Have been remembering and thinking about my brother David Robinson, who has been teaching in Mongolia all this past week. See his blog here: Live By The Truth.
Have been remembering and thinking about my brother David Robinson, who has been teaching in Mongolia all this past week. See his blog here: Live By The Truth.
“Piety was not at war with elegance.” These words of William Wilberforce well express a growing conviction. Far too many evangelicals in our day would have been more at home with the Quakers of a bygone era with their austerity and, dare I say it, drabness, than with the Puritans (like John Owen with his red leather boots and yellow cloak!) or their eighteenth-century Evangelical heirs.
For many years I regarded the English countryside as the nicest in the world and implicitly thought that of southern Ontario sub-standard. It was about ten years ago I realized that there is a real beauty in this part of the province, more than matching many of the beauty spots of England, where I was born.
I have spent a lot of time driving the roads and highways and back-roads of this province. This trekking has given me a rich appreciation of what a beautiful land we live in. But equally I have developed a love for the churches of this province, especially those that I know best, Baptist and baptistic causes tucked away in small communities, villages and hamlets and small towns.
After twenty-five years of teaching/preaching in such communities there are not a ton I have not been to. I thank God for the rich experience of visiting many of these churches–in places like Port Elgin and Tiverton, Sarnia and London, Port Perry and Lindsay, Boston and Hespeler, Delhi and Dutton, Woodstock and Exeter, Otterville and Chatham, Guelph and Wyoming, Arthur and Collingwood, Orangeville and Alton, Tilbury and Kanata, Georgetown and Huntsville, Ancaster and Binbrook, Flamborough Centre and Grand Valley, Wiarton and Hepworth, Meaford and North Bay, Bracebridge and Orillia. And with such visits comes a desire to see these causes flourish.
What this travelling has given me is a global view of the needs of this province and its glorious Christian riches. The needs are great, really great. Imposible for us weak, fallible sinners to meet. Only God can meet such needs. But glory to his name, he uses sinners, weak and flawed, to do his work.
Where then are the men and women who will stand up and seek the kingdom of the Lord Jesus in this province? This is no time to immerse ourselves simply in our own corners. While acting locally we must think globally. Parochialism cannot rule if we are truly praying the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”
Fitting especially servants of the Word for the task of evangelism in this province there is needed a global vision that refuses to be bound to parochial thinking, but sees beyond its own four walls and genuinely seeks the coming of the Kingdom in this land. How on earth can we ever engage in the great task of evangelizing the far corners of this earth, taking the gospel to lands of Muslim idolatry and secular European quarters, if we do not have strong churches at home? Churches especially in the larger urban centres, like Toronto, need to see themselves as resource centres for smaller works in the rest of the province.
Soldiers of Christ in truth arrayed, rise up and have done with lesser things and labour for the Master in this province. We must be assured that if we do not do it, God’s kingdom will come but He will use others to bring it in and pass us by. He is no man’s debtor, and simply because we are the heirs of a great past, does not mean he is obliged to use us. There are churches in this province with rich heritages but today they are living in those pasts, stuck in the ruts of their traditionalism. Look to Christ and break free from such bondages! Be again his free people–the glory of what it means to be Baptist (oh the vast diference between tradition and traditionalism). Be assured that if we do not, God can and will raise up others and other causes and they shall know his presence and have the joy of seeing sinners saved and the saints edified.
Addendum: study the age of Carey and Fuller, and see what God can do with fully-yielded saints!
What are blogs for? A good question and one deserving of a thoughtful response, especially when the blogger is a professing Christian.
Maybe a way at answering this question is by asking and answering the negative: what are blogs not for?
Well Christian blogs should not be for self-promotion. It is disturbing that far too many Christian blogs are shamelessly pushing self and not seeing the potential for kingdom expansion via the blogosphere. Everything from personal agendas to personal stuff is being pushed. But here, as everywhere else, we must shape our interaction in the public square by humility.
Nor are blogs a place for covertly forgetting the Christian duty to be gentle. Far too many blogs are rude and full of vitriol. And all in the name of boldness for Christ! God forbid that Christian blogs be like such. As Jonathan Edwards–no wimp!–once said, Christian piety is a sweet flame.
So what are blogs for? They should be places of winsome proclamation, explicitly and implicity, that Christ is Lord
This past July, 24 July 2007 to be exact, one of the most influential church historians of the twentieth century died: Geoffrey Fillingham Nuttall (1911-2007). His way of doing church history I have always found exhilarating and profound, and a delight to read. He often focused papers on “small” figures of church history—but he was equally at home with the thought of major authors like Richard Baxter and Philip Doddridge. His specialty was 17th and 18th century English and Welsh Nonconformity, and it was a delight to sit at his feet and learn about figures ranging from the world of seventeenth-century Quakerism to the late eighteenth-century Particular Baptist community (my own central interest). As Alan Argent noted, “from the age of 19 to within three years of his death, Nuttall wrote prolifically” (for reference, see obituary below). Budding church historians would do well getting hold of one or two of his books and some of his articles, and perusing them, their style and method of argumentation.
