Bunyan’s Blunder

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon “Christ Crucified” (No. 2673), said the following:

…let me tell you a little story about Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am a great lover of John Bunyan, but I do not believe him infallible; and the other day I met with a story about him which I think a very good one.

There was a young, man, in Edinburgh, who wished to be a missionary. He was a wise young man; so he thought, “If I am to be a missionary, there is no need for me to transport myself far away from home; I may as well be a missionary in Edinburgh.”

Well, this young man started, and determined to speak to the first person he met. He met one of those old fishwives; those of us who have seen them can never forget them, they are extraordinary women indeed. So, stepping up to her, he said, “Here you are, coming along with your burden on your back; let me ask you if you have got another burden, a spiritual burden.”

“What!” she asked; “do you mean that burden in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Because, if you do, young man, I got rid of that many years ago, probably before you were born. But I went a better way to work than the pilgrim did. The evangelist that John Bunyan talks about was one of your parsons that do not preach the gospel; for he said, ‘Keep that light in thine eye, and run to the wicket-gate.’ Why—man alive!—that was not the place for him to run to. He should have said, ‘Do you see that cross? Run there at once!’ But, instead of that, he sent the poor pilgrim to the wicket-gate first; and much good he got by going there! He got tumbling into the slough, and was like to have been killed by it.”

“But did not you,” the young man asked, “go through any Slough of Despond?”

“Yes, I did; but I found it a great deal easier going through with my burden off than with it on my back.”

The old woman was quite right. John Bunyan put the getting rid of the burden too far off from the commencement of the pilgrimage. If he meant to show what usually happens, he was right; but if he meant to show what ought to have happened, he was wrong.

We must not say to the sinner, “Now, sinner, if thou wilt be saved, go to the baptismal pool; go to the wicket-gate; go to the church; do this or that.”

No, the cross should be right in front of the wicket-gate; and we should say to the sinner, “Throw thyself down there, and thou art safe; but thou are not safe till thou canst cast off thy burden, and lie at the foot of the cross, and find peace in Jesus.”

The Pilgrim’s Progress (now in living color)

I named my second son after John Bunyan (1628—1688). Bunyan is a literary giant from the Puritan era. His classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, is one of the best selling books of all time and has undergone dozens of editions and translations over the centuries. The newest version is set to hit bookstores at the end of September in a deluxe, updated, 240-page, colorfully illustrated version from Crossway ($16.49 over at Amazon).

The book’s text has been edited and updated by C. J. Lovik and the book’s 30 illustrations were contributed by award winning painter Michael Wimmer. As the release date approaches for this book I’ll have a full review. But for now, I wanted to post two illustrations. Crossway permitted me a sneak peak into the book a few days ago. Here is an exclusive look at two of the paintings.

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Illustration copyright © 2009 by Michael Wimmer. Posted by permission of the publisher. The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Crossway 2009), p. 18.

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Illustration copyright © 2009 by Michael Wimmer. Posted by permission of the publisher. The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Crossway 2009), p. 129.

Nice illustrations! … I’ll have more for you in a later review.

Critiquing the Missional Movement

tsslogo.jpgNow that all the Sovereign Grace Ministries messages are free, I’m slowly feasting message-by-message in a long and delicious buffet of audio. Today I finally arrived at Dave Harvey’s message from the SGM Leadership Conference this Spring (at the time, I was on the other side of the wall listening to Dever speak on his annual reading schedule).

Harvey, the author of the excellent book When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (Shepherd’s Press: 2007), is also an expert church planter and apostolic leader within SGF. This Spring in his session “Watch Your Mission: To Be, or Not to Be, ‘Missional,’” he assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement. In part, he argues the MM muddies the Cross-centered focus of the Church and misunderstands the apostolic context of the Great Commission.

Here’s the heart of his outline:

1. What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
B. Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
C. Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
D. They Also Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.

2. What are the Weaknesses of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
B. Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
C. Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
D. Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
E. Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.

Free: Get the full outline here and the mp3 audio here.

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Update: It should be noted SGM believes in a continuing apostolic gift: “present-day apostles plant and build local churches for the sanctification of the believer, the expansion of the mission, and the exaltation of God.” For more on why they use the term, what it means and does not mean, see the SGM booklet by Harvey titled Polity: Serving and Leading the Local Church (2004), pages 17-26, 49-50.

