I love Christmas! Mostly because I am an overgrown child. But judging by the look of this blog, you may have already picked up on that. No matter how old I get, or how much money we throw away, I still look forward to the big day–the hanging lights part, not so much. One thing my wife dislikes is the shortened period of daylight because it’s depressing to drive home from work after sundown. I love the earlier evenings, though, because it means that Christmas is coming!
My enthusiasm for the holiday is in no way deterred by the debate surrounding the origin of the Christmas holiday. Since my days in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement, I have seen some leaders advocate for December 25 as the true date of the birth of Jesus, while most I have seen take no position on the date, but certainly promote the celebration of the “official,” if not actual, anniversary of the incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Being the revivalists that they are, fundamentalists would never discourage church attendance by downplaying Christmas! In fact, part of my personal love for Christmas is probably rooted in the virtual show-and-tell encouraged by my beloved childhood pastor, who had the children bring their favorite Christmas gift to church to show it off and tell us about it.
Since about the year 2000, however, I have embraced Reformed theology, and since 2010, my wife, youngest daughter, and I have worshipped in a congregation of the Orthodox (as in, not liberal!) Presbyterian Church. The attitude and practice of my new denomination and theological tradition regarding Christmas is much more varied. I find a few who reject it entirely, many like myself who love and celebrate it with enthusiasm, and leaders who walk a very diplomatic public line between the varying opinions. The fact is that the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation is the historical source of the rejection of Christmas and Easter, although many sects and factions who reject these holidays often do so for reasons completely foreign to the Protestant Reformation.
So, the question of the true origin of Christmas continues to be an issue of interest for me. In the past I have promoted Touchstone Magazine‘s interesting article,” Calculating Christmas.” This article takes the “Mere Christianity” approach to defending the Christian origin of Christmas against claims of its pagan origin.In other words, it deals primarily with issues agreed on by each major branch of Christendom: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Some details of Touchstone’s case remain a matter of debate; however, their full-throated affirmation of the Christian origin of Christmas appeals to a guy like me. Nevertheless, Touchstone’s ecumenical approach leaves a few issues outstanding as the issue of celebrating Christmas relates to a Reformed believer’s observance of the holiday.
Reformed theology subscribes to Scripture’s authority to regulate the worship of the church–a doctrine we call “the regulative principle of worship” (RPW). Nowadays, Reformed churches differ on how this principle applies to the observance of Christmas. Some, while rejecting the Catholic Church Calendar on the grounds of the RPW, retain the observance of Easter and Christmas. This view seems to predominate today among Reformed churches. Others reject even these two holidays in favor of only observing the Lord’s Day, applying the Old Covenant Sabbath principles to New Covenant worship. They say we celebrate 52 holidays on the Reformed “church calendar.” While the former agree with the latter on the primacy of the Lord’s Day, they do see a place for the commemoration of the anniversary of the incarnation and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the life of the church, even on the Lord’s Day. The goal of the Protestant Reformation was to reform the doctrine and practice of the church according to the Scriptures and the customs of the ancient church (Clary, Glen. The Eucharist in the Didache; Abstract, p. v).
This year, I thought to inquire into further reading by a more Reformed source on the subject. Who better to ask than my own presbytery’s scholar on the customs of the ancient church, Dr. Glen Clary, Pastor of Providence OPC in Pflugerville, Texas, and a regular contributor to the Reformed Forum through his Ancient-Reformed Worship blog. Pastor Clary, who studied under the great Hughes Oliphant Old, directed me to his post, “The Origins of the Church Calendar.” This lengthy piece features quotes by many early writers like Chrysostom, Clement and Jerome on the subject of the history of the Church Calendar and the Easter and Christmas traditions. There is much interesting content in this article, to which I would direct your attention. Allow me to whet your appetite for the details by sharing Clary’s nuanced conclusions regarding Christmas, and leave it to you to go back to his article yourself to work through the evidence he presents (emphasis mine):
“Those who argue for the derivation of Christmas from this festival [the Roman festival of the Invincible Sun, dies natalis solis invicti] lay great emphasis on the role of Constantine, who is known to have been a devotee of the Sun prior to his protection of Christianity.
“However, it should be noted that although we find several places in the Church fathers where Christmas is compared and contrasted with Sol Invictus, it does not necessarily follow that Christmas was instituted as its substitute.
“One manifest weakness of this theory is that Constantine did not institute the observance of Christmas on December 25 in Bethlehem after dedicating the Church of the Nativity.
“As we have just seen in Jerome’s sermon, Bethlehem continued to observe January 6 as the Nativity until the end of the fourth century or even the beginning of the fifth.
“Furthermore, Constantine does not institute the observance of Christmas in the new capital of his empire either. Christmas first came to Constantinople in 380 when it was introduced by the newly installed bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus.
“One conclusion that we may draw from this historical data is that the nativity of Christ was not widely observed in the church on December 25 until the late fourth or early fifth century.
“That is not to say that Christians did not celebrate the nativity of Christ before that time. They certainly did! But the point is that December 25 was not regarded as a holy day by most Christians until pretty late in church history.
“The church calendar is something that evolved over a very long period of time. Even after the first two or three ecumenical councils, the church calendar was still in a state of flux.
“As diligent students of the church fathers, the Reformers were well aware of that fact.
“The Reformers knew that there was an unbroken tradition of Lord’s Day worship handed down from the apostolic age. And they were eager to preserve that apostolic practice.
“But many of them had misgivings about the church calendar. One reason for those misgivings was the lack of evidence from the ancient church to substantiate its apostolic origins.“
I guess it had to happen someday. Turns out it did this past summer. Megachurch pastors tend to accept invitations to places where there are TV cameras, and that’s exactly what happened in this case. Tullian’s message of “radical grace” has reached the first family of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. While in many ways, this is an example of worlds colliding, I figure if Peter Lillback can accept an invitation to Glenn Beck’s TV show a few years ago with the intention of making sure the gospel is clearly communicated on his air, then why not Tullian on TBN? The world’s largest Christian television network could do a lot worse, and has built an empire on doing just that.
