Interview with Matthew Barrett on the Canons of Dort (Part 2)

Posted by on Oct 1, 2014 in Interviews | No Comments
Interview with Matthew Barrett on the Canons of Dort (Part 2)

Over at Books at a Glance, Fred Zaspel has interviewed Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine, on his new book, The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort. It is a two part interview (and you can read Part 1 here).

9781894400527mHere is the start of Part 2 of the interview:

Books At a Glance:
Let’s talk about Assurance. The Calvinist will say that the Arminian has little room for Assurance, given its focus on the human will and the possibility of falling away. But the Arminian will wonder how the Calvinist can be assured that he is, in fact, numbered among the elect, those for whom Christ died! How would the pastor-theologians of Dort argue that their doctrines foster genuine assurance and not a mere presumption?

Matthew Barrett:
Dort recognizes that there are some Christians who have serious struggles with assurance, questioning whether they are numbered among the elect. This doubt usually creeps in when they are failing to overcome sin. What does Dort prescribe? To begin with, Dort points them to the objective work of Christ. The believer, especially when struggling with sinfulness, is to “flee for refuge to Christ crucified.” It is at the cross that redemption has been accomplished and secured, where forgiveness flows for all eternity.

Dort does not stop there, but turns to the subjective aspect of the Christian life as well. The sinner must mortify the flesh (John Owen must have read Dort!) and put on godliness. In doing so, the Calvinist, unlike the Arminian, is not left without the promise that those whom the Father has called, Christ will indeed keep to the end. God is faithful, mercifully strengthening his children in grace, powerfully preserving them to the end, even through valleys when all seems hopeless. Therefore, there is an assurance that not only comes from unconditional election but divine preservation as well. This assurance, warns Dort, does not derive from “some private revelation beyond or outside the word, but from the faith in the promises of God which he has very plentifully revealed in his word for our comfort, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children and heirs, and finally from a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works.”

It is on the subject of Christian assurance that I believe Dort is at its best. And so I would especially recommend chapter 6 to readers.

Read the rest of this interview at Books at a Glance.


New Interview on the Canons of Dort with Matthew Barrett

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Interviews | No Comments
New Interview on the Canons of Dort with Matthew Barrett

Over at Books at a Glance, Fred Zaspel has interviewed Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine, on his new book, The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort. It is a two part interview. Tomorrow part 2 will be available.

Here is the start of the interview:

9781894400527mBooks At a Glance:
When I (FGZ) was working on The Theology of B.B. Warfield I was stunned that no one had done the work before me. I felt that way again as I read you’re The Grace of Godliness – how in the world was this book not written before now? Am I right in guessing that you have received encouraging feedback since its release? At any rate, the work was saved for you – congratulations and thanks on filling this gaping hole in historical-theological studies.

Matthew Barrett:
Thanks Fred. The book began as an article and at the outset I assumed there would be a multitude of resources on the subject. To my surprise, not only is there a very limited amount of studies on the Canons of Dort, but few draw the connection between Dort’s emphasis on the doctrines of grace and personal and corporate godliness and piety. As I argue in the book, Dort believed that the doctrines of grace do not undermine incentive to holy living and the pursuit of godliness, but rather these doctrines are actually the engine that drives our sanctification.

Books At a Glance:
First, give us a brief view of the setting of the Synod of Dort. What were the “sides” in dispute? And how did this gathering come about? More specifically, then, how did the synod come to address these specific points of doctrine? How was this agenda set for them? And by the way, maybe it would be helpful for some if you would tell us what a “Canon” is in this sense.

