Evaluating Ames

Section I: Introductory matters
Chapter 3: Ames and the Marrow of Theology
Ames' Influence
Pages 53-55

William Ames had the most influence among Puritans in New England like Jonathan Edwards and the Mathers.

He was read in the Netherlands, too, but many differed with his congregational polity and his emphasis on the will over the intellect.

Beeke/Jones commend Ames' revitalization of "experimental theology," the old phrase for doctrine that leads to or includes piety.  This is a central aim of theirs, I believe, and that's good.

Review: The Giver

The Giver
The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kind of a 1984 spin off.
I haven't seen the recent movie.
Social critique of collectivism, sameness, and extreme equality.
Lowry does a great job gradually making the reader aware of the deprivations that come with sameness.
The pro-life message is fairly strong, regarding the very young and old.

Worth the read, and good for middle/high schoolers, too.

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Review: What Is The Lord's Supper?

What Is The Lord's Supper?
What Is The Lord's Supper? by R.C. Sproul

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid and standard.
Great to give out at church as a refresher.
Sproul at his best, dishing out seminary level theology on a college or high school reading level.

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What the Bible Says

Matthew 14:22-36
Jesus walks on water to the disciples.  Peter tries but has little faith.  The disciples worship Jesus.

Matthew 15:1-20
The Pharisees criticize Jesus over a minor matter.  He rebukes them for a major one: don't weasel out of supporting your aging parents financially with some religious talk.  He also addresses the minor matter: ingesting some dirt or unhealthy food isn't a big deal - your body deals with it.  Your soul is defiled by what comes OUT of you, though.

Job 34-35
Elihu says Job doesn't know what he's talking about.  God will do right.  Job sinned, and now he's adding rebellion to it.

Job 36-37
Elihu: God is good and majestic and just - who are you to argue with Him?


Covenant and Law for Doctrine and Life

Disclaimer: this is a summary of a 4 page summary of a huge work.

Ames' doctrine
In standard and glorious Westminsterian categories, Beeke/Jones lay out Ames' whole sytematic theology in 2 pages!  The two note-worthy items:

  • The covenant of grace is conditional in that it requires faith, but unconditional in that one of the covenant promises is to give us faith, a new heart to believe and obey.
  • Ames' blends God's decrees and historic covenant action well, avoiding the dichotomy Reformed thinkers often fall into, of playing one off the other (either stressing the decrees to a point that devalues history and the church, or stressing the visible church in a way that devalues the decrees).  In each covenant administration, we see God's decrees working themselves out.

Ames' ethics
All true obedience flows from faith in Christ.  Ames' ethical writing is based almost wholly on the moral law, found in the Ten Commandments.  He covers interpersonal relationships at the end, in 57 chapters, anchoring it all in the last 6 of the ten commandments.  Richard Baxter relied on this work in writing his own Christian Directory.  

What the Bible says

Job 30-33
Job: my friends scorn me, my soul is poured out in affliction.  If I've done wrong without righting it, go ahead and punish me.  But I haven't!
Elihu: I waited till last, because I'm youngest.  But you friends have rebuked him without proving it, and Job is justifying himself and accusing God.  How can you contend against God when He is so much greater than us frail decaying creatures?

Matthew 13:31-58
The kingdom of God will be sifted in the end between righteous and wicked.  The righteous pursues the kingdom as of utmost value.

Matthew 14:1-21
John the Baptist is executed by the lust and greed of Herod's family.  Jesus withdraws to consider, but feeds the 5000 who follow Him, instead.

Review: Yankee Doodle Boy: A Young Soldier's Adventures in the American Revolution

Yankee Doodle Boy: A Young Soldier's Adventures in the American Revolution
Yankee Doodle Boy: A Young Soldier's Adventures in the American Revolution by Joseph Plumb Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good.
One of my sons is reading this as he studies American Revolution history.
I picked it up to see what he was reading, and was pleasantly surprised. This is a FIRST PERSON account of the entire war from the average soldier's perspective. Not all the troop movements you usually get in history, but how the normal recruit on the ground saw it. 95% walking, waiting, camping, starving and digging, 5% shooting at the enemy. He got paid once in 6 years, and that was funded by the French. You get camp stories and shenanigans, but also run-ins with General Washington. It ends at Yorktown, with him taking a redoubt (small, fortified seigework area), which is 10 minutes from my house - great story every American should know.

