Dear Greg (Bailey, Executive Editor, Reformation Trust),
I'm so glad to see this book going into print. I hope it will familiarize many with the life of this godly and much misunderstood man. I don't know Douglas Bond, although I sometimes feel as if he is a member of my family! My boys have grown up reading and re-reading and re-reading his books. Many's a Sunday afternoon we've smelled the Scottish heather and felt the Scottish rain as we've read together in Grand Rapids. We just love his books and I only wish he could write one a week to keep up with my boys reading appetite!
If you have opportunity, please pass on my gratitude for his great work. With this latest bio, I think we can confer on him the title he has worked so long to achieve: "Honorary Scotsman."
Every blessing, David.
[Here's the real endorsement]
"Though I love John Knox, I rarely enjoy reading about John Knox. Most biographers leave me feeling like a pathetic worm beside this mighty lion of Scotland. But, to my great surprise, this book lifted my spirits and even inspired me! Why? Because Douglas Bond has captured and communicated the secret of John Knox's power - a genuinely felt and openly confessed weakness that depended daily and completely on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Mighty weakness! What an encouraging message for all worms who want to be lions!"
Dr. David P Murray, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
INKBLOTS – March 21, 2011
John S brought along a favorite French wine (acquired on location, Cotes du Rhone); fire on the grate. I led off with a few paragraphs from my friend T David Gordon’s book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, on cultivating the significant through slowing down and reading and seeing through the eyes of poetry. Surrounded by a chaos of noise and image, we are less and less able to enter the rich world of contemplative poetry. Mundaneness is part of the curse of Genesis 3, where we become more like cogs in a machine than image bearers of God. Poetry and imaginative literature break the chains.
Doug M leads off with his Korean War era novel. Soldier on his way from surviving war, and awakening sexually. This chapter Doug prefaced with comments about how to write an authentic scene where a young man (who grew up in a Christian home) plans a date where he hopes to have sexual intercourse with his girlfriend. Smile inviting, her posture relaxed. Rough on the hand-holding scene (and you knew it). Thomas has a roving eye, but not just for the girlfriend. Jackie seems to begin to realize that Thomas is interested in girls, and she happens to be a girl, but she seems uncomfortable. You suggest that she feels obligated to return his attentions and advances, but she feels. You wanted to suggest without being titillating, but none of us got the impression that Thomas consummated his plan. Rightly are you reserved about this. She’s a girl hungry for attention, her father being detached, lacking affection, true love for his daughter.
We discussed at length how Hollywood distorts pleasure, makes the twisted seem straight, makes the ugly seem beautiful. How to show what is real but what is not beautiful, only the counterfeit of love? I mentioned O’Conner’s Good Country People as a model of how a seduction scene should disgust, because seduction and fornication is ugly. Short-term pleasure out of God’s boundaries is counterfeit, twisted and distorted pleasure, not the real article. We have to show this. Before God, we do not want to cause anyone of our readers to stumble… remember millstones, and deepest seas.
John S reads his contemporary novel, exploring racism, abortion, and related topics. Crisis pregnancy episode with ultra sound, a video with actual images of baby forming in the womb. A very tiny person. Was the one growing inside her a blob or a baby? Emma’s thoughts are improved, but sound a bit too much like narrative, until she begins to self consciously straighten her hair and feel like she must look like a wreck. That was better. Nothing to be ashamed about? Is that true? Isn’t her shame important? If she has no shame, she precludes herself from doing the right thing, doesn’t she? You bring Jesus into the counsel. This can be very touchy. Not because it is not the most important thing you want to communicate, but precisely because it is the most important thing we want to convey. Remember your genre. Fiction is not preaching. Create longing for the truth in fiction. Your reader should want more answers than you entirely give, thereby you create longing and send your reader on quest for truth and beauty. Careful of not losing the thread as you switch from Emma to the father, chapter to chapter. Potential for losing continuity with point of view switch. We talked more about the role of fiction in creating longing for the gospel. Our hearts are restless, and so are our readers’ hearts. Create longing for rest in Christ alone, but seldom can we do this to its full consummation and still create the longing for gospel truth.