Matthew Barrett:
At the end of the sixteenth-century and beginning of the seventeenth-century what we see is a rising and growing number of Reformed churches. These Reformed churches were greatly influenced by John Calvin and his successor Theodore Beza, and especially the Reformed confessions. This is evident when we look at the Dutch Reformed churches in this time period. However, tension began to form when Jacob Arminius, a former student in Geneva, began to teach certain doctrines that deviated from the Reformed confessions. For example, he argued that God’s electing choice is conditional, based on the faith he foresees within man. He also believed that Christ did not die only for the elect but that his death was for all people without exception. Additionally, God distributes a prevenient grace which mitigates man’s depravity so that he now has the ability to cooperate with or successfully and finally resist divine grace no matter how hard God tries to save him. Naturally, many Reformed theologians believed that these beliefs, among others, deviated from the Reformed faith and, more importantly, were unbiblical. While Arminius died, his views did not, but were picked up by his followers who remonstrated against Reformed doctrine. Hence, they became known as the Arminian Remonstrants. So at the beginning of the seventeenth century Reformed theologians gathered together in order to respond to the Remonstrants. Their synod resulted in what we today call the five points of Calvinism. While the five points of Calvinism today are ordered in the acronym T.U.L.I.P., Dort actually ordered their points differently:

1 – Unconditional Election
2 – Limited (Particular) Atonement
3/4 – Total Depravity and Irresistible (Effectual) Grace (Dort treated these two together, showing how they are indispensable to one another)
5 – Perseverance of the Saints

These points were called canons. And no, not the type of canon you ignite and shoot! These were heads or rules of doctrine.

This all-too-short history is important because many assume that it was the Calvinists who drew up their five points only to have the Arminians respond. Quite the opposite is true, though I would argue that the theology found in the canons of Dort can be seen in the writings of theologians long before the 17th century.

There is far more that could be said, but you have to read the book!

And here is another excerpt from the interview:

Books At a Glance:
Is there a general characterization you can give us regarding the more pastoral concerns reflected in the Canons of Dort? What are some of the leading points of application?

Matthew Barrett:
I did not write the book strictly as a commentary on the Canons of Dort. While I do explain each of the canons, my main purpose is to show how those canons do not serve to undermine Christian piety but actually support evangelical godliness. In other words, the charge that is often leveled against Reformed theology is that the doctrines of grace destroy any incentive to holy living and pursuit of godliness. I argue the exact opposite because I believe the authors of the canons did as well.

So, unconditional election does not result in laxness and sloth in Christian living, but is the fuel that ignites Christian holiness. Similarly, predestination is not meant to result in doubting one’s salvation or, on the other hand, boasting that one is elect, but rather should lead to Christian assurance and humility. Or consider particular atonement. Christ substitutionary death is for his bride, whom he loves in a special, saving way, a way that he does not love the rest of the world. Therefore, the personal nature of substitutionary atonement is cause for personal and corporate worship, magnifying Christ, our Savior and Lord. Total depravity and effectual grace serve to kill pride. The Christian has no room to boast in himself, not even in the slightest. His salvation is not due to anything in him, but solely to the grace of God. The irresistibility of grace, therefore, fosters true humility. When we boast, we boast in the Lord, not in ourselves. Finally, the preservation and perseverance of the saints is an incentive to holy living. The God who saved us will sanctify us and he has given to us the means by which we are to pursue godliness. He will not let Satan snatch us out of his hand but by the power of the Holy Spirit he will keep us so that we persevere to the end, even in the midst of hardship. One might notice that it is in this fifth canon that Dort has the most to say about how God’s sovereign grace relates to Christian piety and godliness.

Read the entire interview over at Books at a Glance.


The Heart of a Child

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Jeremy Kimble, Jonathan Edwards | No Comments
The Heart of a Child

Edwards addresses in his work The Religious Affections how we as Christians ought to have the faith of a child. We are reminded by the Apostle Paul not to be children in our thinking. He states, “Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Cor. 14:20) We must have a mind that apprehends the truth of God, living it out daily. But as regards a child-likeness, Edwards offers helpful commentary in this instance. May we heed these words and reckon ourselves to be children before God in the following manner.

The tenderness of the heart of a true Christian, is elegantly signified by our Savior, in his comparing such a one to a little child. . . .

