Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012.
Reeves effectively communicates that the Trinity is not a logical formula that Christians must conform to. The Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith and its significance is something for Christians to delight in. Reeves presents a difficult topic in an approachable and understandable style. He blends together theology, church history, and practical application. (Though I confess that I remain mystified as to why conservatives feel the need to quote Barth to support their ponits.)
Beeke, Joel R. and Paul M. Smalley. Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013.
The Puritans have been accused of departing from the gospel of grace recovered by the Reformation by teaching that sinners need to be prepared for salvation. Beeke and Smalley demonstrate that these charges arise from a lack of understanding concerning what the Puritans actually taught.
After helpfully laying the background for this debate Beeke and Smalley canvass what individuals taught about preparation, from Calvin to English Puritans, to New England pastors, to post-Reformation theologians on the continent. This survey enables the reader to see firsthand both the commonalities and the differences among theologians of this time regarding preparation. (One interesting difference was the tendency of the Dutch theologians to place regeneration at the first workings of the Spirit in the life of the elect in contrast to the English, who placed regeneration with conversion and saw the prior working of the Spirit as something distinct.) In general, Beeke and Smalley put to rest the charge that teaching preparation was opposed to the gospel of grace. Instead the Puritans saw preparation as the gracious work of the Spirit in bringing a person to the point of conversion. Though Beeke and Smalley are not above criticizing individuals for imbalanced presentations of the doctrine, they reject dismissal of the doctrine itself. Though a historical treatment, this is also a book that stirs the heart to evangelism.
Myers, Ken. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
This book could be summed up in this phrase: Christians must evaluate culture not only by its content but also by the sensibilities that it fosters. Though simply stated, this is a profound insight. It changes the question that Christians should be asking about their daily activities. The question is not merely, “is this permissible?” but “is this good and wise?” Watching a television show is permissible. But is watching one or two every night wise? What sensibilities are fostered by that habit? What sensibilities should a Christian be fostering?
Myers suggests that pop culture promotes the sensibilities of novelty (as opposed to tradition), immediacy (as opposed to patience and learning), diversion (as opposed to meditation), celebrity (as opposed to community), and youth (as opposed to respect for the wisdom of the aged). It opposes inhibiting the “authentic self” (in contrast to controlling passions and developing virtues). By appealing to the masses, pop culture tends to be intellectually shallow. It also tends to avoid religious themes. What I find striking about his observations is that in every case the sensibilities of Christianity ought to be precisely the opposite.
Myers is not saying that Christians can never consume pop culture. He uses the analogy of a Whopper. Having an occasional Whopper is fine. But a diet of Whoppers is not fine. It is bound to both distort your taste and to harm your health. The upshot of this is that Christians cannot make cultural decisions based on proof-texts. They must instead develop wisdom.
This is a must read book, in my opinion.
Witisius, Herman. The Economy of the Covenants. Translated by William Crookshank. Edinburgh: John Turnbull, 1803. Book 3, ch. 12.
Book 3, ch. 12 of Witsius’s Economy of the Covenants is a lengthy treatment of the doctrine of sanctification. Witsisus covers such topics as the theological definition of sanctification and the different senses of sanctification as it relates to regeneration, effectual calling, and justification (with regard to justification, Witsius shows that the Reformed Scholastics would not have found David Peterson’s thesis in Possessed by God a novel idea). He also looks at what it means to put off the old man and to put on the new man. He looks at the role of the Trinity in sanctification. He contrasts virtues in the natural man with virtues in the spiritual man, and he argues that sanctification is not merely the change of actions but involves new habits (using this term in its ethical sense). Witsius specifies eight means of sanctification. He discusses why God permits the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit in believers. Finally, he discusses what the Scripture means when it calls some people perfect.
Merkle, Benjamin L. “Paul’s Arguments from Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:9-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 3 (September 2006): 527-48.
Merkle seeks to address an apparent complementarian inconsistency. Complementarians insist on an order of authority between men and woman in the church since Paul, in 2 Timothy 2, argues from creation. But most do not require women to wear head coverings in worship and men to remain uncovered in worship, a practice that Paul, it is said, also roots in creation. Merkle proposes that 1 Corinthians 11 roots the order of authority between man and woman in creation. But Merkle holds that the head covering is a cultural practice that Paul insisted on because it reflected the creational order. The cultural practice is not itself rooted in creation. This was long my understanding of the passage, but I have since abandoned it. Merkle’s article confirms my sense that relegating the practice of head coverings to a first-century cultural custom does not actually attend well to the actual wording of the passage.It seems to run contrary to what we know about Greco-Roman culture and the historical practice of the church across time and culture.
