A Mostly Reformed Christian Book List

(Several titles available electronically &/or online, some for free.)

Luther, Melanchthon, & Pomeranus translate the Bible – from a painting by Pierre-Antoine Labouchère

I was asked for a top 100 Reformed book list. It’s weighted toward the long-term reference side, as am I and as was requested. I may change it from time to time.

1. NASB Study Bible, Zondervan Publishers

2. ESV Study Bible, Crossway/Good News Publishers

3. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: Completely Revised and Updated Edition, Youngblood, Thomas Nelson Pub.

4. The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, James Strong, Thomas Nelson Pub.

5. MacArthur Bible Commentary, (hardcover), John MacArthur, Nelson Publishers

(Just to note: there are a great many excellent individual and commentary sets available online, many for free, as well as other worthy resources. Try esp. the Monergism, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Still Waters Revival Books, and Reformed Books Online sites. If you want to get a whole set right off try John Calvin’s commentaries, the Hendriksen / Kistemaker set, but look for deals. Or, if price isn’t an issue, try P&R Publishers Reformed Expository Commentary series, or Crossway’s Classic Commentaries series. It’s advised to rather purchase individual Bible book commentaries as needed.)

6. Now, That’s a Good Question – by R.C. Sproul, Tyndale House, Theology / Spirituality

7. Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith, McDowell & Stewart, Tyndale House, Apologetics

8. Summary of Christian Doctrine, Louis Berkhof, Banner of Truth

9. A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works: 10th Edition, by John F. Evans, Zondervan Academic

10. What Do Presbyterians Believe?, Gordon H. Clark, Trinity Foundation

(So, OK, if you’re not a Presbyterian, most denominations have something similar, or… just become a Presby. Welcome to the family.)

11. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, HarperSanFrancisco/Zondervan, Christian Classics

-or- Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics – includes: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, A Grief Observed.  HaperCollins

12. Westminster Standards – esp. Westminster Confession of Faith, & Larger & Shorter Catechisms. Widely available free online or in several formats from many publishers, sometimes with additional annotations or collections.

-or- Westminster Confession of Faith w/ Catechisms (1646-7) (and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Directories for Public and Private Worship, Form of Presbyterial Church Government, the Sum of Saving Knowledge), by Westminster Assembly, Alexander McPherson (Editor), Free Presbyterian Publications

-or- as a companion, The Heidelberg Catechism, by Zacharias Ursinus, online & various publishers

13. The Bible, Smart Guide to the Bible, Larry Richards, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Biblical Studies/Reference

14. Life Application Commentary on Luke – Barton / Veerman / Taylor, Tyndale publishers, Commentary

-or- any good commentary on the gospels of Luke or John. For example:

Leon Morris’ commentary on John (NICNT)

Luke (Reformed Expository Commentary), Phillip G. Ryken

  • one might want to spring for the 5 vol. set by James M. Boice on John, though if resources are tight wait and get Boice on Romans.

15. The Great Divorce – by C.S. Lewis, Zondervan Publishers, Christian Classics

16. This Present Darkness – by Frank Peretti, Tyndale House Publishers, Fiction / Suspense

-or- may be available as a two-books-in-one single volume hardcover set:

This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness (Hardcover), Crossway Books

17. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, HarperSanFrancisco/Zondervan, Christian Classics

18. Big Book of Bible Difficulties – by Geisler & Howe, Baker Books, Theology

-or- New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, (hardcover) – by Gleason Archer, Zondervan

19. Romans (4 vol. set), James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books

-or- The Letter to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)), Douglas J. Moo, Eerdmans

-or- Message of Romans – by John Stott, IVP

-or- Romans: The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (hardcover), Douglas Moo

-or- Everyman’s Bible Commentary – Romans, Alan Johnson, Moody Press

20. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith – by R.C. Sproul, Tyndale House, Theology / Bible Doctrine

21. Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther, available online & from several publishers

22. Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bibles Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity, James White.

23. Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, Tyndale Momentum

24. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), by I. Howard Marshall, Eerdmans

25. The Book of the Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament), by F. F. Bruce, Eerdmans

26. Invitation to Church History, 2 Volume Set: The Story of Christianity (Invitation to Theological Studies), by John D. Hannah, Kregel

-or- Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, by Everett Ferguson, & Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context – Illustrated, by John D. Woodbridge & Frank A. James III, Zondervan Academic

27. Doctrines That Divide – by Erwin Lutzer, Kregel Publications, Theology / Church History

28. Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan, Bridge/Logos

-or- from Moody Press, Christian Classics

-or- as hardcover, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Hendrickson Christian Classics); Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English (Hardcover), Sovereign Grace Publishers Inc.

