Nate Downey

About Nate Downey

Nate's Blog
Nate Downey is studying for his Master of Divinity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while working for Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. While originally from California, he now lives in Lynchburg with his wife; they are members of Forest Baptist Church.



Theophany Book Review

Theophany Book Review

Theophany

by Vern Poythress
Length: To read (432 pages).
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

The current volume, Theophany, is a biblical theology of the appearances of God. This survey of the many places in Scripture where God appears to communicate with specific people is a resource that the average person or pastor may not even think about. Before I picked up this book, I had not thought much about the appearances of God throughout Scripture in any systematic fashion, let alone the significance of these events. I think this volume can add some interesting nuance to how we understand the ways God interacts with the world.

Theophany Book Review 1SUMMARY

There are forty-eight chapters in the book, grouped into four sections. The first section covers the biblical theme of God appearing, mostly in the Old Testament. For example, the theme of God appearing in a cloud. The most memorable example is when God appears in the cloud to guide the Israelites through the wilderness in the day time.

In each of these chapters Poythress explains the significance of each them in how it relates to the doctrine of God and how it also foreshadows or shows Christ. In the cloud example, the cloud represents the fact that God is unknowable in the fullest extent of who he is. This is represented by the cloud “hiding” who God is. But, God is also revealed in the cloud. Poythress says the cloud is reminiscent of how God, even in his incomprehensibility, draws near to us.

Christ “fulfills” the theme of the cloud in a few ways. In Christ, God comes down from heaven and communes with his people. He also reveals God because, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). We also remember that Jesus, being God, is still incomprehensible.

Part two is titled, “The Mystery of God Appearing.” This section has a little more theological punch and seeks to demonstrate the theology of knowing God and how his revelation achieves that within the set parameters of what God has done. Chapter 17 concerns the doctrine of the Trinity and starts by explaining the nature of progressive revelation.

It is important not to forget that at the time some of the biblical material was written, the full revelation of certain doctrines, like the Trinity, were unknown to the people; however, this does not mean that God was not trinitarian during this time. Poythress argues that even the theophanies in the Old Testament were shadows of the Trinity in the New Testament revelation.

The third section surveys the instances in Scripture where God appears to people in the Old Testament. Like the sections before this one, Poythress highlights several aspects of each appearance. One, he describes the (usually) narrative events that precipitate God appearing and then explains some of the attributes God is displaying in each specific appearance.

He also connects each instance with how the event contributes to the biblical storyline of redemption by connecting them to the themes of Kingdom, Covenant, and the presence of God.

The concluding section interacts with the appearances of God in the New Testament. The incarnation is the culmination and fulfillment of the appearances of God in the Old Testament. Poythress also has a chapter on the appearances of God in the epistles. These can range from the revelation of God in the gospel (Romans 1:17) to the future references in 2 Thessalonians. Revelation has its own chapter as the book is full of God appearing to his people.

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REVIEW

This book can be incredibly helpful for several reasons. I think Poythress material can benefit the pastor and layman in different ways. The layout of this book could easily become a devotional and each chapter is only a few pages in length. The themes are simple enough but elicit enough thought from the biblical text to make meditation on each chapter a reasonable use of this work. The chapters could also be good small group or Sunday School materials for use in larger bodies.

For the pastor, I would recommend this book for several reasons, especially if you are preaching. Each time God appears in the Bible, Poythress has laid out an outline for how that event can be interpreted and integrated into a systematized presentation. The connections to biblical theology and the fulfillment in Christ make the individual chapters a good resource for preaching material, especially if you struggle to find the significance or “bridge” to Christ in a text.

One of my favorite parts in the book is how we can see God “acting out” his attributes while he is appearing.

CONCLUSION

Theophany will be a helpful resource and guide for the theology of God appearing. The survey of material and the extensive Scriptural index is helpful for finding material and integrating that into other projects and ideas. Some may find the lack of depth a disappointment, but with the comprehensive survey of material, something had to give.

I recommend the book to preachers especially; use the material for Old Testament sermons.

four-stars
By | 2018-05-17T22:28:20+00:00 May 17th, 2018|

From Shadow to Substance Book Review

From Shadow to Substance Book Review

From Shadow to Substance

by Samuel D. Renihan
Length: To read (328 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Baptist history is something I am passionate about. As a conviction, I am a credobaptist, and enjoy any book espousing the theology and history of the tribe I identify with. Samuel D. Renihan, following in his father’s footsteps, delivers a masterful work delving into the early history of particular Baptists. From Shadow to Substance is a work that explores the development of Baptist covenant theology as it matured in the first few generations of particular Baptists. Renihan’s published dissertation follows a chronological progression of the covenant theology starting with their first publications and ends with the venerable Benjamin Keach while artfully placing the Baptists within their historical context; Renihan shows how the particular Baptists rose within the seventeenth century reformed tradition.

Who should read this?

Anyone interested in Baptist history, covenant theology, or both needs to read this book. Renihan does a fantastic job making the story of how the early Baptists paved their own way and distinguished themselves from the wider reformed world. This is a dissertation, so reading through the material will take some commitment. This is not an introductory work; for that, please see Pascal Denault’s The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology (for which I also wrote a review). Whereas Denault’s work is organized in systematic categories, Renihan’s is organized historically.