Dave K has readied his Writers Edge application. Still needs to write his synopsis, tough part that needs lots of care and attention. They’ll be drawing some conclusions, many, about your writing from these seemingly mundane pieces of the application process. Reading near the end, futuristic political thriller. Python and Rattlesnake, in the context of the old west, but with homing device, modern technology, and blood. Nearing the end. One more chapter and an epilogue to go. Clarity, according to Doug M, the clearest writing so far, but could use human details from the past, and dust in the eyes, choking the throat.
Doug M asked a good question about when you edit and revise? Some argue for writing large chunks before going back and revising. My method is to snatch notes as thoughts come to me so that when I get farther along in the manuscript I have material to start with, but then I can go back and continue what I was working on when the idea came. It helps when there are gaps between writing sessions, and I take less time getting back in character next morning.
I read a chapter (16) from my friend in St. Louis, Robert H/T, from Merlin’s Blade, an Arthurian legend from early Britain, ready for the publisher. I had a voice message that I let the fellows listen to before I read. “Very nice,” commented one fellow, referring to descriptive language and authenticity of dialogue. We jumped in at chapter 16. “He writes like you, Doug. The word play is always good,” commented one fellow. Andy S Had a tough time feeling compelled putting in midway in the book. I don’t dispute that he is a good writer. But the excerpt itself did not advance my interest in reading the story. Of course we don’t know the whole story. The rapid moving back and forth from two parallel episodes (obviously connected to previous context in the story). “It sounds like an already published book. It reads well.” Obvious that Robert has practiced his craft well.
I read a couple of pages of Shawn Brower’s book, We Became Men, to be published by P&R Publishing (I’m reading it with a view to write an endorsement). Andy commented that it awakened his interest in reading it as a father, but not sure if it hits the target of being read by young men themselves, which is the understood purpose and target of the book. I wonder if chapter one accomplished the target of the young man’s interest. Everything in chapter one is seen from the dad’s perspective on everything, which does not immediately draw the teen male reader into the story. The story of Shawn’s five year old being included with the high school soccer team, is well told, but does not set a hook for high school aged young men. How about ramping up the tension and suspense to the big soccer game, developing the uncertainty of the guys, their desire to win for their coach. Andy suggested that his 13 year old son’s point of view would be a shift that would immediately connect with the young man reader. Project yourself into the teen male’s point of view. This does feel more like a book written to impress fathers with the impressions they make on their sons at every stage of their lives, how much they take in and remember from critical experiences with their fathers and others, a book to motivate fathers, not so much sons, or so it seems at the beginning, and a great deal depends on the beginning. Prose for teen males has to be crisp, tight, and clipped. Be brief. Teen males are unimpressed by words like “plethora.” I would work on tightening your prose, so that you write the way you talk to your athletes. I suspect there is a difference. But great work so far. I’d revise with a view to writing to young men as you speak to young men.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy: Drifting from the truth in confessional Scottish churches(Amazon review) How do strong confessional churches that seem to be doing all the right things drift inexorably from the truth. What is clear from Ian Hamilton’s fascinating study is that it doesn’t happen over night but it is a gradual erosion of theological and doctrinal standards.
Nineteenth century Scotland was seen as a Christian nation composed of church-going people. Among its churches, Presbyterianism was strongest and within Presbyterianism there were several large denominations. The future looked bright and optimism marked many of the church leaders and congregations. Yet the sad fact is that most of them were blind to the presence of the warning signs that ultimately caused the decline and not the continued growth of the church in Scotland.
To understand how this happened Ian Hamilton looks at the changes that took place within one of these large Presbyterian denominations -- the United Presbyterian Church -- and analyses the roots, developments and consequences of these changes, particularly the departure from the doctrines summarised in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is a salutary lesson to observe that the movements for church unions and increased evangelism of the nineteenth century were not signs of spiritual health; instead they were inadequate sticking plasters that hid dangerous spiritual disease.
This book also sketches the development of Confession thinking in the post reformation Church and in particular how the churches developed and subsequently modified the Westminster Confession of faith and includes discussion on the nature of subscription to the Confession at time of 1733 secession, the atonement controversy 1841-45, the Union controversy 1863-1873 and 1879 United Presbyterian Church Declaratory Act.