29. Knowing God, by J.I. Packer, InterVarsityPress, Theology

30. The Problem of Pain – by C.S. Lewis, HarperOne, Theology / Apologetics

31. The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: Three Essential Books in One Volume (The God Who is There, Escape From Reason, He Is There And He Is Not Silent) – by Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway

32. Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary, (hardcover) – by Steve Gregg, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Commentary

-also, as a companion book-

33. The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, Robert Clouse, InterVarsity Press

34. The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Walter Martin, Bethany House Publishers; 6th edition

-or- The Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin (Author), Ravi Zacharias (Editor), Bethany House Publishers; Revised, Updated edition

35. George MacDonald Fantasy Classics Collection: Phantastes, The Light Princess, The Princess and the Goblin, Lilith, George MacDonald, Independently published

36. Absolute Surrender – by Andrew Murray, Moody Press, Christian Classics / Christian Living

-or- as 2-in-1 hardcover, Humility & Absolute Surrender, Hendrickson Publishers, -or- Bridge-Logos Pub.

37. Attributes of God, Arthur W. Pink, Baker Books, Theology. Or as hardcover, Sovereign Grace Publishers

38. The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce, IVP Academic

39. Christ and Culture Revisited, by D.A. Carson, Eerdmans

40. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, by Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway; L’Abri 50th Anniversary edition

41. The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible (Illustrated edition), by Paul D. Wegner, Baker Academic

42. Psalms Vol.1 & 2, NIV Application Commentary series, by Gerald H. Wilson, W. Dennis Tucker Jr., Jamie A. Grant; Zondervan Academic -or- Psalms Vol.1: Psalms 1-41, Psalms Vol.2: Psalms 42-106, Psalms Vol.3: Psalms 107-150 (Expositional Commentary), James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books

43. Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren, Zondervan Publishers, Christian Living / Spiritual Growth

44. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God – Special Edition, by J. I. Packer, Mark Dever (Foreword), IVP Books

45. Black and Reformed: Seeing God’s Sovereignty in the African-American Christian Experience, by Anthony J. Carter, P&R Publishing

46-47. One (or 2) big investments of:

Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3 vol. set), by Francis Turretin (Author), James T. Dennison (Editor), George Musgrave Giger (Translator); P & R Publishing

Reformed Dogmatics (4 vol. set), Herman Bavnick, Baker Academic
Systematic Theology (3 vol. set), Charles Hodge, Tyndale House Publishers

Reformed Dogmatics (vols. 1 & 2), Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Free Publishing Association; 2nd edition

(if you’re stuck on a one-volume try A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition – Revised and Updated by Robert L. Reymond, Zondervan Academic -or- Systematic Theology by Berkhoff -or- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, Zondervan Academic -or- Reformed Dogmatics (Single Volume Edition): A System of Christian Theology by Geerhardus J. Vos (Author), Richard B. Gaffin (Translator), Lexham Press -or- Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John M. Frame, P&R Pub.)

48. Augustine: The City of God against the Pagans (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought), Augustine and R. W. Dyson, Cambridge University Press

49. He Chose the Nails – by Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, Christian Living

50. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy J. Keller, Penguin Books

51. The Message of Ephesians (The Bible Speaks Today Series) Revised edition, by John Stott, IVP Academic

52. Facing Your Giants: The God Who Made a Miracle Out of David Stands Ready to Make One Out of You (Paperback or Hardcover) – by Max Lucado, Nelson, Christian Living

53-58. Pick ‘em (mostly from IVP’s Spectrum Multiview Book Series, & Zondervan’s Counterpoint series – lots more titles available):

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views, Meister & Dew, Jr., IVP

Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views, P. C. Kemeny, IVP

Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Beilby & Eddy, IVP

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, Stanley E. Porter Jr. (Editor), Beth M. Stovell (Editor), IVP Academic

Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views, H. Wayne House, IVP

Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, Basinger & Basinger, IVP

Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views, Porter & Studebaker, IVP

Women in Ministry: Four Views, Clouse ed., Robert Culver, contributors: Susan T. Foh, Walter L. Liefeld, and Alvera Mickelsen, IVP

Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, Armstrong et al., Zon.

Five Views on the Extent of the Atonement, Adam J. Johnson, et al., Zon.

Five Views on Law and Gospel, Bahnsen, Kaiser Jr., Douglas Moo, et al., Zon

Four Views on Hell, Crockett et al, Zon.

Understanding Four Views on Baptism, Richard Pratt Jr., John H. Armstrong, et al, Zon

Five Views on Apologetics, ed. Cowan & Gundry, et al, Zon.

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, Stanley N. Gundry (Series Editor) et al, Zon.

