John Calvin
1509-1564


 Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals

 

James Montgomery Boice and Benjamin E. Sasse, eds.
Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996
196 pages, cloth, $16.99


“Here I stand” are words that belong to Martin Luther as he faced the invitation to recant his Protestant beliefs. Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the location of the development and signing of the Cambridge Platform (1646), the manual of American Congregationalism, an historic faith of the Puritans and Pilgrims who wrested a new civilization from a new continent, building on the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. The Barmen Declaration was produced in Nazi Germany by a group of confessing churches to counter the state-driven effort to obscure the gospel by turning it into a self-serving, feel-good expression of German nationalism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this new, nationalized gospel as cheap grace. Here We Stand falls in this historic tradition, calling Christians to reclaim the Reformation foundation that is being similarly obscured in our day by a host of modern developments.
     
The Cambridge Declaration, the centerpiece of Here We Stand, delineates the central doctrines of the Reformation - Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, all and only for the glory of God alone. It is a clarion call and a kind of theological guide whose purpose is to put churches back on the evangelical theological track. The thesis is that contemporary Christianity suffers several erosions of doctrine - the erosion of authority, of Christ-centered faith, of the gospel, of faith itself, and of God-centered worship. Here We Stand, then, is a further explication of the Cambridge Declaration and its practical implications.
     Beyond a mere litany of what is wrong and a "woe is us" attitude, David Wells opens the discussion with a call to seize the opportunities that the collapse of Protestantism offers for the recovery of the faith.

I contend that the loss of our moral center, which is one of (modernity's) chief consequences, is at the heart of the unraveling of our society. Its final and most destructive outcome, which is now upon us, is that we have lost our ability to discern between, or even to talk meaningfully about, Good and Evil. And while this collapse into cynicism and moral chaos bodes poorly for the future of American life, it is opening opportunities for the Christian faith that have not been present in this way, at least during the twentieth century and, perhaps, for an even greater period (p. 29).

     Yes, things are deteriorating, but there is a window of opportunity that has opened before us.
     Ervin Duggan reminds us that we must not get distracted by concerns of mere social reform:

Christian theonomists and Christian reconstructionists are seeking to establish, through coercive legal and political means, a political simulacrum of the kingdom of God, as surely as mainline "fraternal workers" sought their version of that kingdom arm in arm with the Sandinista Party. In the process, they abandon the eternal for the evanescent, exactly as their mainline counterparts have done; they distract themselves and their flocks from the legitimate mission of the church in this world; and they bid - unwittingly, perhaps, but blasphemously nonetheless - to substitute political coercion for the free working of God's grace (p. 51).

     R. Albert Mohler, Jr. contends for the truth by revealing the academic roots of postmodernism that have invaded college campuses:

Standing behind these postmodern proposals are not merely the New Yale theologians. Clifford Geertz, or even (Ludwig) Wittgenstein - it is Neitsche. The acids of modernity burn down to the vapors of nihilism. The ambiguities of pervasive relativisms are to much for us to bear, and relativism becomes nihilism. Now, nihilism is present even within the evangelical academy (p. 67).

     Mohler recommends a practical antidote for postmodernism. "(W)e must come to the Scriptures, not with a postmodern hermeneutic of suspicion, but with a faithful hermeneutic of submission" (71). In other words, we must trust God's word, and not doubt it.
     Gene Edward Veith demonstrates the importance of catechetical as opposed to modern teaching methods. He argues that the techniques of modern education actually undermine the discipline required for classical learning, and carries this analysis into the deterioration of discipline in the workplace. The earlier disciplines of classical learning developed into an attitude toward work as a godly vocation or calling, where the contemporary methods of modern education have nearly destroyed self-discipline.
     Michael Horton argues that historical creeds and confessions can be ignored only by an unbridled audacity, a pride of monumental proportion. To ignore the saints who have preceded us is to place ourselves above the time-tested testimony of other faithful Christians. It is to ignore the best insights and advice of faithful friends.

We have creeds, confessions, and catechisms, not because we want to arrogantly assert ourselves above Scripture of other Christians, but for precisely the opposite reason: We are convinced that such self-assertion is actually easiest for us when we presume to be going to Scripture alone and directly, without any presuppositions or expectations. . . . due to our own acculturation, we go to Scripture with the wider church, with those who have confessed the same faith for centuries (p. 107).

     Sinclair Ferguson points out the modern passion for recovery from a variety of ills, and the simultaneous popular distaste for the personal repentance that is required for recovery. "For Calvin, repentance is really the personal, concrete expression of divine regeneration and renewal. He defines regeneration as repentance" (p. 134). How does this work? In critiquing the modern understanding of repentance as a "single act, severed from a lifelong restoration of godliness," he concludes, "The 'altar call' has replaced the sacrament of penance. Thus repentance has been divorced from genuine regeneration" (p. 137).
     Robert Godfrey, comparing contemporary and traditional form of worship, observes that "Music seems to have become for some a new sacrament, mediating the presence and experience of God, establishing a mystical bond between God and the worshiper" (p. 162). anyone familiar with the "praise and worship" movement must be familiar with this dynamic. Calling attention to the context of contemporary worship, he remarks that

. . . these changes represent an acceleration and extension of changes that have been taking place in evangelical worship for around two hundred years. Particularly the rise of revivalism as the dominant form of evangelicalism in nineteenth-century America established tendencies in worship that have culminated in what we see today (p. 163).

     Needs-driven churches provide self-centered ministries, whereas theologically driven churches provide God-centered ministries. Boice continues:

Worship should not be confused with feelings. It is true that the worship of God will affect us, and one thing it will frequently affect is our emotions. At times tears will fill our eyes as we become aware of God's great love and grace toward us. Yet it is possible for our eyes to fill with tears and for there still to be no real worship simply because we have not come to a genuine awareness of God and a fuller praise of Himself in His nature and ways.

True worship occurs only when that art of man, his spirit, which is akin to the divine nature (for God is spirit), actually meets with God and finds itself praising God for His love, wisdom, beauty, truth, holiness, compassion, mercy, grace, power, and all His other attributes (p. 189).

     Here We Stand is grist for the revival mill. Pastors and church leaders would be well blessed to make it the object of common study, prayer, teaching, and preaching. The powerful hope that is generated by the mere title of the book is that God's faithful never stand alone, but are united by the One who calls for faithfulness.

Phillip A. Ross
Marietta, Ohio


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