A little child has his heart easily moved, wrought upon and bowed: so is a Christian in spiritual things. A little child is apt to be affected with sympathy, to weep with them that weep, and can’t well bear to see others in distress: so it is with a Christian (John 11:35Romans 12:15I Corinthians 12:26). A little child is easily won by kindness: so is a Christian. A little child is easily affected with grief at temporal evils, and has his heart melted, and falls a weeping: thus tender is the heart of a Christian, with regard to the evil of sin. A little child is easily affrighted at the appearance of outward evils, or anything that threatens its hurt: so is a Christian apt to be alarmed at the appearance of moral evil, and anything that threatens the hurt of the soul. A little child, when it meets enemies, or fierce beasts, is not apt to trust its own strength, but flies to its parents for refuge: so a saint is not self-confident in engaging spiritual enemies, but flies to Christ. A little child is apt to be suspicious of evil in places of danger, afraid in the dark, afraid when left alone, or far from home: so is a saint apt to be sensible of his spiritual dangers, jealous of himself, full of fear when he can’t see his way plain before him, afraid to be left alone, and to be at a distance from God; Proverbs 28:14, “Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.”

A little child is apt to be afraid of superiors, and to dread their anger, and tremble at their frowns and threatenings: so is a true saint with respect to God; Psalms 119:120, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.” Isaiah 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and trembleth at my word.” V. 5, “Hear ye the Word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” Ezra 9:4, “Then were assembled unto me, everyone that trembled at the works of the God of Israel.” Ch. 10:3, “According to the counsel of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God.” A little child approaches superiors with awe: so do the saints approach God with holy awe and reverence. Job 13:11, “Shall not his excellency make you afraid, and his dread fall upon you.” Holy fear is so much the nature of true godliness, that it is called in Scripture by no other name more frequently, than the fear of God.

Jeremy Kimble (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville University. He is an editor for Credo Magazine as well as the author of That His Spirit May Be Saved: Church Discipline as a Means to Repentance and Perseverance and numerous book reviews. He is married to Rachel and has two children, Hannah and Jonathan.


Sunday’s Sermon (Schreiner, Barrett, Zaspel)

Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 in Sunday's Sermon | No Comments
Sunday’s Sermon (Schreiner, Barrett, Zaspel)

Three of Credo Magazine’s main contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Fred Zaspel, and Matthew Barrett. Each of them are professors, but they are also pastors. So each Monday morning we will be highlighting their “Sunday’s Sermon” on the blog to provide you with encouragement throughout the week and an opportunity to study God’s Word.


Credo’s Cache

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014 in Credo's cache | No Comments
Credo’s Cache

Each week we will be highlighting important resources. Check back each Friday to see what we have dug up for you. From this week’s cache:

1. Pinched by GenerosityBy Austin Becton - Becton says: “It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will free you from the bondage of materialism and wealth accumulation into selfless giving, (not because of your ability but) because of God’s infinite selfless generosity . . . that you feel the pinch of God’s call to be a generous people. We give because God first gave! That’s living a good life.” 

2. Culture and the Kingdom of GodBy Bruce Ashford - Ashford notes: “The best kept secret in the Christian life is that everything we do matters to God! We don’t have to be pastors or missionaries in order to please the King and do work on his behalf. We can be farmers, businessmen, homemakers, artists, or educators who shape our lives and cultural activities toward Christ, bringing those realms under his Lordship.”

3. Why Teenage Suicide is More than a Statistic for MeBy Trevin Wax - Wax says: “Oh, and that God is always good, but not according to the trite and easy answers we offer up with good intentions to people in pain. His goodness has an unshakeable quality to it that is fully equipped to handle our questions, our tears, our rage, our doubts and griefs.”

4. Two Big Reasons Evangelism Isn’t WorkingBy Jonathan Dodson – Dodson says: “We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop checking the list and defeating others. Be incarnate, not excarnate, in your evangelism. Slow down and practice listening and love. Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love, and the work of the Holy Spirit.”

5. When Can We Stop Conversing and Believe Some Stuff? A Ramble on Intellectual NarcissismBy Derek Rishmawy - Rishmawy says: “In the other direction, do you enter every conversation with the expectation that people have reached the level of confidence and security that you have? In other words, is every expression of uncertainty and doubt an expression of rebellion and perversity, or do you give some space for those who are still piecing it through?”

