Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Why have Christians been persecuted in the history of the Church? The reasons vary from age to age. But one thing is constant. C.E.B. Cranfield, the great biblical scholar, well describes this constant when he says of the existence of believers in a pagan world:

“Their very existence is an affront to human self-centredeness, a remainder of the absolute claims which God makes upon men’s lives and which so many want to ignore and forget.” [I & II Peter and Jude, p.119].

And this “ignore and forget” can all too easily slide over into acts of violence.


Having been involved in theological education for the past thirty years—first as a student at Wycliffe College, the University of Toronto, and then as a full-time teacher at Central Baptist Seminary, Heritage Baptist Seminary, and Toronto Baptist Seminary, and adjunct at a few other schools, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—I have thought a lot about what makes a good theologian and student of theology. Many have pondered this before me, and I am thankful that their words are around as a source of wisdom.

Here is Martin Luther’s four-fold pathway to being a true theologian: How to be a great theologian by Ray van Neste at his blog “Oversight of Souls.”    


Here are four very helpful pointers on how to read by a self-confessed bibliophile, Sean Michael Lucas: Thoughts on Reading.

Monday, January 30, 2006


A few weeks ago The Church Report listed what they considered to be “The 50 Most Influential Christians in America.” It is a surprising list, to say the least, both with regard to those who made the cut and those who did not! [See http://www.thechurchreport.com/content/view/823/32/].  

Imbued with the conviction that the principles behind this list are awfully skewed, I have decided to draw up my own list. It is one that is taken from the entire realm of Church History. It will be called “Eminent Christians” and will appear from time to time in this blog. Our first figure is William Carey.

Carey is often called the “Father of modern missions.” This epithet is something of a misnomer since it was the early eighteenth-century German-speaking Moravians who were the pioneers in this regard. Yet, on the other hand, there is an appropriateness to the title, for Carey became the definitive inspiration for many nineteenth-century missionaries from the English-speaking world.

After his conversion in the late 1770s from nominal Anglicanism, Carey was gripped by the obligation lying upon his generation of English believers—who had the Scriptures in their own tongue and faithful ministers up and down the land to preach them—to share their riches with those from other nations who were not so blessed. He rightly recognized that many orthodox congregations of his day were squandering their heritage by keeping it bottled up, as it were, to themselves. Carey, though, was convinced by Scripture—passages like Matthew 28:19-20 and sections of Isaiah—that the gospel had to be taken to the nations and preached to all and sundry. Also influential in shaping his thought was the Christ-exalting theology of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and his remarkable friendship with the Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), the most important Baptist theologian of that era.

There soon gathered around Carey a group of men of like conviction, including Fuller. It was out of this “band of brothers” that the Baptist Missionary Society was born which sent Carey and his family to India in 1793. It was a day of arduous travel and the voyage out from England took five months. They were at sea from June 13 to November 11. Not surprisingly, given the length of the voyage, Carey never returned to England.

He faced numerous challenges—both domestic (his wife Dorothy became insane within a few years of their arrival and his third son, Peter, died in 1794) and from the British rulers in India (the East India Company) as well as the challenge of witnessing to hardened idolaters. But he proved to be indefatigable in his calling, and during his forty years in India, Carey—and his key co-workers, William Ward (1769-1823) and Joshua Marshman (1768-1837)—translated or supervised the translation of the Scriptures into an astonishing thirty-four languages or dialects of the Indian sub-continent. A beachhead for the gospel was also established in Bengal, and for friends and supporters back in the British Isles Carey became something of a marvel. In the words of William Wilberforce (d.1833), the Christian politician, Carey’s mission was “one of the chief glories of our country.”

Carey, though, had a more realistic view of his achievements. “I can plod and persevere,” he once said of his work in India. In 1831, only three years before his death, he could write to his sisters in England: “I have no wish that anyone should write or say anything about me; let my memorial sleep with my body in the dust and at the last great day all the good or evil which belongs to my character will be fully known. My great concern now is to be found in Christ. His atoning sacrifice is all my hope.”

And when he came to die, he gave clear instructions that there was to be inscribed on his tombstone some words from a hymn by Isaac Watts (1674-1748): “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.”

Sunday, January 29, 2006


The Christian Union in Birmingham University, England, has been banned from meeting and its bank account frozen because it rightly refused to give way to the Birmingham University Guild of Students’ demand that the Union include politically correct statements about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and those who are transgendered in their constitution. The Union is appealing the ruling through proper legal channels. See the report in The Times.

What is evident here is that Christians are increasingly having to adopt non-conformist positions in contemporary western culture. But this is nothing new. Was not the Ancient Church prior to Constantine glorious in its non-conformity? And were not our English-speaking Puritan forebears given power and unction when they went through similar trials? And did not the Spirit of glory (see 1 Peter 4:14) rest upon our Baptist forebears on both sides of the Atlantic because of their refusal to be “politically correct” in their day?

