Review of The Life-Giving Parent by Clay & Sally Clarkson

The Life-Giving Parent, Giving Your Child a life worth living for Christ by Clay & Sally Clarkson, Tyndale Momentum, 2018, 232 pp.

In The Life-Giving Parent, Clay and Sally Clarkson present some beneficial and Biblical ideas for raising children in a Christian home. I liked their description of “family planning” as not “about if or when we have children, or how many we have” but “what kind of parents we would be, what the Bible said to us about parenting, and how we would help our children love God.” (p. 21) Positively they also note that nurturing of children by parents is to be hands on in discipline, instruction, training, and admonition; not merely having our children read books or watch videos alone or having them go to Sunday school or sent off to camp. (p. 45)

But while the book might be of some benefit I found the writing style to be quite jumbled and the content fluffy. The actual ideas in the book could be stated in a page or two. The rest is an abundance of cliches, kitschy stories, and platitudes. You have to put up with terms like “Momoirs” and “ParenTips.” And this is definitely the first time I’ve seen a book quote from the website

There are also a number of questionable theological statements and Biblical interpretations. They describe what it means to be a life-giving parent as “to introduce our children to the living God of Scripture and to give them the life that we have found in him.” (p. xviii) While it is unclear in this statement just what “life” is to mean, it probably doesn’t means “daily living” or “Christian culture,” but rather, since they described the life as “that which we have found in him,” it must be that “new life” of being born again as Christians. But this re-birth can hardly be “given” from one person to another. While this statement was made by Clay in the preface, in the foreword by Sally has this same odd theological idea: “It’s not just about giving your children a Christian life but also about giving them the life of Christ.” (p. xiv) And in Chapter 1 in no uncertain terms they together declare, “We are the ones who give the life of God to our children.” (p. 12) But orthodox Christianity has it that this is the role of the Holy Spirit alone! Fortunately in other places they tone down this idea. It is far better when they write “life-giving parenting must first be about helping them find eternal life in Christ and getting them on God’s path so they can live in a way that’s pleasing to Him.” (p. 13-14)

Almost a whole chapter is based on their interpretation of the phrase “number our days” of Psalm 90:12 to mean “using time well and setting goals with pleasing God in mind.” But this doesn’t seem at all to be the right interpretation. Respected commentators Keil and Delitzsch say “to number our days” is equivalent with “to contemplate the fleeting character and brevity of our lifetime.” While the view of the authors might be an implication from this passage, it isn’t the passage’s actual meaning.

They hold to some sort of “age of accountability” where they believe in “childhood innocence” (p. 114, 153) contrary to the Biblical teachings that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) They write that whether a child’s “prayer of salvation” (p. 114) is genuine or just “to please you” it is no matter because “In either case, your child is safe in God’s grace and mercy.” (p. 115)

I’m sure there are better books on making your home a Christian one.

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Review of The Truth About Christian Science by James H. Snowden

The Truth About Christian Science, The Founder and the Faith by James H. Snowden, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1921, 313 pp.

This is really a fantastic book. I came into it knowing nothing about Christian Science except that Mary Eddy Baker was its founder. The Truth About Christian Science informed me considerably about this religion/cult and proved to be an enjoyable read.

Snowden excellently shows Christian Science’s roots in the bizarre religious atmosphere of early-mid 19th century New England. It is seen that its founder got many of her ideas from her own (poor) interpretation of philosophical Idealism (the view that the world is mind) and from a “mind-healer” named P. P. Quimby who she alternately gave credit to and denounced. But consistency was not a virtue Mary Eddy Baker possessed. This is seen over and over in the book through quotes of her confused writings.

Though steeped in the “mesmerism” (see Franz Mesmer) of P. P. Quimby, Mary Eddy Baker later made some of its views to be “her Devil” which she called “Malicious Animal Magnetism” and blamed all of her problems on it. The basic idea was that other people’s negative thoughts were harming her and were the cause of all of her problems.