Matt Manry is the Assistant Pastor at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion at Reformed Theological Seminary and a Masters of Arts in Christian and Classical Studies from Knox Theological Seminary.


Barrett’s Book Notes: Aging, the Doctrines of Grace, and Busyness

Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Book Notes, Matthew Barrett | No Comments
Barrett’s Book Notes: Aging, the Doctrines of Grace, and Busyness

9781433541063mJ. I. Packer. Finishing Our Course With Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

There is tremendous wisdom in this book. And it comes from an aged Christian with much wisdom to give. If you are a “senior” this book is for you. But even if you are not a senior, this book is for you, especially if you care for an elderly person or are a pastor with elderly members in your congregation. I kept picking up this book because Packer, always the theologian, tells every person how to view his/her body and what our purpose should be as we grow older. Packer dispels some of the unfortunate stereotypes and assumptions in the church regarding the elderly and reminds the church how they should utilize those who have had more experience as Christians than anyone else. Here are a couple of commendations, and I especially like Storms’.

“I wish I had thought more about growing older when I was younger. If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t need wisdom from J. I. Packer. But I didn’t, and therefore I do! And what wonderful wisdom it is, the sort that challenges us, redirects our energy, and equips us with biblical truth to face our latter years. I’m at that stage in life where ‘engaging’ with my ‘aging’ has become increasingly more urgent. And I can’t think of anyone who can provide more helpful and encouraging insight than J. I. Packer. Don’t wait until you’re sixty or seventy to read this book. Start now and finish well.”
Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“Experts say that the proportion of the elderly population in the United States will grow by 80 percent in the decades to come. It is more important than ever to have a biblical mind about how we spend our latter years for God’s glory. We want to finish well (2 Tim. 4:7). And good pastors care to prepare their people to do precisely this. Finishing Our Course with Joy comes as wise, true, timely, and edifying biblical reflection and pastoral counsel on this significant subject. Dr. Packer’s book speaks to senior adults, those who love and care for them, those who will become them, and those who pastor them. As one who has had the privilege of knowing J. I. Packer since my teen years, reading these words—written from his own personal experience, communion with God, and knowledge of the Word—is poignant for me, to say the least. But that only makes the truth go in deeper. And that is good.”
J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

9781596387409mShane Lems. The Doctrines of Grace. Student Edition. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013.

What could be more exciting than teaching your teens the doctrines of grace? Shane Lems has written a book to do just that. This student edition will aid youth pastors and parents as they work through these important doctrines and help their teens answer some of those tough questions. I especially like this book because the Canons of Dort are included at the end! Here is praise for the book:

“Christian parents have the great blessing of raising their children in the fear of the Lord. They also have a great responsibility. This is where they often get stuck, feeling totally inadequate to the task. In this little book, Shane Lems comes alongside to assist. He lays out some of the basic doctrines of our churches, where they are found clearly in Scripture, and why they matter. I pray God uses it to raise up a new generation of godly leaders and servants.”
—Daniel R. Hyde, Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church

“Pastor Lems’ slim volume is a marvelous introduction to some key aspects of Reformed theology. This work admirably succeeds in exploring doctrines deeply while also communicating in a clear, simple, and lucid manner. It should prove to be a great asset for training our covenant youth for many years to come.”
—David VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian ethics, Westminster Seminary California

“If you have a hard time understanding Calvinism, TULIP, or how God saves by grace, this primer will not only bring clarity to this often-confusing subject, but will also instill delight and thanksgiving in your soul! I highly recommend it!”
—Brian H. Cosby, Author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture and Rebels Rescued: A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology

9781433533389mKevin DeYoung. Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

If you are too busy to read this book, then you need to read this book. Seriously though, whether you are a mom with kids or a dad running on the hamster wheel of corporate America, DeYoung can help. And if you are a pastor, you definitely need to read this book. DeYoung helps us confess the sinfulness to be found in our busyness and also shows us what we should do about it from a biblical perspective. Here is praise for the book:

“A great book for the stressed-out. DeYoung shows that Jesus was busy and Christians should be busy discipling nations, parenting children, and bearing burdens. He rightly differentiates that from ‘crazy busy,’ a frenzied trying to please some and control others—and he shows how biblical rhythms and trust in God’s providence can keep us sane. Also a great book for parents who live in a Kindergarchy, over-programming their children: DeYoung says let them play, because it’s not easy either to ruin them or to assure their success.”
Marvin Olasky, Editor in Chief, World News Group

“Habitual, sinful busyness is something that many struggle with and yet, it’s rare to hear teaching on this important topic. With refreshing transparency and his trademark humor, Kevin DeYoung identifies the problem and gives helpful practical instruction on how to find our rest in Christ. DeYoung has served the church well (once again). I highly recommend this book.”
Shai Linne, hip-hop artist

“I’m glad to take time out of my busy life to endorse Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. As Kevin makes abundantly clear, our busyness can be evidence of our faithfulness or, on the other hand, evidence of our pride, ambition, and unbridled activity. As always, Kevin DeYoung is a careful thinker, a gifted pastor, and a writer who keeps the reader on the edge of our seat.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Busy, hectic lives are the bane of the modern world. This book is not profound; rather it simply offers a lot of that most unfashionable commodity—common sense. DeYoung exposes the nature of busyness, the various ways in which it deludes us, and offers some basic advice on what to do about it. A fine, short book which deserves a wide readership.”
Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary; author, The Creedal Imperative and Luther on the Christian Life

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at


How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Sep 24, 2014 in Matthew Barrett, Reformation | No Comments
How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day (Matthew Barrett)

Reformation Day is just around the corner and if you are a Reformation-minded pastor or worship leader then you no doubt desire to see your people return to the great doctrines of the Reformation. This morning I want to encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to teach your church not only about Reformation history but about the beliefs and doctrines that led to Reformation and should continue to reform our churches today.

My guess is that you may be in a church where your people are not incredibly familiar with the Reformers and the solas of the Reformation. This is not to say that they couldn’t articulate the authority of the Bible or the significance of faith alone. However, it may be hard for them to explain these solas in any depth. For others, well, they may not even know what a sola is!

That said, here is one way you can bring your people along and ignite a passion within them for Reformation doctrine. Starting this Sunday I will be taking a break from my ongoing exposition through 1 Peter (fyi, I am a strong believer in expositional preaching that exposits through an entire book of the Bible). Last week I told my church, Fellowship Baptist Church in Riverside, CA, that we will take five Sundays for each of the solas: sola scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, and soli Deo Gloria. In each of these sermons I will walk them through what each sola stands for, and in doing so incorporate some of the history behind these solas. So, for example, in my first sermon on sola scriptura you can count on hearing about Luther’s “Here I Stand” speech at Worms!

architecture-small-church-steepleBut that’s not all. I am a firm believer that the entire service should focus, as much as possible, around the passage being preached on, leading to the sermon as a climax. As the gentlemen in this T4G panel explain, Martin Lloyd-Jones refined this approach to worship so that by the time he came up to preach your heart was already impressed with the text he would be preaching on that morning.

So what does this look like? First, after one of our staff or elders welcomes the people and makes any necessary announcements, we will begin the service with a “Call to Worship,” but this time from Martin Luther. The text comes from Luther’s forward to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae Iocundae (1538):

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.

Following this call to worship are two congregational songs (by that I mean the congregation participates in singing these songs as opposed to a solo). But notice, even these songs are geared to preaching the message to the people through music. Since we just heard a call to worship from Luther, what hymn could be more fitting than, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” followed by a second hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The latter is perfect because you sing lines like the following:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

Next is a reading and a prayer for the congregation. Typically this reading comes from Scripture, the Valley of Vision, or a church creed or catechism. Since this is a sermon on the authority of Scripture, the congregation will hear from the Geneva Confession (1536-1537), specifically its opening statement on “The Word of God.”

First, we declare that for the rule of our faith and religion, we wish to follow the Scripture alone, without mixing with it any other thing which might be fabricated by the interpretation of men apart from the Word of God; and we do not pretend to receive any other doctrine for our spiritual government than that which is taught us by the same Word, without addition or reduction, according to the command of our Lord.