From Shadow to Substance Book Review 1

SUMMARY

Chapter one introduces the methodology, literature and an overview of the material of the book. This chapter really sets the stage and prepares the reader for what is to come. A good introduction makes the reader want to dive into the text, and this chapter achieved that.

Chapter two, in my opinion, is probably one of the most important chapters in the book, if not the most important. The reason for this is because the material in this chapter clearly show the diversity of the reformed theology regarding their views of the covenants and how the Baptists naturally followed the thought of some of the earlier paedobaptists. References to John Cameron in the rest of the book highlight this aspect. This chapter shows how paedobaptists were thinking in ways that separated the Old and New covenants, and the Baptists later applied the hermeneutics of Cameron and others more consistently to the other historical covenants. The Baptists demonstrated they were within the bounds of reformed orthodoxy.

Chapter three is the first time the writings of particular Baptists are addressed specifically. Three men are highlighted: Andrew Ritor, John Spilsbury, and Christopher Blackwood. Renihan is not afraid to show the diversity of those even within the Baptist camps. Ritor and Blackwood were more consistent with applying the distinction between the Old and New covenants than Spilsbury was, although the conclusions for all three men were thoroughly Baptist.

Chapter four introduces a larger group of writers writing from the period when the first London Baptist confession was written until acts of religious intolerance were enacted in the mid 1660’s. These men, like the three before them, were mostly polemical in their writings on baptism, focusing on specific points. Renihan shows the works of the Baptists on covenant theology were almost always rebuttals of the paedobaptist positions. Renihan makes two points clear in this chapter: the Baptists were concerned with keeping a connection with the reformed orthodoxy at the time, and that the Baptists could be quite diverse in their expressions of covenant theology, but those expressions were united in their aim of refuting paedobaptists.

Chapter five is about the writings of men during the time of English persecution for the non-conformists. Renihan shows that although the writings of the Baptists became overall less in volume, they were nonetheless still active in their arguments against paedobaptism. It should be noted that the Second Baptist London Confession was written during this period in 1677, but because of the laws against non-conformity, the Baptists were not able to publicly endorse it.

Chapter six this the chapter that will probably cause the most feathers to be ruffled. Anytime a Baptist tries to claim John Owen, there are always a few people who get upset. Let’s be clear, Owen was not a Baptist and all Baptists know that. What Baptists recognize, and paedobaptists do not, is that Owen’s covenant theology, especially the material expressed in his Hebrews commentary, was supportive of the Baptist position. Owen’s covenant theology was not the standard reformed theology, it separated the old and new covenants, and was almost identical to the arguments the Baptists were making (215).

Chapter seven covers the covenant theology of Nehemiah Coxe, who was probably one of the chief editors of the Second London Baptist confessions. Coxe was important for several reasons. He purposely set his work alongside of Owen’s explanation of the Mosaic covenant and Coxe’s further details on the Abrahamic covenant present a robust Particular Baptist expression of covenant theology. Renihan points out Coxe was the first Baptist to present covenant theology in a systematic fashion that also covered the covenant of works and Noahic covenant. I would highly suggest reading Coxe’s A Discourse on the Covenants that God Made with Men Before the Law; it is a wonderful positive presentation of Baptist covenant theology without too much anti-paedobaptist flair.

Chapter eight presents the Baptists writers who were active before and after the publishing of the Second London confession and to the death of Benjamin Keach in 1704. These men carried on the distinctions of the Baptist covenant theology. I think the best part of the chapter is in the last couple of paragraphs in the conclusion. There we find a compelling argument for the inclusion of the Baptists in the broad “reformed” tradition based on their covenant theology. Covenant theology that was in part appropriated from paedobaptist sources and refined by the Baptists.

The last chapter provides a nice summary to the theology and history of the material covered throughout the book.

Personal Reflection

Reading more about my theological heritage that I confess is always a pleasure and this read was no exception. Renihan provides a well-documented account of the development of Baptist covenant theology in the seventeenth century. For several reasons I found this work quite edifying. First, I have always been a fan of history and being taken back to the lives and thoughts of others, especially those in the common faith. I also find books like this allow me to examine my own convictions more closely and see things from the perspectives of those who came before me. If books like this keep coming out, I will keep reading them!

 

five-stars
By | 2018-04-29T00:30:00+00:00 April 27th, 2018|

Word Centered Church Book Review

Word Centered Church Book Review

Word Centered Church

by Jonathan Leeman
Length: Approximately 2 hours. To read (179 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

9 Marks is a ministry devoted to helping churches become more biblical in their doctrine and practice, and this book by Jonathan Leeman is no exception. In this short book, Leeman explains the heart of the church is centered on the Word of God preached and lived. The Word of God calls his church together, sanctifies his church and sends his church to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Leeman’s book is a great primer arguing the foundation of a healthy church is on the Word of God.

Who should read this?