The depiction I got of Mary Eddy Baker from the included testimonies of those who knew her is that she was about the worst person imaginable. As a youth she would go into fits if she didn’t get her way. She was nothing but spoiled and this changed little when she grew up. For years she was a drifter, mooching off various people and staying at their homes until she was inevitably forced out time and time again.

Much of the book reminded of E. D. Howe’s Mormonism Unveiled. Snowden, like Howe, did extensive research to trace his subject’s life from beginning to end, interviewing all available witnesses to their lives. In so doing, a picture of Mary as a charlatan much like Joseph Smith emerges. I say “Mary” and might leave off the last name as it changed a number of times. She was married three times, and so had various last times and combinations of last names throughout her life. (Positively, one might note, that three marriages pales in comparison to the number of marriages Joseph Smith had.) In her three marriages she had but one son who she basically couldn’t manage to take care of and so gave him away and saw little of him for years afterwards.

After decades of basically being a loser, Mary Eddy Baker somehow gained a following in conducting classes on P. P. Quimby’s views after his death. Her main production was a book called Science and Health which went through numerous editions. So poor was her writing that she hired an editor, the Unitarian minister Calvin A. Frye, to basically rework the whole text. Like so many in her life though, she came to disagreements with him and ended their relationship. Reading the edited works and comparing it with Baker’s other writings, Mark Twain criticized the book saying that she could not have written it. Another reviewer of the book aptly stated, “The reader can begin and stop anywhere without serious loss or gain.” (p. 92)

A good statement of a major doctrine of Christian Science is “that sickness is a subjective state of mind and not an objective bodily reality.” (p. 128) And “the efficient remedy” is “to destroy the patient’s false belief by both silently and audibly arguing the true facts in regard to harmonies being—representing man as healthy instead of diseased … Destroy fear and you end fever”. (p. 129) Prayer for Christian Science does not have any effect on God but has only subjective influence on the one who prays. Ironically, Mary Eddy Baker wasn’t able to cure her own farsightedness and “the necessity for wearing glasses embarrassed her.” (p. 176) Of course, this too she blamed on the “mesmerists.”

Snowden notes that Christian Science is truly Gnosticism (p. 93), Pantheism (p. 115), and hedonism (p. 264). As the “church” grew its founder called herself “Mother” and “began to identify herself with the ‘woman’ in the book of Revelation.” (p. 98)

But what is “Christian” about any of this? Almost nothing according to Snowden. He writes, “As Voltaire said of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ that it was not an empire and was not Roman and was not holy, so must it be said of Christian Science that it is not science and it is not Christian.” (p. 173) Baker’s interpretation of Scripture is seen to be almost uniformly ridiculous. Snowden notes, “Mrs. Eddy hardly ever quotes or refers to Scripture that she does not utterly pervert to her own purpose, putting on it a sense the Scripture writer never dreamed of.” (p. 124) Snowden notes that a chapter called “Key to the Scriptures” in Science and Health “was not in the early editions of the book, for at first Mrs. Eddy had no thought of starting a religion.” (p. 137) And he notes that “Christian Science, though it started only as a method of mind healing, rapidly developed into a religion with a church and a creed and an elaborate system of theology.” (p. 166) But, “Christians and Christian Scientists cannot walk together because they do not agree in any distinctively Christian doctrine.” (p. 167)

How then did Christian Science gain a following? Their first church grew from twenty-six members in 1879 to 2978 members in 1894! (p. 177) By 1906 there were 82,332 members in the cult. It seems that they gained many converts from those who had come to disagree in some way with their previous church affiliations. “It is known that nearly all of them have come out of the orthodox churches, for Christian Science wins few converts out of what is known as ‘the world.'” (p. 210) And, “Christian Science has in no small degree profited by revolt against conventionalized religion toward liberal thinking.” (p. 268) It grew largely in cities (so much for the supposition that the urban people are smarter than the rural!), among the wealthy who seek the fashionable (p. 269) , and by one account at a certain time 72% of its followers were women (p. 271). Even among the growth, Snowden writes, “Many of her most prominent and efficient followers and workers withdrew from her fellowship and church, some of them going off to start rival healing movements.” (p. 178)

The ultimate conclusion of Mary Eddy Baker’s life was her own death, that which on her own views should not happen if she merely did not believe that it would. Her death, like the inevitable death of all her followers and of all people worldwide, proves her system a failure and sets one to search elsewhere for a solution to the apparent temporariness of our existence.