For those unaware, Tullian Tchividjian is the grandson of Billy Graham and the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is a favorite among the New Calvinists and is notorious for his popularization of the Lutheranesque “law-gospel distinction” which is taken by many to his right, myself included, as repeating the mistakes of historic antinomianism in some of his rhetoric and in his application of the otherwise valid hermeneutic pioneered by the Protestant Reformer. Among Tullian’s influences are Steve Brown (RTS Orlando and Key Life) and the theologians associated with Modern Reformation magazine and The White Horse Inn radio show. While I believe Tullian when he says he affirms the Reformed teaching on the third use of the law , I also believe his critics when they say his rhetoric smacks too much of historic antinomianism (read about that here). Tullian’s intention is to minister to those burned by legalism, and I’m all for that, even if he may be pushing the envelope of Reformed theology further to the left than I think he should.
But I like Tullian in small doses. Few and far between. It has been a while since my last dose of Tullian, so I am prepared to have a good attitude about his appearance on TBN to promote his recent book One Way Love. Besides, it would be inconsistent of me to criticize him for accepting an invitation to speak on Word of Faith turf, since the seeds of Reformed theology were planted in my own mind when Michael Horton appeared on TBN to promote his very first book originally entitled Mission Accomplished (now Putting Amazing Back Into Grace) while still a student at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA). The difference between Horton’s and Tullian’s appearances is that the latter they post on YouTube, while the former they immediately erase, cancel the talk show that featured him, and have the host reassigned to a job behind the scenes. This reaction was due to the fact that Horton was a known critic of the Word of Faith heresy who would go on to edit The Agony of Deceit. My hope is that Tullian’s interview will likewise plant and water the seeds of Reformed theology and the true gospel of Christ among today’s regular TBN viewers.
While Tullian admits to being a one-sermon preacher, his message that Christ kept the law perfectly and earned eternal life for those who believe and so frees us to gratefully, though imperfectly, respond to his amazing grace with love toward our neighbors is one we need to be reminded of on a daily basis. In fact, it is this “preach the gospel to yourself daily” notion that motivated me to put “Daily Evangel” on the building in the background of my picture of Captain Headknowledge. We need the Evangel of the free grace of God in Christ every day, and may it spur us on to love and good works, though we’ll never do them as well as Jesus did them for us.
Among the King James Onlyist writers I used to read back in the height of my fundamentalist zeal, one of the more scholarly, by comparison, was David Cloud, whose work may be found at his website Way of Life Literature, Inc. He was definitely a schismatic fundamentalist on many issues, but he did not descend into the nuttiness of Ruckmanism. I found many of his writings on the defense of the KJV to be somewhat more satisfying than the fringe lunacy of Gail Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions, which was her personal regurgitation of many of Peter Ruckman’s views on the Bible version debate, up to and including the inspiration of the KJV, and David Cloud wrote a worthy critique of her book.
David Cloud also included short bios of many proponents of the exclusive use of the King James Version. Called, in classic fundamentalist typography, “TESTIMONIES OF KJV DEFENDERS (do they think we’re all deaf?),” my favorite is the one on OPC minister and Westminster Theological Seminary grad, Edward F. Hills (read it here), author of The King James Version Defended, which introduces the textual arguments of then Dean of Chichester, John William Burgon, the first great opponent of the Critical Text developed by the committee selected to revise the King James Version in 1881 which fell under the influence of, to hear modern fundies tell it, Roman Catholic-loving, heretic-defending spiritualists, Westcott and Hort (cue ominous music—BOM BOM BOMMM!) and misuses the presuppositional apologetic method, which he calls the logic of faith, to provide his unique twist to Burgon’s outdated scholarship. Hills’s book was my all-time favorite criticizing modern English Bible versions, because it was otherwise very informative with his short histories of “Unbelief” and “Modernism” and detail on the textual sources of many of the contested readings. Indeed, Hills, provoked by a quote of B. B. Warfield which praised higher textual criticism, went on to get the needed credentials and work as an actual textual critic in that field for 20 years before writing his book. Despite my critical description above, it contains many examples of fine scholarship when it comes to reporting the facts of the history of textual criticism and the translation of the King James Version, and it also planted many of the seeds of Reformed theology which would take root and bear fruit in my own mind and heart in the years to follow. It’s just the methodology by which he reaches his conclusions with which I disagree.
Another of the TESTIMONIES OF KJV DEFENDERS which intrigued me was that of the founder of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and Irish Protestant political leader, Ian Paisley (read it here) who died on Friday. It tells the story of a courageous public figure who endured violence and assassination attempts for boldly standing up to Pope John Paul II (footage) and calling him the Antichrist among other anti-Catholic activities and rhetoric. And although he was considered a revivalist, Paisley also was consistent with his fundamentalist anti-Catholicism when he boycotted a Billy Graham crusade for allowing the participation of Roman Catholics. And most relevant to Cloud’s appreciation of him was his rejection of modern English translations of the Bible. Cloud reprints at least part of a speech delivered by Paisley at a World Congress of Fundamentalism at Bob Jones University in 1983 called (again, reach for your hearing protection) “THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES VS. THE CONFUSION OF THE TRANSLATIONS.”