Christians, take heart from these heroes of the past and determine to be faithful, “come wind, come weather”!

Thanks to Crawford Gribben at his blog, irish-reformation, for this information: Opposition to Christian student group in Birmingham.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


There is an important lesson in the shock and disgust of Oprah Winfrey about the revelation that James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces (Doubleday, 2003), a memoir of addiction and recovery and which she had previously endorsed, contains fabrications and lies. Even in our supposed postmodern world, where all is held to be relative, this incident is a good reminder that when it really comes down to it, truth-telling is held to be vital and lying worthy of censure.


This post by Nathan Caesbolt, “Legacy”, is a good reminder of a vital biblical principle regarding the doing of history: every individual matters and makes a difference, for good or ill, in this world. History is not the clash of simply economic forces or even powerful ideologies. It is the living out of life in a distinct space and time of immortal beings, men and women bound for eternity—in heaven or hell. And what we do here in history matters—it matters intensely. And though none may remember us, this does not materially affect the truth of this fact. For there is a holy God who will render to each according to how he or she has lived.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Here is an excellent post by Tom Ascol: Homosexual activism and the SBC.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


One more reason to vote against keeping the Liberal party in power is that the power elite at the core of their party are people whose hands are soaked in innocent blood. Oh no, they are not liable to be prosecuted in a court of law, for the murders they have done have been judicially approved. I am talking about the slaughter of the innocents in arbortuaries across this land, fueled, funded and approved by Liberal politicians. Enough is enough—the slaughter must end. What hypocrites we Canadians are if we look overseas at the killing fields in Cambodia and Bosnia and Rwanda and the Sudan and speak of the inhumanity we see there, and we do not see the killing that is taking place within this land.

Surely if those woe-sayers of old, the Old Testament prophets and even our Lord Jesus, were walking this earth today they would not keep silence. Woe to us, then, we who dare to call ourselves the people of God, if we keep silence and forget the slain, whose numbers mount every day.

God give your people, who call on your name, strength and wisdom to use all of the peaceful mechanisms of democracy to bring justice to bear on this matter and end the slaughter of the innocent.

Lord, on this day, when your name is worshipped and honoured by your people, please have mercy on us Canadian Christians for our wimpishness and silence.

Have mercy, O Lord, on those mothers who have consented to the slaying of the fruit of their wombs, and forgive their sins, for many know not what they do.

O God, have mercy on the so-called doctors who have killed our children in the name of freedom, fill them with horror at what they have done and give them true repentance.

Lord, you who are the God of William Wilberforce, raise up politicians whose spirit is akin to that of that man, and may they know no rest till the borders of our fair land be rid of this culture of death.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


It does not bode well when a politician has to resort to scare tactics to get people to vote for him. I am referring to some literature that was placed in my mailbox this afternoon by those involved in seeking the re-election of Mr Russ Powers, the liberal candidate for my riding in Hamilton-Wentworth.

I have purposely resisted blogging on this upcoming election, but I found this piece of literature so utterly typical of Liberal tactics just before Canadian voters go to the polls on Monday that I became convinced I had to say something.

In one of the four panels of the literature the NDP were slammed by saying that their popular support in one national poll stands at “17.65%” and that the reader of the literature ought to “Be smart Vote strategic.” Has our democratic privilege come down to this—that we vote the way everyone else does? Surely that is a travesty of democracy and an appeal to the herd mentality that has marked Canadian politics for much of the past forty years in which the Liberals have been in power! The NDP have certain convictions that I do not share, but if that is where people’s convictions lie, then to encourage such people to vote against those convictions in order to “be smart” is to encourage sheer hypocrisy!

Another entire panel of the pamphlet was devoted to slamming Stephen Harper, in which he was accused of, among other things:

  • Supporting “the privatization of our healthcare”

  • Wanting “to help Americans invade foreign countries”

  • Wanting “Canada to join the US missile defence and Star Wars program”

  • Wanting “to reverse minority guarantees in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms”

At the end of this list of accusations was the “bear-baiting” question: “Do you really want Stephen Harper to be your Prime Minister?”

Well, I for one do want Stephen Harper to be my Prime Minister. Why? Well, we have had the Liberals in power for most of the past forty years and they have gutted our military and made it a laughing-stock in our own nation, opened the door to a floodgate of immorality, and have generally shown that they are not interested in the rights of all of the Canadian people.

In the accusations listed above, one wonders if the Liberal Party has any idea of the world in which we are now living. It is a world in which a group of Muslim terrorists, with strong popular support in certain countries, have vowed to bury the West under the rubble of our cities—witness not only the attacks on the World Trade Centre, but also the attacks in Bali on Australians, in Spain and the London underground. Does the Liberal party think that a triumph of these terrorists in this struggle would leave Canada unscathed? As the saying has it, they are whistling Dixie if they do. And if it came to violent attacks here in Canada, we would be all too eager to have American help. What hypocrisy then to refuse our neighbours to the south our aid in their time of crisis?

