Tag Archives: Church History

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Mark’s #48 – The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond (2011)

As Martin Luther pounded the nail through his Ninety five Thesis on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, three-year-old John Knox toddled around his home 800 miles away in Haddington, Scotland.  Luther’s spark turned into a raging inferno that would light much of Christendom ablaze with The Reformation.  By the age of twenty nine, this fire would reach into the heart of the priest John Knox and convert him to true faith in Jesus Christ.

Though slight of stature, and often of ill health, Knox saw the glory of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence, and found strength and confidence in these things rather than his own frail abilities and personal confidences.  John Knox was a man that understood theology and lived like it.

His life would be one of constant danger and fighting for the cause of truth in Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, by the authority of the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone.  He wielded a broadsword in the defense of a besieged castle, whilst he also wielded the sword of God (the Bible) to proclaim to those inside the castle the gospel of grace.  After the fall of the castle, he spent the next 19 months as a galley slave for the French Navy.  Upon his release he preached before kings and queens in England, as well as Scottish peasants.   He boldly denounced the church idolatry, political church and state whims of leadership.  He narrowly escaped capture and certain death as he fled for Geneva to study under John Calvin and pastor an english speaking church.   After Mary Tudor’s death, Knox returned to Scotland where he reengaged a battle for the hearts and souls of his people against the sins, abuses, and idols of the church and the state.

This book recounts all of these struggles as well as the passion and theology of John Knox.  Knox saw the doctrine of God’s predestination as an essential truth for the rescue and the hope of lost sinners.  As such, many throughout history have tried to ignore or vilify Knox in order to write him off… yet the truth he expounded remains true today and forevermore – God is absolutely sovereign over salvation, and that’s a very good thing.   I was personally encouraged and edified by spending this time learning about the life, faith, and God of John Knox.

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Mark’s #35 – A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden

Concluding my church history series at The Harbor, I choose to do the final message on Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).  I didn’t have time to read Marsden’s 600+ definitive biography on Edwards, but I was delighted to see that he wrote this much shorter (152 pages) biography which was also available instantly via kindle download (I did read several other articles and sections of books, as well as  listened to several other lectures and sermons as well).

Like most people today, the image that I had formed of Jonathan Edwards growing up was that of the old Puritan, no fun, all hellfire and brimstone, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” picture in my minds-eye. Like most caricatures, the real Jonathan Edwards is very different.  As it turns out, he is quite a different person with quite a wide and vast impact on philosophy, theology,  church history, and American history.

Marsden does a great job of capturing the depth of Edward’s story, his advanced intellect, dogged persistence, theological and philosophical contributions, his home-life, study habits (13 hours a day), his preaching as the catalyst for the first Great Awakening, and his affect on America and Christian world missions for  the past 300 years.

Edwards’ consuming and singular passion was to delight in the beauty and glory of God.  He was a towering intellect, but he also saw the necessity and role of one’s affections in a person’s relationship with and pursuit of God – Edwards connected the head with the heart.

If you really want me to unpack all that I learned in this book and my other studies, you’ll need to listen to my message here when I post it.  If you’re looking for a brief overview of his life, this book is a great start.

In the meantime, go order this t-shirt (and get me one while you’re at it – XL)

For the ultimate resource on all things Jonathan Edwards, go to the Jonathan Edwards portal at Yale University here - http://edwards.yale.edu/

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Mark’s #34 – Calvin by Bruce Gordon

Currently I’m preaching through a Church History series at The Harbor. One of the catalysts for the series was to provide me with a motivation to read this in-depth biography of John Calvin (1509-1564) by Professor Bruce Gordon of Yale.

John Calvin, and the subsequent theological system known as Calvinism has led many to take an impassioned stand either for or against the man and the system.  Often, on both sides, the debaters are only vaguely aware of the main points of contention, often gleaning their thoughts and opinions from hearsay or passing references in sermons or books.  As such, Calvin is often cast either as a demoniac on the one hand, or an infallible and nearly divine figure on the other.

Thus, as many in the world celebrated Calvin’s 500th birthday on July 10th, 2009, there were many biographies published that year.  Of those biographies, many of my sources pointed to this book as a deep, rich, balanced, and fair biography.  Having now read the book, I would agree with those assessments.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being absolute hatred of Calvin, 5 being neutral, and 10 being idolatrous worship, I would say Gordon rests mostly at a 5… He’s no pushover when it comes to his assessment of Calvin and his faults.  While, at the same time, he readily acknowledges the great contributions Calvin made during the reformation and theologically through church history.

For the record, I am greatly appreciative of John Calvin, his life, and deep theological insights.  I also understand that, like everyone else, he was a man who fell short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and was in need of God’s sovereign grace as much as anybody else.  I’m grateful for the truth that with Calvin, and all the men I’ve highlighted in the church history series, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Cor. 4:7).”

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Mark’s #33 – The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin by John Piper

This is book one of John Piper’s ‘The Swans are not Silent’ series, which are brief biographical sketches from Church history.  In this book, as the title shows, Piper focused on Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.  The common theme from their lives was their hope, understanding, and proclaiming of the message of God’s sovereign grace and the joy that follows this great truth of theology.

None of these biographies are in-depth. All of them have a particular Piperesque slant to their story.  As Piper tries to capture the highlights of their lives, he also labors to show how each life uniquely celebrates an aspect of the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, sovereign joy, the majesty of God’s Word, and what that should mean for Christians today.  As such, these would serve anyone well who is trying to get acquainted with their lives and why it matters that we know about them.   Therefore the book seems to be half biography and half application… and since it is Piper pointing us to application, I would say that is a good thing indeed.

In a recent church history series at The Harbor we spoke on each of these men’s lives as well as the lives of Athanasius and Jonathan Edwards.  You can listen to those messages here.

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JRF’s #16 – The Cambridge Seven by John Pollock

This true story recounts one of the key moments in modern missions history, when God seized the hearts of 7 Cambridge students, all very different from each other, and compelled them to give up their all to join Hudson Taylor in bringing the Gospel to the lost of China.

The book focuses on how God beautifully worked and weaved these men’s lives together in a way that not only brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to hundreds in China, but also awakened thousands of Western Christians to embrace the long neglected command of their Lord to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Although at times difficult to follow due to the stilted writing style and many names to keep track of, this book was a thrilling and encouraging read.  It was thrilling because the hand of God is so clearly seen as He responded to the prayers of His children, from a missionary professor in China to an old widow in a poor English cottage and countless others, so that at the right time and the right place the right men would respond to His call.  It was encouraging because the author was not shy about conveying not only these men’s victories but also their failures.  In particular, Stanley Smith, the foundational member of the Cambridge Seven, was a man of great ebb and flow in his spiritual growth.

As my wife and I move towards pursuing missions in Indonesia, the story of the Cambridge Seven will be a clear reminder of the power and necessity of prayer and the truth that, “God does not deal with you until you are wholly given up to Him, and then He will tell you what He would have you do.”

“…the very content of the word ‘sacrifice’ seemed reversed: and each man wondered whether he could afford the cost, not of utter devotion and worldly loss but of compromise and the loss of spiritual power and joy.  Nothing less than the experience of these two men was worth having.”

- the reflection of an undergraduate who had heard Stanley Smith and C.T. Studd speak of their surrender to God’s call

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