On firing on the enemy for the first time:
"What became of him I know not... one thing I know, that is, I took as deliberate aim at him as ever I did at any game in my life. But after all, I hope I did not kill him, although I intended to at the time."

On hunger, and his sense of humor:
"The period of the Revolution has repeatedly been styled 'the times that tried men's souls.' I often found that those times not only tried men's souls, but their bodies too; I know they did mine."

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The Ever Present God

God is Lord of space as well as of time.
He is both outside of space, a spatial, or immense (a term theologians like), and omnipresent in space.

The heavens cannot contain God (1 Kings 8:27).
Israel was tempted to think God was bound to help them, by His promised presence, regardless of their sin (Jer 7:2-7)
All of God is present everywhere.  He isn't divided into parts.
He isn't limited like we are spatially.
He is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10).
Scripture also speaks of His presence more localized, in the burning bush, the tem,ple, heaven, etc.
Scripture also has an ethical or covenant sense of God's presence.  He is with, or near to, the righteous, but far from the wicked.

No Bible verse directly states this, but it's a legitimate inference from many verses.
John 4:24 is not speaking mainly of His immateriality.  [This may be, but it's still a rather direct statement!]
God is not identified with any created thing.  The world is not part of Him, He is not the world.
But He is present IN the world.

God shows Himself visibly to us a few times, know as theophanies.
The Incarnation is like a theophany, but permanent, He grew over time, suffered, etc.  But God is not defined as a physical being.  Even the Incarnate Son was sovereign over space and time.  He isn't bound to space or time, but can enter it

God is invisible (Rom 1:20; 1 Tim 1:17).  He can show Himself,  and does.  He tells Moses that no one can see His face, but Jacob sees His face.  No one has seen God, but He who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9).  Moses saw Him who is invisible (Heb 11:27).  How does this all fit together?
God is invisible like He's atemporal and aspatial.  He can be visible, but is Lord of matter and light.
We cannot see God unless He reveals Himself.
The new covenant is strikingly different in this.  Moses and Israel saw no form; Jesus is God visible.
In the consummation, we will see God (Matt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2).

The Glory of God
This is related to God's visibility, and also to His honor.
It is light shining in the glory cloud in the desert over Israel (Ex 16:6-10).
Jesus shares Gods glory (John 17:5), He is the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8), and His death showed Gods glory (John 12:23).
Creation shows His glory (Ps 19:1) and so does mankind (Ps 8:5).
Our sin messes up Gods glory (Rom 3:23) but redemption restores it (2 Cor 3:18).
We are meant to give glory to God in praise and obedience (1 Cor 10:31).
The three Persons of the Trinity glorify one another.

God as Spirit
This can mean His spirituality as opposed to physicality, but also refers to how God acts in the world by His wind and breath - the Holy Spirit.
Power.  He is a God of power (Micah 3:8) who gives power (Judges 13:25).
Authority.  He appoints prophets, speaks through them, and gives gifts for the church.
Presence.  The Spirit's presence blesses His people.  God breathed into Adam.
The Spirit's presence comes especially at Pentecost (Acts 2) and in our worship of the Son by the Spirit (John 4:24).


Redefining terms reactively

Section I: Introductory matters
Chapter 3: Ames and the Marrow of Theology
Major Themes of the Marrow of Theology
Pages 45-49

Ames begins with this sentence.  "Theology is the doctrine of living to God."
Theology isn't just knowledge, but living rightly before God.
I have a semantic quibble with this.  We have another word that serves better for "living to God:" piety.  Theology is more knowledge oriented, and a legitimate pursuit.  It ought never be pursued without piety, but no pursuit should.  We don't therefore redefine theology because we are concerned that right living is often divorced from right thinking.  Calvin said we have to know God to honor Him rightly, so the knowledge is not an end in itself, either.  It is to lead to piety, to fearing God with all our minds.  But sorting out the covenants of grace and works, the omnipotence of God, and the offices of the church is not itself living to God.

