How Luther Accidentally Sparked the Reformation

“They were superhuman.”

It’s easy to think that when it comes to the Reformers. They stood up to the world’s strongest power. They did what others didn’t dare to do. They changed the world.  [Read more…]

John Wycliffe: The Morning Star of the Reformation

The Trial of Wycliffe AD 1377 by Ford Madox Brown

You know about Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. You may even know about Thomas Cranmer and John Knox. . . . 

But what do you know about the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation? [Read more…]

Spiritual Formation: 14 Verses on God’s Intention for Spiritual Growth

God calls all Christians to become more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18), and this transformation happens in the innermost part of a person: their heart. This progression is called spiritual formation, which involves learning to hear God in his Word, growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, and bearing lasting fruit. [Read more…]

Why Your Genesis Commentaries Might Be Like 8-Track Tapes

This post has been adapted from The Bible Unfiltered by Dr Michael S. Heiser.

We’ve all heard the old saying that certain things get better with age—wine, cheese, common sense. Anyone who’s watched Antiques Roadshow also knows that the longer you have something that there’s a demand for—real estate, investments, fine art, a popular car—the more value it will accrue. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for many of the most popular tools for biblical study. They’re often more like tech gear—they get worse with age and sometimes become totally obsolete. [Read more…]

All the Ways You Can Save on Right Now

Whether you’re looking for resources to round out your theological library, multiply your preaching aids, or beef up your studies, has you covered right now!

Check out these ways to save big this week: [Read more…]

Brand-New Book from N. T. Wright: The New Testament in Its World

Who here wants to enter the world of the New Testament by learning from one of the greatest living biblical scholars?

Well, with Zondervan’s upcoming release of N. T. Wright’s new book The New Testament in Its World, you can do just that. [Read more…]

We are much worse than we think

I recently posted a somewhat funny post calling Andy Stanley a Calvinist. The quote I mentioned there got me thinking about the larger context in which Calvin used it. I’ve always been struck by this section in Institutes. Calvin has such an adept sense of the real condition of our hearts. He says:

For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also—He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself…

So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).


Calvin’s Understanding of Prayer Lead by the Spirit

The life of prayer for the child of God is worked by the Holy Spirit. JohnCalvin argues that it is through Christ and his work that the believer can now enter boldly before God and pray because the veil has been torn away between sinners and God through Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.

It is however, the Spirit that works boldness in the hearts of believers to go to God in prayer through Christ, and Calvin highlights the necessity of enlisting the help of the Spirit in prayer. The Spirit assists the believer despite their weaknesses in prayer, “if we remember that God is still our Father and that we must seek refuge in him.” With the witness and testimony of the Spirit with the believer’s spirit comes true prayer. This is affirmed when Calvin argues from biblical evidence that unless the Spirit testifies in our hearts, working confidence regarding the Father’s love, “our tongues would be dumb, so that they could utter no prayers.” Right prayer issues forth from Spirit-worked assurance.

Calvin succeeds in demonstrating that this Spirit of prayer is not only present in the New Testament but also in the Old. The ministry of the Spirit of adoption is effectual for the Old Testament saints as well. He illustrates this effectively in the life and prayer of the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet prays in Habakkuk 3:1-2 for God to revive his work. This is nothing else than an appeal using the “favour of adoption.” He continues that the prophet “thus confesses that there was no reason why God should forgive his people except that he had been pleased freely to adopt them and to choose them as his peculiar people.”Calvin uses Habakkuk as a model for the prayer life of the adopted child of God when he says, “Now we have this in common with the ancient people, that God adopts us…We may therefore adopt this form of prayer, which is prescribed for us by the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit does not only aid in individual prayer for the people of God of certain ethnicity and language, but prayer can be offered by any person of any ethnicity or language. This is illustrated by the Spirit-indicted cry, “Abba, Father.” In using this phrase, Calvin uniquely argues that the adoption is both to the Jew and Gentile. The word Abba is Hebrew and the word Father is in Greek demonstrating that “we can call upon God in any language, as with one voice, confident that God will receive us now that we have the liberty to address him.” The Spirit’s witness in prayer is an integral part of the believer’s privilege of praying with boldness since as Griffith notes so well, “conviction of God’s holiness and our sin would preclude having the faith to call God ‘Father,’ apart from the witness of the Spirit of adoption in our hearts.”

How Adoption Ensures a Life of Sanctification

The adopted believer has the Holy Spirit as his witness and seal, and the Spirit has engraved the promises of God upon our hearts, namely the fact that,

“we see and feel by experience that God has adopted us and tells us that the assurance he has given us and daily gives us by his gospel, namely, that he will be our Father.”

In his doctrine of adoption, Calvin sees the Spirit leading the believer onwards and upwards to a life of sanctification. He says:

“we have a good and infallible pledge that God will guide us to the end, and that since he had begun to lead us into the way of salvation, he will bring us to perfection to which he calls us, because, in truth, without him we could not continue so much as a single day.”

Through the Spirit’s witness and indwelling the child of God has a Paraclete, a Strengthener and Sustainer for the life of sanctification. Calvin notes,

“Wherever the Spirit is, he necessarily manifests his power and efficiency…it hence appears that we are God’s children, that is, when his Spirit rules and governs our life…whatever good works are done by us, proceed from the grace of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is not obtained by our righteousness, but is freely given to us.”

The Spirit is freely given for the believer’s sanctification, another high privilege belonging to the child of God. The graces of sanctification are bestowed by the Spirit alone, and Calvin writes,

“whomever therefore, God receives into grace, he at the same time bestows the Spirit of adoption, by whose power he remakes them to his own image.”

Calvin’s doctrine of adoption is a clear and unmistakable part of his soteriology. Although he does not develop a specific chapter on adoption in his Institutes, he develops it throughout his vast corpus of writings. In doing so, he brings out the beautiful experiential realities and privileges of adoption for the child of God as they are found in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Barth, Van Til, and Calvinism

Karl Barth: May 10, 1886-1968

Karl Barth: May 10, 1886-1968

Karl Barth (May 10, 1886–1968) and Cornelius Van Til (May 3, 1895–1987) tend to be polarizing figures in church theology. Van Til was a firm opponent of Barth’s theology, arguing that it was fundamentally flawed and anti-biblical. Despite their sharp differences, Barth and Van Til were similar in that they were both strongly influenced by the work of John Calvin.

In Church Dogmatics, The Epistle to the Romans, Barth states, “Calvin’s theology interests us in its historical context as an outstanding record of Reformation theology that historically—and at times even legally—has served as a basis of proclamation in modern Protestant churches.”

In The Case for Calvinism, Van Til responds to The Case for a New Reformation, The Case for Theology in Liberal Perspective, and The Case for Orthodox Theology. He challenges their views “by setting the truly Christ-centered position of the historic Protestant faith, especially the historic Reformed Faith as found in Calvin and his followers.”

To celebrate the birthdays of Van Til and Barth, Logos Bible Software is offering:

$50 off The Works of Cornelius Van Til—use coupon code VANTIL13 until May 11.

 $50 off Barth’s Church Dogmatics—coupon code BARTH13, until May 11.

Eric Sigward, guest blogger and former student of Van Til, wrote the following about Barth and Van Til.

Van Til and Barth on the Celebration of Barth’s birthday, 2013

By Eric H. Sigward

Cornelius Van Til: May 3, 1895-1987.

Cornelius Van Til: May 3, 1895-1987.

When I entered Westminster Seminary as a freshman in 1975, I was fortunate enough to take Van Til’s last official class as an emeritus professor, “Karl Barth and the Word of God.” My first sessions with the great professor were “buzzing and blooming confusions,” as Van Til used to say. The terms were so large and the relationships so confusing that I despaired of ever understanding what he was saying. Eventually, I got an A– in the class and became a good friend of Van Til’s. It is with the memory of this initial confusion in mind that I approach writing about Van Til and Barth. I wish to show sympathy for those who are not familiar with these men or their theologies. As Van Til once said, “American evangelicals know absolutely nothing about Karl Barth.” I am trying to avoid shutting down the lines of communication between my subjects and you.

Van Til felt that Barth showed a verbal similarity to orthodox Protestantism and yet a thorough-going denial of its contents. Barth was not orthodox, but neo-orthodox. How is it that we Christians can criticize and label the philosophy of another professed Christian as heretical? It is on the basis of Reformed theology’s doctrine of the total depravity of man whereby the natural man denies the authority of God in any area of his life and sets himself up as his own authority (and god). By grace, however, God has penetrated the natural man’s defenses, has given him a new birth and a new trust in the infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. With faith in Christ, God gives man faith in his Word. Thus, Christians may criticize error based upon this new epistemological certainty, based upon this new birth in Christ that brings with it all of God’s gracious provisions of salvation, including the mysterious testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We now naturally recognize one another.

Van Til thought Barth had reworked all the essentials of Reformed Christianity. In a nutshell, Barth had massively changed the traditional doctrine of election into a fabrication that Christ was simultaneously the only eternally elect and the only eternally reprobate man—reprobate upon the cross and elect in the Resurrection. Beware, however, that these “events” did not take place in history at all but in “Geschichte.” This is dialecticisim—espousing one thing and the opposite at the same time. In Barth, it is exhaustively applied to God and all knowledge: We both know and don’t know God at the same time.

Such a myth, fable, or fabrication did not take place in space and time at all but in Geschichte, where eternal history takes place. That is to say, Barth had an uber-system and an uber-realm that would color all other theological statements. Since one wire of orthodox theology can be cut, why not cut them all—the doctrines of Scripture, creation, man, Christ, and salvation? Pursuing the mission of higher criticism and neo-orthodoxy, Barth would translate (Umdeutung) all our words into an ingenious system that resembled Christianity but was not Christian. Fortunately, over the years, Barth has not borne fruit as a church or as a movement. Christians have dropped him or never known him at all, and the only place we find Barthians today is in university seminars made up of graduate students.