59. Galatians (Reformed Expository Commentary), by Philip Graham Ryken, P&R Publishing

60. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, ed. By John T. McNeil, The Westminster Press. Other editions abound, with several free online, but Battles or Beveridge and the 1559 Institutes are considered best.

61. . Traveling Light – by Max Lucado, Nelson Publishers, Christian Living

-or- also available in it’s expanded form as a hardcover:

Lucado 3-in-1: Come Thirsty, Traveling Light, Next Door Savior (Hardcover), Nelson

62. A Biblical Response to Superstition, Will-Worship and the Christmas Holiday, by Daniel Cawdrey, Puritan Publications, -or- Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship, by Wes Bredenhof (Author), The Study

63. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise in Which the Whole Controversy about Universal Redemption is Fully Discussed, by John Owen, J. I. Packer (Introduction), Banner of Truth

64. James (Reformed Expository Commentary), by Daniel M. Doriani, P&R Publishing -or- The Letter of James (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), by Douglas J. Moo, Eerdmans

65. Handbook of World Religions – by Len Woods, Barbour, World Religions

-or- as hardcover alternatives;

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions, Nichols, Mather, & Schmidt, Zondervan

66. An Introduction to the New Testament, by D.A. Carson & Douglas Moo, Zondervan Academic

67. A Theology of the New Testament, George Eldon Ladd, Eerdmans; Revised

68. Reading Between the Lines (Redesign): A Christian Guide to Literature (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series), Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Crossway.

69. The Sovereignty of God, Arthur W. Pink, various publishers

70. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Al Wolters, Eerdmans

71. Hebrews (The Crossway Classic Commentaries) Abridged, by John Owen (Author), Alister McGrath (Series Editor), J. I. Packer (Series Editor, Introduction), Crossway -or- Hebrews (Reformed Expository Commentary), by Richard D. Phillips, P&R Publishing

72. The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee, Christian Fellowship Publishers or various publishers

73. The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards, various publishers

74. C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time, Burson & Walls, IVP

75. Van Til’s Apologetic Readings and Analysis, Greg Bahnsen, P&R Publishing

76. The Space Trilogy Hardcover – Special Edition, (OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, PERELANDRA, THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH), by C. S. Lewis, HarperCollins

77. A Theological Interpretation of American History, by C. Gregg Singer, Solid Ground Christian Books

78. Isaiah: The NIV Application Commentary, by John N. Oswalt, Zondervan Academic

79. Chesterton Spiritual Classics Collection: Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Everlasting Man – by G.K. Chesterton, -or- Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, Independently published

80. The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, by James R. White, Calvary Press; Revised edition

81. The Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification – by Walter Marshall, Stover Creek Publications; 2nd edition

82. Confessions, St. Augustine, various publishers

83. Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmar Robertson, P&R Publishers

84. Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray, Eerdmans

85. The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, various publishers

86. The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer, various publishers

87. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, by C.S. Lewis, Eerdmans

88. The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Touchstone

89. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C. S. Lewis, HarperOne

90. Christianity and Liberalism, new ed., by J. Gresham Machen (Author), Carl Trueman (Foreword), Eerdmans

91. Women and Ministry: What the Bible Teaches, by Daniel M. Doriani, Crossway

92. Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, by Bernard Ramm, Baker Publishing Group -or- Biblical Hermeneutics, by Gerhard Maier, Crossway -or- Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Louis Berkhof, Baker Book House

93. Jonathan Edwards: A Life – Illustrated, by George M. Marsden, Yale University Press

94. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God, by George Eldon Ladd, Eerdmans

95. The Silmarillion, by J. R. R. Tolkien, HarperCollins

96. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics, by John H. Gerstner, Arthur W. Lindsley, R.C. Sproul, Zondervan Academic

97. Love Dare – by Kendrick, B&H Books, Love & Marriage

98. Wild at Heart, Eldridge, Nelson Books, Christian Living / Men

99. Humble Calvinism: And if I Know the Five Points, But Have Not Love …, by J.A. Medders, Ray Ortlund (Other Contributor), The Good Book Company

100. Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, by Greg L. Bahnsen, Covenant Media Press


Federal Vision, the PCA, & the People

Wes White, over at the Johannes Weslianus e-blogger blog has a recent addition to his valiant campaign against Federal Vision (FV) in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), ” The Reformed Soteriological System and the Federal Vision System” (new site home: http://www.weswhite.net/2010/10/reformed-soteriological-system-and/).  I usually run into technical difficulty posting to Wes’ blog (it’s the e-blogger software and it’s lengthy url codes), so I’ll post a bit here. Continue reading

Christmas & Holy Time, Seasons of Scrutiny (Part V)

– Bahing Sheep, Humming Bugs, & Gifts of the Child Christ –
(“Holy As I Am Holy”, Redemption Accomplished & Applied)