This TESTIMONY was last updated back in 2004. It only gives the reader the information regarding Paisley’s views which parallel those of American fundamentalists who consider the pope the Antichrist from the perspective of dispensational premillennialism, rather than post- or amillennialism, to which Paisley likely subscribed. It excuses his otherwise “heretical” Calvinism, denial of congregational polity and the leadership of only one elder, called either the pastor or the preacher, or just “Preacher.” It omits a dark period in which he was involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse against children in a boy’s home (HT: Jeri Massi). Cloud’s report also leaves out the details of the violence on the ground which Paisley’s political rhetoric inspired, or the man himself lead. Because his webpage remains so incomplete, Cloud also neglects to point out the fact that in 2007, after decades of spearheading the movement to suppress Roman Catholic civil rights in Ireland, which led to thirty years of violence in what is called “The Troubles,” and leadership of the Ulster Resistance which teamed up with other Protestant groups dedicated to violence against Roman Catholic civil rights, when the Catholic Irish Republican Army disarmed itself and promised an end to its terrorism, according to the New York Times obituary on the late fundamentalist Presbyterian minister and First Minister of Ireland, Ian Paisley, entered into a power-sharing unity government with a leader of his former Catholic opposition.
The day many thought would never come arrived in Belfast on May 8, 2007. Mr. Paisley, founder of the Democratic Unionist party, which sought continued association with Britain, and Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader and former commander of the Irish Republican Army, which had fought for a united Ireland, took oaths as the leader and deputy leader, respectively, of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.
This is not to say that Paisley necessarily recanted his stern anti-Catholic views regarding the Pope, or his rejection of modern English Bible versions, or his other fundamentalist views, but it is to say that when all you know about someone originates from a fundamentalist resource, you will want to compare it to other sources of information to make sure you are getting the whole story. It is nice to hear that Paisley’s controversial career ended on a more conciliatory note the way it did.
Yesterday I tweeted a request to Reformed bloggers in the know to post on the Reformed side of American medical icon, the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at the age of 96. Dr. Koop’s medical and public service bonafides are a matter of public record. One quick and easy summary may of course be accessed, where else? Wikipedia! Here also is a press release from HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sabelius, detailing his legacy from the point of view of the federal government. But in addition to his service to the City of Man, Dr. C. Everett Koop was an accomplished lay leader in the City of God, serving as a Presbyterian church elder, and until the day of his death, a board member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), the para-church organization which was so instrumental in introducing me to and cultivating in me the Reformed faith and theology.
Incidentally, tomorrow afternoon, my pastor and I depart for ACE’s Texas Hill Country Bible Conference in Boerne, Texas. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of tribute they put together for him there. For now, though, the ACE website offers a “Koop Classic”: Life, Bioethics and Christianity (2010, ACE).
But in answer to my (“all about me”–apologies to Dr. D.G. Hart 😉 request, two of my favorite Reformed bloggers has indeed posted remembrances of Dr. C. Everett Koop: Drs. Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger. You may read Dr. Horton’s at the White Horse Inn blog, and Dr. Riddlebarger’s post at the Riddleblog. Horton gives a nice summary of meeting Dr. Koop and his service to his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, featuring the audio of a 2001 interview and a link to Dr. Koop’s contribution (“Faith-Healing and the Sovereignty of God”) to Horton’s out of print 1990 expose of televangelism, The Agony of Deceit–download it as soon as possible! Riddlebarger adds an amusing anecdote of Dr. Koop’s sobering reaction to his sense of humor. Both posts are great reads.
Be sure to peruse the other links I tweeted yesterday regarding the late Dr. C. Everett Koop from Christianity Today and Banner of Truth magazines and the Gospel Coalition blog featuring both compliment and criticism. Finally, in search of an image of Dr. Koop inside the building of Tenth Pres, I ran across a video of his 2010 marriage to Cora Hogue (pray comfort for her in her loss), officiated by former pastor, Phil Ryken, who is now the President of Wheaton College, whose sermons are still featured on ACE’s broadcast, Every Last Word. For those who are interested in viewing this heartwarming moment, the service begins about 30 minutes into the video, after the beautiful music of Westminster Brass.
One of the many factors that won me over to embrace Reformed theology and practice was the fascinating Trinity Hymnal (c. 1990). Back when I worked at what I endearingly call “The Reformation Station,” the print shop where God cornered me after years of on-again, off-again confrontation by the TULIP and other aspects of Reformed belief and behavior, I had the opportunity to print the bulletins for a local PCA church, which would include in its liturgy hymns selected from the Trinity Hymnal, printed in the bulletin, music and all! For this reason, there was a copy of the hymnal in the office, which they could use to prepare those bulletins, and which I could peruse from time to time and thereby enter the world of Reformed psalmody and English hymnody, and further tie my heart to my future spiritual and theological home in the Reformed tradition.
Due to my abundance of affection for the Trinity Hymnal, I was very pleased to notice that I wouldn’t have to wait long to learn its history in Daryl Hart’s OPC history, Between the Times: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Transition, 1945-1990 (c. 2011, The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). The reader of this volume is treated to the story of the hymnal in chapter two, under the simple title, “Trinity Hymnal, 1944-1961.” Here’s a synopsis of what you’re in for if you purchase Hart’s history.
In 1933, the PCUSA revised their hymnal, dropping 400 traditional hymns in favor of songs that reflect the liberalizing trend in the mainline denomination. J. Gresham Machen knew this was a problem. Reasoning from the old adage that the laity learn more theology from singing hymns than from systematic theology, he resolved that something had to be done about it. In the Lord’s providence, from the seed of this thought process on the part of Machen in response to the PCUSA’s threat to further corrupt the doctrine of rank and file Presbyterians, until the final publication of the Trinity Hymnal, a truly orthodox Presbyterian hymnal, 28 years would come and go. But what a glorious harvest of sound theology and biblical doxology would result from such a careful process of cultivation and fertilization.
With this opening anecdote, Dr. Hart surveys the history of American Presbyterian hymnals. Since the first one rolled off the press in 1831 there had been an average of one new hymnal per decade due to the number of controversies and divisions within the PCUSA between 1831 and 1961 (the date of Trinity Hymnal’s eventual publication). Although it would not be published under the auspices of the liberal mainline denomination, the Trinity Hymnal shares this common origin with its predecessors in the crucible of theological controversy. For this reason, it would be compiled with a commitment to aid the worship of the church in accordance with eternal truths, not contemporary trends.