Banner of Truth Tour (Carlisle, PA, Wed. PM)

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Banner of Truth Tour
Carlisle, PA, Wed. PM

One personal highlight from the trip East was a tour of the Banner of Truth warehouse in Carlisle, PA (about 30 minutes from the conference). The tour was pushed back until late Wednesday night. But it was worth the wait.

Steve, who manages the US branch of the Banner of Truth, was gracious enough (at 11:00 PM last night!) to drive me down so I could see the warehouse. It was a great treat.

The Banner of Truth offices and warehouse in Carlisle are sandwiched by condos in what seemed to be a residential area. The Banner building itself is a very long and narrow with two levels of offices in the front and warehouse in the back. The first books you see in the entry are the damaged volumes (most only slightly damaged). These volumes sell at 50-percent off. Also in the entry are a few desks (one of another Banner friend, Beth). Another set of offices is directly upstairs. From the entry you walk back to the packing room. This room holds a handful of copies of each Banner book and a table outfitted for packaging. From this packing room and through an industrial door, you enter in to the large warehouse. The warehouse is mainly a large metal structure where the pallets and bulk stacks of individual volumes are stored. The paperbacks are stored on the second level and the hardcover books on the main level. The warehouse was very tidy. To the far back of the warehouse and along one of the walls were the new arrivals from Edinburgh. Many of these volumes were on crates and simple boxes.

I was greatly surprised at the volume of works warehoused and (by consequence) gratefully surprised at the amount of books the Banner must sell on a regular basis. So having personally seen the impact of authors like John Bunyan in my own life, it was an especially moving experience to see a stack of hundreds of copies of his works. Or to see thousands of copies of Expository Thoughts on John by J.C. Ryle or stacks of boxes of the Works of John Owen or a pile of Spurgeon’s autobiography or to see 10,000 copies of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections. Walking through the Banner warehouse was a powerful experience — not merely as a bibliophile – but as a Christian who has experienced the powerful content of these works in drawing me closer to Christ and His Cross.

What will become of this stack of John Bunyan or Jonathan Edwards? This will be left in the hands of our Sovereign God. But we can be sure there will be new readers who, through the work of the Banner staff, will be introduced to a new world of reading, to new authors and new books. And through this introduction these readers will be eternally changed for the glory of God. My personal experience of these volumes and my expectations for a new generation of readers is what made a tour of the Banner warehouse so special. It was a great experience, even if it was midnight before we returned to Grantham.

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A few choice pictures. Here are some books in the packing room.

Stacks of boxes filled with Spurgeon’s autobiography.

The Works of John Bunyan. Isn’t this beautiful?

Two crates filled with Edwards’ Religious Affections (perhaps 10,000 copies).

The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray.

Ryle on John (vol. 3).

The warehouse.

 

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Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.

Mark Dever’s Canon of Theologians (Annual Reading Plan)

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Thursday morning (4/12/07)
Breakout seminar #2
Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”

GAITHERSBURG, MD – Being one who loves to read the books of dead theologians and preachers, Mark Dever’s session was a personal highlight. The point was to encourage us to broaden our theological and biographical reading to at least 12 different authors, each to be read for one month annually. Dever himself uses a yearly reading plan where he reads a specific author each month of the year (like Augustine in February). Then every April he moves on to John Calvin, reading a new biography or theological work. Each year the reading plan starts over.

For readers of the Together for the Gospel blog, this will sound familiar. On February 1, 2006 Dever wrote a short post titled “An apostolic agenda” outlining this very thing. On Thursday morning at the Sovereign Grace Ministries Leader’s Conference, Dever filled out the details.

Dever began with a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation which outlines some reasons why old books are important. Lewis writes,

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. …

The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

With this introduction, Dever launched into his “canon of theologians.” He encouraged us to read on theological issues that are not a particular struggle at the time. Let the theologians talk about what they want to talk about. Dever then outlined his own personal reading plan.

