“The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle”

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Reading biographies of faithful men and women who have gone before us can be hugely beneficial to our growth in godliness (more on that here). In fact, the book that has made the most impact on my spiritual formation up until this point was not Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines, or Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (both of which are excellent), but a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis.

All that to say, you should read solid, Christian biographies. To get you started, here’s a short blurb on a man whose life, ministry, and writing have been greatly influential to me as I prepare for my own ministry: J.C. Ryle

John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) once believed that Christianity must be one of the most disagreeable occupations on earth—or in heaven. But one day in 1837 he happed into a church where, hearing Scripture read out loud, he was transformed. One verse, and the emphasis made in between each clause, gripped him. “By grace are ye saved . . . through faith . . . and that not of yourselves . . . it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8.)

In 1841 the Church of England ordained him as a minister of the gospel. In 1880, after thirty-nine years of faithful ministry, he was made the first Bishop of Liverpool, a post he held for 20 years. He was affectionately known as “the working man’s bishop.” And as a bishop he adopted one single text for his official work: “Thy word is truth” (John 17:7).

Ryle was a theological vertebrate. He never suffered from what he called a “boneless, nerveless, jellyfish condition of soul.” His convictions were not negotiable. Indeed, his successor described him as “that man of granite.” Archbishop Magee called him “the frank and manly Mr. Ryle.” Charles Spurgeon said he was “an evangelical champion . . . One of the bravest and best of men.” Ryle simply observed, “What is won dearly is priced highly and clung to firmly.”

From his conversion in 1837 to his burial in 1900, J.C. Ryle was entirely one-dimensional. He was a one-book man; he was steeped in Scripture; he bled Bible. As Ryle would say, “It is still the first book which fits the child’s mind when he begins to learn religion, and the last to which the old man clings as he leaves the world.”

In 1900, Ryle would be laid to rest, Bible still clasped in his hands. On his gravestone were carved two texts. Ephesians 2:8, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith,’ and II Timothy 4:7, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’

Bio adapted from the Charles Nolan edition of Holiness by J.C. Ryle.

Some Thoughts on a Few Heretics (Six, to be Precise)

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I read this post from Andy Gill earlier today and enjoyed it a good deal. Go on, read it. Gill employs a little bit of tasteful satire to make a great point. Modern Evangelicalism likes to define itself by what it is not, rather than what it is. As a result, Evangelicals appear to a watching world as a bunch of angry fundamentalists who can’t agree on who’s right, and label anyone who disagrees with them as “liberal.” This perception (not to mention the hundreds of feuding factions within evangelicalism), do more damage to our witness than any so-called “heresy” could ever hope to do.

So what is evangelicalism, then? I think J.I. Packer has a good answer for us. This list is taken from his essay “A Stunted Ecclesiology,” though he has cited it in various other places as well. For Packer, Evangelicalism isn’t guided by a list of doctrinal standards to be used as a test of fellowship. Rather Evangelicalism can be defined by 6 basic values or principles.

1. Enthroning Holy Scripture, the written word of God, as the supreme authority and decisive guide on all matters of faith and practice;
2. Focusing on the glory, majesty, kingdom, and love of Jesus Christ, the God-man who died as a sacrifice for our sins and who rose, reigns, and will return to judge mankind, perfect the church, and renew the cosmos;
3. Acknowledging the lordship of the Holy Spirit in the entire life of grace, which is the life of salvation expressed in worship, work, and witness;
4. Insisting on the necessity of conversion (not of a particular conversion experience, but of a discernibly converted condition, regenerate, repentant, and rejoicing);
5. Prioritizing evangelism and church extension as a life-project at all times and under all circumstances; and
6. Cultivating Christian fellowship, on the basis that the church of God is essentially a living community of believers who must help each other to grow in Christ.

It’s a list I think works very well in giving some definition to the broad stream that is the Evangelical tradition. Notice no “buzz-words” are used. Neither inerrancy, not Penal Substitution, nor Creationism were made a test of orthodoxy. I mean for goodness sakes, if 6-day creationism is the definition of evangelicalism, you might as well dismiss Tim Keller and Alister McGrath right now. No, instead of focusing on buzzwords–the things that divide well meaning, orthodox Christians–Packer asks a different question entirely. What are common themes Evangelicals have historically agreed on. In a phrase: What unites the movement?

It’s a good approach, I think, and one that we’d do well to apply to other areas of Christian thought as well.

A Call for a God-centered Evangelical Ecclesiology from J.I. Packer

“No one should fault evangelicals for their loving attention to the task of unpacking the gospel message that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Nothing is more important than that the gospel is fully grasped, and exploring it and emphasizing it is a thoroughly churchly activity. But it has led to a habit of man-centered theologizing, which sets needy human beings at center stage, as it were, brings in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just for their saving roles, and fails to cast anchor in doxology, as Paul’s expositions of the gospel lead him to do (see Rom. 11:33–36; 16:25–27; Eph. 3:20–21; 1 Tim. 6:13–16; cf. Rev. 5:9–14). Too often we evangelicals relegate the truth of the Trinity to the lumber-room of the mind, to be put on display only when deniers of it appear, rather than being made the frame and focus of all adoration. The church then comes to be thought of as an organization for spiritual life support rather than as an organism of perpetual praise; doxology is subordinated to ministry, rather than ministry embodying and expressing doxology; and church life is thought out and set forth in terms of furthering people’s salvation rather than of worshiping and glorifying God.”

– J.I. Packer