Christian Science practitioners today might take this one good piece of advice from Mary Eddy Baker:

“If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the mind physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief.” (p. 133)


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My Interview on “Research and Religion” Podcast

Check out the Research on Religion podcast where I was interviewed by Dr. Tony Gill, Professor at Washington University:

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Review of Ecclesia Lutherana by Joseph A. Seiss

Ecclesia Lutherana: A Brief Survey of the Evangelical Lutheran Church by Joseph A. Seiss, Philadelphia: Canton Press of Sherman & Co., 1868, 276 pp.

[The author Joseph A. Seiss (1823 – 1904) was an American Lutheran minister. Oddly for a Lutheran, he was a dispensationalist. Even more strangely for a Christian he wrote a book on Pyramidology.]

[My own copy is in very good condition for its age. Its condition is helped by the book having a rigid cover and thick stock of paper.]

Ecclesia Lutherana begins with a brief history of Luther’s Reformation which Seiss sees as a return to the true faith of the ancient Christian church. He notes that the “papal system” “arose during the sixth and seventh centuries after Christ.” (p. 33)

It strikes me that Lutherans like Seiss will refer to “Luther and the Reformers” in a positive light, but will not positively mention Zwingli, Calvin, or other Reformed theologians specifically. There is a partisanship that acknowledges the greatness of the Reformation but refuses to acknowledge the work of Reformers with whom the Lutherans disagree with on the sacraments.

Seiss defends the importance of creeds and confessions. He sees the Augsburg Confession as “pre-eminently the greatest and most glorious Confession of Protestant Christianity.” (p. 49)

He quotes a number of times from D’Aubgine’s History of the Reformation, in part it seems to show a non-Lutheran’s positive appraisal of the Lutheran Reformation.

At times he writes quite eloquently. Speaking of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone, Seiss writes, “Nations caught up that one truth, and lived: Rome heard it, despised, staggered, and fell.” (p. 67)

Most of the book is a fairly standard telling of the history of Luther and the Reformation. He praises Luther for his translation of the Bible into German, for his catechisms, and for his hymns. Seiss seems to forget the preference for Psalm-singing of the Reformed when he quotes another author saying:

“The Reformed Churches of France and French Switzerland, seem to have had no literature corresponding to the Hymns of Protestant Germany. The same absence of an Evangelical national hymn-literature, springing up spontaneously, as a natural growth of the Reformation, which characterizes the Reformed Churches of France and French Switzerland, exists also in the sister Church of Scotland. None of the strictly Calvinistic communities have a hymn-book dating back to the Reformation.” (p. 85)

Against the Papal claims of Rome, Seiss notes that “Paul claims that he was not one whit behind, or inferior to, Peter, or any other Apostle. 2 Cor. 11:5 ; 12:11. Nay he did not hesitate to resist and censure Peter and by inspiration of God declared himself right in so doing. Gal. 2:11.” (p. 92) And against Episcopalian claims Seiss replies, “Whatever men may say, a thorough prelatist, is virtually a papist.” (p. 96)

In a section defending Lutheranism against the charge of Rationalism, Seiss comments, “Unable to turn the German people from that Bible to which they owe so much, Satan instigated the attempt to explain away its mysteries, and to reduce its wonders to the limits of the ordinary and the natural.” He lists German advocates of Rationalism as “Semler, Morus, Koppe, Eichhorn, Steinbart, Henke, Gabler, Paulus, Spalding, and Teller.” (p. 129) He admits that Rationalism “also crept into sections of the Lutheran church, and did, in the last century, taint and lead astray many of its ministers and people.” And adds, “There is nothing to be gained by denying this truth.” (p. 130) Yet he argues that Rationalism plays no part in the Lutheran confessions nor in the great Lutheran theologians.

