Category: Christian Doctrine

Should Presbyterians Have Dedication Services?

For many years now there have been signs of growing unrest among Presbyterians over the question of Infant Baptism.  This unrest has generally been low-key, confined to more or less... Read more about 'Should Presbyterians Have Dedication Services?'...

Is everything foreordained?

Probably the most distinctive tenet of Reformed theology is that ‘God did freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass’ (Westminster Confession, III, I).  The doctrine is often contemptuously dismissed,... Read more about 'Is everything foreordained?'...

Can we tell everyone, 'God loves you'?

According to The Marrow of Modern Divinity the Christian evangelist can say to every man, ‘I have good news for you.’  Does this include the news, ‘God loves you’?  Read more about 'Can we tell everyone, 'God loves you'?'...

Adoption: A New Father and a New Nature

Martin Luther, whose tormented conscience and anguished thinking launched the Protestant Reformation, once remarked, ‘If the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.’  It is hardly surprising, then, that there is a voluminous Protestant literature on justification.  The doctrine of adoption, by contrast, has been largely neglected.  Yet the two are inseparably linked. 

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Does Systematic Theology need 'Prolegomena'

Before we enter the domain of Systematic Theology and proceed to address the great doctrines of Christianity, are there certain Prolegomena that must be addressed first?  There is certainly a tradition to that effect.  Bavinck, for example, devotes the whole of the first volume of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics to Prolegomena,[1] and Barth likewise concerns himself with ‘The Task of Prolegomena to Dogmatics’ at the very beginning of his Church Dogmatics.[2]  Barth is acutely conscious, however, that the term is ambiguous.  At one level ‘Prolegomena’ means what theology has to say first.  It pauses to introduce itself, declares its presuppositions, announces its intentions, identifies its sources and lays down its norms.  But at the same time it makes clear that it is beholden to no other discipline, and rests firmly on its own foundation and its own first principles.  In such Prolegomena the method itself is theological.  The existence of God, for example, and the authority of scripture, are not first established on philosophical grounds and only then explored theologically.  Instead, theology proceeds on its own foundation, taking its very first step on the basis of faith in divine revelation.

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The Cry of Dereliction

‘And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’

Up to this point the narrative of the crucifixion has focused on the physical sufferings of Jesus: the flogging, the crown of thorns, and his immolation on the cross.  Six hours have now passed since the nails were driven home.  The crowd have jeered, darkness has covered the land, and now, suddenly, after a long silence, comes this anguished cry from the depths of the Saviour’s soul.

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The Cross: God’s Altar

Every believer has some theology of the atonement.  Faith, after all, is trust in a crucified Saviour, and without some understanding such faith is impossible.  Faith knows from the beginning who died on the cross, and it knows, too, why he died.  He died for our sins.

But faith can never be content with such elementary knowledge.  It wants to live its whole life at the foot of the cross, seeking with every passing day to understand it better.

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'Semper Reformanda' or 'Semper Mutanda'?

The popularity of the phrase semper reformanda seems to be on the up-and-up.  Yet two serious questions haunt it.

The first, though far the less important, is, Who was the first to use it.  Many have enquired and searched diligently but the answer still seems to elude us.  It doesn’t occur in any of the great Reformed confessions or in the works of the magisterial Reformers, including Calvin.  It’s not even clear what exactly we’re looking for.  The phrase, semper reformanda, can’t stand by itself, yet we don’t seem to know what other bits were originally attached to it.  Presumably, the subject of semper reformanda should be ecclesia reformata, so that whatever semper reformanda  means it is something that should be done either by or to the Reformed church.  But the precise statement, Ecclesia reformata reformanda est, is proving very difficult to find; and if found at all will probably turn up in the writings of one of the more obscure theologians (or their opponents), not in the works of one of the Masters.

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Christian Patriarchy?

The women of the world have every right to protest against the evils of patriarchy.  Men’s brains are no bigger than women’s but their muscles are, and they’ve had little compunction about using them to impose their will on women in home, state and church.  Men ruled kingdoms, men dominated their wives and men governed the church.

There’s no reason to think that in Highland culture male tyranny was particularly severe.  There was no polygamy, no easy divorce and no female circumcision; and as a rule there were no closed doors behind which a man could secretly batter his wife and abuse his children (though this is certainly not to say it never happened).

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Conversion: Must there be a Preparatory Law-work?

 A review of Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013.  297 pp. Pbck.  $25.00).



The key thesis of this book is that conversion is normally preceded by a preparatory law-work; or, in the language of Jonathan Edwards, that ‘God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love.’

Most of it is devoted, however, not to expounding this doctrine, but to a historical survey designed to prove that this has been the prevailing view in Reformed theology from the beginning (including Luther and Calvin), but particularly among English Puritans such as William Perkins, John Preston, William Ames and Richard Sibbes; and among New England Puritans such as Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard and John Cotton.  Modern attempts by Perry Miller and others to show that significant figures diverged from this consensus are reviewed and (as a rule) refuted.

At the same time Doctors Beeke and Smalley lose no opportunity to point out that this Reformed preparationism was completely different from the Roman Catholic doctrine of congruent merit, according to which grace is infused as a reward for doing the best we can with our own natural abilities; and they are no less insistent that Reformed  preparationism has to be distinguished from the Arminian idea that once sinners are motivated by a sense of spiritual need, grace merely assists them to Christ, without any invincible input on God’s part.

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