Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Women in the Reformation

Posted: November 23, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Biography, Church History, Family, History, Womanhood

Justin Holcomb, writing at The Resurgence blog, writes short descriptions of the lives of several women that God used in the 16th century.  Here was one that I found particularly interesting:

Olimpia Fulvia Morata was an Italian scholar born in Ferrera as the oldest child of a humanist scholar, who, after being forced to flee his city to northern Italy, lectured on the teachings of Calvin and Luther. Olimpia flourished in her studies, especially in Latin and Greek, exhibiting impeccable scholarship. She wrote Latin dialogues, Greek poems, and letters to both scholars (in Latin) and less educated women (in Italian). In her “Dialogue between Theophilia and Philotima,” she encouraged those who feared that their gross sins obstructed their way to God:

    Don’t be afraid … No odor of sinners can be so foul that its force cannot be broken and weakened by the sweetest odor that flows from the death of Christ, which alone God can perfume. Therefore seek Christ.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

Honoring John Piper

Posted: October 6, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Biography, Calvinism, From the Heart, Theology

Justin Taylor and Sam Storms served as editors of a book that was released at the 2010 Desiring God “Think” Conference. The book is titled, “For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper”. Check out the lineup of contributors and the video of John Piper being presented with the book here.

I add myself to a great multitude of grateful saints for the ministry of John Piper. I was gifted on Christmas 2001 with the book, “Pleasures of God” from Pastor Ty Van Horn of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Manhattan Beach, where I served as a Pastoral Assistant/Intern. I have forever been changed by that and subsequent books and sermons by John Piper.

Here is a list of things I most admire about Pastor John Piper:

  1. His Godliness. Some fault Evangelicals for being overly pietistic, and John Piper confirmed in me that we are not pietistic enough in a Godward sense of emoting. Whenever folks accuse me of just being a pietistic Evangelical, I gladly bear the criticism. John Piper taught me, through the voice of C.S. Lewis, that our emotions are not too strong, but rather too weak. Piper’s words are forever branded in my heart and mind, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.
  2. His Exegesis. Piper wants everyone to see his preaching as the result of careful exegesis. Piper is committed to Holy Scripture and is captivated by it. Piper said that the best advice for a preacher is to be incredibly excited about the Bible. I may not agree with everything Piper says, but I don’t doubt for one minute that his convictions flow from hours of burning the candlelight before Holy Writ.
  3. Preaching as Exultation.  “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” is the greatest book I have ever read on preaching. Piper taught me that preaching is worship. Piper models this. He is known for often looking upward in a heavenly gaze when he preaches and I can’t help but think he is preaching to God’s glory above all else, before an audience of one. I have learned that the most important person to please when I preach is God Himself.
  4. Arcing. For more on arcing, visit
  5. Love for the Unborn. Piper is a champion for the dignity of human life as reflecting the image of God. He has been arrested for protesting for life and has been bold enough to call out President Obama on the abortion issue. See this clip. I have taken up Piper’s tradition of preaching on Life every year during Sanctity of Life Sunday. I also walk in the annual Boise Walk for Life along with my family.
  6. Love for the Afflicted and Suffering. My theology of suffering was non-existent before I devoured Piper’s resources. While I affirm that Satan and his minions are at work in much suffering, I know that it is all sifted through God’s loving hands. I had the opportunity to attend The Bethlehem Institute and had some preliminary correspondence with Piper about starting a ministry for the disabled at Bethlehem Baptist. He was excited about such prospects. God closed that door and I never did go, but Piper’s love for the disabled, afflicted, and suffering is a healthy antidote to the “Health and Wealth” crap that passes itself off as Christian. Our family walks in the annual Boise Buddy Walk for Downs Syndrome and my pastoral care to the afflicted and suffering is much indebted to John Piper.
  7. Love for Global Missions. “Missions exists because worship doesn’t” says Piper. It is no secret that Piper loves the lost, was a friend of Ralph Winter, wrote a book on missions,  and has featured missionaries to his annual conferences.
  8. Racial Harmony. Piper has retained his residence in the “dangerous” urban area of Minneapolis. He has adopted Talitha, a black girl, and has reached out to the African immigrant community in the Twin Cities. Rather than “white flight”, Piper has embraced ministry to all who surround him.
  9. A Kinder Glorious Calvinism. Piper could care less if the “Truly Reformed” label him “Essentially Reformed”. I couldn’t care less as well. When Piper labels himself a 7 point Calvinist, he does so to see God’s glorious creation before, and God’s glorious consummation at the end. The glory of God bookends the doctrines of grace. Like Piper, I am an unashamed “Calvinist”, but I wear such a label as a humble  sinner who seeks God’s doxology above all else. Calvinism must be stirred within the broader framework of Scripture and the Glory of God.
  10. Theological Honesty. Love him or hate him, Piper is an eclectic dude theologically. His thoughts on Law and Gospel have evolved, he believes in the continuation of Spiritual Gifts, and his eschatology always seems to be intentionally ambiguous. He has fought against Open Theism in his own denomination, is complementarian, and supported an amendment to the bylaws of his church that would allow those baptized as infants join the membership of the church. He has caused a stir by inviting the likes of Doug Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and Rick Warren to his annual conferences. Don’t confuse this charity with theological indifference, but a canny discernment to be inclusive of those who keep the main thing the main thing. He even moderated an eschatological roundtable not to long ago between Sam Storms, Doug Wilson, and Jim Hamilton. Piper models charity to those within the broader Evangelical church, seeing the strengths among those he might disagree with on other issues. I try to model this healthy ecumenical Spirit. I am also an eclectic Evangelical, holding convictions on a host of theological issues that wouldn’t place me perfectly into any one circle. It’s better to be Theologically honest than a cross-fingered Evangelical who affirms doctrinal elaborations on paper that they really don’t believe. Theological credibility is important and I hope to be bold enough to state what I believe the Bible to be teaching and also humble enough to admit that certain things are a work in progress. This discernment that Piper has modeled teaches me to keep the Gospel front and center and to be gracious on secondary issues. My friends in the current pastorate consist of colleagues from the Foursquare Church, Nazarene Church, United Reformed Church, CREC, PCA, and OPC.