Beeke/Jones also point to Ames' emphasis on the will in our response of faith to God.  Most reformers said faith began in the mind and wound up in the will.  Ames said the will was primary.  One can assent passively and mentally without true conversion.  Again, the authors link Ames with Calvin, who assumes a conversion will result in the whole man drawn to God.  But this doesn't prove the point.  Calvin says "faith is a knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth" (Institutes III.2.12).  So we have the same problem we had with the definition of theology above.  A concern (very warranted!) that faith will stop with mere knowledge and not penetrate the heart and will, is not sufficient warrant to redefine faith as primarily will-oriented.

This is an affliction I've found among theologians old and current.  Some do it unwittingly out of mere zeal for their concerns.  Others do it knowingly as a tactic to shape the debate.  Either way, it often brings confusion over the theologian's intent.  If knowledge isn't primary (at least chronologically) in faith, then are you out to re-balance emphases without rejecting the role of knowledge in faith?  Or are you subversively and indirectly working against an established definition?

Given the authors' love of Ames, and my critique, I can see I'll differ with them in emphasis often.  Still, I do have a lot of sympathy for Ames' concern.  Our knowledge always outstrips our obedience, and we should appeal to the will as often as we do the mind.  The more intellectually minded in the Reformed world especially need this reminder from Ames.  This hit home to me personally after a Sunday of preaching to persuade of certain arguments regarding communion, then doing a membership interview hearing professions of faith and recalling that communion with God is the main point.

Answering Muslim Objections; Children in Church; More

Apologetics interaction with a Muslim the way it ought to be done.

William Willimon: "The point is not to speak to the culture. The point is to change it. God’s appointed means of producing change is called “church”; and God’s typical way of producing church is called “preaching.” "

Great encouragement here for parents keeping young children in the worship service with them.

What did Jesus mean that His disciples would do "greater works than these" (John 14:12)?

What the Bible says

Job 25-29
My friends aren't helping when they just say, "The wicked don't prosper."  Wisdom can't be dug up like a commodity; it starts with fearing God.  I am righteous and don't deserve what God has given me, yet He won't answer.  O, for the days when I was respected in the gate and gave justice to the oppressed!

Matthew 12:22-50
The Pharisees get quite a reaction from Jesus, blaming Satan for His work!
Don't blaspheme the Spirit like that (31-32). You will be condemned by such words (33-37).  One great than Jonah is here, and you aren't repenting like Nineveh did (38-42).  You are trying to be righteous but demons of rebellion are overtaking you (43-45).

Matthew 13:1-30
They also can't understand His teaching, but God gives understanding to disciples (10-17).
People respond to the Word with (a) immediate rejection, (b) temporary but not lasting acceptance, (c) or permanent and fruitful acceptance (1-23).  God's kingdom has weeds in it that He lets grow until the end, when He will sort it out (24-30).


William Ames

Section I: Introductory matters
Chapter 3: Ames and the Marrow of Theology
Brief Biography of Ames
Pages 41-45

Ames (1576-1633) was a professor and minister at Cambridge and became converted by the preaching of William Perkins.  Being converted AFTER being ordained (not uncommon in the days of an established church), Ames' concern was inward piety.  You may look Christian outwardly but have no sincere faith inwardly.

When King James suppressed the Puritans in 1604 he left Cambridge and wound up in the Netherlands, crossing paths with other English there preparing to establish Plymouth Plantation in the New World.  He served as secretary  to the president of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).

He taught for 11 years at a newly established theological school in Friesland, urging reformation of life, not just doctrine, among the faculty and students.  This was his main concern - that doctrinal reformation would happen WITH reformed hearts and lives.