There follows a defense of the Lutheran view of communion against Roman transubstantiation, and a defense of “the power of the keys” in ministers pronouncing forgiveness of sins which reference especially to John 20:22, 23. He notes that those opposed to doctrine of the keys “do not say ‘the Church baptizes thee,’ or ‘Christ baptizes thee,’ but they say ‘I baptize thee.” (p. 169)

Seiss notes that “the Lutheran Church has few pecularities” (p. 191) but he does not mention any. The Lutheran view of communion, however,—whether right or wrong—must be admitted as a peculiarity considering that no other church teaches it as they do. In fact, its universal rejection by the numerous other denominations of the Reformation and post-Reformation should give Lutherans a reason to reconsider their position.

He notes some of the Lutheran missionary endeavors and writes about the early Lutheran churches in America. The book concludes with a sermon given on the 350th anniversary of the Reformation. The book is an interesting historical piece, but little of the material is not found already elsewhere.

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Review of The Presbyterian Standards by Francis R. Beattie

The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms by Francis R. Beattie, Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1896, 431 pp.

[While Francis R. Beattie (1848–1906) was at the time of publishing this book an ordained minister in the PCUS (Southern) and a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, he was not originally a Southerner, but a Canadian. He was born in Canada, he earned degrees at the University of Toronto (B.A. 1875, M.A. 1876), and pastored a church in Brantford, Ontario before earning a Ph.D. at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington Illinois in 1884.]

[My copy of this book was previously owned by S. S. Gill of Hickory Withe, TN, a town settled by Presbyterians in the 1830s. S. S. (Sid) Gill (1829–1907) was a Presbyterian minister at the Hickory Withe and Macon churches from 1861 to 1905.]

Beattie begins with a history and defense of creeds in general, and then proceeds to his exposition of the Westminster Standards primarily focused on the Shorter Catechism. While he goes through the Shorter Catechism point-by-point, for brevity I’ll just note a few thing that stood out for me in this volume.

It is seen that Beattie was a moderate or low Calvinist. He opposes supralapsarianism (p. 64) and relishes the fact that the Standards never apply the term “predestined” or “reprobated” to the non-elect but only speak of them as being “foreordained to death.” (p. 66, 67, 71, 72) But while Beattie is correct that the Standards do not use the term “reprobate,” John Calvin often did. For example, Calvin wrote:

“Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated. … Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children. … Then how will those who refuse to admit that any are reprobated by God explain the following words of Christ? ‘Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up.'” – Calvin’s Institutes, Chapter 23.

Some comments Beattie makes on angels seem speculative. Without any argument, he notes, “It is likely that angelic beings exited prior to the material universe.” (p. 77) And he writes, “It may be properly added that the angels were not created a race, or species, as man was. Each angelic being was a separate creation, and each one that fell must have fallen personally.” (p. 79)

He opposes evolution. (p. 78, 81)) And notes that “There is little doubt that the framers of the Standards meant a literal day of twenty-four hours.” (p. 80)

Beattie points out an interesting difference in the use of language between the Catechisms and the Confession. He writes, “In the fulness of time this eternal Son became man, or took upon himself man’s nature. The former is the language of the Catechisms, and the latter is that of the Confession. In some respects the confessional statement seems to be the better one, although the meaning of the Catechisms is afterwards explained in almost the same sense. The eternal Son did not become man in the sense that he no longer retained his true deity.” (p. 126) I would tend to agree with him in preferring the confessional statement.

