn’t complete his thoughts from time to time and sometimes the reading is a bit choppy.  Why is this?  Well, readers should be aware that Vos didn’t write and edit this theology work for mass publication – as the introduction says, it was meant for the classroom (these are something like Vos’ lectures in detailed outline).  Also the translation is formal rather than dynamic, so it’s not overly polished using modern grammar and syntax.  These aren’t critiques, but things the reader should know before he or she begins to read.  I’d hate for someone to dig in and be confused or upset that this isn’t exactly like Berkhof or Bavinck in style (though it is in content)!

The binding, editing, and layout are done well.  There’s a Scripture index, a topical index, and a list of all the questions (without the answers) in the back of the book, which makes for easy referencing.  Everyone who worked on these volumes (and is still working on them!) deserves a hearty “thanks” from those of us who will benefit from them for years to come.  Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics is an excellent addition to my theological library.  I’m certainly looking forward to having them all on my shelves!

Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics. trans. and ed. by Richard Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2012-2014).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Our Religion: Occupied with Knowing God

Product Details In one section of his three-volume work on Reformed theology (under ecclesiology), Francis Turretin explained what the Reformation was all about.  One question the Reformers faced was this: what is this that you are teaching?  Another question was this: what do you believe?  Turretin explains the basic truths the Reformers taught – truths they derived from Scripture alone.  Here is a summary of his words:

“Our religion is that which is wholly occupied with knowing the one and triune God, the Creator, preserver and Redeemer, and rightly worshiping him according to his command.  It gives the entire glory of our salvation to God alone and writes against man alone the true cause of his sin and destruction.”

“It is our religion which recognizes no other rule of faith and practice besides the sacred Scriptures; no other Mediator and head of the church than Christ; no other propitiatory sacrifice than his death, no other purgatory than his blood; no other merit than his obedience; no other intercession than his prayers.”

“It is our religion which depresses man as much as possible by taking away from him all presumption of his own strength and merits; and rises him to the highest point by preaching that the grace and mercy of God is the only cause of salvation, both as to acquisition and as to application.”

“It is our religion which brings solid peace and consolation to the soul of the believer in life and in death by the true confidence which it orders him to place, not in the uncertainty and vanity of his own righteousness or human satisfactions, but in the sole mercy of God and most perfect righteousness of Christ, which, applied to the heart by faith, takes away doubt and distrust and ingenerates a vivid persuasion of salvation after this life.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 3, page 139 (XVIII.xv.v).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Covenant of Grace: A Trio of Characteristics

Our Reasonable Faith In his helpful summary of systematic theology called Our Reasonable Faith, Herman Bavinck defines the covenant of grace in a clear and concise way.  He introduces this section with these words: “When we give our attention to this historical development of the covenant of grace, we detect a trio of remarkable characteristics in it.”  What follows is my summary of Bavinck’s three part discussion. (Note: the term “dispensation” below doesn’t have anything to do with dispensationalism; it means more generally “age” or “epoch” or “divine arrangement” in line with the later Medieval Latin use.)

“In the first place, the covenant of grace is everywhere and at all times one in essence, but always manifests itself in new forms and goes through differing dispensations.  Essentially and materially it remains one, whether before, or under, or after the law.  It is always a covenant of grace.  It is called this because it issues from the grace of God, has grace as its content, and has its final purpose in the glorification of God’s grace.  We have to note particularly therefore that this promise (I will be your God and the God of your people) is not conditional, but is as positive and certain as anything can be.  God does not say he ‘will’ be our God ‘if’ we do this or that.  He says rather that he will put enmity, that he will be our God, that in Christ he will grant us all things.  The covenant of grace can throughout the centuries remain the same because it depends entirely upon God and because God is the immutable One and the faithful One.”

“The second remarkable characteristic of the covenant of grace is that in all of its dispensations it has an organic character.  In history the covenant is never concluded with one discrete individual, but always with a man and his family or generation, with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and with the church and its seed.  The promise never comes to a single believer alone, but in him his house or family also.  God does not actualize his covenant of grace by picking a few people out of humanity at random, and by gathering these together into some sort of assemblage alongside the world.  Rather he bears his covenant into mankind, makes it part and parcel of the world, and sees to it that in the world it is preserved from evil.  Grace is not a legacy which is transferred by natural birth, but it does flow on in the river-bed which has been dug out in the natural relationships of the human race.  The covenant of grace does not ramble about at random, but perpetuates itself, historically and organically, in families, generations, nations.”