Then, it is unlikely that a Conservative government would enforce a “privatization of our healthcare.” The outcry would simply be too great and the popular backlash enormous and a Conservative government that sought to do so would be out in the very next election. No, this is simply scare tactics!

Finally, as for the “minority” freedoms threatened by a Conservative government, which ones are the Liberals talking about exactly? Time will tell if they are really serious about guaranteeing the rights of all Canadians. For example, will the Liberals go to bat for Christian pastors who may be accused in courts of law of hate-mongering when they preach on texts in the Bible that speak negatively about homosexual behaviour? Granted this has not happened yet, but it is not an impossible future scenario. For example, where was the Liberal party when Scott Brockie was find $5,000 for exercising his democratic privilege and refusing to print literature for homosexual activists and then has to pay a further $40,000 with regard to court costs? See Scott Brockie Loses Decision at Court of Appeals, On the Hook for $40 ...

No, I for one will not be fooled by such scare tactics and intend to vote Conservative on Monday, since I am convinced that Stephen Harper is a politician who takes seriously the democratic freedoms of all Canadians and that he and his party understand our global situation much better than their Liberal counterparts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Phil Johnson mentions what looks like a fascinating blog by a number of doctoral students at the University of Edinburgh who are interested in the Puritans, “The New College Conventicle.” I found most of the entries intriguing, especially the one by Chris Ross: “Puritan Spirituality and the Counter Reformation,” posted on November 23 of last year. Check it out!


I have just finished reading History and Silence. Purge and Rehabilitation of Memory in Late Antiquity (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2000), written by Charles W. Hedrick, Jr., who is Professor of Ancient History in Cowell College of the University of California at Santa Cruz. The book details the way that the memory of a member of the Roman senatorial elite, Virius Nicomachus Flavianus (d.394) was purged and then rehabilitated in the late Roman Empire.

Flavian, a pagan senator, was implicated in the revolt of Eugenius against the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great in 394. Due to the fact that Theodosius was a Christian the revolt has frequently been interpreted as one last attempt by the pagan elite of the Empire to stem the tide of Christianization (p.39-46). According to one early life of Ambrose, the famous bishop of Milan, when Eugenius and Flavian marched out of Milan, where they had set up court, to do battle with Theodosius at the River Frigidus, they assured Ambrose that they would win. And when they returned they would turn Ambrose’s cathedral into a stable (p.45). But the two-day battle was won by Theodosius—victory being credited to a wind that God sent in response to the prayers of Theodosius. Eugenius was executed on the field of battle and Flavian compelled to commit suicide.

Hedrick does a brilliant job of using the way Flavian’s memory was purged and rehabilitated to analyze the mindset and politics behind what was called damnatio memoriae, namely the way in which the Roman state sought to destroy the memory of a dead public enemy. Along the way there are some excellent discussions of such things as the nature of history, the rehabilitation of a text and the role of silence.

With regard to the latter, Hedrick notes that “the theme of silence is pervasive in most historical writing” (p.131) for the historian is nothing less than the “guardian of memory”—seeking to recall what many have forgotten—and the “vindicator of silence”—speaking about things that had been shrouded in silence (p.135). Both of these are good—and we should add classic—descriptions of what it means to do history.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


My Baptist heritage has generally affirmed that when it comes to praying, written prayers are really not acceptable. Prayer has to be extemporaneous. One key source for this conviction is John Bunyan (1628-1688) and his influential treatise I will pray with the Spirit (1662).

Rejecting written prayers

Bunyan had been arrested in 1660 for illegal preaching and at his trial in January, 1661, John Bunyan was asked by Sir John Kelynge, one of the judges, to justify his absence from worship in the local parish church. Bunyan, true to his Puritan heritage, stated that “he did not find it commanded in the word of God.” [A Relation of the Imprisonment of Mr. John Bunyan in W. R. Owens, ed. John Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1987), 95].

Kelynge pointed out that prayer was a duty. Bunyan agreed, but he insisted that it was a duty to be performed with the Spirit’s aid, not by means of the Book of Common Prayer, which set out the structure for the worship services of the Church of England. Bunyan proceeded to argue:

“Those prayers in the Common Prayer-book, was such as was made by other men, and not by the motions of the Holy Ghost, within our hearts. … The scripture saith, that it is the Spirit as helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with sighs and groanings which cannot be uttered. Mark, … it doth not say the Common prayer-book teacheth us how to pray, but the Spirit.” [A Relation of the Imprisonment of Mr. John Bunyan in Owens, ed. John Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 95, 96].