The ‘canon of theologians’

JanuaryEarly church writings (1st-3rd centuries). Recommended reading: Many and various works and authors were mentioned like the Epistle of Dionysius, The Didache, Clement, The Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Penguin paperback, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers (0140444750). When asked if he used the early church writings in his expositional research, he said ‘no.’ He is familiar with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture but has not found them exegetically beneficial. [This helps answer an important question we asked earlier this year]. Dever’s use of the early church fathers is predominantly theological and historical.

FebruaryAugustine (354-430). The most influential extra-biblical theologian in the West. Recommended: City of God and The Confessions (Henry Chadwick edition). Dever’s disagreement: That the church is the conduit of salvation. “Augustine got it bad wrong on ecclesiology.”

MarchMartin Luther (1483-1546). Lessons learned: 1. Justification is by faith alone, all of sheer grace. Luther “cleanses the church from the barnacles of traditionalism.” 2. Luther’s boldness. Read biography Here I Stand. Recommended reading: 95 Theses and Bondage of the Will. You can read Bondage of the Will out loud to children and they will be engaged because of the vigorous prose and Luther’s name-calling towards Erasmus (Dever is very funny). Best bio being Here I Stand by Roland Bainton (0452011469).

AprilJohn Calvin (1509-1564). The greatest theologian of the Reformation period. Lessons learned: 1. God’s glory at the center of everything. The world is the “theater” of God’s glory. 2. Centrality of man’s depravity, shown especially in the heart’s perpetual idol production. 3. He was careful with Scripture. Calvin had a very rare combination of gifts that balanced the theological, linguistic, pastoral, and exegetical. 4. He filled both the offices of pastor and scholar. 5. The diligent training of his spiritual children even as he knew sending these pastors back into France would mean certain death [see the concept of “Calvin’s School of Death”]. Disagreements: That the state is responsible for the church. He confused the church and state, a distinction we take for granted today. Recommended: Sermons on the Ten Commandments, commentary on 1 Cor. 12-14, The Institutes of the Christian Religion and anything written by T.H.L. Parker. He does not recommend modern bios of Calvin and especially warned against McGrath.

MayRichard Sibbes (1577-1635). Lessons learned: 1. The tenderness of Christ. The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax a great example of Jesus’ tenderness and it makes for a great read together with your spouse. Sibbes was able to point out evidences of grace very well. 2. “Diagnostic evangelism.” Sibbes continued to hold out the biblical truth of what a genuine Christian looks like and, by consequence, sorted out those who nominally professed faith. By authenticating the Christian life he naturally separated the sheep from the wolves and goats. He was clear that one’s salvation does not come through assurance but rather assurance comes from genuine salvation. Sibbes pointed those who were never converted to run to grace in the Cross. Disagreement: Infant baptism. Recommendations: Sibbes stuttered in his preaching so he kept his sentences relatively short and this makes him easier to read than his contemporaries. Start with the sermons in volume seven of his collected works.

June John Owen (1616-1683) and John Bunyan (1628-1688). John Owen is known for his argument on limited atonement in Death of Death. It’s a good book to scare Arminians, but there exist better exegetical ways to argue for limited atonement. Lesson learned: Linger with Scripture. “Diligent meditation reaps great rewards.” Dever especially recommends the Owen volumes by Kris Lundgaard (The Enemy Within and Through the Looking Glass) and those by Kapic and Taylor (Overcoming Sin and Temptation). … John Bunyan was a “pot-repairer with extraordinary preaching gifts.” Bunyan clearly expresses himself without the use of long, Latin sentences. His life was marked by a sincere pastoral concern. Recommended: Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (autobiographical) and The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress being a “great systematic theology” built around the “centrality of heaven.”

JulyJonathan Edwards (1703-1758). There are many lessons and warnings from the life of Jonathan Edwards. Lessons learned: 1. Diligent meditation. “Edwards can stare at an idea” and has “a powerful ability to think out and illustrate” that idea. An excellent example of this is Edward’s sermon The Excellency of Christ. 2. Edwards demonstrates a zeal for the purity of the church. 3. Understands the connection between his ministry and his congregation. In his Farewell Sermon, after Edwards was fired, he tells his congregation “I’ll see you before the throne.” Disagreements: 1. Infant baptism. 2. The logic of God’s centrality seemed a bit philosophical rather than always biblical. 3. He shows some pastoral carelessness especially with the “young folks’ Bible” controversy [see chapter 18 in George Marsden’s biography]. Nevertheless, Edwards demonstrates a powerful ability to think out and illustrate. Read his sermons and especially his sermon The Nakedness of Job which he wrote when he was 18 years old! As an interesting side note, Dever has preached an Edwards sermon to his congregation. On October 5, 2003 he took Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, marked up the manuscript as he would his own and preached it. You can listen to the final product here.

