The Penning Pastor: More Hope for Men than Cows, but Not because of Men

As to myself, if I were not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men, than to horses or cows. —John Newton, Works

Humble Teacher, Humble Student, Humbling Truth

In a letter concerning election and predestination:

“Permit me to remind you, in the first place, of that important aphorism, John iii. 27, (which, by the bye, seems to speak strongly in favour of the doctrines in question): “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven.” If you should accede to my opinions upon my persuasion only, you would be little benefited by the exchange. The Lord alone can give us the true, vital, comfortable, and useful knowledge of his own truths. We may become wise in notions, and so far masters of a system, or scheme of doctrine, as to be able to argue, object, and fight, in favour of our own hypothesis, by dint of application, and natural abilities ; but we rightly understand what we say, and whereof we affirm, no farther than we have a spiritual perception of it wrought in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not, therefore, by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful perusal of his holy word, that we are to expect a satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am persuaded that you are seeking in this way: if so, I am confident you shall not seek in vain. The Lord teaches effectually, though for the most part gradually. The path of the just is compared to the light, which is very faint at the early dawn, but shineth more and more to the perfect day.”  —John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1

Tolle Lege: Putting Amazing Back into Grace

Puting Amazing...Readability: 1

Length: 227 pp

Author: Michael Horton

Michael Horton is as excellent a theologian as he is a writer. God’s grace was on him in both ways, like the prophet Jeremiah, from his youth. As a teenage boy Horton’s eyes were opened to the doctrines of grace. He wrote a book titled Mission Accomplished at fifteen to explain to others the truths he had come to see in Scripture. While in college the book was published by Thomas Nelson and James Boice wrote the forward.

That book is since out of print, but it was added to and revised. It now comes to us as Putting Amazing back into Grace with a foreword by J.I. Packer. Mission Accomplished was published and endorsed by James Boice said something as to its value. That Michael has had so many years to deepen in his understanding and wisdom in communicating these truth speaks to the value of its successor. Whether you are newly investigating the doctrines of grace or are looking to freshly be warmed by them you will find this book helpful.

We can talk about grace, sing about grace, preach about grace, just so long as we do not get too close to it.  Election is too close.  When we give in to election, we finally give up on ourselves in the matter of salvation.  This doctrine takes grace to its logical conclusion: If God saves me without my works, then he must choose me apart from them, too.

Everyone believes in election and predestination. The terms are found throughout Scripture, and to deny any and every notion of election or predestination is to flatly contradict God’s Word. The real question is whether one believes it is, as Paul affirmed, an ‘election of grace’ (Rom. 11:5) or of foreseen works. If grace means ‘unmerited favor,’ then the Bible clearly teaches that nothing, absolutely nothing at all including our response can be the one thing that merited God’s favor. If God chose you based on his having foreseen your response to him, it would not be an election or a salvation of unmerited favor.

When I was just discovering this teaching, my pastor—concerned that I was falling into error—asked me, ‘Son, when were you saved?’ Without really thinking about it, I heard myself answer, ‘Two thousand years ago.’ I am still reeling from that answer, which I barely understood that day. It is one of the most liberating and assuring truths in God’s Word.

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Tolle Lege: Killing Calvinism

Readability: 1

Length: 105 pp

Author: Greg Dutcher

Douglas Wilson has written about the YRR (Young, Restless, and Reformed) becoming the OSR (Old, Settled, and Reformed), and how this could be a good thing. Restlessness is not always a virtue. Growing old is not an evil. Old, settled wisdom will trump young, restless zeal any day. Give me Gandalf over Pippin. Restlessness is a virtue when folly rules, otherwise is it is the folly.

I rejoice in the recovery of reformed theology by my peers, but many of us, self included, do need to grow up, and settle down. Many wise men have called for young Calvinists to be locked up for the first years after they believe the doctrines of grace. Greg Dutcher calls them cage stage Calvinists. They are ready to fight, and with purpose, but so were Simeon and Levi. Zeal without wisdom is dangerous. It can be as dangerous as the untruth that opposes the doctrines we love. If Satan can’t get you to preach a lie, he will be content if you preach the truth in a hellish way.

Greg Dutcher has done all the YRR a favor in Kiling Calvinism. I believe it will be an ent-draught to many a zealous Pippin who took the palantír, growing them up into the Peregrin Took who cleansed the shire of orc-men.

(If you don’t understand any of this YRR talk, good for you. If I lost you with all of the LOTR (Lord of the Rings) references, shame on you!)

Windshields are one of those technological wonders we have all gotten used to. In fact, they work best when you don’t notice them, when they are invisible so that all you can see is what they reveal.

I am concerned that many Calvinists today do little more than celebrate how wonderfully clear their theological windshield is. But like a windshield, Reformed theology is not an end in itself. It is simply a window to the awe-inspiring universe of God’s truth, filled with glory, beauty, and grace. Do we need something like a metaphorical windshield of clear, biblical truth to look through as we hope to marvel at God’s glory? Absolutely. But we must make sure that we know the difference between staring at a windshield and staring through one.

While all true disciples are theologians, not all theologians are true disciples. If knowing the Bible and understanding theology were reliable measures of discipleship, Satan would be the greatest disciple ever. After all, his knowledge of Scripture is exceptional and he’s been observing the spiritual realm for quite a long time.

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