Harrison Perkins

Confessional Confidence in a World Gone Mad

Expressive individualism contends truth must be the most authentic expression of what comes subjectively from within us. In contrast, confessionalism affirms that truth exists objectively outside us and should shape us. The Christian worldview demands we conform to reality and truth as it comes to us from God via general and special revelation. Confessionalism helps us in that endeavor. In Crisis of Confidence, Trueman shows how confessions can strengthen our faith against prevailing ideological trends. That’s a welcome encouragement in a world gone mad.

What should Christians do when it seems the world has gone mad? Many believers in the West face that question daily. Action seems more effective than theological precision when dealing with the madness of crowds. Isn’t theological precision a luxury for when the church is prospering? That question presumes that rigorous theological reflection and insistence on tightly formulated doctrine is a nicety but not really what the church must pursue for the spiritual well-being of God’s people.
In Crisis of Confidence: Reclaiming the Historic Faith in a Culture Consumed with Individualism and Identity, Carl Trueman argues that careful theological reflection and historical rootedness are necessary for the church’s well-being precisely in moments of cultural discomfort. This lightly revised edition of his 2012 book The Creedal Imperative deepens Trueman’s case that confessional Christianity is biblical and consistent with the church’s historical practice. It’s an antidote for much of what ails the church today.
What Is Confessionalism?
Confessionalism entails the attempt to summarize the Scripture’s teaching into a public statement of our beliefs. As Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history, notes, “A confession is a positive statement of belief” that “inevitably excludes those who disagree with its content” (31). To write a confession is to endeavor to be transparent and cogent about what we believe to be true according to God’s Word. It’s an effort to be accountable to how we’ve understood the Bible and its implications. 
Most confessions in church history were written in times of cultural and theological turmoil like ours. As author and playwright Dorothy L. Sayers wittily argues in her essay “Creed or Chaos?,” “Teachers and preachers never, I think, make it sufficiently clear that dogmas are not a set of arbitrary regulations invented a priori by a committee of theologians enjoying a bout of all-in dialectical wrestling. Most of them were hammered out under pressure of urgent practical necessity to provide an answer to heresy.” Thus confessions are most important when cultural beliefs exert pressure on foundational doctrines.
Confessions are also vital to spiritual formation within the church. According to Trueman, “The person who knows the [Apostles’ or Nicene] creed knows the basic plotline of the Bible and thus has a potentially profound grasp of theology” (136). Historical confessions help inform contemporary moral formation because “they offer both a framework for ethical thinking and helpful examples of how Christians of earlier eras applied such thinking to the issues of their own day” (155).
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A Skilled Engineer: The Mystery of Sanctification

We need to work like the body of Christ, not pretending that everything we want is directly linked up to God’s own will, realizing that the local church is the place where God distributes his gift of sanctification. As we rub against one another in sanctification, it polishes us so that we will eventually sparkle as gems of God’s work of grace in freeing us from sin’s hold on our hearts and hands.

The intricacy of LEGO products has changed immensely since I was a child. I remember the basics of rectangle and square blocks, thin flat pieces that work as a ceiling or something, and the occasional exciting hinge piece to mount a door. As I unpack my new LEGO kit, I’m astounded by the sorts of pieces they make today. Clearly, skilled engineers were involved, planning out how very small details mount up to the big picture that far surpasses what I can see at the outset of my process of assembling the pieces. Because I can’t see how it all fits together, I follow the instructions, trusting those who know better.
Preachers may have the first opportunity for sanctification as we think about that connection between doctrine and its fruit of holiness. Throughout the centuries, not only have theologians been baffled by how the proclamation of free grace could produce good works in God’s people, many have decided that we need to teach that good works are necessary to secure our everlasting state, otherwise, God’s people wouldn’t be holy. If sanctification is submission to God’s Word, then preachers get the first stab at submitting to it. Preachers not only need to submit to Scripture in the passage that they are expounding but also to its principle that God has engineered the link between the announcement of free salvation by the gospel and its fruit of growth in the Christian life.  Teachers must first grow in trusting the Lord that he knows how the pieces fit together as a whole even when we do not.
The link between gospel proclamation and increasing sanctification highlights perhaps one of our most important points: our sanctification is a gift from God. Yes, we are meant to open up the LEGO kit of godliness to use it by getting on with our task of assembling the pieces. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that the whole kit is a present given to us by our gracious Father in heaven.
Reformed theology has historically referred to “the benefits of Christ.” The point here is to underscore that the benefits are plural. In Christ, we are reconciled to God, justified, adopted, have all the other benefits that do accompany or flow from these blessings, and have the guarantee of glorification. Among these gifts given to us is our sanctification. Too many like to say that justification is 100% God’s work, but sanctification is 50% God and 50% us. The impression is that God has given the free gift of a legal status, now we need to get cracking on our part. Although the Christian life certainly requires discipline and effort, we diminish sanctification’s importance, value, and meaningfulness if we forget that it too is God’s work of free grace, writing within us the newness of life that springs forth in our actions of setting aside sin and walking in righteousness.
We need a good reminder of the sweet news that holiness in our lives also flows from God as his gift to us. As Paul wrote to those who fell prey to the error of the Judaizers: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3) Sanctification, as much as justification, is a precious gift for our cherishing.
This mindset of sanctification as gift helps us discard antinomianism and legalism. Too many think that the response to antinomianism is to impose the idea of final justification or final salvation on the basis of a consideration of our works. Another version of this mistake is to motivate Christians to holiness with rewards in heaven in exchange for their obedience. God will reward his people in his everlasting kingdom, crowning us with his own gifts of grace. But the thoroughgoing antinomian would just dismiss the idea, saying, “getting to heaven will be enough, so I don’t need rewards.” The carrot doesn’t really entice those who don’t understand the value of carrots.
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A Review of “A Praying Church: Becoming a People of Hope in a Discouraging World”

I will be returning to this book’s early chapters for material on biblical foundations for prayer and thinking hard about how to overcome obstacles for helping God’s people pray. Foremost, Miller’s case rings true that a prayerful church starts with prayerful leadership. He is on the mark to remind us that nothing about the church should rest on the foundation of merely a good plan but should be planted and watered in the soils of prayer.

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Church: Becoming a People of Hope in a Discouraging World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023). paperback. 304 pp. $21.99.
Prayer is one of the pillars holding up the Christian life. As the Heidelberg Catechism 116 says, prayer is necessary for Christians, “Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us: and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them.” Our thankfulness before the Lord and our hope to receive his grace channel foremost into our life of prayer.
Paul Miller has written a book exhorting the church to return to this basic Christian practice, specifically focusing on the church’s corporate prayer. The argument is that the church as such needs to rediscover the riches of seeking the Lord in prayer together, not only because it is one of the best ways of loving and serving our fellow believers but also because it is one of the ways seeing the Lord at work in our midst as he noticeably responds to our spoken needs.
In chapters 1–8, Miller outlines rich and nourishing biblical and practical insights about prayer in the context of the church. His biblical arguments remind us how the church is not a merely earthly institution but is the interface between our earthly lives and the supernatural. We are not meant to solve our problems only by expected means but to rely on the Lord to provide for us. He also gives an account of the decline of the church’s corporate prayer meeting, prompting us to consider how our churches might reengage with the use of prayer meetings.
Throughout the book, Miller gives additional insights about how prayer meetings prove faulty. We become too fixated on enumerating medical issues. Of course, we should pray for genuine medical concerns. Miller is right, however, that opportunities to mention prayer needs becomes more about listing ailments that greatly vary in their true seriousness. Further, Miller notes how prayer meetings can gravitate toward religiosity, becoming “syrupy” in the style of prayers that we implement, rather than serious in seeking God’s help for the full gamut of spiritual and earthly needs among our church.
Although the strengths named above provide thoughtful recalibration for churches to double down on their commitment to prayer, much of the book sadly misfires. Primarily, Miller wrote a book about the church at prayer but is decidedly non-churchly in his outlook. His stories about his father’s pastoral work are clearly set in the context of the work of the local church. Even those stories, however, seem to be more nostalgic about dear old dad than driven by providing wisdom for prayer in the church. In this respect, they themselves have a syrupy feel that Miller himself says is not helpful.
Further, Miller’s primary focus is rarely the church as he writes in the context of a parachurch organization. Often he snubs his nose at churches that he finds to be too minded for the elite and not attentive enough to ordinary people. Yet, Miller regularly writes about the prayer meetings that he leads for his staff. For those of us working in churches, we are not attempting to promote prayer among people whom we employ but people whom we pastor. Certainly, I could drum up support and attendance if I pay my employs. My interest, however, is on encouraging a life of prayer among people who need to see the volunteered value and need for seeking the Lord in prayer.
The book has further tensions. Miller regularly notes his own prayer life – although at the end says that we should be quiet about our practices of private prayer and fasting – while also stating that he imagines most of his readers’ churches are relatively prayerless. He further criticizes churches for ignoring the (metaphorically speaking) janitors and people who prefer to shop at thrift stores, instead favoring the (again metaphorically) corporate directors. Now, I was a student intern for a year at New Life Glenside, where Miller’s father used to be pastor. Terry Traylor, who went to be with the Lord too early from the human perspective, was the pastor when I was there and gave me lots of wisdom in the year that I had with him. Terry was a brilliant pastor whom I look forward to seeing again one day. I understand that the culture at New Life was press toward a casual, low-level atmosphere that was proud of bringing in those who felt uncomfortable in other church environments. The problem is not that New Life was good at promoting this atmosphere for their own congregation, but that Miller gives the impression that he thinks that approach is the only way to bring in people from all parts of society. Many churches, including my own, are composed of blue and white collar workers, those with various types of and view on pedigree. Miller at times comes across as condescending by discounting churches that look differently from that which makes him most comfortable as likely unprayerful and focused on professional polish rather seeking the Lord.
These issues are again routed in the issue of the church. Miller seems to have a very loose view of the institutional church. He seems to count the call to corporate church prayer as applying to families and people who happen to meet up. These instances of prayer are necessary, good, and valuable but are not part of a guide for a praying church. Undoubtedly, part of problem here relates to Miller’s explicit embrace of pietism (pg. 155–60). Miller’s view of recovering churchly prayer seems to revolve around this sort of view of the church with fluid boundaries rather than members of congregations being recommitted to the means of grace, which includes prayer. Miller laments that “A whole generation of our youth finds syrupy spirituality cringeworthy.” (pg. 157) I personally fear that many will see much of Miller’s case to fall afoul of his own lament. His admirable commitment to expand prayer to include all who would pray and to penetrate to every aspect and person of our churches falters when he gives the impression that his sort of concerns are the only ones that drive “authentic” and “real” prayer, which he has not clearly related to the church’s formal means of grace ministry. A balance must be kept, which I think Miller has missed.
I will be returning to this book’s early chapters for material on biblical foundations for prayer and thinking hard about how to overcome obstacles for helping God’s people pray. Foremost, Miller’s case rings true that a prayerful church starts with prayerful leadership. He is on the mark to remind us that nothing about the church should rest on the foundation of merely a good plan but should be planted and watered in the soils of prayer.
Dr. Harrison Perkins is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is Pastor at Oakland Hills Community Church (OPC) in Farmington Hills, Mich. He is also a visiting lecturer in systematic theology at Edinburgh Theological Seminary and online faculty in church history for Westminster Theological Seminary.
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Review of Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s, “In the Fullness of Time: An Introduction to the Biblical Theology of Acts and Paul”

Gaffin’s most recent book is a searching exploration of how to apply New Testament eschatology to the unfolding sweep of redemptive history, particularly regarding how the ascended Christ has ushered in the end of the ages by pouring out his Spirit on his church. 

Dr. Richard Gaffin, professor emeritus of biblical and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), is famous for his emphasis on redemptive history and the historia salutis, or the factors concerning Christ’s once-for-all accomplishment of redemption. Claiming the legacy of Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he has focused his scholarly efforts on the major redemptive-historical shifts that occurred in Christ’s first coming, also highlighting the eschatological flavor of New Testament, particularly Pauline, theology. Gaffin’s students have often lauded his course on Acts and Paul as his fundamental contribution to the field. His most recent book, In the Fullness of Time, preserves those lectures in published form, produced from transcriptions of his recorded lectures and edited by Gaffin himself.
This book is essentially a work on eschatology, arguing that the inbreaking of the last day in Christ’s advent is a primarily encompassing feature of New Testament theology, and tracing out its implications. It has two parts, the first exploring the theology of the book of Acts, and the second examining the Pauline corpus. Under each topical chapter, Gaffin performs careful and detailed exegesis on several passages related to the point he is considering, each focusing in some way or other on the already-not yet of New Testament teaching.
Part one on the theology of the book of Acts predominantly focuses on Pentecost’s theological significance. Gaffin argues, rooting his claims not only in the events of Acts 2 but also in a holistic consideration of Luke’s treatment of the Holy Spirit and God’s kingdom in both installments of his account to Theophilus, that Pentecost belongs to the historia salutis as a facet of the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption and a turning point in redemptive history itself. His target, of course, is Pentecostalism, which has often posed Pentecost—at least in the categories with which Gaffin is grappling, even if not their own—as part of the ordo salutis. That Pentecostal position entails that every individual believer should experience the same sort of phenomenon as occurred in Acts 2 because they see that tied to how salvation is applied to the believer. Gaffin, on the other hand, makes a strident case that the Holy Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost is not a normative experience as part of the ordo salutis but was a pivotal moment in redemptive history wherein Christ sent the Helper whom he promised to send, so that the church would be equipped for her kingdom-expanding mission of gospel ministry.
Gaffin’s exegesis is thoroughly persuasive on this point, demonstrating Pentecost’s age-shifting significance as the extension of Christ’s kingdom into this world by the power of the Spirit to be carried forward in the church’s means of grace ministry. As a convinced cessationist, I am glad for this thorough pushback against destructive understandings of the Christian’s experience of the Spirit. The presentation, however, does leave some questions unanswered. Gaffin convincingly outlines what Pentecost’s implications are not, yet never outlines what its implications are with much specificity. The dawning of the age of the Spirit is of course an exhilarating idea, prompting thanks for the Spirit’s presence with the church in our endeavors. This material’s value could be richly supplemented, however, by focusing also on what it means to live in the age of the Spirit and how the Christian experience of the Spirit should be understood. That is not to say this experience need be described all that experientially, but is to say that sometimes extended refutation (and even positive exposition that is nonetheless rightly but primarily aimed to circumvent error) can leave us with only half of what we need. What does the Spirit do in the church during this period of redemptive history?
Another question arises from Gaffin’s helpful case that Pentecost belongs to the historia salutis: namely, related to the difference, if any, that comes in relation to the ordo salutis compared to believers who lived prior to the Incarnation and Pentecost. This question is a necessary point to consider because the recent increase of Baptist reflection on the covenants and the unity of redemptive history has focused on the Spirit’s indwelling as the difference between Old and New Testament soteriology. In this respect, and to some degree in relation to the emphatic concern to preclude Pentecostal conclusions, this book could have used some slight updating as it seems to focus on matters that may be somewhat out of date in most recent discourse. That certainly does not diminish its value for what it does contribute, but leaves some important matters unclarified. It would have been a significant help to see Gaffin think Pentecost’s redemptive-historical shift all the way down to its specific applications for more precise systematic theological questions. This point in no way suggests that Gaffin’s answers to these questions would be deficient, just that it would have been most helpful to get to read those answers.1
Part two, which concerns the theology of the Pauline letters, likewise emphasizes Paul’s contributions to understanding the shifts in redemptive history that accompany Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. This section too, then, focuses on eschatology—namely, the inbreaking of the last days through Christ’s humiliation and exaltation. The survey of the history of interpretation for Paul’s letters is particularly helpful regarding the higher critical period, showing Gaffin’s familiarity with a host of literature, available only in the European languages when he would have been originally preparing this course, with which modern readers of Paul must in some way or other reckon. After framing the investigation of Paul’s letters in terms of the history of interpretation and the overall eschatological structure of his thought, the bulk of part two focuses on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for redemptive history and for the Christian life. The chapters here probe deeply into how Christ’s resurrection should reorient the way we think about eschatology, redemptive history, and salvation.
I am aware that readers of the Heidelblog will be especially interested in this book’s treatment of the doctrine of justification. Gaffin has made controversial claims about justification in his earlier published writings, particularly concerning an application of our already-not yet eschatology to justification itself, leaving some aspects of it to be completed in the future. Although valuing his emphasis on eschatology and his thoroughgoing amillennialism, I have disagreed with Gaffin on this point, especially his interpretation of Romans 2. Two points must be noted here: 1) This post is a review of a particular book, not an engagement with everything Gaffin has ever written, and 2) nonetheless I believe that there was a demonstrable shift in Gaffin’s thought on the ordo salutis in his 2016 essay “The Work of Christ Applied.”2
The second point may be worth elaborating. Whereas Gaffin had formerly criticized the notion of fixed relationships between Christ’s benefits within a truly ordered ordo salutis, this essay contains more resolute statements concerning a logical order. For example, he contended that the blessings of the ordo salutis “are not received as an arbitrary or chaotic mix but in a set pattern with fixed connections among them,” which prevents “misrepresenting individual aspects or acts and so distorting the work of Christ applied as a whole.”3 In another instance, Gaffin also affirmed the priority of the legal aspects of salvation:
While these two [forensic and renovative] aspects are inseparable, the judicial aspect has an essential and decisive priority. Because his [Christ’s] obedience unto death is the requisite judicial ground for his resurrection, his becoming the life-giving Spirit presupposes his being justified in the Spirit, not the reverse.4
It is possible that this suggested shift in Gaffin’s thought on the ordo salutis occurred while he edited the English translation of Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics, an invaluable contribution. Vos took positions that remarkably resemble Gaffin’s most recent arguments. For instance: “The subjective application of the salvation obtained by Christ does not occur at once or arbitrarily.” Rather, “there are a multiplicity of relationships and conditions to which all the operations of grace have a certain connection.”5 This point has bearing on how we must review In the Fullness of Time.
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Review: Estelle, The Primary Mission of the Church

Estelle’s book provides some truly original biblical insights as he reflects upon the Joseph and Daniel narratives, arguing that they exemplify God’s people engaging as individual believers in the secular field. The historical material provides an illuming exploration of what the spirituality of the church is not, and what it is. Readers will find throughout this nearly-comprehensive volume thought-provoking material to help discover a refined, precise, and biblical understanding about what task Christ gave his church between his ascension and return.

Western culture is being ripped apart, to varying degrees depending on the country, over issues of social justice and cultural welfare. That increasing pressure has also often included the advocates of various social causes demanding assent from everyone else. This no exception approach to ideological uniformity has also often affected the church, as proponents of cultural issues impose their views upon us as another institution that must get in line with secular orthodoxy. Perhaps even more troubling, Christians also have sided against one another even on these exact same issues—in some way or another—both insisting that the church must adopt and promote their cause. Christians sympathetic to mainstream cultural woes summon the church to align itself overtly with the same causes defended in the popular media, while Christians who see those issues as nonsensical intrusions of unbiblical mindsets insist that the church speak out against these same agendas. Ironically, both sides of this issue demand the same thing: that the church as church address cultural issues with a formal and official stance and pronounce from the pulpit about what God has said we must do.
Into this furor of demands for the church to saddle up for or against every wave of cultural concern, Bryan Estelle has contributed a balanced, even-keeled defense of the church’s mission as focused primarily upon spiritual matters.
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A Pastor’s Public Persona

Remember that the church’s primary mission is spiritual.2 As much as you love them and as hard as it is to admit, not all your concerns are spiritual. Many are cultural. Learn discernment and wisdom about when to speak and when to be quiet. The words you might spend on your favorite candidate can quickly be redirected to explaining the Bible. You need not defend your politics as a pastor. Vote like you want. Support causes to which you are committed. But dispense with announcing it publicly. You are a herald of the king, not your own PR rep.

In many ways, the pastor lives his life in front of his people. Apart from mega-church pastors who might choose to isolate themselves from the people they shepherd (which notably does not apply across the board to every pastor of a large church),1 pastors are constantly in contact with the people of their church. This means that a pastor not only has a lot of space to influence people but also a major platform to speak about the concerns on his heart. This article essentially reflects upon the words of Spider-Man’s uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility,” in application to the pastor’s public life.
My aim is not to lay out lots of prescriptive practices but to outline the ways that I have thought through this issue for myself in hopes that it might help other pastors do likewise. The reason that I think I might have a useful perspective on this issue is because of the nature of my pastoral call. I am an American, ordained in the PCA, serving overseas in London in a Scottish denomination. London being one of the world’s great cities—I am biased—it is as cosmopolitan in the literal sense as can be, filtering people from every part of the world right to our church’s doorstep. 
There is a beautiful complexity, full of blessings and immense challenges, to pastoring a congregation that often has members from every inhabited continent. This complexity is owed to how every cultural assumption, every church background, and every personal opinion comes loaded with extremely different and at times opposing expectations from the church. In typical congregations, a pastor can never satisfy everyone. In our congregation, I spend immense amounts of time praying that people will be gracious and understanding as we try to keep everyone together while remaining faithful to the truth and our confessional practices. I am thankful for prayer, God’s sovereignty, and the ways that the Lord has been so deeply good to us in this respect, all the while not taking the continuation of this grace for granted.
One of the things this complexity has helped me realize, despite my failures along the way, is that the pastoral task is in no way about me. Every pastor must acknowledge this point. Yet there is a real sense in which sometimes we may need to learn the principle for our practice. John the Baptist’s words regarding the difference between himself and Christ remain the abiding guidance for every pastor after him: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn. 3:30) What does this mean in practice though?
Pastor, there are countless things that matter deeply to you. God has wonderfully made you to be who you are in all your skills and interests. We cannot discount that. Still, not every passion of our heart belongs to the public sphere, depending on how that affects the way we serve and minister to God’s people. We at times must filter even the things that matter deeply to us from our public persona in order to best serve the church.
Perhaps an example would help. As an American, I hold specific values according not only to my culture but also my political positioning within that culture.
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