American Presbyterians also produced so many hymnals so frequently because Reformed and Presbyterian practice regarding the Word of God sung as an element of corporate worship was undergoing a transformation from the Scottish and Dutch commitment to exclusive psalmody, to embrace the English hymnody of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and others, in order to better respond to the gospel of Christ in terms of the full revelation of Christ in both Testaments.
Much discussion among the members of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God over the propriety of this historic move away from the stance of earlier Reformed churches would consume a number of General Assemblies between 1944 and 1961. Dr. Hart reports for us the discussions between the “foreign” element of “psalm-singers” on the committee lead by the Scottish John Murray and his cadre of Scottish and Dutch dissenters and the more Americanized majority who would eventually prevail in the appropriation of English hymn into the practice of not only orthodox Presbyterians in general, but the OPC in particular.
With the conclusion of this discussion would arise more rubber-meets-the-road problems like financing the hymnal. We learn the various ideas considered and how the Lord would provide just in time, enabling them to pay off the loans obtained to supplement the giving of Orthodox Presbyterians toward this end, neither too soon, nor too late.
Finally, the reader is pleased to learn just how successful the hymnal was once it hit the market. There really was a need for just such a hymnal among many conservative Protestants outside the OPC.
Chapter two of Hart’s Between the Times is a joy to read, especially if you love the Trinity Hymnal as much as this reviewer does. But with the recent 78th General Assembly of the OPC, we learn that the work of compiling psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to aid the worship of the Reformed is to march forward as it was announced that the OPC will be teaming up with the URCNA to publish a new Psalter-Hymnal in the years to come. I believe there will be enough love in my heart for both of these hymnals to share!
Perhaps one day I’ll write something on how King James Onlyism opened my mind and heart to Reformed theology. It had a little to do with this book, The King James Version Defended, by Edward F. Hills.
In an attempt to bring the work of John William Burgon into the twentieth century, Hills, a Westminster Theological Seminary graduate (along with Yale, Harvard, Columbia Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago) made probably the most interesting case in favor of retaining the Textus Receptus as it has been translated in the KJV as the Protestant New Testament, applying the presuppositional apologetic of Cornelius Van Til who developed and taught it at Westminster Theological Seminary in order to arm confessional Reformed Presbyterians, among others, with a consistently Reformed, confessional and covenantal method for defending the faith.
I just got the 2006 edition of it in the mail today. It was updated in conjunction with the Encylcopedia Puritannica Project. Boy, I hope they didn’t screw it up! Hills deserves better than that! Here’s something I posted about this book in the past.
As a child, growing up in an independent Baptist church that used, preached and taught from the King James Bible, I recall occasions in which a relative of ours who did not share our reverence for it, would attempt to undermine our reliance on it by spinning the yarn that William Shakespeare helped translate the KJV, and while doing so, hid some “Easter eggs” in the text of Psalm 46. The phenomenon to which he referred was the fact that the 46th word from the beginning of the psalm is the word “shake” (v. 3) and the 46th word from the end of the psalm is the word “spear” (v. 9). I can’t speak for my parents, but I always found this idea to be ludicrous, even as a child. As much as I’ve searched the internet for explanations, the following from Doug Kutilek makes a few interesting points that demonstrates how far-fetched this religious urban legend is.
The following is from As I See It Volume 5, Number 2, February 2002:
One of the wonders of the internet is how easily it facilitates the dissemination of utterly false and fictitious, or at best highly dubious, information. Whole books have been written about such “urban legends” (you know–the alligators reportedly in the sewers of New York City, and the supposedly “Satanic” nature of the venerable Proctor & Gamble “man in the moon” logo).
Well, not to be out-done by the “children of this world,” Christians also have their “urban legends.” One of these that has been circulating in cyber-space involves the great British playwright William Shakespeare and the famous King James Version of the Bible. The story goes as follows:
The KJV translators reportedly (so this legend has it) consulted Shakespeare, a renowned master of English style, as they were doing their translation work, and to acknowledge surreptitiously, not openly, his part in the work (it would have been scandalous to have a mere actor and author of stage plays participating in the important and sacred work of Bible translation), they translated–or perhaps allowed him to translate (depending on which version of the legend is being told), his complete ignorance of Hebrew notwithstanding–a part of Psalm 46 in a particular way. If one turns to that Psalm, he will discover that the 46th word from the beginning of the Psalm (ignoring the title, which does in fact form a part of the inspired text) is the word “shake.” And if one counts words from the end of the Psalm, the 46th word from the end (ignoring the final word of the Psalm, the Hebrew word selah–again a part of the inspired text) is the word “speare.” So, the 46th word from the beginning and the 46th word from the end of the 46th Psalm are “shake” and “speare.” An apparently remarkable coincidence, to be sure. And the unstated implication is that this somehow adds to the prestige, dignity and authority of the KJV over all other English Bible versions.
But against the theory is the apparent complete absence of any contemporary positive evidence associating the bard of Stratford-on-Avon with the KJV translation committee and its work. Certainly the lengthy account of Shakespeare in the authoritative Dictionary of National Biography, authored by the editor of the work, Sir Sydney Lee, betrays no such knowledge. Nor can I find any reference to the same in several other works on Shakespeare consulted, nor indeed in various standard histories of the English Bible. This is not to say that it is thereby absolutely disproved, though the happenings in Shakespeare’s life in the period 1604 to 1611 (when the KJV was in preparation) are fairly well-known to history, and any part the most famous of English authors might have had in the production of the most famous of English Bible translations could scarcely have gone unnoticed and unreported.
