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Archive for July, 2011

In our day, some of our more theologically sound evangelical brethren place heavy emphasis on being “Gospel centered.” In doing so, they can sometimes appear to downplay doctrinal distinctives, (in this case, perhaps most notably regarding ecclesiology) perhaps giving some the idea that they are relatively unimportant. While we should teach and preach the whole counsel of God, it is also quite possible to overemphasize doctrinal distinctives and other issues to the detriment of weightier matters. No biblical teaching is unimportant, but it would appear that some are more important than others. We must ever be on guard against focusing on one issue to the detriment of others. Related to that is a need to guard against a movement mentality when it has the tendency to emphasize some hobby horse. A few years ago, a pastor told me that “The only thing we want to go to seed on is Jesus.” The more time goes on, the more I think that is very sound advice.

I think a glance at this blog for a few minutes might suggest that when I actually get around to posting something, at times I’ve been guilty of majoring on the minors. (There are a few reasons for this that may make it more understandable, but that’s probably best left to another post.)  I know that at times I’ve focused on such things for so long that I’ve almost been incapable of clearly discussing much more basic issues related to the faith once delivered with those who aren’t as familiar with them.

I recently came across the following passage from Mr. Spurgeon that addresses this very problem. Those who are familiar with Charles Haddon Spurgeon will know that he certainly did not believe that there is never a time to engage in controversy or polemics with other brethren when in our judgment they fall short in their biblical understanding on one issue or the other. Indeed, during the course of his ministry, he was known for engaging in three controversies in particular. However, if being a controversialist were what he was primarily known for, I doubt that he would continue to be quite as relevant today.

WHAT IS IT TO WIN A SOUL?

This may be instructively answered by describing what it is not. We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue. There are sheep-stealers abroad, concerning whom I will say nothing except that they are not “brethren”, or, at least, they do not act in a brotherly fashion. To their own Master they must stand or fall. We count it utter meanness to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbours’ mansions; we infinitely prefer to quarry for ourselves. I hope we all sympathize in the largehearted spirit of Dr. Chalmers, who, when it was said that such and such an effort would not be beneficial to the special interests of the Free Church of Scotland, although it might promote the general religion of the land, said, “What is the Free Church compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?” What, indeed, is any church, or what are all the churches put together, as mere organizations, if they stand in conflict with the moral and spiritual advantage of the nation, or if they impede the kingdom of Christ?   

It is because God blesses men through the churches that we desire to see them prosper, and not merely for the sake of the churches themselves. There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandisement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us! The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan. We would do a great deal to make a Paedobaptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord’s ordinances; we would labour earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterwards to secure them for our various folds. To make proselytes, is a suitable labour for Pharisees: to beget men unto God, is the honourable aim of ministers of Christ.

C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p. 11-12, Pilgrim Publications, 2007.

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Review of the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Richard L. Pratt, ed., Zondervan, 2003, xiv + 2240 pages.

As I’ve noted previously, I hope to start reviewing more books. Since I have used many study Bibles through the years, I’m hoping to review most of them here, with the reviews likely coming in no particular order.

In my opinion, the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (NIV SRSB) is the best modern Reformed study Bible.   Unfortunately for Third Millennium Ministries, which produced the NIV SRSB, it was published at a time in which Reformed people were deserting the NIV in droves, usually in favor of the ESV. I’ve never been a fan of the NIV and I have some differences from the doctrinal position espoused in the SRSB, but that doesn’t stop me from profiting from it.

The NIV SRSB is a revision and expansion of the New Geneva Study Bible, (NGSB) which was later renamed the Reformation Study Bible (RSB). It was originally published in the NKJV in the mid 1990’s and is now available in the ESV. The NKJV New Geneva/Reformation Study Bible didn’t seem to have much circulation outside of confessional Reformed churches. However, with the “Young, Restless and Reformed” coming of age in the mid 2000’s, the ESV version seems to have a much wider appeal.

The translation issue aside, the advantages the NIV SRSB has over the NKJV/ESV Reformation Study Bible (RSB) include more extensive study notes and the inclusion of the Reformed confessions. The proof texts of the confessions are also reverse indexed in the study notes. While many of the notes are the same as the RSB’s, others are different or more detailed. Due to the inclusion of the confessions, some of J.I. Packer’s original articles were deleted in favor of new ones. (Those articles by Packer can also be found in his “Concise Theology.”) Unfortunately, when the ESV version of the Reformation Study Bible was issued a couple of years after the NIV SRSB, the study notes and articles were not revised or enhanced from the original NKJV version and no additional material was included.

Even if you don’t like the 1984 NIV, if you are primarily looking for a reference work instead of a Bible for general use, this is the Reformed Study Bible to get if you have a choice. (In general, it’s best not to use a Study Bible as your primary Bible regardless.) For those who do not adhere to Reformed theology, this is still an excellent resource if you’re interested in learning about Reformed theology.

Another feature is that the text is single-column with references on the outside of the page instead of the more familiar double-column used in most Bibles today. Single-column can sometimes make for a difficult read if the print is small. The print here is probably large enough for my eyes, but I don’t read the NIV text for long periods of time either. It’s not a red letter edition, which is a plus in my book.  I have the hardcover edition. The quality of the paper is perhaps somewhat better than average by today’s standards. There is a little ghosting, but I don’t find it to be distracting at all, in contrast to some other Bibles.

The binding is glued instead of sewn, as is the case with many recent Bibles.  It seems that nearly all of the Bibles published by Zondervan and Nelson have glued bindings.  But if the SRSB is used primarily in the study, that shouldn’t be much of an issue.  In my experience, hardcover bindings seem to hold up better than glued bonded leather bindings as well. (EDIT: After obtaining a bonded leather copy, despite being glued, it appears to me that it will hold up reasonably well if handled with care. The binding has some give to it. The glued bindings that I’ve had problems with have had practically no flexibility at all.)

Unfortunately this Study Bible appears to be out of print and is now difficult to find at a reasonable price. Hopefully it will be reprinted at some point, but that would be somewhat unlikely in the near future given the current hegemony of the ESV and the ESV Reformation Study Bible. (The website for Third Millennium Ministries does show a Chinese version.) Since Zondervan is a publisher for the NASB, it’s theoretically possible (albeit unlikely) that it could be issued in that translation.

I was just thinking that it would be great if this work were to be made available for the Kindle and/or some other e-reader. Then I noticed that a Kindle edition is set for release in August. The SRSB page on the Zondervan website notes other dealers from which the ebook will be able to be obtained.  This is a welcome development for those who are interested in an obtaining this in the Kindle format, and perhaps especially for those who were unable to obtain a print copy of this excellent resource.

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We often hear the cry “No creed but the Bible!”  The Southern Baptist leader B.H. Carroll (1843-1914) provides an answer for this assertion:

“There never was a man in the world without a creed. What is a creed? A creed is what you believe. What is a confession? It is a declaration of what you believe. That declaration may be oral or it may be committed to writing, but the creed is there either expressed or implied.”

“The modern cry, ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jelly fish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. …It is a positive and very hurtful sin to magnify liberty at the expense of doctrine.”

So the statement “No creed but the Bible!” is itself a confession of sorts, although most of those holding to it likely don’t recognize it as such.

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