Author Archives: bcash32

Two Men or One: Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd

[This is a guest post by Billy Cash.  Billy is a graduating Th.M. student at Western Seminary and is participating in this summer’s Th.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]

It is not entirely clear how close Jonathan Edwards was with David Brainerd prior to his coming to live with him on May 28, 1747.  Edwards certainly knew of Brainerd, whose reputation, especially in his latter years, preceded him.  Edwards had met him on a couple of different occasions and they were both involved with the Scottish organization that endeavored for the evangelism of the Indians.  Edwards also counseled Brainerd in his attempt to be reinstated to Yale after his dismissal for speaking ill of Mr. Whittelsey, a tutor at the time.   Needless to say, Edwards was very impressed and held Brainerd in high regard even before his lodging at the Edwards estate prior to his death.  I think it is possible he regarded Brainerd so highly because of the similarities to himself he perceived within him.  In reading The Diary of David Brainerd one might begin to think that Edwards and Brainerd were long lost twins.

In Edwards preface he writes that a particular weakness of Brainerd “was his being excessive in his labors; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”  I found it ironic Edwards would call this a weakness because of his own struggle in this area.  Indeed, this weakness was, I believe, was to be the undoing of Brainerd.  In college he was sent home because he studied so much and ate so little, that he became weak, disordered, and sickly.  Many times, as a missionary he would ride for days, spitting up blood and being extremely weary, only to spend the entire next day fasting and preaching.  Like Edwards, Brainerd did not seem to have a capacity for rest unless a bedridden fever forced him to do so.  It is clear that Edwards struggled with this same weakness, many times finding himself so physically broken he could not get out of bed.  He does leave Brainerd, and possibly himself an out, saying that “Providence…made it extremely difficult for [Brainerd] to avoid doing more than his strength would well admit of; [because] his circumstances…were such that great fatigues and hardships were altogether inevitable.”  Brainerd, and Edwards, seemed always to feel the weight of eternity, the pressing reality that a meeting with the Almighty God was just around the corner.  I wish it did more on me.

This points to a second similarity: both were concerned with redeeming the time for the glory of God.  Not one second, of one minute, of one day was to be wasted.  Both of these men were keenly aware that time was a precious stewardship given by the Lord, and to waste it in frivolous worldly adventures was sinful.  Edwards had “Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.”  He wrote of Brainerd that he took constant care “from day to day not to lose time but to improve it all for God.”  On one occasion Brainerd wrote that he “was obliged to spend time in company and conversation that was unprofitable.  Nothing lies heavier upon me that the misimprovement of time.”   This was perhaps one of the more challenging aspects of these men’s lives for me.  After reading this diary  I have been convicted about how fruitless much of my time may be.

There were two similarities in their theology that I found interesting, especially since their identical conclusions seemed to be formed independently of each other.  The first was the distinction between self-love and holy righteous love to God.  Edwards speaks directly to this in his work The End For Which God Created the World.  When teaching those in his care, Brainerd says that he also “took pains to describe the difference between a regular and irregular self-love; the one consisting with supreme love to God, but the other not; the former uniting God’s glory and the soul’s happiness that they become one common interest, but the latter disjoining and separating God’s glory and man’s happiness, seeking the latter with a neglect of the former.”  God’s glory and man’s joy were not at odds.  They were intrinsically woven together.  The type of love that separated them was an inappropriate self-love that made man the object of his own desires.  In all things, both of these men perceived that the glory of God was the highest ideal to be sought and the greatest fountain of man’s delight.

Secondly, having both participated in and seen the amazing work of revival, they went to great lengths to distinguish between true and false marks of religion.  After seeing emotional stirrings of a revival among a group of Indians Brainerd was working with he wrote, “I must confess that I had often seen encouraging appearances among the Indians elsewhere prove wholly abortive…”  Towards the end of his life, when experience, wisdom, and discernment had time to mature, he wrote, “Oh, the ignorance of the world!  How are some empty outward forms, that may all be entirely selfish, mistaken for true religion, infallible evidences of it!  The Lord pity a deluded world!”  Like Brainerd, Edwards knew that emotional stirrings were not the definitive mark of a true work of God.  Both men had on occasion, it seemed, placed more hope in immediate appearances.  This led Edwards to write several great works on this very issue.

Indeed there are more similarities that could be provided.  Both were Calvinist to the core, seeing conversion as an amazing work of God.  Both willingly submitted to the providence of God in all good and bad circumstances in which they found themselves.  Though a missionary, Brainerd had the heart of a pastor.  Both men had a heart to see the Indians converted, and were angered when they saw them being taken advantage of.   In the end, both were mighty instruments in the hand of God, fully submitted to his divine providence, and completely desirous for the glory of his name.   The strict discipline and regiment they both applied to their lives was challenging, to say the least.  Here were men who even after all their prayers, regimented schedules, and hatred for sin still felt as if they did not do enough.

The question that haunted me while I read Brainerd’s diary, and which I pose to the reader of this post, is what types of qualities and characteristics are indispensable for the man/woman of God, especially those called to vocational ministry?  The lives of these men challenged me because I see such a discrepancy in the way I live my life today.  Were some of their expectations and regimented schedules unrealistic, or have we become lazy?  I am haunted by the fact that the type of devotion I see in these men, seems to be lacking in my own life.

Cyril and the Condemning of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus

The more I study Christian history the more I’m convinced that every Christian needs to have a solid foundational knowledge of it in order to guard themselves from bad theology, understand the origin of their own beliefs, and better realize the forgotten concept of what it means to be the universal church.  We stand on the shoulders of faithful men and women who have gone before us, many times without realizing it.  Thus, Wednesday (sorry I’m late on this) should officially have been “Thank a Dead Guy Day.”  On June 22, 431 Cyril of Alexandria called the Council of Ephesus in order to address the teaching of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius.  Nestorius had been wrongly teaching that there was a division between the humanity and divinity of Christ.  The way he spoke of Jesus made it sound like there were really “two separate sons”: the Son of God and the Son of Man, the human being the part that the divine Son dwelt in intimate association with.  For Nestorius this helped explain several Scriptures that spoke of divine as well as human attributes when speaking about Jesus.  After all, how could God be hungry or tired (Matt. 4).  Furthermore, people were speaking of Mary as the theotokos (Mother of God) and Nestorius felt it his duty to stop such talk.  Enter Cyril!  He saw the danger of Nestorius’ teaching.  If Jesus was not fully divine, he could not redeem sinners.  If Jesus was not fully human, he could not represent man.  If Jesus was only a human being with an intimate divine connection, how was he any different from Old Testament prophets?  He rightly saw the Jesus was not a split person, but one person with two natures.  Jesus was fully man AND fully divine.  Cyril referred to the union of deity and humanity in Jesus as the “Hypostatic Union.”  Furthermore, since Jesus was God in the flesh, one could, strictly speaking, talk of Mary as the Mother of God.  At the end of the Council of Ephesus the teaching of Nestorius was condemned and he was excommunicated for his refusal to recant his false teaching.  The decision of the council in 431 has been the orthodox view of the church ever since.  Seems fitting to remember this in a day when people want to speak of Jesus as merely a good prophet, teacher, or even divinely inspired human being.  He was much more than that!

Happy Birthday John Wesley!

Today (or at least around this date) in 1703 is marked as the birthday of John Wesley.  He was the fifteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley.  At the age of five he was plucked from a burning rectory and this seems to have left an indelible impression upon him that God had big plans for his life.  While sailing to the New England colonies to become the minister of a new parish in Savannah, Georgia, Wesley came into contact with a group of Moravians and was deeply impressed by their pietism and true religion.  At one point during the voyage a great storm overtook the boat.  As the crew, as well as Wesley, feared for their lives the Moravians remained calm and sang hymns.  He concluded that these men had something he did not.  Upon arrival to the Americans he assumed his post as minister to the Savannah Parish in Georgia.  His time there was a failure, primarily due to a possible lovers quarrel gone wrong, and Wesley returned to England dejected and depressed.  It was during his time back in London that Wesley had a personal experience with the Lord.  He attended a Moravian service and heard the introduction to Martin Luther’s Epistle to the Romans.  He said during this time that “he felt his heart strangely warmed,” and Wesley began preaching the doctrine of personal salvation by faith in Christ alone.  He organized small groups to study the bible, pray, and hold each other accountable for holy living.  These were all pietistic elements incorporated from the Moravian influence.  Through his preaching he founded the Methodist Society of England, which became the Methodist Church.  Wesley was an influential pastor and theologian whose theology and pietistic influence is till felt over 200 years later.  Happy Birthday Mr. Wesley!

Martin Luther on How to Pick a Fight

I’ve never really met anyone that enjoys criticism, especially when it is of the unspiritual and unkind type.  I realized early on in ministry that to preach the gospel faithfully you have to have thick skin, unwavering convictions to biblical truth, and a kind and humble heart.  I’ll never forget the first phone call I received from an angry parent.  I felt defensive, attacked, and discouraged.  Luckily it all worked out and I learned a great deal about working with people.  Now, imagine you’re Martin Luther.  It’s not an angry parent that is calling but the head of the Church, and he’s essentially calling you and your teaching heretical.  This does not just mean the possible end of your ministry, but perhaps your life as well.  In Luther’s day you did not cross the church.  Fortunately for the Church, Luther had the conviction to honor God above men and posted his 95 Theses to the door of his church in Wittenberg.  Thus on June 15, 1520 Pope Leo X issued his papal bull demanding that Luther retract a major portion of his teaching, writing, and section of his 95 Theses.  (If you’ve never read it, it’s a fascinating read.)  He cited 41 errors in Luther’s teaching, which included such things as that purgatory was not in the Bible, that indulgences were not necessary to obtain grace, and that the baptism of infants did not cleanse them from sin.  Pope Leo went on to write

 “Therefore we can, without any further citation or delay, proceed against him to his condemnation and damnation as one whose faith is notoriously suspect and in fact a true heretic with the full severity of each and all of the above penalties and censures. Yet, with the advice of our brothers, imitating the mercy of almighty God who does not wish the death of a sinner but rather that he be converted and live, and forgetting all the injuries inflicted on us and the Apostolic See, we have decided to use all the compassion we are capable of. It is our hope, so far as in us lies, that he will experience a change of heart by taking the road of mildness we have proposed, return, and turn away from his errors. We will receive him kindly as the prodigal son returning to the embrace of the Church.

Therefore let Martin himself and all those adhering to him, and those who shelter and support him, through the merciful heart of our God and the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ by which and through whom the redemption of the human race and the upbuilding of holy mother Church was accomplished, know that from our heart we exhort and beseech that he cease to disturb the peace, unity, and truth of the Church for which the Savior prayed so earnestly to the Father. Let him abstain from his pernicious errors that he may come back to us. If they really will obey, and certify to us by legal documents that they have obeyed, they will find in us the affection of a father’s love, the opening of the font of the effects of paternal charity, and opening of the font of mercy and clemency.”

So what did Martin Luther do?  He had a book burning party in which he burned the Papal Bull in front of his students at Wittenberg.  He is reported as saying “Because you have confounded the truth of God, today the Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!”  So on January 3, 1521, Pope Leo excommunicated Luther issuing another bull, the Decet Romanum Pontificem.  Needless to say, the Reformation was fully underway.

Second Council of Constantinople

Today marks the end of the Second Council of Constantinople (or the Fifth Ecumenical Council) that was held from May 5 to June 2, 553.  There were two main topics of discussion.  The first was what was known as the “Three Chapters.”  These were the writings of three different men that endorsed Nestorian concepts (i.e. the disunity of Christ’s human and divine natures), as well as spoke against the First Council in Ephesus (which had debunked Nestorianism) and Cyril of Alexandria (the lead bishop in the fight against Nestorius).  The Second Council of Constantinople once again denounced Nestorianism and signed a condemnation against the “Three Chapters,” further establishing the Orthodox view of the church today that was clarified at the Council of Chalcedon (451).  The second topic that this council is most known for is the anathematization of Origen, and its 15 condemnations of his teaching, which included such things as the pre-existence of souls, supposed “subordinationism,” and universal reconciliation of all things, including the possibly of Satan’s reconciliation to God in the end (something Origen did not teach!).  Gregory the Great was one church father that did not submit to Origen’s excommunication.  Indeed, throughout history many have questioned the validity of this council since it was called by Emperor Justinian, and not by the Pope.  Furthermore, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a homily concerning Origen in which he says that Origen was “crucial to the whole development of Christian thought.”

Celebrating the Life of John Calvin

On May 27, 1564, John Calvin died. Originally training to be a lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1530 and became a key figure in the Protestant Reformation. After fleeing from France he spent the majority of his life in Geneva, Switzerland leading the church and the city in key theological reforms. He was a man firmly planted in the Augustinian tradition, teaching on the doctrine of original sin, predestination, and the divine sovereignty of God in salvation. He is best known for a system of Soteriology that is named after him, Calvinism, which was crafted by his followers in response to the teachings of Jacobus Arminius. He was also a most able systematic theologian. The first draft of his Institutes was completed in 1536 and was meant to be a short summary of his theology. By 1559 (and four drafts later), it was considered his magnum opus, consisting of four books with eighty chapters each. He was a deep thinker that strove to help explain for the Church the excellencies of the God they served.  After straining his voice while preaching, a coughing fit burst a blood vessel in his lung. Calvin would not recover. He finalized his will on April 24, and on May 27, at the age of 54 Calvin went to be with the Lord. So many people came to his grave that the reformers feared they would be accused of inciting a new type of saint worship. Thus, they had his body moved to an unmarked location.

Today, one cannot study theology without engaging with Calvin. I was first introduced to him as a 21-year-old youth pastor. Although I resonated with his high view of Scripture, the Augustinian influence in his teaching frustrated me to no end. I am greatly indebted to Calvin (and men like him) who have forced me to wrestle with Scripture, and who have kept me up at night with their nagging questions. Dead men, especially those who took the Word of God as seriously as Calvin, make for effective mentors.

The Munster Rebellion and Scary Billboards

In light of the recent conversation on the Apocalypse, May 25th was a fitting day.  If you think that Harold Camping is the first to predict the end of the world, let me introduce you to Melchoir Hoffman.  Hoffman was an Anabaptist lay pastor in the 1500’s who thought the end of the world was near.  He was convinced that 1533 would be the inauguration of a new era, with the city of Strasbourg being the site of the New Jerusalem.   He was wrong.  City officials arrested and put him in prison, but not before he influenced a baker name Jan Matthys.  On January 5, 1534 Matthys entered the city of Munster, declaring that it would be the site of the New Jerusalem (apparently since the whole Strasbourg thing didn’t work out).  He kicked out the Catholic Bishop of Munster and initiated adult baptism, not something the Catholic church looked favorably upon.  They held the city under siege for over a year, introducing all kids of weird practices, including polygamy, and speaking about the end of the world and God’s immanent and immediate judgment.  Again, the world did not end as he predicted, and on May 25, 1535, the army of the city’s Roman Catholic bishop broke in, capturing and killing the radical Anabaptists who had taken control.

Some people seem to have an infatuation with declaring when exactly the world is going to end.  Hoffman, Matthys, Noah Hutching (1988), and Harold Camping (1994, 2011 – May, now October…..and maybe another after October), and hundreds of others fall into this camp.  Maybe it is a control issue.  Maybe it stems from a Gnostic type desire to have some secret knowledge no one else has access to.  Maybe it is from a genuine desire to see the Lord return, although terribly misguided as to the details.  The real danger for me, however, is that after so many radicals make these false predictions, people actually begin to think there is no end.  Each of these men was wrong.  Harold Camping was wrong, and he will be found to be wrong again in October.  However, the fact remains that Jesus will return one day and everyone will have to meet with him.  As Christians, our responsibility is to follow Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 13:32, “No one knows about the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on your guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.”   Since no man knows when exactly the Lord will return, our focus should never be on days or hours.  Our focus is always the gospel and being faithful to the Lord.  If we learn anything, it is not that we should never preach about the end.  There is a time and place for that.  But, when we preach about the end, we never say more than what the Bible allows us to say, always offering the hope found in Christ.

Francis Chan and Erasing Hell

Ok Ok!!  I know everyone is tired of hearing about hell.  I myself checked out about a month ago.  However, since it had been a while since I checked in I thought I would see if anyone had posted anything fresh on the issue.  I was optimistically hoping to find a response from Rob Bell clarifying his position.  To this point I have not, but I did find a promo video for Francis (I literally almost wrote Jackie) Chan’s new book, Erasing Hell.  Don’t worry he’s just asking some good thought provoking questions.  The book sounds like a respectful  and thoughtful response (IN WHICH I NOW MAKE A BIG DISCLAIMER THAT I HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK YET!  THUS I AM NOT ENDORSING NOR DEFAMING IT!!!).

Celebrating the Life of A.W. Tozer

Aiden Wilson Tozer was born on April 21, 1897 and died May 12, 1963.  He came to Christ as a teenager after hearing a street preacher, and five years later was called as the pastor of a small storefront church even though he had received no formal theological training.  His longest pastorate was a thirty-year stint at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago, Il.  During his life he was a pastor, editor of the Alliance Magazine, and the author of more than forty different books, his most famous being Knowledge of the Holy.  He was a man who loved the deep things of God, cherished and relied heavily upon prayer, and exhorted Christians to move beyond nominal faith to a single-minded pursuit of God.  He and his wife lived a simple life, never even owning a car, and he signed many of his book royalties away to people he knew were in need.  He lived what he preached.  Upon his death, the epitaph simply read: “A.W. Tozer – a Man of God.”

“The yearning to know what cannot be known, to comprehend the incomprehensible, to touch and taste the unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its source.”

Karl Barth

Karl Barth was born May 10, 1886 in Basil, Switzerland. He is arguably the most significant Christian thinker of the twentieth century, and is lauded as a theologian who almost single-handedly ripped Protestant theology from the liberal grasp of German theologians, and helped push the church back towards a more biblical and Christological center. Although the product of 19th Century Protestant Liberalism, he rejected this path after watching most of his esteemed teachers endorse the new German Nazi Regime. During this time Barth helped to author the Barmen Declaration, which emphatically stated that the Church’s primary allegiance was to Christ, not the Nazi regime. He mailed a copy of the declaration to Hitler himself, and fled to Switzerland in 1935 because he would not swear allegiance to him. After the Second World War, Barth was one of the first who worked the reconciliation and rebuilding of churches within Germany.

His magnum opus is the daunting work, Church Dogmatics. Reading through it would require a great deal of time. Understanding it requires even more. It is praised for its emphasis on the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is always the central figure in Barth’s theology. He loved Jesus! Conservatives have criticized, however, his views on election and revelation. He does not share a definition of biblical inerrancy that most conservatives are comfortable with. Indeed, there are issues of Barth’s theology that I simply cannot follow him in. Nonetheless, Protestant theologians today who submit to the authority of Scripture and leave room for the miraculous within their theologies owe Barth a great deal of gratitude. Happy Birthday Mr. Barth.

“The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.”
Karl Barth