Three Good Books -- and the Return of Another Old Friend
Three recent books are worth reading.
The first is Thomas Weinandy’s Jesus Becoming Jesus. Weinandy is a Franciscan theologian who is well-known in orthodox Protestant circles for his superlative exposition and defense of classical theism, specifically immutability and impassibility. In this new book he starts what he intends as a multi-volume exploration of New Testament theology. Here, he engages with the Synoptic Gospels. He states at the start that it is not his intention to deal in any detail with current New Testament scholarship but rather to read the gospel narratives as a systematic theologian. The result is often enchanting and frequently intellectually challenging, as any discussion of the mystery of the Trinity must be. Here is Weinandy on Christ’s baptism:
[I]n the Father declaring, in the descent of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is his beloved Son, we gain entrance and perceive beyond the torn heaven into the very mystery of the Trinity. The Father reveals himself as Father not by saying that he is the Father, but by revealing his Son by saying in the love of the Spirit, "You are my beloved Son." In this declaration the Father manifests himself as the loving Father of his Son. This is in keeping with who the Father is, for he is only the Father in that he fathers his Son, and so it is only proper that he reveal himself as the Son's Father. We perceive here that the Father is metaphysically incapable of revealing himself as Father apart from his Son, for he is defined as Father only in relationship to his beloved Son. (88-89)
The manner in which he set the life of Jesus in a Trinitarian context, demonstrating how the identity of the Son is vital to understanding his deeds and his teaching, is most welcome and will help any preacher who has ever faced the question, ‘What difference does classical Trinitarianism make to how I read the Bible?’ Far from being irrelevant, the classical Trinity lies at the core of revelation.
While Weinandy’s Roman Catholicism is evident in his treatment of the Lord’s Supper, this is a book that Protestants will otherwise find most helpful. I for one will never be able to preach the gospel narrative in quite the same way again. And we will be interviewing Dr Weinandy about his book, and his contributions to classical theism, on a future MoS podcast.
The second book is the first volume of the translation of Petrus van Mastricht’s great work, Theoretical-Practical Theology. Van Mastricht (1630-1706) was one of the last great representatives of Reformed Orthodoxy before the project began to crumble due to the impact of Enlightenment patterns of thought in the late seventeenth century, with their accompanying revisions of classical metaphysics. He was also a huge influence on Jonathan Edwards. For these reasons alone we should welcome this translation project.
In this volume there is some preliminary material (a biographical sketch, van Mastricht’s essay on preaching) and then the prolegomenal discussion which lays the foundation for the theology proper of the next volume. Consistent with his belief that theology is a mixed discispline both theoretical and practical, van Mastricht constantly takes the reader from doctrinal truth to practical application. In an era when both are at a premium, he offers a valuable model.
This book arrives at a time when the historical work of Richard Muller, Willem Van Asselt and others on post-Reformation Reformed theology and its confessional development is being developed in important systematic ways by theologians such as Scott Swain and Michael Allen at Reformed Theological Seminary. The realization that some influential strands of modern Reformed theology are actually outside the boundaries of the confessional consensus has reignited interest in the great theologians of the seventeenth century and this volume will therefore be a joy to those whose lack of Latin would otherwise prevent them from seeing what their spiritual forebears actually taught.
The third book is from my fellow countryman, Melvin Tinker, vicar of St John, Newland near Hull: That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost. Melvin has fought a long and often lonely battle against various strands of lunacy in the Church of England and in this brief book he attempts to explain how and why the tide of what he denotes ‘cultural Marxism’ has carried all before it, not simply in the world but in the church as well. At a mere 117 pages of text, this is a remarkably concise analysis of our current ecclesiastical malaise.
I should come clean at this point and admit that much of my delight in this book stems from the fact that Melvin would appear to be something of a fan of Camille Paglia, whom I have not mentioned for a while but for whom my own love remains strong and is indeed no secret. Melvin even quotes with approval my article where I confessed to such. Citing Paglia’s astute analysis of the gullibility of the trendy Christian approach to sexuality, he makes the laconic and devastating comment; ‘Sometimes non-Christians on the outside seem to be more insightful about the Church than Christians who are on the inside.’ (82). Yes they do. Oh yes they do. That is why books like this are important because they actually help us to think about the Church rather than simply capitulate to the trendies or merely shout Bible verses louder at them.
Three very different but very useful books. And it’s good to have my radical feminist heartthrob back on the blog.