This reading is followed by a prayer for the congregation.

After two more songs/hymns as well as the offering, we have an elder or church member come up to read the sermon text, this time from 2 Timothy 3:12-17, a passage which is at the very heart of the Bible’s inspiration, authority, and sufficiency. Churches are different, but I like to have the person reading the Scripture ask the people to stand as a church for the reading of God’s Word. With a sermon about to be preached on sola scriptura, standing for this reading is a great way to physically acknowledge Scripture as the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

Then comes the proclamation of God’s Word. I typically preach for 45 minutes and in this sermon I will define, explain, and apply sola scriptura so that our church not only understands what this sola means but sees with new eyes its centrality to Christian living as a church and as individual believers.

The service will conclude with a final song and notice once again that the song takes us back to the message. So we will be singing “Speak, O Lord,” by the Gettys. Just listen to how this song draws our attention to God and the necessity of his Word:

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

The service concludes with a final benediction from 2 Peter 1:16-21, once again a passage that lifts up Scripture as the holy and inerrant authority for faith and practice.

Well I hope that gives you a helpful example of how you can lead your church this October through the solas not just with a sermon but with the entire order of worship. Don’t miss this chance to root your people in these foundational doctrines of the faith so that come next year they not only can name each sola but tell you, pastor, how these solas have impacted their daily life.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at


The Making of Reformed Confessions (Paul Helm)

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Creeds and Confessions, Paul Helm | No Comments
The Making of Reformed Confessions (Paul Helm)

I would not put Augustine’s doctrine of evil into the Church’s creed. I have no right to impose it on others. I think it is an essential. But into the ‘credo’ I do not thrust it. Systematic theology has a wide margin round it, where we must have the probabilia placed; but the creed should have none. A narrow theology, founded on the theologian’s idiosyncrasies, is, after all, no theology at all.

So said John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan. That’s the theme of what follows, as applied to Confessions, and then to this theological hinterland of what Duncan calls probabilia, probabilities.

The official Reformed theology is a balancing act. In practice that theology pivots on one confession or another, particularly, for Anglophones, on the Westminster Confession.

The system of doctrine in the Westminster Confession

Some of the things The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, edited by Chad Van Dixhoorn, has brought home includes the adventitious or accidental aspect of the Confession, the way it was composed, as well as what was put in and what left out. The finished product was influenced by the pressure of time, the opinion of the majority of divines who on a particular day happened to be attending a committee or sub-committee, parliamentary pressure to get a particular job done, interruptions, and no doubt the mood of the meetings, together with the clashes of personalities, the hobby-horses, and so forth. Cold print cannot convey this. In such circumstances, in the messiness of human life, the articles that resulted, chapters in the Confession, were a series of compromises, clause by clause in some cases, and we must remember that. As the debate on one matter was brought to an end, and a majority became content with some particular wording, a minority or minorities were not content, or not as content. In the nature of things confessions and creeds are forms of compromise draftings that attract a majority on a particular day.

So confessions and even the more basic creeds of the church are political documents, “articles of peace,” what the chaps could agree on in that particular occasion. Part of this disagreement was over what topics should be treated in a confession, and what not. Had the divines met a week earlier or later things may have been, or would have been, different. In this process we no doubt see the workings of an inscrutable providence which has regard to the least nuance, the crossing of each t and dotting of the i’s. In this sense the final form of a particular text was “infallibly decreed.” But what is divinely decreed is human compromise.

shorter-cat-300Behind that confessional agreement, and the dissent of the minorities from the majorities, it is clear that there is a vast hinterland of theological opinion, (theologoumena). Private conjectures. Not simply Duncan’s probabilia, but more than the purely speculative. What one thinks is a good and necessary consequence of the teaching of Scripture others may not. What some may think ought to find its way into a Confession others may dissent from. All right, it is all godly opinion (as we may suppose), but it is what you get when trained people with different opinions are brought together. The Confession may or may not imply any of these opinions, more likely it may permit them. Richard Muller has recently shown in his book, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation, what variety of opinion there is regarding the death of Christ. If we think of all this mass of different points as a web, there is a central core, the Creed or the Confession, and a vast surrounding area, not holding the centre in place, as in a spider’s web, but a penumbra of opinion, which may have any of several relations to the core. Perhaps the core entails this opinion, or allows it, or make the holding of it reasonable. Or maybe there is stuff in the hinterland that has nothing to do with the core. Either way, there should be about a Confession a catholicity of spirit and expression, reflecting the general Biblical scheme of Creation, Fall and Redemption, and the absence of idiosyncrasy or an individual’s or group’s peculiarities.