Ex. 12:24-27a “And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. When you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord…’”

“The history of man clearly shows that if sinful man is left to himself in selecting his means and modes of worship he will choose man-centered worship. A society driven by man will be drawn to entertainment, rituals and pomp. Man-made innovations, like all human vices, if left unchecked will continue to deteriorate. The church and worship are no different. Without regulation this is the direction that worship will follow. This regulation cannot come from those needing regulation but from the transcendent God; therefore God’s Word is the only source for this regulation.” (from “A Discourse on the Christian Celebration of the Papish Christ-Mass”, by Rev. Timothy P. Cotton, Truth and Way Ministries)

“The reformed answer to the question in a nutshell is Col.2, Rom. 14. The OT feast days have been nailed to the cross with Christ and we are not to reintroduce them – or anything like them into the worship of the church. The one in seven Lord’s Day is sufficient along with allowance for occasional days of prayer or thanksgiving as providence warrants; not the rote yearly anniversary days/seasons of Advent, Christmas, Easter etc.. Calvin said the Jews at least had divine warrant for their festivals; those who aped them, the papists, not so.” – Bob Suden, commenter on the OldLife [Scripture links, mine]

“…He knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” Well, I suppose if anyone knew that secret knowledge of deep Christmas magick it would have to be this dickens of a fellow, even if his lingering contribution to the English language is similarly defined in pejorative tone of a niggardly, mean-spirited miser. Like King Manasseh of ancient Judah, his favourable repentance at the end of his life is not what has generally followed his reputation, but the longevity and extent of his misspent life prior; while, of course, “Bah, humbug!” is a memorably classic line. Scrooge, in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (December 19, 1843), was most probably a Puritan caricature, since it had been they who drove Christmas underground along with Ebenezer’s ‘spirit guides’. Britain had largely lost Christmas through her Puritan years of the 18th and 19th centuries, but the Victorian Era found renewed interest. Dickens joined the resurgence of Christmas fascination, as an influx of German Lutheran influence became British royalty, and the general public sought to recapture a sanitised bit of its almost forgotten Catholic traditions.

Uncle Scrooge McDuck, of course, wasn’t exactly a Dickens invention. “The richest duck in the world” was created by Carl Barks, of Disney Studios, and complained of Christmas as, “that silly season when everybody loves everyone else.” As with both the feathered and featherless scrooges, Christmas as a season of love and generous spirit is perhaps the noblest character with which Christmas remains ensconced. And regardless of any lingering bitter reputation, no Puritan Christmas humbugger is intent to rid the world of love and happiness, but rather tenderly foster such as pleases God, rather than ghostly business partners and some indeterminable spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. Commonly, the English reawakening of Christmas was not primarily on religious grounds, but as in America, and following war after war on both continents, it came with a good dose of emphasis on children and civil good will toward men. Continue reading

Christmas & Holy Time, Seasons of Scrutiny (Part IV)

-Why Is Christmas Eve Different From All Other Eves?-
(Passover Haggadah, Regulative Addendum)

Colossians 2.16-23 “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ…
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

“The Jewish festival days are beautifully fulfilled in Christ, and thus done away forever. They are never applied to the Gentile converts, although a period of tolerance for weak Jewish brethren was allowed with regard to their continued observance.” (“Christmas-Keeping and the Reformed Faith”, by David W. Cason)

“And ye shall have the fringes that when ye look upon them, ye may remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart, nor after your own eyes, after the which ye go a whoring; That ye remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto your God” (Num 15:39-40, Geneva Bible)

“I come now to ceremonies, which, while they ought to be grave attestations of divine worship, are rather a mere mockery of God. A new Judaism, as a substitute for that which God has distinctly abrogated, has again been reared up by means of numerous puerile extravagancies, collected from different quarters; and with these have been mixed up certain impious rites, partly borrowed from the heathen, and more adapted to some theatrical show than to the dignity of our religion. The first evil here is, that an immense number of ceremonies, which God had by his authority abrogated, once for all, have been again revived. The next evil is, that while ceremonies ought to be living exercises of piety, men are vainly occupied with numbers of them that are both frivolous and useless. But by far the most deadly evil of all is, that after men have thus mocked God with ceremonies of one kind or other, they think they have fulfilled their duty as admirably as if these ceremonies included in the whole essence of piety and divine worship.” – Calvin, Tracts, Vol.1, p.131 (1844; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983)

That which the Bible calls the inferior (Heb. 9:11-15), the shadow (Heb. 10:1; 8:4-5), the obsolete (Heb. 8:13), the symbolic (Heb. 9:9), and the ineffectual (Heb. 10:4) does not continue.” – OPC – “A Brief Critique of Steven M. Schlissel’s Articles Against the Regulative Principle of Worship”, by Brian Schwertley