About the AuthorIan Hamilton has been the minister of Cambridge Presbyterian Church since 1999. Prior to that he served as minister of Loudoun Parish Church of Scotland, Newmilns, Ayrshire. Pictured he is speaking to some of my students in Cambridge, April, 2010.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I pulled out my MODERN REFORMATION issue on the Great Commission, and was readying myself for some catch-up reading and then a good nap so I could get home to my darling wife and family sort of rested. God had other plans.
Chico Gonzales, a chatty BP construction worker from Colorado Springs, sat down next to me and asked, "Business or pleasure?" To my shame, I thought I had the sure way to silence the fellow. "I suppose you'd call it business. I was speaking at a men's conference and I just preached this morning at First Baptist Church in Sheridan, Wyoming."
He wanted to know what I preached and taught on. So I began giving him a summary of 42 chapters of Job, then started explaining to him how the sufferings and testing of Job pointed to Christ and the gospel of grace.
But he had had a near-death experience and wanted to tell me all about the theological ideas he had developed and had come to have an intractable faith in. I thumbed my magazine full of stimulating articles on the Great Commission, and almost laughed out loud at the irony of this even being a dilemma. Here I was with an opportunity to be used as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to actually participate in the Great Commission, and I had sinfully prefered to bury my face in the theory of sharing the good news--or just sleep.
What followed was a good hour and half of listening to his sincere but deeply befuddled experiential theory of death and meeting God. "It's all about free will," said Chico. "We each of us are going to be faced with a choice, and we have to be ready to choose love and not hate, good and not evil, God and not Satan." After listening and praying, I began probing about how he defined all those terms he used, especially good and evil, God and Satan. "It's up to each of us to define them according to our own feelings and experience."
So I proceeded to share with him what Jesus said about it all. "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me."
Chico replied, "Oh, I agree with that totally."
I probed further. How can he agree with Jesus' declaration and with it all being up to the free will and individual ideas about what path? "I believe in a very open God, that there are many ways to him."
"But Chico, how can you agree with Jesus' words, then, when he declares by the authority of God himself, that Jesus is alone the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Jesus?"
I then asked him if his theory about good and evil and finding God's love worked in the real world, for example in the world of aeronautical engineering. If the designer of the AirBus jet we were suspended 30,000 feet above ground had designed this jet the way Chico had designed his theology--based on his free will, his feelings about flight, about gravity, about thrust, etc--we'd be doomed. He constantly returned to man's free will, and that finally it came down to man choosing the right way.
"But Chico, how can you define choosing 'the right way' when, according to you, there are many ways to God? the Jihadist believes his way is the right way. Who's to say it is or it isn't? In your theory, his way is just as valid as your way, right?"
I then attempted to show him how every religion in the world is like what he has described to me: man doing something (choosing the right way), earning the favor of a deity, performing to receive a reward in turn for the good works done to win the favor of the god.
From there I attempted to show him the beauty of the Christian gospel, that instead of God requiring us to sacrifice ourselves to win his favor, he stooped down in Christ and sacrificed himself to redeem us, ransom us, rescue us from the clutches of death, a death we have coming to us for our sin and rebellion against the true and living God who made us.
His parting words were, "I feel like we may meet each other on the other side someday."
"I will be praying to that end," I said. "Which means that I'll be praying that the Spirit of God graciously transforms your heart and mind by the power of the gospel of grace so that you know and believe that Jesus is the only way to be right with God."
March 4-6, 2011. Lots of snow! I’m sitting at the tiny airport in Sheridan, Wyoming, snow falling steadily since Saturday evening. My flight has been delayed three times now, and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to make it home tonight. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
I have been graciously and colorfully hosted by two wonderful families, both headed by elders at First Baptist Church, Sheridan. Paul VanDyke, custom saddle maker extraordinaire, has been my contact guy since last fall, and he’s done a fantastic job of setting everything up and making me feel comfortable and welcome. Paul and his good friend, Nathan Mullinax, concrete and irrigation dude extraordinaire, picked me up at the airport Friday afternoon and drove me up the mountain to about 8,500 feet at Camp Bethel, a former logging camp turned Bible camp, a collection of log cabins full of rustic charm. Matt the camp director and his family put on great meals for us. The dining hall feels to me like a back-country hunting lodge, surrounding us with log walls and beams, a massive bull elk trophy, a mull deer head, snarling black bear rug hanging up in the log-beamed rafters above us, and a classic steam-bent canoe suspended overhead.
Wyoming men are a diverse and colorful gang. I learned about saddlery, irrigation, concrete, coal mining, engineering, big-rig trucking, ranching, optometry (got an initial ad hoc screening for laser surgery), bear hunting (or roping), moose attacks, and saw a herd of 50 elk, lots of mull deer, and pronghorn—and every Mullinax irrigation pivot between Sheridan and Camp Bethel! Checked in to the Holiday Inn and took a nap while Paul fed his horses (Nathan probably installed a dozen or so pivots in those two hours), before dinner at the VanDyke ranch with both families. Amber (Paul’s wife) and Sierra (Nathan’s wife) were gracious hostesses. And what beautiful children, each so different but each a gift and blessing from the Lord. We talked over dinner and into the night about bringing the gospel to our children, courting when theirs get a bit older, and had an all-around wonderful evening of rich fellowship. Stepped out the door to snow, snow, and more snow.
And I just got the word that the Great Lakes Aviation squirrel plane landed (in the snow), and we’re getting ready for boarding. May God be with us as we bounce back to Denver in the snow. “Be anxious for nothing…” “He will give his angels charge concerning you.” I’m planning to curl up and take a snooze for the hour and a half to Denver.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
John Knox: A Weak Man Made Mighty
“John Knox felt toward [Scotland’s] idolaters,” wrote historian Roland Bainton, “as Elijah toward the priests of Baal.”[i] Bainton’s comparison of Knox and Elijah is an apt one. Elijah was called, by the express command of God, to draw his sword and cut down 450 deceitful priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:20–40). Men called to be prophets—to do feats such as Elijah was called to do—are not generally touchy-feely, kinder-gentler, metro males. In redemptive history, the Elijahs have been tortured voices crying in the wilderness, lonely figures called to stand against teeth-gnashing critics, men charged with the profoundly unpopular task of declaring God’s Word to people who have taken their stand with the enemies of that Word. Though he was not a biblical prophet, Knox was cast in this mold.
Is it mere hyperbole to say that “Knox was a Hebrew Jeremiah set down on Scottish soil”?[ii] With the zeal of a Jeremiah, Knox thundered against the “motley crowd of superstitions” that infested religious life in sixteenth-century Scotland, for he considered his country’s devotion to such errors to be far worse “than the idols over whose futility Hebrew prophets made merry.”[iii]
When God’s messengers have mounted the rooftops to decry people’s transgressions against Yahweh—Hebrew ones or Scottish ones—the multitudes have responded, not surprisingly, with rancor and violence. Elijah, for example, drew the wrath of Queen Jezebel. For his Elijah-like zeal, Knox is—like his spiritual, theological, and pastoral mentor, John Calvin—“as easy to slander as he is difficult to imitate.”[iv] As is the case for any mere man besieged by controversy in turbulent times and called upon to do significant things that affect the fortunes of many people,[v] critics have found much in Knox to attack.
Hostility and neglect
In his lifetime, Knox was denounced by regents, queens, and councils, and his effigy was hoisted high and burned at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.[vi] Ridiculed as “Knox the knave” and “a runagate Scot,” he was outlawed and forbidden to preach by the archbishop of St. Andrews, and orders were issued that he be shot on sight if he failed to comply. Knox did not comply. Years later, a would-be assassin fired a shot through a window of Knox’s house at Trunk Close in Edinburgh, narrowly missing his mark.[vii] Still Knox preached.
What of his legacy since his death in 1572? The English Parliament, 140 years after Knox’s death, condemned his books to public burning. In 1739, George Whitefield was ridiculed for preaching “doctrine borrowed from the Kirk of Knox” (“kirk” being the Scottish equivalent of the English “church”). Perhaps more than any other, he has been portrayed as “the enfant terrible of Calvinism,”[viii] and has been characterized in books and film, and at his own house, now a museum, as a “blustering fanatic.”[ix] Moderns dismiss him as a misogynist for his untimely treatise against female monarchs and for his unflinching stand before charming Mary Queen of Scots, denouncing her sins and calling her to repent.
In 1972, the four hundredth anniversary of his death, it was decided that such a man as Knox was an inappropriate subject to commemorate on a Scottish postage stamp. As a crowning blow, the Edinburgh Town Council ordered the removal of the stone marking his grave, relegating his earthly resting place to obscurity under a variously numbered parking stall.[x] In my most recent visit to Edinburgh, the “JK” once legible on a small square marker was completely obliterated. As faithless Israel resented Jeremiah’s prophecy of doom and destruction for her whoredom against the Lord, so, for the most part, Scotland has resented the life and ministry of Knox.
Why John Knox?
However, Knox himself would have been little troubled by such neglect, even hostility. It seems to be an essential quality in truly great men of God that they care far more for the glory of Jesus Christ than for themselves, which is reason enough to examine closely the life of such a man as Knox.
Furthermore, when Knox is stripped of his God-given might and the thundering power of his calling, what remains is a mere mortal, a small man, “low in stature, and of a weakly constitution,”[xi] one who, when first called to preach, declined, and when pressed, “burst forth in most abundant tears” and fled the room.[xii] In this, too, he was like Elijah, who cowered in a hole, feeling sorry for himself and begging God to deliver him from his enemies—even after his judgment on the priests of Baal (1 Kings 19:1–8). Yet by the grace of God, who alone makes weak men strong, Elijah and Knox lived lives that were characterized far more by power and influence than by weakness and obscurity.
The life of Knox, then, is not just for people who like shortbread and bagpipes, kilts and oatcakes. Neither is it just for Presbyterians or people whose names begin with Mac (or who wish they did). Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness but who nevertheless wants to serve Christ in a troubled world. Knox is imminently relevant to all Christians who have ever been forced to come face to face with their own littleness.
Who has not felt deep within him that he was too simple a man with too little to contribute to so great a cause as that of Christ and His church? What young woman, wife, mother, grandmother, or aged spinster has not wrung her hands, fearful and weak against the enemies of her soul and the church? Who has not thought that his gifts were too modest, that others could serve far better, and that he was too frail and timid to help advance the gospel of our Lord Jesus? Or who has not felt that he was being unjustly maligned by critics, assaulted by the mighty, mocked and insulted by the influential? So it was for Knox, but as he wrote of the Reformation in Scotland, “God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.”[xiii] His contemporary, Thomas Smeaton, said of Knox after his death, “I know not if God ever placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.”[xiv]
[i] Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon, 1952), 181.
[ii] Mark Galli, “The Hard-to-Like Knox,” Christian History (Issue 46, Vol. XIV, no 2, 1995), 6.
[iii] Alexander Smellie, The Reformation in Its Literature (London: Andrew Melrose, 1925), 245.
[iv] Theodore Beza, Life of John Calvin (London: L. B. Seeley and Sons, 1834), 76.
[v] Patrick Fraser Tytler, The History of Scotland from the Accession of Alexander III. To the Union (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1869), 2:355.
[vi] John Howie, The Scots Worthies (1870; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1995), 52.
[vii] Ibid., 56–57.
[viii] Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, eds., The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1989), 365.
[ix] Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 180.
[x] Iain Murray, John Knox: The Annual Lecture of the Evangelical Library for 1972 (London: Evangelical Library; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973), 3.
[xi] Howie, The Scots Worthies, 63.
[xii] John Knox, John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland, William Croft Dickinson, ed. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950), 1:83.
[xiii] John Knox, cited in Burk Parsons, preface to John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, Burk Parsons, ed. (Lake Mary, Fla.: Reformation Trust, 2008), xv.
[xiv] Howie, The Scots Worthies, 64.