In the first part of the article Merkle seeks to establish that Paul’s “underlying concern in 1 Corinthians 11 is gender and role distinctions and not merely head coverings.” He does this by seeking to establish that over-realized eschatology is at the root or the varied problems addressed in 1 Corinthians. I found this a fairly unconvincing portion of the paper. To establish this mirror reading as valid, it seems that Merkle should have gone beyond arguing that the problems raised by the book could be understood in light of over-realized eschatology. He should have also demonstrated that Paul’s responses to these problems are correcting the faulty eschatology. This he did not do. Thus I find myself sympathetic with Garland: “Pickett (1997: 44-45) reasonably asks, ‘Why did he not provide them with a more explicitly theological corrective as he does, for example, in Galatians?’ It is far more likely that the influences on them were more amorphous and that their behavior was swayed by culturally ingrained habits from their pagan past and by values instilled by a popularized secular ethics. . . . I think that ‘over-realized eschatology’ has been overplayed by interpreters” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT, 13-14). While I grant that Paul’s “underlying concern in 1 Corinthians 11 is gender and role distinctions and not merely head coverings,” this does not mean that the coverings are incidental to Paul. They are the focus of the passage, even if that focus is rooted on deeper concerns.
In the second part of the article Merkle seeks to establish that the creation arguments in 1 Corinthians 11 ground the ordering of gender roles and not the practice of head coverings, per se. There is truth to this argument. It is the underlying realities that are grounded in creation. But Merkle then draws an unwarranted conclusion: “Therefore Paul’s main concern is not head coverings, since that was merely a cultural outworking of an unchanging truth” (533; cf. 538). He gives five reasons for this conclusion:
“First, the fact that Paul introduces his arguments the way he does makes little sense if head coverings are Paul’s main concern. In verse 3 Paul begins by saying, ‘But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.’ That something more important is at stake seems obvious that since Paul relates the functional relationship between man and Christ, woman and man, and Christ and God.” To the contrary, the passage begins not in verse 3 but in verse 2. In verse 2 Paul begins with a commendation that they hold to the traditions that Paul delivered to them. Given the inclusio with v. 16 and the content in between, these traditions include the practice of head coverings. Nor is it surprising that the next verses lay the theological foundation for the practice. The laying of theological foundations up front does not mean that Paul was uninterested in the practice that they undergird.
Second, Merkle takes the hair comparison to indicate that the real issue is that “it is wrong for a woman to blur such [gender/role] distinctions.” The issue is not what is worn or not worn but what “the meaning or message that is conveyed by one’s appearance.” But this ignores the logic of Paul’s argument, which takes the covering, whether it be hair or the physical covering compared to hair, as a symbol that the one covered is under authority. Paul’s point is not simply that gender distinctions are blurred when women wear their hair like men. Follow the chain of γαρ’s in vv. 7-9 leading to διὰ τοῦτο in v.10. I also doubt that a shaved head refers to a masculine hair style. It seems more likely that Paul is referring to the removal of the natural covering God has given women.
Third, Merkle takes Paul’s argument from nature in vv. 14-15 to “suggest that God’s creational gender/role distinctive are in view” and that “nature teaches us that it is shameful for a man to appear like a woman by having long hair” (535). While granting that gender/role distinctions underlie this whole discussion, Merkle is wrong to say that Paul’s point in these verses simply has to do with men and women not looking like each other. Paul explains the significance: “her hair is given to her for a covering.” This would indicate that the nature of this covering, whether it be hair or whether it be an additional covering worn in worship, is significant to Paul in this passage.
Fourth, Merkle takes verse 16 to indicate that “such a universally accepted custom suggests the presence of an underlying principle governing the need for such a practice” (536). There is no argument here, except to note that it does not follow the presence of the underlying principle negates the significance of the principle’s symbol.
Fifth, Merkle argues that since the head covering is “a sign or symbol that pointed to a greater reality,” one must conclude that “Paul is not concerned about head coverings per se. Rather he is concerned with the meaning that wearing a head covering conveys” (536). Again it does not follow that concern for the “greater reality” means the symbol is not of concern to Paul.
The underlying assumption that Merkle brings to the article is that head covering was a uniform cultural practice in the Greco-Roman world that carried a uniform meaning throughout that world. This assumption is expressed when Merkle writes, “women need to war head coverings when they pray or prophesy because in your culture that is one of the accepted cultural distinctions between men and women” (537). It also assumed in his statement of the conclusion: “Therefore, Paul’s main concern is not head coverings, since that was merely a cultural outworking of an unchanging truth” (533). But Merkle nowhere interacts with the literature or primary sources that reveal what the actual customs were in the Greco-Roman world. My understanding is that Greeks, Romans, and Jews all had different customs regarding head coverings. If so, there was not a uniform cultural understanding. Yet, as Merkle acknowledges, verse 16 indicates there was a uniform church practice. I find it significant that Paul begins the passage by indicating that this is a tradition that he delivered to the Corinthian church (11:2) and that this was not a tradition unique to the churches that he planted but was a tradition universally observed by the churches (11:16). Furthermore, in the argument in between these verses, Paul does not mention culture at all. He provides creational grounding and analogies to nature. In addition, he specifies that the covering is to be worn during prayer and prophesying, which removes the practice from a broad cultural realm to the realm of worship. Finally, Paul says, not that the head covering should be worn because of the culture, but that it should be worn because of the angels (11:10). These factors all point away from understanding the practice a merely a cultural application.
The last two sections of Merkle’s paper deal with 2 Timothy 2. I benefited a great deal from the observations in the final section. .