The hinterland

If the production of the Confession has ragged edges, how much more is it the case in the matter of theological opinion, what I call the hinterland. To illustrate this, let us take an example from an illuminating recent piece by Mark Jones which raises the question of the nature and place of grace in the original Adam’s life, among the Puritans, in particular, whether this grace was a gift of the Holy Spirit, and in what sense. (We must bear in mind that the concept of a covenant of works, though a central motif of the Confession, is itself a theological construct the elements of which are not clearly present on the surface of things in the Genesis account, and the Holy Spirit never once mentioned in the relevant passages of Genesis). And that in turn raises questions about Adam’s responsibility, and the nature and place of merit in the covenant of works. Two motifs should control the answer, that Adam’s original state was “mutable” and that it resulted in what is sometimes called the loss of the image “in the narrow sense.” (Here we take these positions for granted, as being generally held, but they themselves are capable of fine tuning). And there is the abiding difficulty of understanding in what sense or senses “nature” and “natural” are used in discussion of these matters. The scene is therefore set for many possibilia. So, given all these caveats and qualifications, what are we to think about this matter of the Holy Spirit and Adam? How are we to proceed?

What (it seems) the divines, mentioned by Mark, do is take different instances of the work of the Spirit from elsewhere in Scripture and discuss the status of unfallen Adam in the light of them. Here are four such instances. There is the work of the Spirit in calling and regeneration; then the periodic and spasmodic operations of the Spirit on evil men, such as King Saul; then the Spirit’s work in giving to people unusual gifts which do not seem to have to do with regeneration, like those craftsmen engaged in the building of Solomon’s Temple; and finally there is the reprobate’s tasting of the Spirit, as in Hebrews 6:4.  No doubt we can find more cases. For example, there is the work of the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus Christ (John 3.34).

Westminster_Confession_of_Faith_title_pageWas unfallen Adam’s life a life of faith?  Did he trust the promise of God given in the Garden? Yes, and no.  His condition was unique, proceeding “very good” from the hand of his Creator but “mutably” so. He has grace, and if we think of that grace as being the gift of the Spirit, the Spirit is resistible and was repudiated. It was not that grace that ensured his perseverance in the original position, even though such gracious influence, persevering grace, could have been given to Adam, as it is given to the fallen elect. Neither was “deserved” by its recipient, but one was preserving grace (as we might call it) suspended on the continued innocence of Adam, the other was regenerating effectual grace, designed to bring its recipient to glory.

So was Adam’s faith “temporary” faith, the faith of a mere professor?   Well (again!), Yes and No. Adam’s original innocence was certainly temporary, as what befell him makes clear.  But it was not, presumably, the temporary faith mentioned in Jesus’s Parable of the Sower. What of the temporary “gifting” of the Spirit that may grant special gifts to a person, say the gift of designing things, for a period of his life, but such giving and withholding acts in the realm of what some call “common grace,” appear to be actions of pure sovereignty, where questions of fittingness and unfittingness do not arise, much less desert or merit.

What all this meandering shows is that we are trawling presently through the hinterland. where not only good and necessary consequences operate (what are these?), but a good deal of conjecture and even speculation may also be at work in the thinking of the ‘godly’. (Nothing wrong with this, provided it is recognized for what it is). Whether the divines recognized this, their opinions of the Fall and the place of the Spirit in it (to take one example being currently discussed), were just that: opinions. If they sought to make these opinions a part of the meaning of the Confession they ought to be resisted. The Confession is what it is and not another thing.