He argues that in the phrase “he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed and alluded to in the Catechism, “hell” must mean “the invisible world of departed spirits” and thus “the meaning of the phrase is, that during the period between his death and his resurrection Christ’s human spirit, or soul, was in the region of departed disembodied souls in the unseen world, and at the same time  his body was lying in the tomb.” (p. 164)

He believes that the “Standards teach what is now known as the post-millennial view of the time and purport of the second advent of Christ” in that “their teaching is, that he has ascended to the right hand of the Father where he shall remain till the end of the world, and that when he shall come again it shall be to judge the quick and the dead.” (p. 166) Today we would understand both postmillennialism and amillennialism as agreeing to that point. Beattie’s motivation is likely just to show the Standards’ opposition to pre-millennialism.

There is a very technical chapter on “Free Will and Ability” which goes beyond the simple exposition of the Catechism made in the rest of the volume. There Beattie makes an interesting distinction between “liberty” and “ability.” He writes, “Liberty is simple the power to choose or decide as the man desires or pleases. Ability is the power to choose this or that course, even though it may be contrary to the desires or dispositions of the man.” (p. 174) He explains, “An illustration may make the difference more fully understood. A wicked man constantly sins. In sinning he chooses freely to sin. He sins freely because he pleases to sin, and he has full liberty in that direction. It cannot be said that he sins under compulsion. But, on the other hand, he has no power to choose or prefer holiness. He has no ability to will that which is pure and good. Herein lies his inability. He has liberty in willing the evil, but he has no ability to will the good.” (p. 174-175) Beattie later notes of the “Calvinist theory” that “Man has liberty in regard to all the exercises of his will, but he has no ability to choose the right or holy.” (p. 181)

He is to be credited for providing definitions of the terms “receive” and “rest upon” as they are used in the Standards in explaining faith. He writes, “The word receive evidently relates to the acceptance of Christ at first unto justification of life. The phrase rest upon points to the abiding state and relation of the believer to Christ.” (p. 228) This seems to be a good definition of “rest upon” as it does not add any performative works to faith as some are wont to do.

Beattie does not make assurance essential to faith. He writes, “But this infallible assurance of grace and salvation is not the essence of faith. This simply mean that there may be true faith without assurance, and a true believer may wait long and contend with many difficulties before he is made partaker of it.” (p. 243)

Coming to the civil or judicial law, Beattie notes,

“God also gave to his people Israel, as a body politic, that is, as a civil or national institute, sundry judicial laws. … They were, so far as they did not involve strictly moral elements, positive in their nature, and not binding upon any other people, though many of these judicial laws have such marks of divine wisdom that they may well arrest the attention of modern legislators. But these laws, as well as the ceremonial laws mentioned in the previous paragraph, have expired. The former, so far as general equity may require, passed away with the Jewish commonwealth, and the latter have been fulfilled or abrogated in teh New Testament.” (p. 250)

This statement appears to me to be decidedly opposed to the Theonomy that became prominent in the second half of the twentieth century. I suspect a Theonomist will here tell me I don’t understand their position, but alas no one seems to understand their position(s). Regardless, Beattie evidences a 19th century Presbyterian who did not believe in the “abiding validity of the Old Testament civil law.”

Beattie seems to be a supporter of exclusive Psalmody, or at least sees it in the confession. He writes,

“Praise, in the form of singing of psalms with grace in the heart, is to have a place in worship. It is curious to note the fact that hymns are not mentioned by name at this point; but doubtless the scriptural terms, ‘psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,’ are properly included under the word psalms in the Standards. Still, it is well to give the psalms in some form of a prominent place in the service of praise in public worship.” (p. 262-263)

Beattie notes some interesting history of the Westminster Assembly:

“The statement is often made, that effusion or sprinkling, as against immersion, was made the doctrine of the Confession by a vote of only one. That is not he fact, as Mitchell’s excellent account of the debate, based upon the Minutes of the Assembly, clearly shows. The question debated by the Assembly was not effusion, as against immersion, but it was as to whether immersion should be acknowledged as a valid mode of baptism at all. At the close of the debate the result of the vote was that by a majority of one it was decided that immersion may be regarded as valid baptism, but that baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling, that is, by affusion.” (p. 309-310)

The volume does not make for a particularly easy or enjoyable read through, but should function as a good reference guide when reading on some particular topic in the Standards.