The background to Bunyan’s convictions

Bunyan’s outright rejection of the use of written prayers cannot be understood apart from the view of his Puritan contemporaries and forebears. John Calvin (1509-1563), the spiritual father of Anglophone Puritanism, had defined prayer as essentially an “emotion of the heart …, which is poured out and laid open before God.” At the same time Calvin was tolerant of written prayers. Some of his spiritual children among the English Puritans, like Richard Baxter (1615-1691), preserved both of these emphases.

Many of the Puritans, however, took Calvin’s view of prayer to its logical conclusion and saw little need for written prayers. Walter Cradock (c.1610-1659), a Welsh Congregationalist preacher and author, stated forthrightly: “When it may be the (poor Minister) … would have rejoyced to have poured out his soule to the Lord, he was tied to an old Service Booke, and must read that till he grieved the Spirit of God, and dried up his own spirit as a chip, that he could not pray.”

John Owen (1616-1683), Bunyan’s friend and admirer, similarly maintained that “constant and unvaried use of set forms of prayer may become a great occasion of quenching the Spirit.” Owen conceded that the use of written prayers is not intrinsically evil. But since the Spirit whom God had given to the believer is “the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10), the believer has all the resources that he needs for prayer. Moreover, Owen affirmed that the “Holy Ghost, as a Spirit of grace and supplication, is nowhere, that I know of, promised unto any to help or assist them in composing prayers for others; and therefore we have no ground to pray for him or his assistance unto that end in particular.”

These criticisms of the Book  of Common Prayer accurately reflect Puritan dissatisfaction with both the type and content of the prayers in this book. Moreover, undergirding the approach of both Cradock and Owen to prayer was an intense interest in the work of the Spirit in general and the accompanying recognition that only with his empowering could God be rightly served and worshipped. Bunyan shares these perspectives on prayer and the Spirit, but states them in his own expressive way.

The impact of Bunyan’s view detailed

Bunyan’s interest in extemporaneous prayer, quickened by his debate with Kelynge, found written form not long after his trial in I will pray with the Spirit. There are no surviving copies of the first edition. The second edition, dated 1663, appears without a bookseller’s or publisher’s name on the title page. The title page simply states “Printed for the author”. The book was probably too hot for any publisher to handle! And no wonder when Bunyan declared near the end of the book: “Look into the Gaols in England, and into the Alehouses of the same: and I believe, you will find those that plead for the Spirit of Prayer in the Gaol, and them that look after the Form of men’s Inventions only, in the Alehouse.” [Richard L. Greaves, ed., John Bunyan: The Doctrine of the Law and Grace unfolded and I will pray with the Spirit (Clarendon Press, 1976), 294].

Bunyan’s treatise on prayer helped to secure what has become a leading attitude to written and read prayers: an attitude of extreme wariness.

Bunyan’s treatise can also be seen as a declaration that without the Spirit not only our prayer-life, but also our entire Christian walk is hollow, stale and lifeless. It is often forgotten that Bunyan and his fellow English Baptists were vital participants in what Ronald Reeve has described as the Puritan “rediscovery of the Holy Spirit as the mainspring of all Christian activity.” [“John Wesley, Charles Simeon, and the Evangelical Revival”, Canadian Journal of Theology, 2 (1956), 205]. The claim by some contemporary authors and theologians that no post-Reformation movement until this past century has really given the Spirit his due is shown to be quite false by the interest that the Puritans had in the person and work of the Spirit.

Bunyan, like most of his fellow Puritans, had an intense desire for the experience of the Spirit, for he knew that the Spirit of Christ alone could lead him to God. Thus, at the conclusion of the treatise, Bunyan expresses the hope that: “Christians…pray for the Spirit, that is, for more of it, though God hath endued them with it already …The Lord in mercy turn the hearts of the people to seek more after the Spirit of Prayer, and in the strength of that, pour out their souls before the Lord.” [Greaves, ed., John Bunyan: The Doctrine of the Law and Grace unfolded and I will pray with the Spirit, 271, 285].

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Here is an excellent reflection by Kevin Bauder on the nature of Baptist congregational life and the way that the independence of the local church must be balanced with the interdependence of congregations of like faith and practice.

The concrete case that is at the base of his reflection is a letter from the elders at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky (Thomas Schreiner, Bruce Ware, Shawn Wright, and Brian Vickers, all of whom are professors at Southern Baptist Seminary) to the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, regarding the latter church’s proposal of withdrawing the necessity of believers’ baptism as a prerequisite of church membership. As it turns out, this proposal has itself been withdrawn. See Clifton and Bethlehem, Pedobaptist Churches?,  & Bethlehem and Baptism.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


I have often thought that our day shows remarkable similarities to the late nineteenth century and the collapse of evangelical witness in that day. A recent post by Nathan Finn is a good reminder that we are not the first generation to have to affirm the necessity of a confessional Christianity: “Confessions and their Naysayers As I think about ...