The novelty of the coincidence of the “46s” and “Shakespeare” is not quite so remarkable as it might seem at first blush. The Geneva Bible of 1560 (published 4 years before Shakespeare’s birth and therefore certainly uninfluenced by him in any way–indeed, he was influenced by it) was the Bible most commonly used in the English-speaking world during the far greater part of Shakespeare’s active writing career (he died in 1616, having virtually retired some years earlier; all but 3 of his many plays and the whole of his poetry being commonly ascribed to the years before 1611). It was also the English Bible version most closely followed by the KJV translators in their revision work.
An examination of the Geneva version of Psalm 46 reveals that both words “shake” and “speare” occur in the relevant verses (3 and 9), as in the KJV, though with a slightly different word count. “Shake” is the 48th, rather than 46th, word from the beginning of the Psalm (ignoring the title) and “speare” is the 44th word from the end of the Psalm (or 45th, depending on whether “selah” is excluded from or included in the count). It seems quite probable that the KJV picked up its use of “shake” and “speare” in the 3rd and 9th verses respectively from the prior Geneva Bible (the precise wording of Psalm 46 in the Geneva and the KJV is usually identical, with a relative few differences). Further it is entirely within reason that by merest accident these words ended up 46th from the beginning and end of the Psalm (ignoring the problem counting “selah” causes for the hypothesis).
Since the “official” basis for the KJV revision was the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, a check of the wording and word counts in that version of Psalm 46 would be of interest for comparative purposes, but unfortunately I have no access to it, and must remain in the dark for now as to its precise wording.
If it could actually be established with certainty, or with at least a high degree of probability that the Shakespeare really was “honored” by the translators in the KJV of Psalm 46 in the manner suggested, whether or not he had any part whatsoever in the actual production of that translation, it would make for an interesting footnote. However, until such proof is forthcoming, it is best to leave this with the other “urban legends” of our time.
Here’s a conference I wish I could attend. Believe it or not, I first discovered J. Gresham Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism in a catalog for Peter Ruckman’s bookstore in the mid-nineties (see also here and here), but I only read it about two years ago. Growing up I was conscious of my fundamentalist pastor talking about “modernism,” but only had a very vague notion of what that might be. So vague, in fact, I couldn’t then, nor could I now define with any certainty just how much I understood about it then.
It is so important that Christians understand that the most basic and foundational thing about Christianity is not how you live, it is what you believe. This is not a denial of the importance of how you live, just a denial that it is what makes you a Christian. Actually, how you live is the product or fruit of what you believe. If you live the cleanest life in the most loving and charitable way, yet deny the deity of Christ, the trinitarian nature of God, or the virgin birth of Christ, etc., then you are not a Christian. This is what liberalism is, although it is so much more at the same time. It exalts the necessity of works over the necessity of orthodox doctrine. That’s why Machen said liberalism is not another form of Christianity, it is an entirely different religion.
New St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Dallas hosts an annual Reformation Conference the weekend before Reformation Sunday. This year saw their fourth such conference, “Gospel-Driven: From Doctrine to Discipleship,” featuring the teaching of Dr. Michael Scott Horton, Associate Pastor of Christ United Reformed Church of Santee, CA (see Dr. Horton’s Adult Bible Class page), J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, host of the White Horse Inn radio show (and podcast), Editor-In-Chief of Modern Reformation Magazine, and author of an ever-growing number of books, three of which were the subject of this year’s conference (see his Wikipedia entry for more info).
Two of the three books have already been published, but the third, on which Dr. Horton spoke, is to be published in the coming months. These books are (in order), Christless Christianity, The Gospel-Driven Life, and I think the title of book three will be The Gospel Commission. The first volume addresses the heart of the problem with all of contemporary evangelical, even Reformed, Christianity–an exchange of preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ for the preaching of self-salvation by self-improvement in a variety of manifestations–preaching “good advice” at the expense of preaching the good news. The Gospel-Driven Life addresses why preaching the gospel (along with regularly receiving the Lord’s Supper) is essential for Christian growth and sanctification, not just evangelism. Finally, The Gospel Commission (if that is it’s actual title) will go into how the church is to obey the imperative Great Commission out of a conscious response to the gospel indicative of the complete authority over heaven and earth given to the Lord Jesus Christ by his Father (Matthew 28:18).
This was an exciting opportunity for me to meet the man who first introduced me to Reformed theology. Back in 1991 Dr. Horton published his first book, Mission Accomplished (later revised and republished as Putting Amazing Back Into Grace). In the providence of God, Dr. Horton was invited to promote the book on a morning talk show on, of all places, the Trinity Broadcasting Network! During this interview, Dr. Horton had the unique opportunity to introduce Calvinism to the constituents of the Word of Faith heresy of Kenneths Hagin and Copeland, Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, and more recently Joyce Meyer, John Hagee and Joel Osteen, myself among them. I recall mostly his emphasis on how the doctrine of election and predestination, far from squashing evangelism, actually motivates it. I found my introduction to Reformed theology and its benefits fascinating and exciting. At the time Dr. Horton was leading a ministry called Christians United for Reformation (CURE). I subscribed to CURE’s newsletter for a short time–I found it equally fascinating and really cool, but I also found it to be waaay over my head. So I got on with my life, marrying my first wife, moving off to Missouri to study to be an Independent Baptist missionary (which plan would change), living life between my initial and later providential and interesting encounters with Reformed theology.
I brought my copy of Mission Accomplished with me to the conference to get it autographed by Dr. Horton, along with the copy of The Gospel-Driven Life which I purchased at the conference. It was my joy to be able to personally thank him for his introducing me to Reformed theology, and when I mentioned that I saw him on TBN, he grimaced with shame as if a deep, dark secret had been exposed, and we all enjoyed a laugh at the stark irony of his television debut. Then as he opened my book and began writing on the first page, he informed me that the host of that talk show was fired not long after that episode. He assured me that the fact that he had been a guest on the show “was not unrelated” to his firing–WOW! But it makes perfect sense, considering that it would not be long before Dr. Horton would edit an expose of the Word of Faith movement, The Agony of Deceit. But just think, that TBN host’s firing may have just been one of the best things to ever happen to him. I consider it a noble sacrifice for the cause on his part. I just wish I could remember that host’s name so I could search for videos of his interviews on YouTube in the hopes of finding his interview of Michael Horton. Now that would be a blast!