Use judgment as a theologian

One of the factors that makes a theologian is the exercise of judgment, particularly judgment about himself and then, naturally enough, judgment of others (particularly a judgment between a central plank of the doctrine of the gospel, and a personal quirk). There are big issues and small issues. A Confession is not infallible, of course, but it is a good guide to the overall shape of things, providing a “system of doctrine.”  What falls outside that Confession may be illuminating, suggestive, profitable to some theologian and his friends, or to some Seminary and its curriculum, but it ought not to be raised to the status of the Confession itself and the “system of doctrine” that it propounds.

Sometimes one has the impression that one motivation that some have for engaging in Reformed theology in the way that they do is in order to extend the boundaries of the official Reformed theology.   I hope I’m mistaken. Despite the all-too-human character of the Confession,  as a result of its adoption by certain churches, for many it delimits the shape of Reformed doctrine, and for others, who do not subscribe to it, it is has a great deal of prestige. We are free to dissent from it, in whole or in part. In matters beyond the Confession we are free to think and to let others think. That’s how it was in Puritanism, as Mark Jones ably shows. And that’s how it should be with any adherent to the Confession nowadays.

Paul Helm was appointed J.I. Packer Chair of Philosophical Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, in 2001. He is presently a Teaching Fellow there. Among his many books are Calvin and the Calvinists, Faith and Reason, The Trustworthiness of God, The Providence of God, Eternal God, The Secret Providence of God, The Trustworthiness of God (with Carl Trueman), John Calvin’s Ideas, Calvin at the Centre, and Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. 


Sunday’s Sermon (Schreiner, Barrett, Zaspel)

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments
Sunday’s Sermon (Schreiner, Barrett, Zaspel)

Three of Credo Magazine’s main contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Fred Zaspel, and Matthew Barrett. Each of them are professors, but they are also pastors. So each Monday morning we will be highlighting their “Sunday’s Sermon” on the blog to provide you with encouragement throughout the week and an opportunity to study God’s Word.


Beware the Forwardness of the Tongue

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 in Jeremy Kimble, Jonathan Edwards | One Comment
Beware the Forwardness of the Tongue

There can be no disputing the importance of words in the Christian faith. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us by words, as contained in Scripture. We are also told in regards to salvation that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). In the Christian life we must proclaim the realities of Christ with our words. However, as books like 1 Peter make plain, we cannot live by words alone, we must also live as an example to those around us. In the cultural context of Jonathan Edwards, he lived amongst one of the greatest eras of revival history has ever known. He also knew, however, that if they were to be effective in their witness to outsiders they could not merely talk about their religious experiences, they needed to live lives consistent with their confession. Edwards knew this would do more for the movement in the long-term than virtually anything else, and he sought to press people toward that reality. This is a needful reminder that as we seek to proclaim and defend the cause of Christ, we also seek to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which I have been called (Eph. 4:1) so that we may win more to Christ, for the glory of His name.

We should get into the way of appearing lively in religion, more by being lively in the service of God and our generation than by the liveliness and forwardness of our tongues, and making a business of proclaiming on the house tops with our mouths the holy and eminent acts and exercises of our own hearts. Christians that are intimate friends would talk together of their experiences and comforts in a manner better becoming Christian humility and modesty, and more to each other’s profit: their tongues not running before, but rather going behind their hands and feet, after the prudent example of the blessed apostle, 2 Cor. xii. 6. Many occasions of spiritual pride would thus be cut off, and so a great door shut against the devil. A great many of the main stumbling-blocks against experimental and powerful religion would be removed, and religion would be declared and manifested in such a way that, instead of hardening spectators, and exceedingly promoting infidelity and atheism, it would, above all things, tend to convince men that there is a reality in religion, and greatly awaken them, and win them, by convincing their consciences of the importance and excellency of religion. Thus the light of professors would so shine before men, that others, seeing their good works, would glorify their Father which is in heaven.

Jeremy Kimble (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville University. He is an editor for Credo Magazine as well as the author of That His Spirit May Be Saved: Church Discipline as a Means to Repentance and Perseverance and numerous book reviews. He is married to Rachel and has two children, Hannah and Jonathan.