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Review of United Presbyterianism by William J. Reid

United Presbyterianism by William J. Reid, Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1881, 192 pages.

[The copy I own was once owned by L. J. Graham of New Concord, OH who signed his name and the year 1891 in the book. He was the president of Muskingum College.]

William J. Reid’s United Presbyterianism, published in 1881, comes from a fairly early period in history of the United Presbyterian Church, a denomination that existed from 1858 to 1958. The majority of the book is an exposition of Presbyterianism simpliciter, while the final lengthy chapter is an commentary on the “Testimony of the United Presbyterian Church”—a statement of the church’s beliefs “on those points in which the Westminster Confession of Faith seemed to be deficient.” (p. 114)

Reid’s comments on faith are quite good, though I have some quibbles. He well writes, “The object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith, in general, is assent to truth upon testimony. Religious faith is an assent to divine truth on divine testimony. Therefore the general object of religious faith is the whole word of God.” (p. 9) But Reid unfortunately distances himself from this good statement by saying “faith is something more than an assent of the mind to the facts and doctrines of the gospel; it is an accepting of Christ and relying on him as the Savior.” (p. 11-12) It seems to me that no such person has ever existed; there just simply has never been a person who believes all the facts of the Bible and the statements of Christ but does not believe in Christ himself. I might be willing to have a distinction between assent to the divine truths of the Scriptures and a trust/hope  in Christ for one’s future. But, as the latter is essentially included in the former, it seems to me that it is sufficient to hold to just the former.

On page 51 there is a passage which evidences a rather post-millennial view. Reid writes, “And inspired prophecy gives us reason to hope that, in some future age, all the world will be converted, and all its inhabitants will be worshippers of the living God and followers of Christ.”

There is an excellent short defense of Presbyterianism against Congregationalism and Episcopacy. Though Reid’s arguments in this section may not be original, they are well put and persuasive.

Reid also has brief arguments on the existence of the office of Ruling Elder as distinct from the Teaching Elder. As this is a topic I’ve been interested in studying as of late, I want to note a long quote for reference:

“Is such an officer [Ruling Elder] appointed in the New Testament? Paul says to Timothy: ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially them who labor in word and doctrine.’ From this passage it is evident that Paul recognized two cases of elders, those whose duty it was to rule, and those whose duty it was to rule and teach. The same apostle, when enumerating the orders of church officers, distinctly calls some ‘teachers’ and others ‘helps’ and ‘governments.’ The same apostle, in another epistle, exhorts those who teach to wait on their teaching, and those who rule to rule with diligence. These passage certainly prove that there was, in the early church, an officer whose official power, in connection with the teaching elder, was that of government. And this is the officer who, in the Presbyterian polity, is called the ruling elder.” – p. 79

There is much of interest in the final section about the “Testimony of the United Presbyterian Church.” Reid comments in favor of “the eternal sonship of Christ,” in opposition to slavery, and in support of exclusive Psalmody. His comments on the later seem to be slightly different than I’ve seen elsewhere, and something I’ll need to review and consider.

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My Baptism in the LCA

From the time I was five years old until my college years I attended with my family a Lutheran church (Holy Cross) in Jenison, MI. As this was a member of the conservative Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), I’ve long assumed that the previous church we attended (Faith Lutheran in Grand Rapids, MI) when I was a young child and where I was baptized was also in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

I’ve found to my surprise, however, that Faith Lutheran was a member of the now-defunct Lutheran Church in America (LCA) at the time I was baptized (along with my twin brother) by Rev. Robert Lignell in 1982. It then merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) which is a liberal denomination.

When Rev. Lignell retired in 1987, the Rev. Raymond Peterson took over and my parents, disappointed in his preaching, transferred our family to Holy Cross. As Rev. Lignell’s resignation was in 1987, just the year before the merger, I wonder if he was opposed to the merger. He passed away at 91 years of age in 2014.

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