A Lesson from the Puritans on Spirituality

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If you haven’t heard, I’ve begun seminary at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary! Last Tuesday was my first day and I’m loving the experience! Whenever I think about this opportunity I have to study God’s Word in this environment, I always feel a deep sense of being so privileged to do so. God has blessed me tremendously in bringing my wife & I to Louisville.

With moving early this month and now seminary life, we are pretty busy. But, I thought I’d take a moment (before January was gone) and share with y’all a quote from one of the books I’ve been reading this semester.

This quote comes from J. I. Packer in his book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990). In the very first chapter Packer discusses some of the lessons the Puritans have taught him and he says this:

Seventh, the Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God. If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride. So one who theologises in public, whether formally in the pulpit, on the podium or in print, or informally from the armchair, must think hard about the effect his thoughts will have on people–God’s people, and other people (15).

Many of you might have grown up being taught that the Puritans were legalistic, prudish, overly-serious, to-be-avoided, folk. If that is you, Packer would say that you’ve learned it all wrong. The Puritans were deep thinkers, yes, but equally so they were deep lovers of God and others, whose love and devotion permeated all that they did in practical ways. They were serious about their faith in a way that led them to practice it in all spheres of life for the greater good as well as God’s glory. We can learn something from their maturity, which, frankly, so many of us 21st-century, overly busy, rarely meditative, Americans lack.

From the paragraph above we are reminded to cherish what we learn about God (theology). It’s a great reminder for me, a seminary student, and I would suggest it’s a great reminder for you as you read your Bible, go to church, and attend Bible studies. I pray that whatever we learn about God would cause us to rejoice in Him, encourage our faith, and promote humility.  As I write this, I am mindful of Packer’s last words in the quote above. Please meditate on what you learn about God, so that the effect of my thoughts on you would be to the glory of God through your joy in Him!

Now, back to my hundreds of pages of reading for classes…

The Bible’s Unity: “the most amazing of all the amazing things that are true of it” (J. I. Packer)

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From J. I. Packer’s foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of Edmund Clowney’s masterpiece, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (P&R Publishing, 2013):

The Bible is a unity. That is, perhaps, the most amazing of all the amazing things that are true of it. It consists of sixty-six separate units, written over more than a thousand years against a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, by people who for the most part worked independently of each other and show no awareness that their books would become canonical Scripture. The books themselves are of all kinds: prose jostling poetry, hymns rubbing shoulders with history, sermons with statistics, letters with liturgies, lurid visions with a love song.

Why do we bind up this collection between the same two covers, call it The Holy Bible, and treat it as one book? One justification for doing this–one of many–is that the collection as a whole, once we start to explore it, proves to have an organic coherence that is simply stunning. Books written centuries apart seem to have been designed for the express purpose of supplementing and illuminating each other. There is throughout one leading character (God the Creator), one historical perspective (world redemption), one local figure (Jesus of Nazareth, who is both Son of God and Savior), and one solid body of harmonious teaching about God and godliness. Truly the inner unity of the Bible is miraculous: a sign and a wonder, challenging the unbelief of our skeptical age.

The Bible is full of diversity, yes. But all of its diversity is clothed in unity. Many kinds of teaching in many different ways (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2), yet one coherent message without contradictions throughout all the centuries, locations, and books. Wow! Only a God who is sovereign over history could orchestrate that. And He did! Let’s read His book!

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