If you’ve never listened to the White Horse Inn, then you are not aware of just what a heady, yet eminently edifying and motivating speaker Dr. Horton is. The way he helped us understand the covenantal nature of God’s relationship to Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church simply boggles the mind with how it brings together so many aspects of the biblical revelation of redemption and also highlights the importance of the doctrine of justification by grace alone (sola gratia) that is received by faith alone (sola fide). He even mentioned how Pope Benedict XVI has admitted that the Bible’s use of the form and content of ancient Near Eastern Suzerainty/Vassal treaties in his covenantal dealings with his people makes it understandable that the Reformers taught what they did about justification. Horton observed that when the Pope sounds more like the Reformers than contemporary Evangelical theologians, you know you are living in a Salvador Dali painting!
You can download the audio of the messages below (PS–I hear there’s a video in the works, but haven’t heard if and when it’ll be released):
- Christless Christianity: The Problem
- Gospel-Driven Life: The Solution
- Gospel Commission: The Application
- Questions and Answers with Dr. Horton
- The Missionary Servant: The Sermon
. . . this is the kind of sentiment that a character like J. Frank Norris draws. For those whose lives were changed for the better, it seems the man can do no wrong, and watch out if you try to accurately paint a picture of such a saint–the way the Bible portrays it’s saints–warts and all. With Norris, most of those folks have gone on to their reward, as has their hero. But there of course remains a faithful remnant.
The segment of the fundamentalist independent Baptist movement that Norris spearheaded remains more or less the home of the majority of Norris’ faithful followers, but there are exceptions. There remain a few who are and have always been, members of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, who, in the light of the publication of David Stokes’ work of narrative non-fiction on the life and ministry of J. Frank Norris and especially his murder trial, Apparent Danger, are unhappy that Norris’ warts are portrayed as prominently as they are. Back in June, one such member wrote on “J. Frank Norris’ lasting influence.” To Melissa Easter, Norris has had a lasting influence on several generations of her family. Without challenging Stokes’ facts or his documentation thereof, Easter was compelled to remind her Fort Worth neighbors there was lasting spiritual fruit that was borne through the ministry of J. Frank Norris, her family among them. Concluding her defense, Easter writes:
I do not know everything. But what I do know and what I believe is that J. Frank Norris had a good heart and a passion for God. Otherwise my great-grandparents would not have named my grandfather after him. Otherwise my family would not have attended that church after moving from Oklahoma. Otherwise my grandfather would not have asked J. Frank Norris to officiate his marriage to my grandmother.
It is unfortunate that Norris was involved in such an incident as that of July 1926, but that event should not overshadow the fact that he helped lead many people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I’m sure he asked the Lord for forgiveness, and, in my opinion, judgment was God’s alone to make.
Why is it that after so many years someone has seen fit to stir the pot once again? It is a futile matter; it brings up hurt to those who view J. Frank Norris in a positive light and potentially turns others away from the church.
Perhaps then we should all spend more time trying to bring people to the kingdom of heaven rather than shine light on an 84-year-old blemish.
Can you write a book that tells the whole truth about a man while there are still people alive who don’t want the whole truth to get out and complicate their fond memories? Not without criticism. But I believe it’s safe to say that David Stokes was aware of this fact and was thoroughly prepared to deal with it. Evangelism notwithstanding.
Fairfax, Virginia Baptist Bible Fellowship local church pastor David Stokes grew up as a member of Detroit’s Temple Baptist Church, not twenty years after J. Frank Norris pastored that church at the same time that he pastored First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. In his day, Norris was known as the “Texas Tornado,” and the “Pistol-Packing Parson.” The memory of J. Frank Norris casts a long shadow for those whose lives were touched by his sensationalistic and controversial ministry. It must be as true for those like Stokes who grew up in the decades following Norris’ death, as it is for us down here in Fort Worth, who boast of relatives with stories of personal connections to the famous fundamentalist firebrand. For example, my own mother grew up playing with Norris’ grandson, George. He was my mother’s best friend’s boyfriend. My great-grandmother hosted the visiting preacher at her house, where lively discussions are said to have ensued between Norris and my great-great grandmother, charming them with the admission that “the only person who could ever change his mind was Mrs. Freeman.” Not only that, J. Frank Norris even performed the wedding ceremony for my first wife’s grandparents. For better or worse, J. Frank Norris is one of the more colorful cast members in the dramatic history of Fort Worth, Texas. Featuring his battle with the Southern Baptist Convention over Baylor University’s teaching evolution and his own personal war against corruption in local politics as well as the Prohibition-era liquor trade itself, I’ve always said, even as a one-time devoted follower, that the life story of J. Frank Norris would make a great gangster movie!
It looks like the novel on which that movie could be based has just been written by David Stokes. The book is called Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920’s. Just a couple of weeks ago, Stokes held a book signing at Barnes and Noble just a few blocks away from the site of FBCFW during Norris’ ministry. On his Facebook page, Stokes reports that about a hundred people turned out for a book and an autograph, and even an unnamed “very nice” 91 year-old former associate of Norris protested his book by passing out a pamphlet with the title “The Real J. Frank Norris.”
My only regret is that I first heard about the book the day after the signing. But now I have my copy, and I’m currently reading it aloud to my wife so that we might enjoy it together. Enjoying it, we are. I let Bob Hayton of the blog Fundamentally Reformed know about it, and he said he plans to review the book on his blog after he reads it, to which I will dutifully link you when it’s posted. But in the meantime, allow me to whet your appetite for the book with the following trailer. If you’ve never heard of him, or if you’ve always known about him–love him or hate him, you’ll be both shocked and in awe of the story of J. Frank Norris and the trial that failed to sentence Norris to “Sparky,” the state of Texas’ newly acquired electric chair for the death of D.E. Chipps.