How the Puritans Read the Bible

Pages 31-40

Toward Christ
The Puritans had a strong sense that Christ was the focus of Scripture. He is to be found on every page, if not in every line. He was set forth in the Old Testament through ceremonies and prophecies, etc., and in the New directly by description. They were willing to read texts as types and allegories pointing to Christ.

Westminster rejected a multifold sense of Scripture (WCF 1.9) such as the medieval four-fold sense. We ought not seek an allegorical and moral point to every text. But there are plenty of texts that lend themselves (literally) to such an interpretation. If the literal sense leads us there, fine, but don't impose some system or allegory arbitrarily on the text. Yet, one text may have several applications, even a literal and spiritual sense. Song of Solomon is the best example of this. It is a love poem, but not merely that.

With Types
Many events and circumstances in the OT prefigure Christ in some way.  Unlike allegory, these are necessarily historical, factual, and more limited in scope of application.  Thomas Goodwin is quoted teasing out how Adam's fall in the garden of Eden is an anti-type (points ahead by negative example) to Christ: Adam would sweat, Jesus sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane; Adam would have thorns to deal with, Jesus gets a crown of thorns; Adam disobeyed in a garden, Jesus did much of His obedience in a garden.

as a Consistent Whole
The Bible doesn't contradict itself.  When there are several possible interpretations, they are limited by what other Scriptures say.  This is called the analogy of faith.  Interpretation should be guided by what the rest of Scripture says.  We know what was going on in Abraham's mind in Genesis 22, but not because THAT passage tells us (Hebrews 11:19).  We may not speculate that Abraham assumed God wouldn't really ask him to kill Isaac.  Beeke/Jones cite Goodwin as even allowing for two senses of Ephesians 1:5, given Romans 2:4-6.  Did God elect us for Christ or for Himself?  The "one sense of Scripture" rule (above, WCF 1.9) doesn't narrow interpretation so drastically that we must choose one or the other.  So there are times comparing Scripture with Scripture will expand a text's meaning.

Drawing out implications
Many things we infer from Scripture - they aren't directly stated.  Examples: infant baptism, or that women partake of Communion.

With the Spirit's Help
Since the Spirit inspired it, we ought to seek the author's guidance in understanding it.  "Reason was helpful, but it had its limits" (39).  God's works and words aren't unreasonable, but are often beyond our finding out.  We will not understand or accept God's Word without the Spirit's aid.


Grace with the Errors of Others; Claiming Promises; How to Man up

Here's a challenging proposal for how to personally fight back against an increasingly immoral culture.

John Calvin wants you to not make a stink over minor theological errors.
5 out of 5 stars, a must read for conservative, doctrine-minded Christians.
I only wish the Calvin quotes had been footnoted...

An important reminder about claiming promises in the Bible for ourselves personally

It's important for church and family leaders to love their people, more than they love their vision for how the people should be.  This was convicting and helpful.


Review: Henry V

Henry V
Henry V by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty good.
Henry is King of England, and he claims part of France as his kingdom as well. He goes and fights for it and wins it. His tone of the happy warrior appeals to the heart and produces loyalty in his men.

But Henry also knows his troubled past, that his ancestors took the crown from another king. It's harder to claim divine right of kings when you took the crown from another king! Henry is pious and gives God all the glory for his victories. He also wants to make up for his fathers' sins while acknowledging he can't do enough works of merit for that.

His general solution is to be the people's king. He lives among them, gets to know them, rubs shoulders with the common man. He seeks to derive legitimacy at least in part from popularity with the commoner. He is a transitional figure in this way from medieval to modern times.

A few quotes:
"We happy few, we band of brothers"
Harry motivates his men to fight at Agincourt by appealing to their brotherhood with him.

"Once more unto the breach"
Courage in fighting, and returning to the fight.

"Love is blind"
Henry woos the King of France's daughter with appealing modesty, magnanimous in victory.

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