Well, I was teary-eyed seeing Piper accept the book on stage. I am grateful for him and am convinced that he will go down as one of the greatest Pastor-Theologians our country has ever seen.

This chapter is just a couple of pages.  Hunter is now going to move into the question of how Christians think about power.  Rather than figuring out how to gain power on our society’s terms, he says, we need to define power properly, which is a precondition for having a healthy Christianity and a healthy influence on the culture.

One term that Hunter uses both in the title of his book and in this chapter (and other places, too, I think) is “the late modern world.”  It’s an interesting term, suggesting that we’re reaching the end of the modern paradigm.  I guess that when a major school of thought is called “postmodernism” and we’ve seen the century-long erosion of the certainties that governed the “modern” view of the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we might conclude that there’s something to this view.  I wonder if Hunter would see the church’s “faithful presence” as a way of positioning itself to exercise the right kind of cultural influence in the transition to the next age.

What comes next is an interesting thought, but of course we won’t know until we (or our descendants) are there.

Essay 2, Chp. 1 “The Problem of Power”

Hunter sees the Creation Mandate as a source of both glory and shame. Since we reflect God’s image, we are enabled to reflect His image through acts of love and innovative labor for the sake of neighbor. At the same time, because of our fall, we are also able to steer this ingenuity for self-gain, thus abusing creation to achieve our ends.

Hunter proposes that what matters is how power is defined and valued in the community. As such, Hunter suggests that the Church’s notion of power and how to yield it has been faulty and needs to be reworked. That is what he intends to discuss in more detail in the following chapters.

If we think of ourselves as stewards, then we must define our engagement by the One who has entrusted us with vocation. It is important that we remain self-critical and always examine our aspirations and whether they reflect the Creator or fallen worldly notions of power. It will make a big difference in how we view the task of the Church in the world. I am ready for the assessment that Hunter will provoke in the following chapters.

Bonhoeffer: A Review

Posted: May 28, 2010 by Jonathan in Biography, Book Reviews

We throw phrases around so easily these days, especially in the sphere of gushing blog reviews. I know that, but I’m about to write a gushing review and there’s a phrase I’m in need of that has been overused, but that applies so perfectly to this book. The book I’m referring to is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (which I’m reviewing as part of Thomas Nelson’s program). The phrase I’m needing to use is “the author weaves a rich tapestry”, which Metaxas really does.

Though the central figure of Bonhoeffer shines brightly from the 542 pages of biographical writing, there are multiple threads that flow throughout the narration. There is an overview of the Third Reich, a history of the Confessing Church, a great section on Luther and the abuse of his later writings, and much in the way of family relations. The vision of early 20th Century Germany is much more complex than the movies have often made out, and we see Metaxas evaluate how Germany came to be under the authority of an evil dictator. The author does a solid job of informing without condoning, but neither does he blindly condemn all of Germany. Instead, I found myself immersed in the confusion and disturbance of a nation torn. It really was a quite remarkable experience!

Most compelling to me was the tracing of Bonhoeffer’s theological path, and the centrality of his devotion to the Word and prayer. That, in the midst of suffering, confusion and upheaval, a man could maintain his discipline, and even be sustained by it is inspiring and convicting.The writing itself is fluid, with both beauty and truth expressed clearly. I love how the excerpts of letters and other varied writings are used within the narration, letting people tell their own tales but maintaining the flow. Metaxas is a skilled and passionate author, that is for sure!

Ultimately, the proof of this text is twofold: firstly, at a practical level, I’ve never been much of a history buff, nor one to read biographies, but I could not get away from Bonhoeffer; secondly, reading about the man’s life and thought compel me to read his own works, and I am sure that I shall gain that much more from them having read Metaxas’ book.