So, the news announces that yesterday the pioneering faith-healer and televangelist and prosperity-gospel preacher, Oral Roberts, dies at the age of 91. I’m still kicking myself that as soon as I read Al Mohler’s interesting blogpost on Roberts yesterday, I should have set my DVR to record TBN’s Praise the Lord program, to catch whatever eulogizing and retrospectives were going on during the day of the announcement of his death. In my childhood, my father watched Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart (and Garner Ted Armstrong) rather than go to church and risk exposure to hypocrites at church (I suppose heretics on TV are less risky than the immature orthodox). Yet, being raised to respect Christ (which he tries to do in his own little ways), he does read his Bible and keep an eye on some Christian television.
Anyway, here’s hoping that with the passing of a pioneer like Oral Roberts (here’s his Wiki entry, if you’re interested), that something good will happen to the movement as a whole with a younger generation at the helm. I know that apart from the gracious intervention of God, this is a pipe dream, but, hey, look how the Worldwide Church of God turned out. There is precedent! But as the apostle James writes, “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
For those who’d like to learn a little about the origin and teachings of the Word of Faith movement, you should read A Different Gospel, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century, and these Wikipedia articles: “Word of Faith,” and “New Thought.”
As many of you know, and a few others may be disappointed to learn, I’m a life-long Independent Baptist (though currently a member of a Southern Baptist church, by God’s wise and inscrutable providence) who has adopted Presbyterian views. That includes the Presbyterian view of infant baptism. Ever since having adopted this view, in the interests of “givning God a chance” to “make my life easier,” I’ve from time to time done a little more reading on the case for believer’s baptism (aka, credobaptism) as opposed to the Reformed doctrine of infant baptism (aka, paedobaptism). I’ve done so with an open mind, knowing that I’m not the most brilliant theologian in the world, being, after all, an IFB Bible college drop-out. I may just want to believe in paedobaptism, because there’s so much I disagree with (and/or dislike) about the Baptist tradition, so if I’m going to expect my wife and kids to adopt the Reformed view of paedobaptism (which they’ve yet to do, again in God’s wise and inscrutable and gracious wisdom), I’d better be right. So far, every time I’ve entered into this debate with an open mind, I find myself
becoming more and more thoroughly convinced that the Reformed view of paedobaptism is the more biblically consistent view. But, I keep reminding myself, I’ve yet to listen to one of my favorite Reformed Baptists, Dr. James White, debate the subject. Dr. White is one of the more relentless, aggressive and capable apologists and debaters I’ve ever seen. If anyone could dissuade me from the case for paedobaptism, it would likely be him.
It looks like I may soon get my chance.
I just finished reading Dr. James White’s post, entitled “R. Scott Clark and ‘Reformed,'” and Dr. Clark’s response, “Post-Thanksgiving Cartoons: Reply to James White.” White attempted to demonstrate the fallacy of Clark’s refusal to accept Baptists under the umbrella “Reformed” on the basis of his contention that paedobaptism is essential to being Reformed. Naturally, White believes for obvious reasons that he’s more thoroughly Reformed than his Presbyterian and Continental Reformed brethren. Clark believes Baptists may have an affinity for “the five heads of doctrine of the Synod of Dort” (popularly known as the five points of Calvinism), but denies they’re Reformed. For the record, having heard Dr. Clark’s teaching and gotten a glimpse of his personality from interviews and his Facebook page (for example, his status update at one point yesterday read, “I’m not passive-aggressive, I’m just aggressive”), leads me to believe that Dr. R. Scott Clark may just be Dr. James R. White’s Reformed twin (I’ve always contended that my friend, Gage Browning, is White’s Presbyterian twin–there is a difference). It’s all about personality and hairdo. I guess that would make Gage Dr. Clark’s Presbyterian twin, too–but I digress.
Anyway, having read both of these esteemed theologians’ posts, I just wanted to put out there that my appetite is officially whetted for a new debate on credobaptism versus paedobaptism between Drs. James R. White and R. Scott Clark. Who’s with me?
Looking back on my years as an Independent Baptist who kept his eye on TBN, and his ear on Christian radio, I must admit that I had always been susceptible to just about every end times related conspiracy theory that came my way. Believe me, if you watch TBN, at least back in the eighties, you learned about a lot of end times related conspiracy theories. When it comes to Independent Baptist church life, however, preaching on the end times can be a mixed bag: some will major on it, others will minor on it and still others may avoid it almost completely, claiming they find no practical application to be had in the preaching of prophecy.
After I discovered Peter Ruckman, whom I affectionately refer to as “The King of the King James Onlyists,” I gained, not only a rich source of bad information regarding biblical textual criticism, but also a rich source of bad information regarding end times related conspiracy theories. Eventually, I discovered that prophecy preacher, Texe Marrs, whose books I sold as a teenager in the Christian bookstore at which I worked as a high school student, was a fellow “Ruckmanite.” Now, this man is a conspiracy theorist par excellence! Like Will Rogers once said about men, Texe Marrs never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like. You can enjoy this man’s ravings at www.texemarrs.com.
One of the most outstanding conspiracy theories that I recalled hearing about frequently during those years, was the claim that the burgeoning European Union had developed a super-computer in Brussels, Belgium which had the capability of tracking and storing not only the vitals statistics of everyone on the planet, but also their shopping habits. Rumor had it that the “Revived Roman Empire” that was the European Union had further plans to one day see to it that everyone was marked with some sort of electronic device on their forehead or the back of their hand, that featured a number by which the entire population of the world could be catalogued and tracked by this EU super-computer that just happened to be nick-named “The Beast.” This, we were assured, would be the way Revelation’s prophecies regarding the mark of the Beast would be fulfilled in the Great Tribulation period. Oh, the dread that overtook us all as we periodically heard the news of further technological advancements that brought us step by step closer to the eventual unveiling of the New World Order under the seductive, yet tyrannical rule of the Antichrist.
