Thursday, February 23, 2017

Charles Wesley Hymn on Effectual Calling: "Oh! For True Repentance!"

I was browsing through the 1866 Psalms and Hymns and noticed the hymn "Oh! For True Repentance" or "Oh! that I could repent" (first line) under the heading "Effectual Calling" (Gotta a love a hymnal that even has such a section!) in S. M. (Short Meter: 6.6.8.6):


It is not in the Trinity Hymnal. A little more looking indicates that it was written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788) (see here). It bears interesting lyrics for the Methodist since it expresses human inability even to repent. "Strike with Thy love's resistless stroke" is a nice expression of irresistible grace/effectual calling. I was taken with the hymn given I am putting together a booklet with the sermons from last year's Keach Conference on "Effectual Calling" (chapter 10 of the 1689 confession). It looks like a hymn worth reviving.

JTR

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Finds: Samuel Miller on ecclesiology and the 1866 Psalms and Hymns

I was out running an errand his afternoon and stopped in at a used bookshop where I was pleased to pick up two reasonably priced volumes.

One is Samuel Miller's The Primitive and Apostolical Order of the Church of Christ Vindicated (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1840). It is stained but still a handsome copy:




The other is Psalms and Hymns for the Worship of God (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1866). The spine is damaged but it's a beautiful little book with two sections. Part one has the 150 psalms and part two has evangelical hymns. Some pics:




And, in good providence, out of the psalter hymnal dropped a 1902 series Franklin one cent stamp:



Good day.

JTR

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trueman: Everyone has a creed


In the introduction to The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012), Carl R. Trueman makes the point that everyone has a creed, including those who deny them:

I do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true (p. 15).


JTR

Gordon Clark on anti-intellectualism and disparagement of creeds


Image: Gordon Clark (1902-1985)

I ran across this quote in Gordon Clark’s Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Craig Press, 1961):

From the standpoint of Calvinism, anti-intellectualism, a disparagement of creeds, an essentially emotional outlook or a reliance on some ineffable mystical experience is a far more serious error in religion than some unfortunate illustration in popular preaching. It may sound pious to minimize belief in a creed and to exalt faith in a person; but the implication is that it makes little or no difference what a man believes. Religion, I refuse to say Christianity, thus becomes non-doctrinal. This anti-intellectualism, clearly, is a broader theory than faulty psychology; and if faulty psychology conflicts with Christianity at one or two points, the broader theory will conflict at many more—in fact, all points (p. 101).


JTR

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Vision (2.17.17): The Wise Man is Discerning


Note: Devotion taken from sermon on Ecclesiastes 8:1-11.

Ecclesiastes 8:5b: “a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgement.”

The overall theme of Ecclesiastes 8:1-11 is that the wise man will be a man of discernment.

One online source defines discernment, in part, as follows:

Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well (or the activity of so doing)…. Within judgment, discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others (Wikipedia!).

Biblical discernment usually involves recognizing that what is important or valuable is not always that which immediately meets the eye.

Think of when the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king:

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

Think of the prophesy of the Messiah:

Isaiah 11:3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

And of John’s warning to believers:

1 John 4:1a: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.

Part of gaining wisdom is gaining discernment. Part of maturing in Christ is attaining discernment. May the Lord give to his people the ability to exercise godly discernment.


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Word Magazine # 70: Review: Recovery Version Bible


I just recorded and posted WM # 70: Review: Recovery Version Bible. Below are my notes for this episode:

The Recovery Version Bible

I recently had someone ask me about the “Recovery Version” Bible. I told her I was not familiar with this Bible and would do some research and get back.

At first, I thought she might have been speaking about an evangelical study Bible (using the NIV or some other modern translation) that had notes devoted to addiction recovery (like the NIV Celebrate Recovery Study Bible or the Life Recovery Bible NLT).

A little more looking, however, and I soon found out that the “recovery” in the title did not have to do with addiction but recovery or restoration of primitive Christianity.

