Friday 27 June 2014

Book Review: Charles Hodge by Don Fortson

This short biography brings the life of Charles Hodge (1797-1878) out of what will be “relative obscurity” for most readers. It is written in a way that is interesting, accessible, helpful and theologically engaging. Hodge’s life spanned such important events in the life of America as the Civil War, the emancipation of slavery and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the church, his association as a teacher of theology at the renowned Princeton Theological Seminary for half a century is what he is most known for. There is perhaps no equal to Hodge in the history of the Reformed church in North America because he trained almost 3000 students who became gospel ministers, missionaries and professors.

This accessible biography carries great potential use in that it will introduce the readers to whole range of doctrinal debates, ones which Hodge had to get involved with. These diverse issues include the revivalism of Charles Finney, debates over church polity with James Henley Thornwell, the necessity or otherwise for the rebaptism of Roman Catholics and the church’s connection to national politics. Hodge’s life provides a “lens” through which to view a range of topics that have ongoing and perpetual significance.

This giant in the faith was unashamedly Calvinistic. He was also unashamedly presbyterian. However, this does not mean that readers will agree with every stance that he took on the many debates and issues that he got involved with. On some matters, one may deem he was too soft, on others, maybe he won the day due to his huge influence rather than due to holding the right line of doctrinal logic. It is this reviewer’s opinion that the debates that Hodge held with Thornwell on church polity are perhaps a case in point: Hodge won the vote at the General Assembly, even though Thornwell presented a stronger argument.

In sum, this book is highly recommended and enjoyable. It will introduce the next generation of Christians to the necessity for sound doctrine in a time-frame spanning from Archibald Alexander to B.B. Warfield. Hodge as a man is someone to be followed, in that he emulated a passion for academic rigour concerning the Word of God along with pastoral warmth and care. The Reformed church needs robust theological training for its future ministers and hopefully this book will further spark desires for a theologically educated ministry within evangelicalism in the U.K.

Thursday 12 June 2014

"From Heaven He Came and Sought Her": A Book Review

From Heaven he came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, Editors David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson.

This book is a landmark contribution to settle the issues surrounding particular redemption. Ever since the Arminian and Synod of Dort firestorm of debate concerning the extent and intent of the atonement of Christ Jesus, discussion has rumbled on. And rightly so in many respects, because every new generation needs to understand the truths of Scripture for themselves.

A foreword by J. I. Packer sets the “ball rolling” and twenty three chapters and 703 pages follow (including indices). It is fitting that Packer writes the foreword because he also wrote the contemporary foreword for the seventeenth century classic on the same subject by John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”. This new book is written to engage in all the debates that have ensued since Owen’s thesis was let loose on the theological world several centuries ago.

The editors have involved erudite reformed scholars and the list of contributors is indeed impressive. Men such as Carl Trueman, J. Alec Motyer, Sinclair Ferguson and John Piper. Motyer’s chapter is perhaps my favorite and it is a comprehensive exposition of the Servant Song in Isaiah 52-53 entitled “Stricken for the Transgression of my People”; he anchors definite atonement in the biblical text in a way that is refreshing.

There are some common threads throughout this book, one which is arranged around four loci: Definite Atonement in Church History; Definite Atonement in the Bible; Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective; and Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice. The common approach includes a preference for the term definite atonement instead of limited atonement or particular redemption. Additionally, most contributors are writing as academic theologians, and their style maybe such, that it may be too dense for many to have the time or background knowledge to comprehend. There is a strong polemic in each chapter and most contributors appear to knock down a specific opponent to definite atonement.

From my perspective, it is written with clarity, acumen, and boldness. For example, Piper exposes the flawed understanding of the atonement that is propounded by Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church, Seattle. It never ceases to amaze me that British evangelicals can be captivated by popular speakers such as Driscoll, even when his theology carries such unreformed and unorthodox strands. I am persuaded that this book will stand the test of time and buttress the church to stand firm on the historic truths concerning the atonement. After reading these many pages, I sought refuge in the distilled sentences of the Westminster Confession concerning this subject: “To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same ... revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation ... 8:8”.

Saturday 7 June 2014

What is replacement theology?

This blog post has arisen to attempt to answer some proponents of Christian zionism. I am well aware that my answer will be far too short and inadequate to offer a full treatment of this subject, but hopefully it will offer some lines of thought for consideration. Many years ago I visited the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which I found deeply moving. As a Christian I have always been touched by the needs of the downcast and also for the ancient people, the Jews. After all, according to the flesh our Saviour was born a Jew and Romans 9:1-5 is clear: Paul writes: "I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen".

However, at that memorial site, I mused the reason for the Jewish suffering at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The holocaust began with Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (My Struggle) which was Hitler's autobiographical manifesto which shaped his political ideology. This book led to the formulating of the Nazi vision, which led to the Holocaust and other unspeakable sufferings. In short, Hitler had the wrong doctrine, which led to the wrong vision, which led to disaster. We as Christians cannot assume that our doctrine is in accord with sound principles of biblical interpretation. It made me think that I had also better make sure that I held to the right biblical doctrine, because this will shape my vision in Christian service. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 5:21-22 "but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil".

My first appeal in any theological engagement is that we must all do this with humility, with teachability and honesty. I am about to critique opponents of a so called "replacement theology" and it is not uncommon to get a strong reaction when you do so. My question is "why is that?". We need to make sure that when we react, that we do so with fruit of the Holy Spirit and not in the flesh; my experience over the years has taught me that sometimes vociferous opponents are trying to convince themselves, as much as others, because their doctrinal footing is unstable.