AugustC.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). Lessons learned: 1. Evangelism. Spurgeon preached the gospel from any and every text. “More than anyone else, I think of Spurgeon when I prepare my sermons.” Preach each sermon as though someone may be converted. 2. His life is filled with stories of God’s kindness upon his ministry. Read Spurgeon’s autobiography and be amazed at the stories. Spurgeon’s autobiography “may be the most fun thing to read apart from Scripture.” It will encourage you to see that we have a glorious God. 3. He had a lively faith. Spurgeon had “a heightened God-consciousness.” Even in the midst of a prolonged depression, Spurgeon shows that depression drives a faithful Christian to God. Read his Morning and Evening devotional.

SeptemberB.B. Warfield (1851-1921). “Warfield strengthens my faith.” Like John Calvin, Warfield had a wonderful mix of scholarship and piety. Disagreements include infant baptism and Presbyterian polity.

OctoberMartyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Not much in disagreement. Lessons learned: 1. Gave his life to preaching and lived confident in the power of God’s Word. 2. Deadly earnest. It was no light thing for him to preach. The pulpit was the “desk of God.” Recommended: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Preaching and Preachers, Spiritual Depression and his biography by Iain Murray.

NovemberC.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003). Because time ran short, Dever simply finished off his list of writers he reads in November and December without further comment or recommendation.

December – Contemporary authors like John Stott, J.I. Packer, Iain Murray, R.C. Sproul and John Piper.

Conclusions

This breakout session encourages me to pursue the study of the early church writers, although I’ve become more convinced that they will not prove as helpful in my expositional research and sermon preparation as others. It also encourages me to narrow my focus to a handful of great writers and focus attention on their writings each year. I’m in the process of creating my own “canon of theologians” for annual study.

Q&A: Which Puritan to start with?

Mr. Reinke,

Grace to you! I have really enjoyed your website and I still have much of it to study. I was hoping to ask your advice. I am not a pastor, however I really enjoy reading or trying to read the Puritans. I am particularly interested in them as they seem to know “heart religion” and treasuring Christ above all else.

If you were to start off with one of Banner of Truth’s multi-volume works which one would you start off with? I am considering Thomas Brooks (I really have like Precious Remedies and Heaven on Earth). Also, there is John Bunyan who seems to have lived on the edge of eternity as John Piper pointed out in his great biographical address. John Flavel is one I am really interested in as well. I know he was a favorite of Robert M’Cheyne and, I believe Whitefield, and that about cinches him as my choice.

Your review of Flavel was also noteworthy, but I wanted to put these other two to you as well. Others seem to be a bit more involved or just too long for me at this time. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. Lord bless you!

Very Respectfully,
James L.
Alabama

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Hello James,

Excellent question. I would not start with Edwards, Owen or Goodwin. Flavel and Brooks are excellent but they can wait. If I were starting over I would begin with John Bunyan. His three volume works are a real treasure, easy to read, very well edited, and with an excellent topical index! Probably what makes them most useful is Bunyan’s wide range of topics (making them useful on any number of issues) and the wide variety of literary formats (allegory, autobiography, sermon, poem, etc.). When you start thinking about the towering figures of the Puritans — Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin — surprisingly it’s a tinker I would select as the most important to start with.

I love John Owen’s testimony about Bunyan. Piper writes, “The greatest Puritan theologian and contemporary of Bunyan, John Owen, when asked by King Charles why he, a great scholar, went to hear an uneducated tinker preach said, ‘I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.'” Wow — to think those words were delivered to a king!

Bottom line: Start with Bunyan then Jonathan Edwards and build your library from there working down the list of 14. You may consider bypassing Goodwin and sticking to abridged Owen volumes.

Blessings,

Tony