I discovered that the Recovery Version of the Bible is produced by Living Stream Ministry (I’ll refer to the Recovery Version Bible as RVB and the Recovery Version New Testament as RVNT), connected with and publishers of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was a dynamic Chinese teacher who founded an independent “local church” movement that has spread to several other Asian and Western (including the US) nations. I had heard of Nee before and had seen a few of his books on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Witness Lee (1905-1997) was Nee’s protégé who became a leader in the movement and Nee’s successor at his death. Lee was apparently the general editor of the RVB.

An odd copyright note

I wanted to look at a copy of the RVB. The NT can be found online here. I found this rather odd note, however, on the opening page:

We hope that many will benefit from these spiritual riches. However, for the sake of avoiding confusion,
we ask that none of these materials be downloaded or copied and republished elsewhere, electronically or otherwise.
Living Stream Ministry retains full copyright on all these materials and hopes that our visitors will respect this.

So, readers can view the text online but “for the sake of confusion” the material cannot be “downloaded or copies and republished elsewhere, electronically or otherwise”? This is odd.

More on Living Stream Ministry

A quick Google search for “Living Stream Ministry” brought some interesting information, including several sites which raised questions about the theology of Nee and Lee, and the practices of their church movement.  Findings included this “open letter” signed by 70 mainstream evangelical Christian leaders and this 2007 press release about this open letter. The concerns expressed in the open letter center on four areas in the teaching of Witness Lee: (1) doctrine of God (especially the Trinity and Christology); (2) the doctrine of man; (3) the doctrine of the church (“the legitimacy of evangelical churches and denominations”); and (4) lawsuits with evangelical Christians.

Citations are given from Lee’s writings to illustrate concerns.  With regard to the doctrine of the church, the charge seems to be that Lee has disparaged the legitimacy of Christian churches outside his own movement.  Among passages cited are those from the RVNT on Mark 16:18 (describing “apostate Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations”) and Revelation 3:8 (describing the “apostate church … denominating herself”).

The “local church” organization (I’ll call it the Living Stream Ministry Church, LSMC), then, appears to a restorationist movement, with questions about the legitimacy of other churches, and especially denominations, outside their circle.

I also visited the website for the LSMC in Charlottesville, which modestly calls itself “The Church in Charlottesville.”  The picture on the opening page looks like it came from a retreat and shows it to be a group primarily consisting of young people (I would guess many are students at UVA or elsewhere), with many Asians or, possibly, internationals.

The doctrinal statement has 8 bullet points and seems to reflect a general non-denominational, Arminian evangelicalism theology.

The FAQ page notes that they do not belong to a denomination but have fellowship with other churches (presumably, however, only with other LSMC churches). It also notes their exclusive use of the RVB and speaks in glowing terms of Nee and Lee, even comparing Nee to Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Bunyan, etc. It is interesting that there is no explicit listing of the names of any church officers (pastors, elders, deacons), though it is noted that the church treasures “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers (Eph. 4:11).” Do they believe that the office of “apostle” still exists today?

Getting a hard copy of the RVB

After reading the online copyright note for the NT and wanting also to read the OT of the RB, I thought I might try to order a hard copy. On Amazon I discovered that the entire RB is quite expensive ($129 for the hardback and $99 for the softback!), though there were less expensive paperback versions of the NT alone.  I also discovered that Living Streams will send a free copy of the NT, so I requested one and got it in the mail about a week later.

This review comes from my examination of that text.

A Brief Review of the RVNT

As we will see the RVB is really a study Bible with copious notes, written by Witness Lee giving the LSMC interpretation. This review will not be extensive but suggestive of the content.

First, the front matter and introduction (“A Brief Explanation”):

The title page says the text was translated by The Editorial Section of Living Stream Ministry.

It adds that the outline, footnotes, charts, and references were written by Witness Lee.

The print version also has a copyright warning against transmission in any form without permission.

The first edition was printed in 1985 and the revised edition in 1991.

In the “Brief Explanation” it is noted that the RVNT “attempts to avoid biases and inaccurate judgments.”  It is also states that a proper translation requires not only a proper understanding of “the original language” but also “the divine revelation in the holy Word.”