Sukkot booth for Tabernacles

Some readers (LOL, I’m not sure I have any) may be inclined to leave at this, thinking I’ve gone off the deep end, especially where Reformed confession is concerned.  Stay with me a bit. Yes, I’ve attended Messianic services and found Messianic Judaism (what was once called “Jewish Christianity”) wanting, but when one talks of “TRADITION!” there’s no better Biblical place to start (just ask Tevye the milkman of Fiddler on the Roof), even if we Reformed must waddle back through our own history and that of Roman Catholicism and the East to get there. Passover has long since been abandoned by most Christians as abrogated Jewish anachronism; that is, Christians by and large from a very early date abandoned the Jewish Calendar, which was reconsidered with rejection by the Protestant Reformers. In reviewing Church history it’s interesting to consider the twofold influences toward the initial departure – Christianity defined and Christianity persecuted.

On the one hand, early enough to have it recorded throughout the New Testament we see a fulfillment, a completion of Old Covenant Law into the definition of New Covenant in Jesus the Christ. That is, through the sinless life and atoning work of Jesus we find new definition to Old Covenant forms and shadows – a substance of Gospel (good news), and a new freedom of spiritual ownership in transformation and indwelling of the human heart – of spiritual baptism beyond “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Col. 2:21; cf. also Rom. 3:9-31, Gal. 2:16, Hebrews 12:18-29).

In defining Christianity in Christ there is the influence of leaving behind ( Phil. 3:13) any confidences in faithfulness to Jewish regulations, while at the same time pressing on “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v.14, NIV). Paul often fought to distinguish as bedrock of Christianity a freedom from works of the Law and Jewish regulations, while at the same time encouraging a godly lifestyle involving righteous living and obedience to Christ. This was the good news of life in Christ.

On the other hand, this definition of Christianity was challenged and persecuted also from the start. The Apostle Paul not only had to deal with Judaizers and Gnostics who sought to enslave Christians to fleshly indulgence from within the Church, but the early Church also was attacked from without by various trials and tribulations disassociating it from considerations as a sect of Judaism; first, as we see in New Testament history, by Jewish and Roman affliction, and later by Roman controls toward spiritual compromise in Emperor Constantine’s use of Christianity as his State religion. Continue reading

Christmas & Holy Time, Seasons of Scrutiny (Part III)

– Yes, Virginia, There Is A Clause-
(The Regulative Principle Of Worship)

Gal. 5:1 “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.(NASB)

“There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.
Festival day, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.
Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting of thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.”
Directory of Publick Worship, AN APPENDIX, Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship – Act of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland (1645), Act of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Scotland (1645).

From, An Exposition in the Form of Question and Answer of the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (1905),  by James Harper, UPC professor at Xenia Theological Seminary :
Q. 7. Is it not a daring intrusion upon the prerogative of God to appoint as a stated religious festival any other day or season, such as Christmas or Easter?
A. It is an impeachment of the wisdom of God and an assertion of our right and ability to improve on his plans.

“Wherefore, those things are also which are in themselves indifferent, that is neither commanded nor prohibited by God, if they are prescribed and done as the worship of God, or if it is supposed that God is honored by our performing them, and dishonored by neglecting them, it is plainly manifest that the Scriptures in these and similar places condemn them.” – Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, n.d. [from 1852 edition]), pp. 518-519.

There are many arguments laid against Christmas, against a Church Year devised by man, against all Holy Days but the Sabbath, and oddly even against the Biblical Sabbath. Many apologetics have been constructed favouring one or any of the above. As we’ll see in a later post, I personally find the most salient and saline point in such, and somewhat the clearest, is being in the world but not of the world (cf. John 17:13-19), which still may be argued against or in favour of Christmas.  However, apart from Romanisms or Paganisms, apart from rhythms of adoration, apart from popular consent, for many the argument comes down to Scriptural warrant and is usually engaged as a matter of what came to be termed the regulative principle of worship (RPW). I may delve more particularly into RPW on its own at a later time, though finer minds have deeply mined its caverns, both historically and of late.

In brief, sola Scriptura was a key ingredient fostering the Protestant Reformation, and it was set against the excess of church traditions and superstitions even Rome felt the need to reform in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Thus, a regulative principle of worship was initially conveyed as in contrast with a high church principle of worship, turning to the Scriptures rather than the Church as the authoritative voice in all things worshipful. This was thought by all Reformers to be both the most ancient practice of the Church and that most consistent within Scripture.