I don’t have the words to describe the paranoia that can develop in one who pays as close attention to such sensationalistic claims as I once paid to end times conspiracy theories. I know what it is to look for and find a demon behind every bush, and under every rock. Such a lifestyle is truly paralyzing. I recall as a Bible College student fearing to so much as throw a paper route just to earn money to live on and with which to put myself through school. I could not, in good conscience, be a party to misinforming my neighbors with the propaganda published by the liberal media who served as the useful idiots of the behind the scenes architects of the New World Order. I guarantee you, that if I still had today the same mindset I had in my early twenties, I would never have sought employment by the federal government in order to print U. S. currency as I now do. Are you kidding? U.S. currency is just riddled with New World Order and masonic symbols! Just what do you think “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means, anyway? New World Order! It’s printed right there on your money! As Randy Newman sings in the theme song for the TV show, Monk, “if you paid attention, you’d be worried, too!”
At long last, freedom from such bondage came to me in the form of…yes, you guessed it! Reformed theology! Specifically, Reformed eschatology (the study of last things, or the end times). At last, I found the courage to divest myself of any and all fear from the countless rumors that swirl about regarding all the things going on behind the scenes about which, “they don’t want you to know!” Man, Reformed air is so refreshing! At last, I can breathe easy.
Last night, I was reminded by a friend of the Belgium-based super-computer called “The Beast.” My friend hears that it can track upwards of 15 billion people, not that the population of the earth is expected to reach that number before the Rapture! But that just goes to show you, folks, how close we are to the Tribulation period! If such rumors are to be believed. When my friend mentioned these things to me, as I politely nodded and grinned, I thought to myself, “I need to check Snopes about ‘The Beast.'” So, check I did. I didn’t find anything about it at www.Snopes.com–it may be there, but I didn’t find it. But my search did lead me to a similar urban legend website called www.TruthOrFiction.com, which did contain an entry which–wonder of wonders!–pronounced “‘The Beast,’ a supercomputer in Belgium, is Being Used To Track Every Human Being On Earth–Fiction!” Whew! What a relief! But the details they provide regarding the origin of the urban legend simply blew my mind. Here’s how the entry reads:
Summary of eRumor
A three-story computer in Brussels, Belgium called “The Beast,” is described as being the brain-child of the European Common Market. It is said to be “self programming” and is intended to track the buying and selling activities of every person on earth. Additionally, the system is alleged to depend on invisible tattoos on the forehead or back of the hand of each person for identity purposes. Ominously, the tattoo will be of a unique, personalized number composed of three entries of three digits each.
- The Truth
It’s easy to see how this story would grab the attention of Christians. It’s almost as though it were tailor-made to fit with the book of Revelation. And… it was.
Unlike most urban legends, we have a clear trail that leads to where the story came from. There are various printed versions of the story that date back to 1973, but the most widely circulated early account appeared in Christian Life magazine in August 1976.
Three months after publishing the story, Christian Life received a letter from Christian author Joe Musser. In it, he explained that the Beast Computer of Belgium did not exist in reality, but in fantasy. Musser said that he created the scenario for a novel he wrote, titled Beyond a Pale Horse (actually, it’s Behold, A Pale Horse–jdc), and for a screenplay for the David Wilkerson film, The Rapture. In the letter, Musser said that for three years he had seen the story he had created being passed along as fact.
The possibility for confusing fiction with fact was there from the outset. As a part of the promotion for the David Wilkerson film, some mock newspapers had been printed which had convincing-looking news stories about events that could be associated with the rapture, including the Beast Computer of Belgium. Unless one read the small print next to the copyright notice, there was nothing to indicate that it was fiction.
As with other urban legends, some thoughtful evaluation of the facts would cast doubt on the story. For example, anybody who is savvy enough about computers would know that it’s not going to take a computer occupying three stories of a major building to catalog all the people on the earth. Today’s computers can handle the task in a fraction of that space – assuming there was some way to know who all the people were.
Also, some versions of the story stated that the computer was self-programming, suggesting that perhaps it had a life of its own outside of the humans who programmed it. Artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject, and computers are getting smarter every day, but no computer expert that I know of is worried about whether a database program could become the Antichrist. Additionally, even if a decision were made to track all humans, it is not clear that the European Common Market would be the entity to initiate or control it. (Here’s the source)
My mind was officially blown. I never dreamed that I would learn, not only how it is that Belgian “Beast” Super Computer was a mere urban legend, but the very name of the man who dreamed up the idea in the first place! Let alone my astonishment that it was a fictitious scenario developed for a Christian novel on the end of the world! My adrenaline was flowing, and I couldn’t stop running around telling everyone I thought might have heard about this conspiracy theory, because I had to personally make sure they were utterly divested of any and all anxiety over such a prospect. Was I ever giddy! I didn’t know what to do with myself! But telling a few of my co-workers, both believing and unbelieving, I had to help make sure the world had more access to this information. I must make sure these facts are featured on Wikipedia! The world’s free online encyclopedia! Under the heading of “The Beast (Bible)” on Wikipedia, you will find my first ever contribution to this global pooling of knowledge. In the article, under the sub-topic of “Alternative Views” I found this single sentence referencing “The Beast” supercomputer: “Some identify the Beast with a Super Computer in Brussels, Belgium.” To this, I added the truly “alternative view”: “However, author Joe Musser, attributes the origin of this urban legend to his 1970 novel, Behold, a Pale Horse and the movie The Rapture which is based on his book. (Read the article here)
Finally, a little more surfing of the web produced a more in-depth discussion of this story. Silicon.com, a website featuring writing on all things computer related, interviewed Joe Musser, and the resulting article features what he had to say. I highly recommend that you read this article here.