It has a high view of the RVB noting it is the apex of past study and understanding. Both the translation and the notes are the “consummation” and “crystallization” of two thousand years of previous study.

In its desire to recover “the original Greek text” it makes used of the NA 26th edition of the Greek NT, with some departures.

Text:

As noted, the “Brief Explanation” states that the translation accepts the modern critical text and a restorationist perspective. A glance at the text of the RVNT, however, shows that it is a mixed text with readings from the TR and the modern critical text. Examples:

Examples of readings following TR in RVNT
Doxology of the Lord’s Prayer included: Matt 6:13
Mark 16:9-20 included with no bracket. Footnote at v. 9: “Many ancient MSS omit vv. 9-20”
John 1:18: “only begotten Son”
John 5:3b-4 included. Footnote at v. 3: “Some MSS omit this last part of v. 3 and all of v. 4.”
John 7:53—8:11 included without brackets. Footnote at v. 53: “Many ancient MSS omit 7:53—8:11.”
Acts 8:37 included. Footnote at v. 37: “Many ancient MSS omit this verse.”

Examples of readings following modern critical text in RVNT
Mark 1:12: “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet”
Mark 9:44, 46: Omit verses. Footnote at v. 46: “Some MSS insert v. 46”; see also footnote at v. 48.
1 Tim 3:16: “He was manifested in the flesh”
1 John 5:7b-8a: CJ omitted with no footnote
Rev 16:5: “who is and who was, the Holy One”
Rev. 22:19: “tree of life”

Translation:

The RVB website provides examples of readings.

My surface impression is that just as the text is "mixed" (with TR and modern critical text readings) so the translation is "mixed," in that it combines Tyndale/KJV and modern readings.

Notes:

Each book is preceded by an extended outline. The notes are extensive, often swallowing up and eclipsing the text. One might well call the RVNT a NT commentary that provides the text of the Bible, rather than a study Bible.  Given that this is the only approved translation for use in LWMC churches one wonders why there is not more confidence in simply printing the text of the Bible itself without the extensive notes.


Image: sample pages from the RVB showing proportion of text (above) to notes (below).


Problems with notes relating to ecclesiology at Matt 16:18 and Rev 3:8 are cited above.

Another major issue with the notes and accompanying charts is the dispensational pre-millennial theology reflected in them. With dispensationalism also comes other issues like the law, the church, etc.


Image: a chart on the kingdom of heavens and the kingdom of God from the RVNT


Image: a chart on eschatology from the RVNT

Overall:


Though it has existed since 1985 I was unaware of the RVB until this year. As the review indicates, I do have some serious concerns about this translation and cannot recommend its regular use. It has a mixed text in the NT and I am not in agreement with the theological viewpoint of the notes. I also do not think it would be safe to attend a church that would require exclusive use of this translation of the Bible.

JTR

Note: After completing my review, I also ran across these two reviews of the RVB by Murray Grindlay.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Peter Hitchens on the sexual revolution


This week I finished reading Peter Hitchens’ (brother of Christopher) book The Cameron Delusion (Continuum, 2010; first published as The Broken Compass, 2009). The book’s main focus is to lament compromise in the Conservative party in the UK, especially seen, according to Hitchens, in the rise of David Cameron, and its adopting of positions little different from the Labor party. There’s also plenty of insightful commentary on other things.

In a chapter on shifting views on sexuality, Hitchens makes the point that Orwell’s vision of totalitarian government being sexually repressive in 1984 is less on target than Huxley’s vision of it exercising control by pandering to meaningless sensuality in Brave New World. So, he observes: “Sexual license, narcotic drugs and endless diverting entertainment, followed by swift and painless euthanasia when the faculties fail, dispense with the need for the thought police” (p. 101).