A second deployment of RPW was refined when various elements of the Protestant Reformation, especially Luther and Calvin, couldn’t find means to maintain continuous unity in Protestantism (often critiqued by Catholics who themselves have always appeared similarly divided, though unity in love is indeed a chief mark in Christ’s command). All Protestants saw the need of purifying Christian worship away from superstition and what is termed a will worship of man-made contrivance in affront to God. The Lutherans considered that it was most important in worship to avoid what God has forbidden, those elements in the Catholic worship of the times that were clearly at odds with Scriptural warrant. This came to be called the normative principle of worship, that whatever God did not forbid through Scripture might yet in discernment be found worthy and allowed in worship. Lutherans continued to enjoy organ music, popular hymns (even of ‘converting’ pub tunes in the cause), Gospel narrative through stained glass windows, and a Church Calendar seriously trimmed of saint’s days but inclusive of Christmas. It of course was most purposeful that Luther chose the eve of All Saint’s Day, with its abuses in Saint’s relics, for the posting of his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, and that virtually all of the Reformed have since celebrated the fact as a day demarcating thankful reformation, a Reformation Day of sorts; not completely unlike the Jewish Purim, the American Thanksgiving Day or Memorial Day, Scottish commemoration of the Battle of Bannockburn, English celebration of the Act of Supremacy, establishing the Church of England, or French Huguenot solemn memorialising the murder of 50,000 Protestants in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Continue reading

Christmas & Holy Time, Seasons of Scrutiny (Part II)

– This is Not Your Father’s Sabbath –
(Origins of Church Year Ornament)

But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”  – Westminster Confession of Faith (XXI:1)

"Christmas Eve, 1862"

“Christmas Eve, 1862”, Thomas Nast

OK, so I’ve stewed on this for 30 years, roughly the time American Presbyterians have somewhat officially been celebrating Christmas (not much of a tradition, that), mostly still unofficial in conservative Presbyterian enclaves (barely 60 years officially in the South, chiefly through the PCUS). And there’s the rub, our General Assemblies (and I’m mostly here meaning the PCUS, OPC, and PCA) have given an inordinate waning of warning in perspicuity on this matter affecting every congregation (though, as we’ll see, the PCUS gave a valiant effort, the OPC officially frowns on it at their web site, and the PCA seems to have taken a popular peace over purity stance, not unlike Calvin on this issue).


Bad Santa, President Ulysses S. Grant, 1870

Largely through an influx of immigrants, popular observance of Christmas gained a foothold following the American War of Northern Aggression. Christmas became a national secular holiday in 1870, under President Grant, in an attempt to unite North & South, as Lincoln had appointed Thanksgiving in their division in 1863. (Many would say the KJV was similarly politically appointed over the Geneva, but that’s for another post.) The American Government actively sought to sanitise Christmas away from the troubling riot it was in dampened religious support in America, where routinely, fires were set, businesses broken into, property damaged, and public drunkenness and mischief was everywhere present. Refashioning Christmas was chiefly through the press, as Stephen Nissenbaum (The Battle for Christmas, 1997), “attributes the calming of Christmas to a campaign by New York aristocrats to wean the tumultuous industrial proletariat from holiday mischief. A leader of the movement was John Pintard [of Huguenot heritage], who sought to find a tradition to encourage Christmas celebrations to turn toward the family. In 1810, he imported and publicized an Old Dutch custom that children received gifts on Dec. 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas” (Boston Globe editorial, “The Taming of Christmas”, Dec. 25, 2008). Episcopalian Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (1822) similarly was key to familialising Christmas, as were Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Weekly illustrations. President Lincoln even called Nast’s use of Santa Claus, “the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had” (“Ought it not be a Merry Christmas?”, Fort Ward Museum) (- other etymologies aside, Nast at the very least enforced “nasty” to Irish and Southern vernacular, though, not unlike an Uncle Sam for kids, Santa was a powerful enough figure to soon win the South as well). The taming of Christmas virtually assured a mass of American support for observance.

"Odin, The Wanderer"

Odin, The Wanderer, by Rosen

To be fair, American Presbyterians like their Scots-Irish and even to some extent their Dutch & English ancestors, had measured considerations and found the Church Year wanting. Again, in fairness, it wasn’t initially so, not completely (Calvin, for example, may be shown somewhat accommodating on the issue, as later with the Order of Dordrecht, more to proclivity of civil government allowance than theological stricture), and the Calvinistic Reformed in their various expression and practice have always been divided, especially in Britain where it mostly played out for American concerns. It was the Scots Presbyterians and the English Puritans, Separatists, and Presbyterians that most formed the religious backbone of America. And of devout Puritanism Davies says:

“What was the novelty of Puritanism? It was, in the first place, a new criterion of Scriptural authority that it offered, or at least the return to a criterion of the early church which cut away the massive tangle of encumbrances which had grown over the central oak of Scripture. With a rude hand it scraped away the parasitical ivy and mistletoe, however aesthetic, so that the Scripture might stand out in its splendid solitude. Or, to use a more apt metaphor, it allowed the voice of Scripture to speak the divine promises and commandments in the power of the Holy Spirit without the seductive sounds of the carousel of church tradition to interrupt it. This strong, simple Biblical authority seemed a liberation to those who were appalled by the somnolence, the superstition, and the sheer accommodation of the church to the worldliness of the Renaissance, though in its concern to return to the original texts of Christianity, as the Renaissance scholars returned to the original texts of the classical world of Greece and Rome, there was gain as well as loss” (Worship and Theology in England, from Cranmer to Hooker (1534-1603), by Horton Davies, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1970, p. 285).

…the Puritan… believed that there was only one festival of the church, and that was a weekly one – the Lord’s Day, commemorating the Lord’s resurrection from the dead… On this day every week he rehearsed the mighty saga of God in the creation, redemption, and sanctification of man through the celebration of the incarnation, life, atonement, and resurrection of Christ. Thus the entire drama of salvation was to be recalled each Lord’s Day” (ibid, p. 267-268).

Continue reading

Christmas & Holy Time, Seasons of Scrutiny (Part I )

– Growing Up In Southern Presbyterian Tinsel –
(Things My Church Should Have Told Me)

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deut. 12:32, ESV)
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21, KJV)
To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…” (Romans 14: 4b-6a, NASB)

Falling flakes of cold, crisp snow, scented pine or evergreen spruce, coloured ribboned wrappings, stirrings of special gatherings and musical wonders, and oh, those sparkling evening lights, as if the stars had come from heaven and decorated the towne. I could lay for an hour or more with my eyes gleaming up through the flickering tinseled branches of brightly coloured bulbs and reflective ornament of our Christmas tree. As a child, I was read the Holy Scriptures of the glorious gift of the child Christ, and I was smothered in an overwhelming array of seemingly endless toys, nearly as magnificent as the enormous cardboard box that, like clockwork, yearly arrived from the white-bearded dude as our family gained new appliances – a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, a television set… We three kids could always depend on mom’s large box, no matter the weight for reindeer sleigh, as surely as we could a Sunday box of raisins from grandma.

Did I say I grew up in a conservative Presbyterian church in the South, one that battled liberalism in the PCUS for decades, to finally help found the PCA; and where no official pronouncement concerning Christmas was forthcoming from the General Assembly?

I probably should have begun this tale there. Either there, or with my reading of a book in my youth about a young Jewish artist, My Name is Asher Lev. As a Hasidic Jew with a contentious artistic talent, Asher wasn’t as much faced with Christmas as with Easter (what we Old Schoolers might call Passover, Peasch, or forward to Resurrection Sunday) or more specifically the raw suffering expressed in the symbolism of the Passion, the crucifixion of Christ, which depiction in the masterpiece of his painting was in stark conflict with the strict soul of Asher’s Jewish tradition, ripe with its own suffering. Yes, there are parallels between Puritanism and Hasidic Judaism, where both have in austerity frowned upon the value of art and favoured a more pragmatic and ‘responsible’ devotion of life to the love and fear of God; but it was the conflict of image in a Jewish obsession with the powerful symbolism of Christ’s crucifixion that pierced my own soul in considering where Jesus Himself is impassioned in devotion to the Father beyond all manufactured trappings of man. If Christmas be found to be the latter, some decoration forced into sacrament, so much paint and brush become popular tradition, then devotion to the love and fear of God demands we honour God’s command of worship above any such tradition of man. Continue reading

‘Till We Have PCA Faces

Our brother Kenneth Kang-Hui over at the Reformation in the City blog has been writing a few worthy serials on issues of the 38th GA of the PCA. I wanted to call attention to his work and respond to an excellent post at some length greater than usually welcomed for blog responses to a post. His post was itself a response to a post at Stellman’s Creed Code Cult on Over-Strategizing. In addressing two PCA adoptions initially set somewhat as alternative to one another, Kenneth wisely cautions of the danger of talking past each other regarding PCA strategies. It brings to mind my favourite of C.S. Lewis’ works, ‘Till We Have Faces, where two loving sisters are at odds over what they see, over what is real and what is imagined, over expressions of love, and over expressions of ‘God’s’ providence and grace.

