The [Non-scientific] Focus of the Creation Week (LeFebvre)

 I’ve been enjoying Michael LeFebvre’s book, The Liturgy of Creation.  It’s a study of the festivals, feasts, and calendar dates of OT Israel and how those things can help us read and understand the creation week in Genesis 1-3.  I’m not quite finished with it, but so far it has been thought-provoking and insightful.

One part that stuck out to me was LeFebvre’s note that often when people approach the creation week with spectacles of science they miss a main emphasis: the seventh day.  It is rather ironic: in trying to squeeze scientific data from the text (which wasn’t written from a scientific worldview) the person misses one of the main points of the text: the Sabbath rest of God.

The true beauty of the creation week is its invitation to sabbath rest.  This message of rest is both the demonstratable emphasis of the text and the one major theme of the passage on which the church’s voice has been unified through history.  From centuries past, there have been many different views on the nature of the creation days.  Some church fathers regarded them as metaphorical days and some as actual creation events.  The church has long allowed for a variety of opinions regarding the nature of the events described in the creation week.  But the focus of the text that has been consistently upheld by the church throughout her history is its message about the sabbath day.  Unfortunately, modern fascination to find science in the creation week tends to distract readers from its emphasis on the sabbath day.  The allure of worship rather than science ought to be our focus in the study of the creation week.

Robert Godfrey writes, ‘It is surely ironic that many people today who most insistently claim that it is obvious that the days of Genesis 1 are ordinary twenty-four-hour days miss the most important point about the days, namely, that one day in seven is holy to the Lord.’  There is actually a good reason why apologetic ministries tend to overlook the sabbath day focus of the creation week.  By nature, the agenda of an apologetic ministry is defined by the crisis it exists to address. Today the threat that ‘secular science’ poses to Genesis is aimed only at God’s creative work in the six days when ‘stuff happened.’  Thus, the major creation apologists – from all perspectives – generally focus on the six days and give little or no attention to the seventh.  This is understandable, but it dangerously skews the church’s attention away from the text’s internal emphasis, which is to labor in anticipation of the weekly sabbath.

Michael LeFebvre, The Liturgy of Creation, p. 132-133.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Westminster Seminary California and the Confessions

Product DetailsI’ve been enjoying this new book which summarizes the history of Westminster Seminary California: A New Old School, edited by W. Robert Godfrey and D. G. Hart.  Since Andrew and I graduated from WSC over five years ago, both of us have a vested interest in this book.  One emphasis of this book is a big reason why I studied at WSC: its commitment to Reformed/Presbyterian theology and confessions.  As the book notes, all Christians have some form of confession; every Christian believes at least some doctrine.

“No Christian who reads the Bible can escape some kind of creedal conclusions in the sense that he makes some decision about the meaning of the Bible.  To speak of the Bible’s meaning, as Westminster’s faculty always understood, was to talk in terms of doctrinal affirmations and denials.  Being a Christian without doctrine was impossible.  The best approach, as the importance of the creeds at Westminster demonstrated, was for Christians communally to summarize those doctrines into a coherent whole that would inform the life and ministry of Christ’s church.”

“Still the anti-confessional bias of many American evangelicals challenged Westminster California to ask again and again whether the teachings and practices of Reformed confessionalism were still necessary or worthwhile in the contemporary church.  But through these reflections Westminster California forged an increasingly self-conscious confessional identity as the years went by.  It became even more confident of the truths of the Reformed confessions.”

WSC started out by upholding, affirming, and teaching the Westminster Standards.  In 1993 they added the Three Forms of Unity to further bolster their Reformed confessional identity.

“Far from watering down its confessional identity, this action actually underscored the importance of confessional Reformed Christianity for its education.  This decision also helped assure that students would be well versed not only in Reformed theology generally, but also in the church’s confessional expressions of the truth.  Adding to the confessional identity of Westminster California is the reality that the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity are essentially agreed at almost every point, showing the unity of Reformed Christianity.”

If you have any interest in Westminster Seminary California – whether a former or current student, former or current parent(s) of a student, or if you are curious what WSC is all about, I highly recommend this book: A New Old School.  Also worth noting is that the Kindle version is currently at the special introductory price of $4.99 (here on Amazon).

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Worship and the Emotions

 I appreciate Robert Godfrey’s essay called “Worship and the Emotions” in Give Praise to God.  Here are a few parts I underlined in my copy.

“We need to be clear about the role of faith not only in justification, but in every aspect of living the Christian life.  The foundation of all Christian living, as well as of justification, is faith’s looking away from self to Christ and his promises.  There is a time and place for introspection to see if the fruits of true faith are present in a Christian, but the examination of such fruit must not lead us away from the centrality of faith itself.”

“Praise songs, which originated in charismatic circles and spread widely in other Protestant churches, seem often to express rather spontaneous waves of emotion.  But their use is carefully planned with an eye to the emotional effect on the worshiper.  In such a session of singing one can predict exactly when the hands will be raised and when other emotional responses will be exhibited.”

“…Emotions themselves must not be trusted as an accurate guide to truth, virtue, or the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Rather the emotions must be properly channeled and directed.  They must be governed by the sanctified intellect and will of the Christian.  They must be the effect of true faith.”

“When emotions are misused, there is a constant danger of manipulation.  It is easy for effective leaders to move people, especially trusting and expectant people, to feel what they want them to feel.  Easily the church becomes a theater where feeling and catharsis take the place of true faith.”