I have never forgotten my first read of his major work, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (1946). The depth of research and sureness of historical judgment was displayed on every page and a lasting impression made about Puritan pneumatology. But I also learned much about the methodology of being an historian, especially the need to build one’s case from primary source material. His argument in the book that the Quakers were the radical left-wing of the Puritan movement was controversial at the time, and still is in some quarters. I confess that his arguments have intrigued me though not fully convinced me.
I never met him to my regret, but in the early stages of my work on John Sutcliff (1752-1814), correspondence with him was an enormous help. Reading the obituaries below, one thing that stood out in addition to his remarkable scholarship was his love of the church and his keen consciousness of being an heir of Nonconformity.
For full obituaries, see “The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Times (August 29, 2007) [The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall obituary - Times Online]; Alan Argent, “The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Guardian (September 12, 2007) [Obituary: The Rev Geoffrey Nuttall | Obituaries | Guardian Unlimited]; “The Reverend Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Daily Telegraph (August 14, 2007) [The Reverend Geoffrey Nuttall - Telegraph]; and David M. Thompson, “Geoffrey Nuttall”, The Independent (August 14, 2007) [Geoffrey Nuttall - Independent Online Edition > Obituaries]. See also the Wikipedia article: “Geoffrey Nuttall” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Nuttall; accessed September 20, 2007).
Church history is endlessly fascinating. For one, it is populated by remarkable individuals, many of whom I hardly know and whose lives beckon and promise wisdom and inspiration. Such a one is John of Damasacus, the eighth century theologian. I knew the name of course, but until a few weeks ago when I began preparing for a talk at Sola Scriptura’s Toronto conference on Islam, I really knew next to nothing.
I have significant disagreements, of course. His rebuttal of iconoclasm, for one. But what a deft responder to Islam. He isolated one of the central issues of Islam, central, that is, to its self-identity: Islam’s rejection of the Trinity. Allah has no son and no associates. John, who read Arabic and the Qur’an in Arabic, saw this clearly and responds accordingly.
A delight to find and read.
A dear brother, Clint Humfrey (see COWBOYOLOGY ), recently asked me what, in my opinion, were the “top ten most important things for founding a theological institution for training pastors?” Well, I would say the following are vital—the order is not important:
1) The school must be confessional—the school must have a solid statement of faith that at a minimum affirms inerrancy, a robust Nicene Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology, the solas of the Reformation, justification by faith alone, and the doctrines of grace. All faculty at the school need to yearly pledge their commitment to the statement of faith without any mental reservation.
2) The school must be passionate about missions, local and global.
3) The leadership of the school must be subject to an association of local churches, whose pastors and members are vitally involved in supporting the church in spiritual and material ways. I fully believe that the ownership of such a school is best drawn from a group of churches.
4) The school must be committed to the highest academic standards and provincial/state accreditation needs to be eventually sought.
5) The majority of the teachers should have had some pastoral experience and they must be demonstrably lovers of the church.
6) The leadership of the school needs to be directly appointed by a Board of Directors/Trustees drawn from the churches supporting the school.
7) Along with the academic emphases of the school, there must be a stress on spirituality/spiritual formation/piety.
The school needs, at a minimum, a good solid reference library of 10,000 volumes.
9) Each of the students entering the school must have a recommendation from a local church. In turn, they must be involved, throughout their studies, in practical ministry.
10) Days of prayer need to be instituted and observed by the school.
Given a lifetime of going to school–first as a student and then as a teacher–it should not be surprising that I view the autumn, not the new year in January, as the time of fresh beginnings. All across this continent seminary students and professors stand on the threshold of a new year. The best of them have come together to spend time reading and meditating on Holy Scripture, studying theology and the history of the church, learning Greek and Hebrew, worshipping and praying together, and learning how to serve the church. These schools do so in the hope that their communities would be two things: places of truth and Christian integrity and places of Christian love and genuine community.
The eighteenth-century Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller once brought both of these things together in a beautiful passage when he observed that it is not by “converting the pulpit into a stage of strife…that truth is promoted.” Rather, it is “by reading, by calm and serious reflection, by humble prayer, and by a free and friendly communication of our thoughts to one another in private conversation, that truth makes progress.”
Of course there is a time for clear proclamation that does not shrink from controversy–Fuller knew this better than anyone of his day. But it is noteworthy the means he cited for the advance of the truth. Truth advances by:
· reflection/meditation on what has been read
Where did Fuller learn about the importance of truth? From Scripture. For example, one of the results of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the fact that those who were converted on that day “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The teaching and preaching of the Apostles became food for their souls and a light for their path.