Highly engaging, expertly crafted and destined to take a top spot in my reading list of 2010.

Well, Happy St. Patrick’s Day one and all. It is very difficult to sift through the lore of St. Patrick to understand the real man behind the myth and legend. I found some of the following tidbits useful in appreciating this courageous missionary to Ireland:

–          His slavery:

  • A 16-year-old Romanized Briton, Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief whose opponents’ heads sat atop sharp poles around his palisade in Northern Ireland. While Patrick minded his master’s pigs in the nearby hills, he lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger, thirst, and isolation. A nominal Christian to this point, he now turned to the Christian God of his fathers for comfort.
    “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”
    After six years of slavery, a mysterious, supernatural voice spoke to him: “Soon you will return to your homeland.”
    So Patrick fled and ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor. There he boarded a ship of traders bound for Europe.
    Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know (229–230). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

–          First Missionary to Ireland? and Combating Pagan Forces?

  • Whether Patrick was the first missionary to Ireland or not, paganism was still dominant when he arrived. “I dwell among gentiles,” he wrote, “in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshipers of idols, and of unclean things.”
    Patrick’s mission faced the most opposition from the druids, who practiced magic, were skilled in secular learning (especially law and history), and advised Irish kings. Biographies of the saint are replete with stories of druids who “wished to kill holy Patrick.”
    “Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” Patrick wrote, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”
    Patrick was as fully convinced as the Celts that the power of the druids was real, but he brought news of a stronger power. The famous Lorica (or “Patrick’s Breastplate”), a prayer of protection, may not have been written by Patrick (at least in its current form), but it expresses perfectly Patrick’s confidence in God to protect him from “every fierce merciless force that may come upon my body and soul.”
    There was probably a confrontation between Patrick and the druids, but scholars doubt it was as dramatic and magical as later stories recounted. One biographer from the late 600s, Muirchú, described Patrick challenging druids to contests at Tara, in which each party tried to outdo the other in working wonders before the audience. Patrick, the legend says, won, as God killed several of the druids and soldiers:
    “The king summoned his council and said, ‘It is better for me to believe than to die.’ And he believed as did many others that day.”
    Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know (230). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

–          Instrumental in the abolishing of slavery in his lifetime?

  • Yet to Patrick, the greatest enemy was one he had been intimately familiar with—slavery. He was, in fact, one of the earliest Christians to speak out strongly against the practice. Scholars agree he is the true author of a letter excommunicating a British tyrant, Coroticus, who had carried off some of Patrick’s converts into slavery.
    “Ravenous wolves have gulped down the Lord’s own flock which was flourishing in Ireland,” he wrote, “and the whole church cries out and laments for its sons and daughters.” He called Coroticus’s deed “wicked, so horrible, so unutterable,” and told him to repent and to free the converts.
    It remains unknown if he was successful in freeing Coroticus’s slaves, but within his lifetime (or shortly thereafter), the entire Irish slave trade had ended.
    Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know (230–231). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

–          God uses the unlearned Patrick to confound the wise:

  • Despite his success as a missionary, Patrick was self-conscious, especially about his educational background. “I still blush and fear more than anything to have my lack of learning brought out into the open,” he wrote in his Confession. “For I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.”
    Nevertheless, he gave thanks to God, “who stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of the law as well as persuasive in their speech and in every other way and ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world.”
    Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know (231). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

While St. Patrick may or may not have given expositions on the triune God by holding up a 3 leaf clover, or many other attributed stories, what is clear is that there is some truth behind the myth if you can even sift one from the other. God used a teenage boy to powerfully transform the face on an entire country. While he might not have driven away serpents from the land, he did however help drive away the “Ancient Serpent” and a wicked host of principalities in the proclamation of the Gospel. He battled the druids and their bondage to principalities, and while some may or may not have perished in these “Power Encounters” (which I wouldn’t doubt did happen), it is certainly true that many idols were thrown away in Ireland as they heard the good news about the true Triune God!!!

When someone pinches you for not wearing green or your kids should ask who this green character is, tell them about St. Patrick and share the Gospel with them as Patrick would wish for all to do on a holiday that bears his name (which he would oppose BTW, but certainly not mind if the Gospel was shared in the midst of the green garb, beer, and clovers).

Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Meekness

Posted: March 4, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Biography, Book Reviews

He writes that the confidence that comes through God’s gracious justification allows us to place others above ourselves.  He continues:

One who lives by justification by grace is willing and ready to accept even insults and injuries without protest, taking them from God’s punishing and gracious hand.  It is not a good sign when we can no longer bear to hear this said without immediately retorting that even Paul upon his rights as a Roman citizen, and that Jesus replied to the man who struck, “Why smitest thou me?”  In any case, none of us will really act as Jesus and Paul did if we have not first learned, like them, to keep silent under abuse.  The sin of resentment that flares up so quickly in the fellowship indicates again and again how much false desire for honor, how much unbelief, still smolders in the community.

Source: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, translated by John W. Doberstein, p. 96.