Interesting too is his related argument that the 1960s “sexual revolution” was, in fact, a revolt against real freedom of thought and, especially, against the orderly worldview of Christianity:

So, the sexual revolution is, by a great paradox, a revolution against political consciousness, discontent, and rebellion. The sexual revolutionary climbs over the barricades and straight into bed with someone he is not married to, and quite possibly someone of the same sex. He is not seeking the overthrow of the existing order. He is seeking the existing order’s permission to pursue pleasure at all costs. The idea that sex is necessarily connected to reproduction and parenthood is repulsive and shocking to him. He is also engaged in a war against continuity, a rejection of his parents’ lives, and a rejection of guilt. And guilt, as Sigmund Freud did so much to show, can most easily be avoided by ensuring that actions previously viewed as guilty become normal and general.

This is why the sexual insurgent eventually finds himself ranged against all the outer defenses of Christian civilization—the canon of literature, classical music, and representational art, traditional architecture, modest dress, and seemliness of all kinds, restraint in speech, decorum, and manners in general. All these embody or imply Christian mythology and Christian ideas about guilt, penitence, redemption, and conscience. Conscience allied with absolute morality and sustained by religion, is the source of guilt. This is why, sooner or later, the Western sexual radical is bound to attack Christianity, because it is his own religion and the basis of the guilt and self-restraint which he wishes to discard. He may simultaneously be happy to give sympathy to other religions, but this is because they are practiced by migrants whom he sees as allies against the monoculture. It is also because he did not meet these faiths in his childhood or learn them from his parents, and so does not feel that they bind him as Christianity would, if he accepted it.

He may take some years to arrive at this direct anti-God position, since first he will have been busy smashing the outer fortifications of Christian sexual morality—disapproval of pre-marital and extra-marital sex, prohibitions on abortion and divorce, misgivings about homosexuality. But once these are out of the way the inner fastness of Christian beliefs lies exposed, and open to attack….. (pp. 102-103).


JTR

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Word Magazine # 69: Epistemology and Text Criticism


I recorded and posted today Word Magazine # 69: Epistemology and Text Criticism. Here are some notes:

I began with reviewing some comments in a panel discussion from Peter Williams of Tyndale House in which he laments the lack of certainty among modern evangelicals with regard to the Bible (you can see the whole video of the panel discussion here; for the comments reviewed in this episode begin at c. the 5:30 mark). Here is some of what Williams said:

“Now what’s happened is, over the last couple of centuries, the burden of proof has shifted. So if you read commentators from 200 years ago or more, they are presuming that they have access to the original text - unless someone has some overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“Whereas what happens nowadays is people say that they need a huge amount of evidence before they actively believe that they have the original. And I think that’s all part of the shift in epistemology that happened since David Hume – that people no longer want so say that they know anything. They just have increasing levels of confidence until, as a shortcut, you say you know something [but] it’s really just 99-point-something-percent certain belief.”

I noted that this lack of certainty is reflected in modern reconstructionist text criticism, wherein those who use the method can never claim actually to have the text of God’s Word but only a very close approximation.  I offered three representative quotations from relatively recent books on text criticism (emphasis added):

Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Third Edition (MJF Books, 1963, 1988, 2003):

Using these tools [modern text critical methods] with discretion, it is possible to come so near the original autographs that we can all but grasp them in our hands (p. 106).

Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods, & Results (IVP Academic, 2006):

Careful examination of these manuscripts has served to strengthen our assurance that our modern Greek and Hebrew critical texts are very close to the original autographs, even though we do not have those autographs (p. 301).

Jeffrey D. Johnson, A Primer on Textual Criticism (Birmingham, Al.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2012):

Although it is highly doubtful that we will ever know for certain that we possess in its entirety, line for line, word for word, letter for letter, dot for dot, the exact text of the original writings of the Prophets and Apostles, it is believed by the majority of textual scholars that we can come very, very close (p. 19).

In contrast to this modern equivocation, I noted the confidence of John Owen in the text of Scripture:

… We add that the whole Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the originals yet remaining…. In them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word (Collected Works, Vol. 16, p. 357).

I also made reference to Peter Enns’ 2016 book, The Sin of Certainty, and suggested that many otherwise evangelical and conservative men have adopted an essentially liberal position by making a virtue of textual uncertainty.


JTR