A third and final characteristic of the covenant of grace which goes along with the second point above, is that it realizes itself in a way which fully honors man’s rational and moral nature.  It is based on the counsel of God, yes, and nothing may be subtracted from that fact.  Behind the covenant of grace lies the sovereign and omnipotent will of God.  But God’s will is the will of the Creator of heaven and earth, who cannot repudiate his own work in creation or providence, and who cannot treat the human being he has created as though it were a stock or stone.  It is the will of a merciful and kind Father, who never forces things with brute violence, but successfully counters all our resistance by the spiritual might of love.  The will of God realizes itself in no other way than through our reason and our will.  That is why it is rightly said that a person, by the grace he receives, himself believes and himself terms from sin to God.”

Bavinck does reference quite a few Scripture texts above; one will have to read his full discussion to see how he grounds his explanations in Scripture.  The entire section is found on pages 274-278 of Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1956).

shane lems

Owen on Covenant Baptism and the Argument of Silence

The Works of John Owen, Volume 16: The Church and the Bible Some years ago when I was studying the doctrine of baptism I came to the conclusion that the Reformed position is biblical: both infants and adults should be baptized based on the truths of the covenant of grace (Gen. 15-17).  I see the argument from silence as proving the Reformed view of baptism rather than disproving it.  That is, since God never tells his people to exclude children from the covenant sign or promise, we should continue to include them.  Jesus blessed little children; children of one or two believing parents are “holy;” Paul writes ethical admonitions to households as Christian households, and the promise in the NT is not just for believers, but their children too, as it was in the days of Abraham.

John Owen discusses this quite well in his essay, “Of Infant Baptism and Dipping” found in volume 16 of his Works.  Here is Owen’s (slightly edited) third point supporting infant baptism based on the argument of/from silence:

…A spiritual privilege once granted by God unto any cannot be changed, disannulled, or abrogated, without a special divine revocation of it, or the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the place of it; for:

1. Who shall disannul what God has granted? What he has put together who shall put asunder? To abolish or take away any grant of privilege made by him to the church, without his own express revocation of it, is to deny his sovereign authority.

2. To say a privilege so granted may be revoked, even by God himself, without the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the place of it, is contrary to the goodness of God, his love and care unto his church, [and] contrary to his constant course of proceeding with it from the foundation of the world, wherein he went on in the enlargement and increase of its privileges until the coming of Christ. And to suppose it under the gospel is contrary to all his promises, the honor of Christ, and a multitude of express testimonies of Scripture.

Thus was it with the privileges of the temple and the worship of it granted to the Jews; they were not, they could not be, taken away without an express revocation, and the substitution of a more glorious spiritual temple and worship in their place.

But now the spiritual privilege of a right unto and a participation of the initial seal of the covenant was granted by God unto the infant seed of Abraham, Gen. 17:10, 12. This grant, therefore, must stand firm for ever, unless men can prove or produce:

1. An express revocation of it by God himself; which none can do either directly or indirectly, in terms or any pretense of consequence.

2. An instance of a greater privilege or mercy granted unto them in the place of it; which they do not once pretend unto, but leave the seed of believers, while in their infant state, in the same condition with those of pagans and infidels; expressly contrary to God’s covenant.

All this contest, therefore, is to deprive the children of believers of a privilege once granted to them by God, never revoked, as to the substance of it, assigning nothing in its place; which is contrary to the goodness, love, and covenant of God, especially derogatory to the honor of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

John Owen. The Works of John Owen. Ed. William H. Goold. Vol. 16. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. Print.

shane lems

Logos (5.2a) Reformed Platinum Package: A Review

Reformed Platinum Base Package I have to be honest; three months ago I didn’t know anything about Logos Bible software. I had been using the basic BibleWorks 6 package since 2004 solely for the purpose of helping me translate texts for preaching and teaching. So when the Logos Reformed team contacted me to do a review, I was happy to test another electronic resource for biblical and theological study.

Logos has quite a few different Bible software packages one can purchase – basic packages to extensive packages which include various books, lexicons, Bible dictionaries and much, much more. Scores of e-books from various traditions (Catholic to Charismatic to Calvinistic) are also available in various packages or purchased separately. I recommend visiting the website to view the different packages and books available for purchase. The amount of materials available is absolutely staggering! I’m happy to have Herman Bavinck’s Dogmatics, Thomas Boston’s Works, many of Augustine’s writings, and the Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers collection, in my Logos library (just to name a few).