Let me attempt to give an initial and brief summary of replacement theology. This term replacement theology is a pejorative term or label used by those Christians who hold to a dispensationalist framework to understand the Bible, against those who do not hold to the same ideas as them, especially in relation to a special "supposed" plan for the Jews and the political state of Israel. The phrase "supersessionism" is another term used to identify this doctrine. It would be asserted that those who hold to a replacement theology teach that the church has replaced Israel with the church and that the state of Israel has no place in God's prophetic purposes. While this would be simplistic, it at least opens up the dialogue.

Those Christian groups that hold to a strong value system to support the Jews, the State of Israel and so forth, commonly hold to a dispensationalist approach to the Bible, one that is pre-millenial and almost always an Arminian understanding of salvation. Those that hold to the supposed "replacement theology" generally speaking hold to a reformed, Calvinistic and covenantal approach to theology, one that takes sound doctrine and biblical exegesis very seriously. I write supposed "replacement theology", because I do not think that this term is sufficient in its assertions. In essence we are considering two very different hermeneutics to interpreting the Bible. Our doctrine shapes our vision, which then motivates our mission, which will be either be faithful or unfaithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

I have several questions to begin with, followed by three book recommendations.

1). Is a dispensational view to the Bible valid? This approach was pioneered by John Nelson Darby in the 19th Century and this approach to biblical interpretation is a relative newcomer on the block. Has the church misunderstood the Bible through centuries until the 19th Century and Darby's new ideas? This is not acceptable in my view.

2). Does God have one people or two? My answer is that the Lord has only ever had one people, the people of God. The church has not so much replaced the Jews, but the purpose of God has expanded in its scope beyond the Jews, following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3). Does a dispensational framework hold to a form of replacement theology itself? Why do I say that? In my experience, the dispensational zeal for the Jews, in effect ends up replacing the church with a new found vision for the state of Israel, a political theology, and at times a recovery of the Jewish OT ceremonies, feasts and practices.

Here are three book recommendations for those who would like to explore a different viewpoint to the widely assumed dispensationalist opinion.

1). William Hendriksen "More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation".
2). O. Palmer Robertson, "The Christ of the Covenants".
3). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Romans 2:1-3:20, The Righteous Judgment of God".

Monday 2 June 2014

The Falsity of Mormonism

It is important to warn people of false religious cults. Quite often in the reformed world we discuss, and rightly, the nuanced differences of fine points of doctrine. This is important because precision is needful when handling the Scriptures in the Christian Church. However, no matter what their claims, the Church of Latter Day Saints or the Mormons as they are commonly labelled are not part of the communion of Christian churches. I will explain why in a moment.

It is astonishing that many conservative Christians in the United States were willing to support a Mormon Republican candidate (Mitt Romney) for the White House in the presidential elections in 2012. God in his all wise providence prevented this from happening and for this I thank God. I think most American Christians and preachers give far too few warnings concerning the falsity of Mormonism. It is an American based religion that has missionary endeavours and yet there is so much wrong with them despite their apparent "clean-cut" image.

What is wrong and false about the Mormon religion?

1. The first thing is one of authority. The Book of Mormon has greater authority in their eyes than the Holy Bible. Jesus warned of this in Matthew 24:4-5 And Jesus answered them: “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray". The Lord Jesus Christ was the last prophet to bring the final revelation from God and yet the Mormons claim that in the early part of the 19th Century that Joseph Smith had heavenly visions. This included the discovery of golden plates which apparently included the history of the American inhabitants, including a visit by Jesus Christ. This became the Book of Mormon. The unfortunate thing is that these gold plates do not exist. So here is the first false premise. Unbiblical revelations outside of the Scriptures, ones which contradict the truth of the Bible.

2. The denial of basic Christian doctrines. The doctrine of the Trinity is held by all orthodox branches of the Christian church but it is not held by the Mormons. This is common of all cults and sects which also includes the Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses who deny the truth that God is Triune and the full deity of Jesus Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states succinctly:
Question. 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Answer. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

The Athanasian Creed expounds the orthodox Christian understanding of the doctrine of God and of the Trinity and it concludes that: "This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved". Therefore, the Mormon denial of the Trinity means that there is no salvation within their walls and they are an utterly false church.

3. They unfortunately come under the guise of truth by falsely using the word "church" in their title as well as the name "Jesus Christ". The question is "does the Mormon understanding of Jesus Christ measure up to the biblical teaching of the person of Jesus Christ?". If you have visited the temple in Salt Lake City you will be struck by the Mormon love of pictures of a white and blonde haired Jesus. Despite the fact the Scriptures forbid us to have images of God, they seem to relish in their portrayals of a white American Jesus. They are not a church founded on the rock of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who is begotten by the Father, not created and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

4. Mormonism is an American skewed religion. They believe that Jesus will come back to North America and that he will set up his earthly kingdom in America. There is a common problem when investigating this religion and it is finding out what Mormons really believe because they are not always that clear. It is almost a deliberate vagueness to confuse and mislead people. Their official website will cite the Book of Mormon as authoritative material, not to explain the Scriptures, such as Christian Creeds or Confessions, but as primary source material.

Here is a link of a book to expose the falsity of Mormonism in more detail:
For online resources check out this website: Mormonism Research Ministry:

If you are interested in hearing the gospel, or if you are a Mormon and you live in England and yet you are thirsty for the true historic gospel of God, then you are welcome to come and worship at Sheffield Presbyterian Church: