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Posted 5/20/13 at 9:01 AM | Timothy Paul Jones
Enormous tragedies struck Europe and Asia Minor throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. At one point, three different Roman Catholic bishops each claimed to be the legitimate pope. The Black Death claimed millions of lives. Muslim soldiers conquered Constantinople, the last remaining fragment of the ancient Eastern Empire.
In the midst of these tragedies, God raised up fresh voices—John Wycliffe in England, for example, and Jan Hus in Bohemia—to turn people’s minds to the truth of the Scriptures and the beauty of the gospel. God also worked through these tragedies for the good of his people and the world.
The tragic fall of Constantinople caused eastern scholars to flee westward with precious Greek manuscripts, including manuscripts of the New Testament. A renaissance of interest in ancient literature was already underway in Europe. Now, with access to these Greek manuscripts, scholars in Roman Catholic universities could interpret the New Testament not only in Latin but also in Greek—the language in which the New Testament was originally written!
Around this same time, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the first commercially-viable printing press that used movable metal type. This invention would make reading materials accessible to millions more people than ever before. FULL POST
Posted 5/13/13 at 8:38 AM | Timothy Paul Jones
“It was male human nature that the Son of God united to his divine person; it was a female human person who was chosen to be his mother. In no woman has human nature been raised to the dignity which it possesses in Jesus of Nazareth, but to no male person has there been given a dignity comparable to that which Mary enjoys as Theotokos, a dignity which in the words of the Eastern liturgy makes her ‘more honorable than the cherubim and beyond comparison more glorious than the seraphim.’ … The centrality of womanhood in the redemption is shown by the fact that the Incarnation itself waited for the courageous and obedient Fiat of Mary (Luke 1:38).”
Eric L. Mascall
Whatever Happened to the Human Mind
Posted 5/6/13 at 9:05 AM | Timothy Paul Jones |
:: The Obscenity of the Cross in the Ancient World ::
Posted 4/29/13 at 8:42 AM | Timothy Paul Jones |
Martin Luther wasn’t the only lawyer who became a leader in the Reformation.
In 1534 another lawyer traveled along another rutted road. His life had been shaken in much the same way that Luther’s had been—though not by a storm that drove him to call out to a saint. This lawyer was a Renaissance humanist fleeing the University of Paris.
A few months earlier Calvin had helped a friend write a speech. They peppered the address with quotes from Luther and Erasmus. The speech angered the French government and forced Calvin to flee. Soon afterward, Calvin became a Protestant and a Christian.
Calvin fled first to Noyon, France, his home-town. From Noyon, Calvin turned toward Switzerland. There, he wrote the first comprehensive summary of Reformation theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
After the Institutes were published, Calvin headed for the Protestant city of Strasbourg, Switzerland. On the way, a military conflict forced him to veer east, taking a detour through Geneva. He intended to stay in Geneva for one night, concealed by the alias “Charles d’Espeville.” FULL POST
Posted 4/22/13 at 8:53 AM | Timothy Paul Jones
So much can depend on the answer to a single question.
Posted 4/8/13 at 8:55 AM | Timothy Paul Jones |
On May 26, in the year 1700, Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf was born. While still in his twenties, Nikolaus became part of a prayer meeting that—through hundreds of men and women who took turns praying—continued twenty-four hours every day for more than one hundred years.
So how did this prayer meeting begin?
Well, in some sense, the foundations for the prayer meeting can be traced to the late 1600s. A man named Jacob Spener wrote a booklet entitled Pious Desires. The book urged Christians to pursue a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures; this pietistic impulse had a profound impact on Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.
In the early eighteenth century, several Roman Catholic princes were persecuting the Moravian Brethren, a small Protestant movement that had originated in the western regions of what’s now known as the Czech Republic. One rainy evening in 1722 a Moravian believer knocked on Zinzendorf’s front door. He asked if Nikolaus von Zinzendorf might shelter the flourishing Moravian movement. Nikolaus agreed and even helped the Moravians to found a community on his lands. They called their community “the Lord’s watch” (or “Herrnhut”). By 1725, nearly one hundred Moravians had made Herrnhut their home. FULL POST
Posted 3/25/13 at 9:28 AM | Timothy Paul Jones
I saw something beautiful the other day while walking down Breckenridge Lane. In a front yard not far from my home, a young mother was removing a layer of leftover leaves from the fall in preparation for planting spring flowers—an ordinary activity in the middle of an ordinary day.
What was extraordinary about this scene was what I saw beside this young woman.
A tow-haired boy, perhaps three or four years old, was attempting to assist her. His rake was man-sized, his movements were far from efficient, and he was leaving more leaves than he moved. Yet, as I passed this mother and child, I heard no criticisms. Instead, I heard a constant stream of encouragement: “Daddy will be so proud of your hard work! Can you try to get those leaves over there? You know, honey, it might work better if you turned the rake over.”
If this woman’s sole goal for the afternoon was leaf removal, her best bet would have been to plop her preschooler in front of a television to watch professionally-produced children’s programs that pretend to equip children with skills for life while leaching away their capacity for meaningful relationships. If this mother had chosen this option, she could have pursued the goal of planting spring flowers far more efficiently. FULL POST
Posted 3/18/13 at 2:13 PM | Timothy Paul Jones |
“So, tell me,” I ask, “why do you want to transition your church toward family ministry?”
“Well,” the pastor begins “nine out of every ten kids are dropping out of church after they graduate, aren’t they? Evidently, what we’re doing right now isn’t working.”
“Mm-hmm,” the children’s director agrees. “Eighty-eight percent is what they said at the conference a few weeks ago. We just want to do so much better than that.”
“Is your church actually losing that many?” I ask.
Both of them look at each other before shrugging.
“I—I don’t really know,” the pastor replies. “I mean, most of them, we don’t see after they graduate. Sometimes that’s because they’re involved in another church or they’ve plugged into a college fellowship, I guess. Sometimes they move away. I don’t think the church has ever actually done a survey or anything like that. It just seems to me that a lot of them do drop out.”
The children’s director nods and continues, “What we thought is that, if we had some programs to teach parents how to grow their kids spiritually, we could stop the dropouts before they happen.” FULL POST
Posted 3/11/13 at 8:37 AM | Timothy Paul Jones |
As a young man in North Africa, Augustine traded the Christian faith of his mother Monica for the pursuit of personal pleasure and prestige. Yet the more Augustine chased after the things he thought would make him happy, the more God pursued him. It was in a garden in Italy that Augustine heard the voice of a child, singing a bit of rhyme, “Take up and read, take up and read.” When Augustine took up a nearby copy of the New Testament to read, the first verses to catch his eye were from Paul’s letter to the Romans, 13:11-14. Broken by the message of this text, Augustine finally recognized Jesus as Lord not only of the world but also of his own life. The year was 386.
Nine years later, Augustine was declared overseer of the church in the city of Hippo (modern Annaba, Algeria). In this role, he became a prolific defender of orthodox Christianity against false teachers such as the British monk Pelagius. Talents and personality traits that had once driven Augustine to seek his own glory became the very tools through which God worked to strengthen the faith of his people in the fifth century and beyond.
When the city of Rome was sacked in the year 410, many Roman citizens blamed Christianity. After all, the eternal city had never fallen during the days when Romans worshiped pagan gods! In The City of God—perhaps Augustine’s most important work, one that has shaped centuries of Christian political thought—the overseer of Hippo guided his readers to understand why no earthly empire, not even the Roman Empire, can last forever.
It is almost impossible to overstate Augustine’s impact on the history of Christian thought. In an outstanding article on the continuing relevance of Augustine, Nick Needham writes:
A. N. Whitehead once quipped that the history of Western philosophy was simply a series of footnotes to Plato. By a pardonable exaggeration, one might say that the history of Western theology is simply a series of footnotes to Augustine. The fifth-century African father towers mightily over the succeeding centuries…. We are sometimes fond of saying that we stand on the shoulders of the great Christians who went before us. In the case of Augustine, I suspect most of us may feel less a dwarf on his shoulders than an ant on his ankle.
Here are a few of my favorite words and ideas from the pen of Augustine…
* …his account of how he and his friends stole pears that they neither needed nor desired, simply for the thrill of the theft: Confessions 2:4-8.
* …his account of his conversion: Confessions 8:7-12.
* …his contrast between the City of God and the Earthly City or City of Man, summarized here by James K.A. Smith.
* …his unrelenting emphasis on the grace of God, summarized here by Tom Nettles.
And here is a whimsical and enjoyable, albeit amateur, video summary of the life of Augustine.
Posted 3/4/13 at 8:23 AM | Timothy Paul Jones |
:: Defenestration and Divine Election in Seventeeth-Century Europe ::
By the opening years of the seventeenth century, the Reformation had turned European Christianity into a conglomeration of conflicting sects. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent drew a firm line between Catholics and Protestants by declaring that Roman Catholic tradition represents the final authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible.
In 1618, a war between Protestants and Catholics broke out when some Protestants tossed two Catholic ambassadors out a second-story window. Fortunately, the ambassadors survived. Unfortunately, they survived because they landed in a heap of horse manure. Historians have named this foul-smelling event the “Defenestration of Prague,” which proves once and for all that historians have no sense of humor when it comes to naming events.
The Defenestration of Prague—or, as I prefer to call it, “The Great Stinky Second-Story Window Tossing”—was how the Thirty Years’ War began, though they didn’t call it the Thirty Years’ War then because they didn’t know how long it was going to last. In Central Europe alone, at least ten million people died during this conflict. Not a joyous occurrence, no matter how humorously the war began.
The year 1618 also marked a moment of theological conflict among Protestants in Holland. This conflict involved no windows and no excrement. In fact, by the early twentieth century, this conflict would be summarized by a flower—a tulip, to be exact. The conflict had to do with election. No, not a first-Tuesday-in-November democratic election. This conflict concerned divine election.
:: Dutch Difficulties from Dirck to Dort ::
According to Scripture, every Christian is “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2). This election isn’t based on any human choice but solely on God’s gracious predetermination (Romans 9:11)—or at least that’s what a long line of Christians throughout history have believed when it comes to divine election. Not everyone has accepted this viewpoint, of course—but a clear series of Christian thinkers stretching from the ancient church through the Middle Ages and particularly among the Reformers embraced this perspective.
In the late 1500s, a Dutch thinker named Dirck Cornhert—yes, seriously, that was his name!—came up with a radical suggestion for dealing with doctrinal differences: Until God sends a new apostle to tell Christians exactly what to believe, Protestants and Catholics should lay aside their distinctive doctrines and join together into one theology-free church.
One summary of faith that Cornhert specifically rejected was the Heidelberg Catechism, a statement that happened to be quite important to the Dutch Reformed churches. Not surprisingly, this recommendation didn’t go over well in Holland.
A young professor named Jakob Hermanszoon was enlisted to defend the teachings found in the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly the parts that had to do with election. But Hermanszoon lost the debate before it even began! As he studied for the debate, he became convinced that the Reformers had been wrong about the whole issue of election.
According to Hermanszoon, God has placed in every person just enough goodness and grace—he called it “prevenient grace”—to choose whether or not to trust Jesus. As a result, God’s election wasn’t really God’s choice at all; God simply noticed ahead of time who would choose him and then chose them back.
Hermanszoon died in 1609, but his followers continued to develop his ideas. His followers became known as “Arminians” because, whenever they called themselves “Hermanszoonians,” everyone around them politely replied, “Gesundheit.” (Okay, so I made that part up. Actually, the Latin form of the Dutch “Hermanszoon” is “Arminius” which is a lot easier to say than “Hermanszoon”—and that’s why, if you’ve heard of Hermanszoon before, it was probably under his Latinized name “Jacob Arminius.”)
Soon after Hermanszoon’s death, his followers published a document known as the “Remonstrance.” The Remonstrance spelled out five particular points where the Arminians disagreed with the theologians of the Reformation.
These five points resulted in a conflict that threatened to tear apart the Reformed churches of Holland. A Dutch prince tried to end the conflict by inviting Reformed pastors throughout Europe to gather in the city of Dort to draft a declaration of their beliefs. In 1618 and 1619, the Synod of Dort responded to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance with five points of their own. Their five responses became known as “the Canons of Dort.”
:: The First Point: Election ::
What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ … before the foundation of the world, … determined … to save … those who … shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end.” God’s election was conditional, based on foreseen human faith and perseverance.
How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, … God chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people. … This election took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith … but rather for the purpose of faith.” God’s election was unconditional; God chose not because he foresaw faith but because he planned to give faith as a gift.
Key Scripture texts: John 6:44; 15:16; Romans 9:10-16
:: The Second Point: Atonement ::
What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “Jesus Christ …died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all … redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer.” Jesus purchased redemption for every person. If anyone refuses to believe in Jesus, their refusal thwarts God’s work of redemption their life.
How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “This death of God’s Son is … more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. … It was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross … should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father.” The death of Jesus secured the salvation of all whom God in his grace chose before time.
Key Scripture texts: Job 42:1-2; John 10:14-15, 28; 1 John 2:2
:: The Third Point: Human Nature ::
What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “Man … of and by himself can neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good; … it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit.” Although fallen human beings cannot in themselves do good, God has placed “prevenient grace” in all people, so they can believe and be born again.
How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “All people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, … neither willing nor able to return to God.” Humans are, by nature, spiritually dead; humanity’s fallenness is so great that no sinner desires to trust in Jesus until he or she is made alive through the work of God’s Spirit.
Key Scripture texts: Psalm 14:2-3; 53:2-3; Romans 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:1-3
:: The Fourth Point: Operation of Grace ::
What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “As respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible.” Regeneration is God’s immediate response when a sinner chooses Jesus; sinners can resist, reject, and thwart God’s attempts to save them.
How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “Regeneration … is an entirely supernatural work. … All those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe.” Though people do resist the Holy Spirit up to the time when God brings about new life in them, God transforms the person at the time of the new birth—or regeneration—in such a way that the sinner desires to trust Jesus and, as a result, freely chooses faith.
Key Scripture texts: John 6:37, 44; Ephesians 2:4-6
:: The Fifth Point: Perseverance ::
What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “Those who are incorporated into Christ, … Jesus Christ assists them … and, if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling. … Whether they are capable … of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, … that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures.” Perseverance depends on the will and work of the believer; it is uncertain whether a believer can forfeit his or her salvation.
How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “God … does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does God let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification. … God preserves, continues, and completes this work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises.” Perseverance depends on God’s will and work; God works in the lives of Christians so that they persevere in faith to the end.
Key Scripture texts: John 10:27-28; Romans 8:29-39
Of course, the Synod of Dort didn’t settle this issue once and for all. To this day, Christians discuss and sometimes divide over the issues that the Arminians raised in the Remonstrance. Over time, the Canons of Dort became known as “the five points of Calvinism”—even though they didn’t emerge until decades after John Calvin was dead. Despite such difficulties, the five points do provide a helpful summary of the Reformed perspective on how and why sinners trust Jesus.
:: Troubled by TULIP? A Proposal for PROOF ::
What has been far less helpful for healthy discussions of Calvinism is a five-point acrostic that emerged in the early 1900s. This acrostic rearranges and renames the Canons of Dort to spell the word “TULIP.” In this reformulation, the five points become:
* Total depravity
* Unconditional election or universal sovereignty
* Limited atonement
* Irresistible grace
* Perseverance of the saints
TULIP has only been around for a century or so, and I certainly understand the appeal of the acrostic. It’s a Dutch flower, after all, and it makes the five points quite easy to recall. And yet, this memory device has grown to dominate discussions of Reformed theology in ways that have rarely been fruitful.
“Total depravity,” for example, gives the impression that unsaved people are as bad as they can be, which isn’t at all what any Reformed theologian has claimed; plus, “total depravity” sounds like some sort of cable television show that no Christian should be watching in the first place. The “L” in the TULIP doesn’t catch the qualification in the Canons of Dort that the death of Jesus was “more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.”
So here’s a proposal for a different memory device—one that’s truer to Reformed theology and far more helpful for discussions of Calvinism:
Daniel Montgomery and I are currently working on a book that unpacks this vision for theology.
In the meantime, here are some devotional guides on the five points as well as a children’s book that works through these doctrines of divine grace.