I use the Logos software on a PC that is a few years old (Logos runs on Mac as well), so it lags a bit. Further, it did take some time to download, but I appreciate the fact that I can use all the resources when I’m offline (though, of course, one must be online to receive the free updates). Also, Logos has a free app (I use Android but an iOS app is also available) that syncs with the desktop version. I hope to review the app at a later date.

If a person is familiar with other Bible software on PC, it will not be overly difficult to learn the basic commands and searches in Logos. The fonts (including Greek and Hebrew) are handsome and readable. Logos also has many different printable resources – charts, graphs, word studies, outlines, etc. The home screen is highly customizable; I use four different panels (one for the Bible, one for lexicons/dictionaries, one for definitions, and one for study resources).

There is also a very powerful search engine with which one can search the Bible as well as any and every Logos e-book in one’s library. For example, when studying “the goodness of God,” my search gave me all the Bible references to goodness, illustrations about God’s goodness, cross references about goodness, lexicon/dictionary entries on goodness, and all the places my e-books mentioned God’s goodness (i.e. in Calvin’s commentaries, TDNT, Berkhof’s writings, Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Aquinas’ Summa, the Westminster Standards, and other such e-resources). I appreciate the fact that my studies can be streamlined in this way!

I also appreciate the extensive “how to” lessons available at Logos’ website. There are many videos, articles, and discussion forums that help one learn more about using the software. I’ve had to look for help in a few areas already. There are so many different aspects of Logos; no doubt every user will have questions about the software. Thankfully, answers are relatively easy to find. If one might ask the question: “Can Logos do this or that?” the answer is most likely “Yes,” but it will take some effort and experimenting to get it done. To get the most out of Logos software, I recommend taking several days to watch the videos, read the tutorials, and spend some time working in Logos and trying out the various resources, tools, and settings.  (Note: I’ve had to contact customer software to ask a question, and the service was outstanding.)

I do wish the Reformed Platinum package came with BDAG and The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and I wish there were more English Bible translations in the package (it didn’t come with the NIV, the NLT, or the Tyndale Bible, for a few examples). I also wish there was a “simple” button that one could click for a basic, non-cluttered screen to study a passage, using only lexicons and commentaries. Of course, it is customizable enough to make a layout like this, but doing so takes some time and knowledge.

One more aspect of Logos that might make many pause is the price of the software (prices as of July, 2014). The prices range from under $100 to over $2,000. There are usually decent sales and discounts at Logos (and payment plans), but many full priced e-books on Logos are just as expensive as print versions. Although everyone differs, I’d rather read a print copy than an electronic version of a book, so spending significant money on e-books is something I typically don’t do. In fact, sadly many of the e-books I have on Logos are ones that I will never read since there are so many and since I dislike reading books on a screen. Alternatively, this Reformed package would be a great blessing for those on the mission field who cannot carry their libraries around.  Churches could perhaps “gift” this software to their missionaries and church planters.

One final point worth mentioning – and this is more aimed at the users – is the fact that Bible software must be used with caution and wisdom. Electronic resources save time, but they also take away some of the intellectual work that scholars have done in the past (i.e. reading through the pages of a lexicon to find the word, or reading many pages to find a single concept, etc.). Users of Bible software must not, for example, assume they are experts in patristics if they only read a paragraph or two of Augustine and Cyril for sermon prep. It is very tempting to take too many shortcuts when working with Bible software, so students and scholars must be aware of this in order to stay intellectually sharp and balanced. As with all useful tools, Logos must be used rightly.

In summary, Logos Bible software is a premium tool for Bible and theological studies as well as sermon preparation. Used rightly, this tool will help Bible students for years to come. I’ve made the switch from BibleWorks to Logos, since Logos, in my opinion, is superior (hands-down). It has already helped my studies in various ways!  Again, this review is too brief, and it is impossible to fully explain Logos in a review, so I recommend exploring the Logos website (www.logos.com) to learn more about this excellent resource. Finally, by following the link, our readers will receive a discount on Reformed packages.

Feel free to ask questions about the software; I’ll do my best to answer.

rev. shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi