The hard part about picking between bitter and better is not the words. The hard part is believing them. The hard part is looking at a landscape of pain that sometimes stretches out as far as our eyes can see and still believing that this path that says “better” can actually, really, truly bring us to a better reality somewhere beyond the horizon of our sight.
There may only be one letter between bitter and better, but like street signs on the same post, the two words point us in opposite directions. And these signposts are planted firmly, with the same two arrows, at every difficult junction we face on the road of life. No matter how well we may have chosen in the past, or how poorly, the same choice always presents itself all over again: will we let the difficulties of life make us better? Or bitter?
It’s obvious, isn’t it? One choice is literally named “better.” So that’s clearly the choice we’ll always make. Right? Why would we willingly choose to travel a bitter road when a better option is always available to us? The answer is this: we don’t always believe the signposts.
Sometimes our lives become so difficult or our relationships get so messy that we think bitter is the better road. We become convinced that we are entitled to bitterness, that our sufferings have earned us a right to travel where others dare not tread. We may even feel that we must travel that road—
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By Christopher Cleveland — 9 months ago
Owen’s defense of Reformed teachings such as definite (or limited) atonement, unconditional election, and the priority of the divine decree are particularly expressed through scholastic methodology. Owen provides a valuable model for those in the Reformed and Protestant tradition for how theology may be done with depth, insight, and profundity.
John Owen (1616-1683), sometimes called “The Prince of Puritan Divines” is widely recognized as one of the greatest Reformed theologians ever to have lived. Owen’s works are valued for their theological depth and insight. Owen’s writings demonstrate both rigorous logic and profound eloquence, as he marshals a host of intellectual resources in the task of articulating the truths of the Christian faith. While Owen was very well connected politically and in public life, serving as vice-chancellor of Oxford under Oliver Cromwell from 1651 to 1657, it is the richness of his thought that brought him the most recognition and attention. Carl Trueman notes, “Owen was without doubt the most significant theological intellect in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, and one of the two or three most impressive protestant theologians in Europe at the time.” Owen’s profound theological insight brought him widespread recognition and a reputation for depth of thought which remains to this day.
Yet, Owen cannot be seen in isolation from the world of which he was part. Indeed, Owen is rightly seen as part of a broader movement of intellectual currents present in Western Europe at the time. It is these movements which are key to properly understanding Owen in his own intellectual development and context. Chief among these is scholasticism. John Owen may be rightly said to be a Protestant scholastic, in a very similar manner to other great theologians of the era, such as Francis Turretin (1623-1687) and Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676). It is the purpose of this essay to explain Owen’s Protestant scholasticism and how it contributed to his articulation of classic Reformed theology.
Scholasticism as a movement began in the Middle Ages as a method to teaching within the schools. It is from this that it receives its name. It was a movement of the schola, the school. As the great universities developed in Europe, they began to develop systematic methodological approaches to teaching theology, philosophy, and other subjects. At the heart of the scholastic method was the disputation, where magisters (teachers) and their students would engage in public debate over disputed points of teaching. The disputed points would be characterized in the form of a question. This method became known as the quaestio method. This method was valued throughout the history of scholasticism. It can thus be seen in both the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century and the Institutes of Elenctic Theology of Francis Turretin in the seventeenth century. Thus one of the core features of scholastic theology was its concern with working through questions of dispute and analyzing them exhaustively.
There are several points to be made about scholasticism. First, scholasticism was a method. It was not a communication of specific content. A specific doctrine or teaching would not qualify as “scholastic.” Scholasticism is a reference to the approach to teaching and assessing the content of the discipline. It is an approach which was developed in the schools as a way of handling different types of content. As Richard Muller notes, “’scholasticism,’ properly understood, indicates a method, capable of presenting and arguing a variety of theological and philosophical conclusions, and not a particular theology or philosophy.”
The second point to be made about scholasticism is that it built upon formal principles of logic. Many of the debates and approaches were highly technical and focused upon logical analysis of argument. Questions in disputations often came down to discussions of whether or not a particular argument was logical or if it committed a certain type of fallacy. To this end, Aristotle’s logic was used. Aristotle’s Organon, or his logical writings, served to provide a logical foundation for the approach to theology and philosophy. These writings provided theologians and philosophers with the tools necessary to analyze arguments and to judge their validity.
A third point to be made about scholasticism is that it was a method which made very fine distinctions and categories. This was an approach which allowed thinkers to work delicately and finely through each aspect of an issue, making important distinctions for each topic. One example may be given of the distinction between the secret and the revealed will of God: one refers to His eternal decree, the other to his revealed law. This type of distinction was made often in scholastic theology. Many theological categories and distinctions were developed through this approach.
Thus scholasticism, established in the medieval era, provided a means by which scholars could rigorously and logically work through certain subjects and handle them in a comprehensive fashion. This method was not immediately discarded in the Renaissance and the Reformation. Rather, it was adopted and utilized in new ways by Protestants.
When Protestantism arose in the early 1500s, Protestantism took over many of the institutions of society, including the universities. As Protestantism developed in these contexts, Protestants began to use the tools and the training of these institutions for their use. This led to the development of Protestant scholasticism, where many of the same techniques and methods utilized in the medieval era were adopted in service of Protestantism. Protestant scholasticism was not completely identical to medieval scholasticism, but there was a commonality in that scholastic approaches were used in a university setting. These included the disputation, the use of Aristotelian logic, and the development of fine categories and distinctions in argumentation. The Reformed utilized this method particularly effectively across Europe, thus leading to the particular phenomena of Reformed scholasticism.
Reformed scholasticism was the use of scholastic methods in the service of Reformed theology. Following the Reformed tradition and theologians such as John Calvin, Martin Bucer, and Ulrich Zwingli, Reformed scholasticism utilized these same approaches in defense of Reformed teaching. The teaching of the Reformed confessions, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the Westminster Standards found great expression in the work of Reformed scholastic theologians.
The Reformed scholastics used methods like the quaestio method to achieve greater precision and accuracy in teaching and in developing their theology. They utilized the disputation as well, engaging in public disputations upon contested issues. The Reformation did not actually lead to a rejection of scholasticism, but a renewal of it in a new Protestant context.
By Denny Burk — 2 months ago
A church not in friendly cooperation with the SBC cannot seat messengers. What must a church do in order to be in “friendly cooperation” and thereby to seat messengers? Among other things, such a church must have “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.”
I just read a helpful thread by Bart Barber, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), about cooperation and non-connectionalism in Southern Baptist life. Among other things, he writes:
This local-church non-connectionalism simply says that two churches can do something together without taking on any responsibility before God for the other church…
This idea is woven into Article XIV (“Cooperation”) and Article XV (“The Christian and the Social Order”) of The Baptist Faith & Message. Those articles remind churches that it does not compromise a church’s faith to cooperate with other churches who differ theologically.
Quoting from the Baptist Faith & Message, he elaborates:
“Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people.”
“Cooperation is desirable…when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”
Thus, so long as the ACTIVITIES do not violate conscience, the mere cooperation does not do so.
Let me say, first of all, that I agree with all of this. But as I was reading it, I also thought there might be one false implication worth warning against. This is not an implication that Bart embraces in his thread. It’s just one that some readers might be tempted to draw themselves. Here it is. While it is true that Southern Baptist churches in friendly cooperation may have many theological differences among them, it does not follow that all theological differences are therefore a matter of indifference to our cooperation.
Article 4 of the SBC Constitution has something profound to say about cooperation among our churches. Here it is:
While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.
There are two parts to this, and both are crucial. Let’s take the second part first. The second part guarantees the autonomy of local churches. The SBC does not have authority over any Baptist church (or any other church for that matter). Those churches really are independent and may run themselves how ever they see fit. Hopefully, they will order their congregations under Christ’s Lordship as revealed in Holy Scripture. But even if they do not, the SBC has no authority over those churches to make them do or believe anything.
By Jacob Leeming — 8 months ago
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Matthew 5:4
Common sense would seem to dictate that mourning is antithetical to blessedness, that lament and sorrow are at odds with happiness and flourishing. However, if we are going to judge reality according to Jesus’ words and not our own, we must apparently conclude otherwise. The wisdom of God is not the wisdom of man.
To “mourn” means to lament or grieve, especially at sin, loss, or death. The disciples “mourned and wept” at Jesus’ death prior to the resurrection (Mk. 16:10), and Paul was afraid that he would have to mourn over those who had “sinned in the past and not repented” when he came to visit the Corinthians a second time (2 Cor. 12:21). James uses the word in the context of grief over sin: “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (Js. 4:9).
Thus to mourn in the New Testament is to feel grief and sorrow, and especially so toward the grim realities of sin and death. It is to feel the awful weight of the curse bearing down on you and to be burdened with a resultant sense of sadness and anguish. In short, to mourn is to see reality as it is; to look this fallen world full in the face, unhindered by naïve illusions, and to feel the only sensible response: sadness, grief, and loss.