We ought always to value the importance of listening, of being quick to hear and slow to speak (thank you, HS (Holy Spirit), James (1:19), and mom). Forgive me, I realise talking past one another in assumption is a most usual problem and convenience common to humankind. We want others to answer to us, to affirm our assumptions, rather than dissolve our assumptions and presuppositions in a process of mutual understanding and enlightenment, to being answered, to properly seeing one another’s genuine face.  We have a ready response to a supposed belief or argument, and we think this is in keeping with the Biblical teaching of always being ready to defend or reprove or exhort (2 Tim.4:2 ; 1 Pet. 3:15). And yet, as prepared as we may well be to defend our stance, to reprove error, and exhort to righteousness, we are too often ill prepared to hear the account for the hope that is in someone else, with gentleness and reverence, to consider the one to whom we preach or instruct with great patience. To me, that’s the distinction of talking past someone rather than having a real dialog. We respond to what we expect rather than what we encounter, and we frame what we encounter as though it were what we have expected. We hear such often in the venues of evangelism and debate, and it’s a considerable impediment.  Two of my regular noting in ongoing debates are Debating Calvinism {five points, two views} with Dave Hunt and James White, and that whole Clark – Van Til Controversy, both of which topics remain with us to this day, even age-in and age-out, dating back to Augustine and beyond, even back to the Garden and “Hath God said…?” Continue reading

Netiquette and the Well-Meaned Christian

So I’m thinking the previous blog may have been a little tough, in pondering the appropriateness of claiming the name Christian while splintering Christ’s Church asunder. I mean, there are right ways and wrong ways to offer a critique, constructive criticism meant to win a brother – which brings me to Christian netiquette. Again, I’m too often as failing in this regard as many, but my heart sinks at some of the things I read from Christians, who use the same faculties in offer of adoration to God as in being rude, crude, and disrespectful of Scriptural guidance in loving communication (cf. Matt. 5: 21-24, 1 Pet. 1:13-23).  In fact, though I mostly associate with Christians on the Web, Christians on the Web seem especially to violate both civil discourse and every specific of Christ’s teachings on Christian fellowship (cf. Matt. 5:43-48, 22:37-39, Jn. 13:34,35). Continue reading

Unity: Are Presbyterian & Reformed Churches Christian?

"In remembrance of Me"

A man we simply called the “General”, a calmly reassured man with broad shoulders, a full beard, and the knowing look of an ancient burning bush in his eyes held aloft a large, thick, well-worn Bible and plainly spoke, “This is not the Word of God.” I was never quite sure those words were for the dramatic effect they had, as he went on to explain how Jesus is the Word and, while certainly precious Scripture, his black-bound behemoth of a book was so much paper, ink, and animal skin that would one-day pass away. And, while we rightly defend the Bible as God’s written revelation and more than mere symbol and image, we ought never to view it as too holy a thing to touch. The Eastern Orthodox poured over what is to be meant by an icon of worship, even reversing the course of their confessing once or twice, but I think we’d all agree that Jesus as Word is gloriously beyond the measure of Scripture as Word.

But I told that to brace the impact of questioning if P&R’s are  Christian.  I’m not even very qualified to make all but the most rudimentary and flawed assessment of someone’s Christian status, let alone assail denominational confession of Christian faith. Still, I know, as John records in 13:35 of his Gospel, that Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (ESV), to the laying down of one’s own life in the cause.  And it seems a key focus of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, “that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may [continually] know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (NASB, 17:22b-23). Continue reading

God’s Canon

cannonI’m by no means alone in valuing the Christian Bible as my most prised possession, nor am I the only soul still gently harbouring the very first one given him as a child.  I’ve since gained some increased proficiency of wisdom and knowledge regarding the Word, particularly of its many English translations and published editions, with a personal collection of well over a hundred varieties of the same, old and new. But all I possess is born of the tender love and spiritual care those first motherly teachers bestowed to my reward, a most marvellous tome in heart and hand, quickened by God Himself. Continue reading

PCA Pickles (not 38 by the GA barrel, but a few)

–  To Some of the Gherkins I’ve Loved Before –

Again, I’m late to the blogosphere (you may have noticed I use a hot-air balloon, which is quite a step up from flying a kite or simply throwing myself up into the air, but a far cry from the warp drive engines some folk use; I mean, the greater weight of heavy launchers have been hovering in the air for as much as a decade over some of this, and many at least thought enough to comment about it immediately before the happening of it, on account of properly being prophets (or reading the handouts), to say little of those of you who politely waited ‘till after the event to blog about it, but still are at least a bird or a baseball to my balloon. Oh, and you may as well get used to the lilting lingering of me parenthetically interrupting myself, ‘cause I’m old and at least a bit Irish and that’s just one of the things we do best. (Has anyone seen my balloon keys?)) concerning the ‘big-dog’ of the, ahem, conservative General Assemblies, the PCA‘s 38th.  I’m so thankful for the GA Junkie, but I mostly like how viewing the many other blogs from my balloon helps me take in all the grandeur and quietly reflect while sipping tea. Continue reading