See chapter 15 of Give Praise to God for the entire essay. 

shane lems

Always Reformed: A Collection of Outstanding Essays

 If you’re looking for a book that broadly summarizes the history, theology, and ecclesiology of Reformed churches, you’ll want to get Always Reformed, a collection of essays dedicated to Dr. Robert Godfrey, pastor and president of Westminster Seminary California.  This book is a handsome hardcover (around 250 pages) that includes contributions by men like Sinclair Ferguson, Richard Muller, Mike Horton, R.C. Sproul, and Cornelis Venema.  The topics include Calvin’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Ferguson), a summary of Machen’s ministry (D. G. Hart), an essay on Calvin, Kuyper, and culture by David VanDrunen, a chapter on the Lord’s Supper (Kim Riddlebarger), and a lesson on preaching the doctrine of regeneration (Hywel Jones), among others. 

I’m about half-finished with this book (I’d finish it today but I had better write some sermons!), and so far my favorite chapters were Ferguson’s on Calvin’s teaching of the Holy Spirit and Hywel Jones’ great emphasis on preaching the doctrine of monergistic regeneration.  Venema’s summary of the URCNA was helpful as well.  No doubt I’ll blog more on the other chapters later. 

The book will be most appreciated by Reformed Christians who are relatively well-read in theology and history.  In other words, it is not for high schoolers, but I would assign certain chapters to college age students in a discussion group (for one example).  Also, I’m going to assign chapters in my elders’ training classes.  Obviously, seminary students and pastors should also get this book.  The print is relatively small, but footnotes and chapters of around 15-20 pages make it less daunting.   Always Reformed is a collection of solid theological essays that will no doubt contribute to the profession and piety of Reformed churches.

Much more info about this book (table of contents, a few free chapters, etc) can be found HERE.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Christ and Culture Conference: Friday/Saturday (WSC)

 

You’re not going to want to miss this: Westminster Seminary (California) is hosting a conference entitled “Christ, Kingdom, and Culture” – discussing these things from a confessional Reformed perspective.  Date: Friday/Saturday – Jan 15/16 at the WSC campus in Escondido, CA.  Go here for more info.  Speakers include Michael Horton, Dennis Johnson, Robert Godfrey, David VanDrunen, and Steve Baugh.

NOTE: For those of you who can’t make it, they are making the conference accessible via live webcast feed.  Tune in (click here) for free – @ 7PM Pacific Standard Time on January 15 (this Friday).  Also note that the Mp3s, CDs, and (possibly) DVDs will be available for a good price after the conference.  Finally, check out this book (by D. VanDrunen) on the same topic (mine is in the mail…stay tuned).

Enjoy!

shane (and andrew)

sunnyside wa

 

Another New One On Calvin

In light of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday, a host of all things Calvin is hitting the bookstores, blogs, and even other media.  Here’s another new compilation on Calvin, edited by Burk Parsons – John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009).  Nineteen pastors/teachers contributed, from Joel Beeke to Sinclair Ferguson to Thabiti Anyabwile to Phillip Johnson to Derek Thomas to Jerry Bridges.

The chapters include topics such as Calvin’s humility, life, and devotion; his role as churchman, reformer, writer, preacher; Calvin’s teaching on redemption, election, reprobation, union with Christ, justification, and so forth.  A great many topics are covered.

I’m not going to actually quote the book a bunch here. I simply want to flag the book for those interested.  In my opinion, the book is a great one to give to those Christians who 1) are leery of Calvin, 2) have heard of Calvin but never read anything about him, or 3) know a little of Calvin’s teaching and want to learn more.  This book is probably too much an introduction to Calvin and his thought for it to be overly useful to those of us who have read the Institutes or parts of his Commentaries.

One small quibble I have with the book is that some contributors didn’t really seem to get “into” Calvin’s thought.  For one example, Jerry Bridges wrote about holiness, and he only quoted from a tiny section of the Institutes (sometimes known as “The Little Golden Book”) but left out some other huge Calvin emphases that came to mind.  Joel Beeke’s chapter, “The Communion of Men With God” followed Bridges; it certainly “breathed” Calvin.  These two chapters sort of display the diversity of contributors.  Another chapter that didn’t “breathe” Calvin was John MacArthur’s chapter, “Man’s Radical Corruption,” (a.k.a. Total Depravity) which he said was one of Calvin’s “most important legacies” along with a few other points (p 138).  True enough, but this is sort of a reduction of all of Calvin’s thought down to several “points.”  In summary, some chapters are solid reading, others are somewhat superficial.

I realize an author and a book can only do so much.  And I realize the benefits of having Christians of all traditions say that Calvin is good and helpful.  Again, this is a good introductory level book for Calvin’s thought and life in simple language, but you may not need or want it if you’ve already read some things on Calvin.

For those of you who want more than a broad introduction, see this Beeke book or this one by Godfrey – both of which are also introductions to Calvin.  These are two men (among others I know) who have read and studied the Calvin “autographa” for years, and who are Calvinistic from head to toe.  These two books (among others) may just serve a better purpose than the one I’m reviewing here.

Finally, if you want a scholarly book on Calvin, check out Richard Muller’s, The Unaccommodated Calvin. I’m guessing most of our readers who have been “reading us” awhile are probably able to dig into the Institutes themselves.  Start there, and patiently read.

shane lems

sunnyside wa