And many years later, when the Apostle Paul came to write what was his final letter to Timothy, he urged his close friend to guard jealously the treasure of apostolic doctrine that had been committed to his care, and to do this in reliance upon the Holy Spirit who indwelt him (2 Timothy 1:13-14). After a lifetime of ministry Paul well knew that the faithful transmission of orthodox doctrine from one generation to another cannot be done without the keeping power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, in urging Timothy to rely upon the Spirit for help in this regard, Paul is obviously convinced that doctrine matters to the Spirit of God and that when he comes to indwell a man or a woman he gives that person a concern for truth and doctrine.
Finally, it is not at all fortuitous that our Lord calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). He is the One who imparts the truth in the Scriptures to the people of God, illumines it for them, and enables them to put it into practice.
Looking at this from the perspective of subjective experience, we can say that the New Testament bears eloquent witness to the fact that solid doctrine is essential to sound spirituality. In the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon: the coals of orthodoxy are ever necessary for the fire of spirituality. Where orthodox doctrine is regarded as unimportant, the fire of Christian piety will inevitably be quenched.
 “Remarks on Two Sermons by W.W. Horne” (Complete Works, III, 582).
 This phrase is attribted to Spurgeon by David Kingdon, “C H Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy” in his et al., A Marvelous Ministry. How the All-round Ministry of C H Spurgeon Speaks to Us Today (Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993), 128. See also the remarks of Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Orthodoxy & Heresy. A Biblical Guide to Doctrinal Discernment (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 18-20.
This past spring I made the decision to accept the offer of a full-time position at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. I am thrilled but also deeply humbled by this opportunity that divine providence has placed before me. I am biased, but I think Southern to be the finest seminary in North America at this point in time.
Yet, leaving Ontario, where I have taught in the field of theological education for twenty-five years, has not been easy. It is hard to believe that it was twenty-five years ago this very month that I began teaching at Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto and then Gormley, where I was from 1982-1993. I thoroughly loved my time at Central . I have very fond memories of serving under Ted Barton, George Bell, and John Wilson, and labouring with men like Stan Fowler, Richard Mitchell, and Hugh Rendle. I was immersed into Fellowship Baptist life and I grew to love this body of churches.
But financial problems intervened and forced a merger with London Baptist Bible College and Seminary (LBBCS) and the resulting entity became Heritage Theological Seminary. At first Heritage was located in London from 1993-1995, and I made the commute initially to London. And then, from 1995 onwards it has been located in Cambridge, where the school bought over the old Encyclopedia Britannica building (actually a very new building). I especially loved going to London, one of the most beautiful cities in southern. The university feel of the town, some of the great bookstores and eateries made my time there a delight. Through this time it was a privilege to serve under Marvin Brubacher, still a good friend.
From January 1999 to December 2002 I was very much part-time at Heritage, though, as I was the full-time Editorial Director of Joshua Press (JP). When the financial situation at JP, though, necessitated a move, I went to Toronto Baptist Seminary from 2003-2007 and have been Principal from July 2003. Here again it has been a joy to serve with devoted faculty and keen students.
Thinking of a move, as I have noted above, has not been easy. I love Ontario and I know, after twenty-five years of teaching in this province, the great need we have for solid theological education. In a word, the churches need a school that is deeply committed to orthodoxy, yet fully in touch with the culture. Not an easy thing to be.
All too often, it is one or the other: conversant with the culture and out of step with Scriptural realities, or rooted in biblical orthodoxy but fighting old battles that most people no longer remember. As Luther is reported to have once said: if we are fighting and skirmishing where the enemy is not attacking, we are failing to truly fight the war.
And more than ever I believe we need to be committed to networking and the need to labour alongside those who stand for the same core truths that we love. The absolute independency that some in this province prize is, in my opinion, the high road to impotency. To be sure, if we need to stand alone when others are caving in to theological error and the passing fads of theologia, then stand alone we must. Dare to be a Daniel, as we have long sung. But all too often this translates into a pettiness and a refusal to work with others unless they see utterly everything our way. Without sacrificing theological integrity we need to find essentially like-minded brothers and sisters and labour side by side.
Then, we have to be willing to show genuine humility and consider others’ needs. The time is long past when we could fight turf wars in our churches when all around us people are going to hell! If changes must be made to ecclesial structures for the sake of the Kingdom, then let’s make them.
Finally, we need genuine vision for what God can do here and so move beyond the malaise of Canadian character that all too often afflicts the churches here and is slow to seek greatness: expecting great things from God, we must attempt great things for his Kingdom.
Spirituality is something constantly on people’s minds today. Oh, how times have changed from the mid-twentieth century. Here are two noteworthy items: First, an excellent book review by Rick Philips of Mother Teresa’s latest (posthumous) book: Reformation21 Blog» Mother Teresa’s Redemption. Do read the review, it is extremely illuminating.
Second, Dr Don Whitney, my colleague at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is holding a national conference of his Center for Biblical Spirituality on the Southern Seminary campus this October. I strongly recommend all reading this blog to think about attending what promises to be a fabulous conference. If there is anyone in North America who knows the field of biblical spirituality it is Dr Whitney. For details, see his website, http://biblicalspirituality.org/ .