This book is written at the lay level and would be a great benefit to anyone. Every Christian can benefit from the encouragement and doctrine laid out here because every Christian is called to serve in the body of Christ. Pastors and church leaders can greatly benefit from this book, as it can act a “refocusing” on the principles that guide the church’s mission and purpose, that which is found in the word of God. Lay people can especially use this book to understand the why question of the church’s nature and purpose.

Word Centered Church Book Review 1

SUMMARY

In his introduction, Leeman offers two problems he attempts to answer with this book. These are important for Christians to understand, because, chances are these apply to some degree to your church or is a real temptation for your church. Leeman first acknowledges how “bored” people are with the idea of a person getting up to speak for maybe an hour and that somehow is supposed to help them with their lives. Secondly, he makes the observation many church leaders are “losing confidence in the Word of God.”

Symptomatic of both of these things are the desire to turn to things other than the Word of God to either keep people interested or transform them to a desired spiritual level. He offers two answers for these problems as the purposes for this book. The first is that God’s word being proclaimed is the essential primary means by which God grows his church. Leeman wants his readers to understand the vital importance relying on the Word of God is for the health of the church.

Individuals are the new creation spoken into existence by the Word and the body is the community of those called to exist as the new creation together. Second, Leeman wants his readers to see that the Word grows “us as individuals and as local churches through our ears.” Individuals grow under the Word and whole churches, as communities living together, grow together and as a whole by the Word of God. Leeman divides his book into three sections, The Word, The Sermon, and The Church.

ANALYSIS

Leeman’s first section covers his theology of the Word. This covers four activities Leeman describes the Word doing: The Word Acts, Invites and Divides, Frees, and Gathers. Together, these activities describe the working of the Word of God in a way that highlights the nature and power of the Word. For example, the second sub point in chapter one, Leeman explains how God acts through his word. This may seem simple on the surface, but when you really think about it, the implications are profound.

God speaks, and things happen. When God speaks, his power in conveyed through his Word and nothing thwarts the Word of God from producing the result God intends. A second example comes from chapter two, Invites and Divides. Here, Leeman describes how the word separates people into two categories: those who accept the Word and those who reject it. The emphasis is on the power of the Word to call out those who are Christ’s while at the same time exposing those who are not. The Word acts as an amplification and wedge to divide.

There is such a sense of power and awe to think of the Word in this sense, separating the sheep from the goats with only the spoken voice. As Christians, this is a wonderful reminder how powerful God is and an encouragement to those who proclaim God’s Word. He will accomplish his purpose. Leeman succinctly reminds his readers of the power of God’s Word.

His second section focuses on the sermon. The sermon is the main act of proclaiming and meeting God that the covenant community partakes in. The three chapter titles of this section give a clear purpose to the point of what Leeman is getting at here. The sermon exposes, announces and confronts. I sense the burden of these chapters is to exhort people to understand what the purpose is behind the sermon.

Pastors especially should pay attention as this section lays out a very simply and yet powerful philosophy of preaching. Coupled with what we learned in the previous section, Leeman argues persuasively how vital a clearly communicated and exegetically sound sermon is for the congregation. In each of these three chapters, Leeman demonstrates the centrality of exegetical preaching. No one familiar with 9 Marks will be surprised with this.

The Word, when presented, is when God meets his people, the sermon and the preacher are only the vehicle for this to happen. The importance is on letting the Word do the work. Preachers of the gospel should rejoice in the news the production of the fruit is not up to them. Let the Word do the work.

The last section is one I think is tremendously important. Most resources I read or listen to about the Word of God are focused exclusively on preaching. Leeman reminds the reader that the gospel ministry belongs to all the saints. He offers four ways in which the church body act as ministers of the Word: Singing, Praying, Discipling, and Evangelizing.

Many churches hire a pastor like they hire a lawyer or doctor, leaving the professionals to complete their tasks. Leeman confronts this idea with these chapters. The Word grows the church as a whole because all the members of the church are ministering to one another through different means. This is a good reminder that songs, Sunday school, and other ministries need to be focused on the Word of God. Singing is a teaching time. People remember lyrics better than they do sermons. Let songs be saturated with the Bible and with good theology.

Personal Reflection

This book reminded me why good preaching and teaching is important. I want to meet God when I hear his word preached. Sometimes when I am convicted by a sermon I will say to my pastor, “it hurts so good.” I mean this to say when the Word confronts and exposes my sins, and yet comforts me in the gospel, which is one of the best ways to know and love God. Leeman gave me a greater appreciation for how the Word of God functions within the people of God.

I also find this book to be a valuable resource when talking to people. Its size length and depth allow it to be a tremendous help in any situation.

Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. Leeman’s writing style is easy to read and conversational. There are no slow parts and reading through the book is enjoyable.
  2. Leeman’s applications are reflective and useful for anyone to implement. I thought any church wanting to move towards being more Word-centered can benefit from his insights.
  3. At the end of every chapter Leeman gives you a list of recommended reading. The resources are great for people who want to dig deeper.

 

  1. The greatest weakness is the book is too short! I wanted more of what Leeman had to say in every chapter. Maybe one day he can write a comprehensive theology of the Word.
  2. Adding a general and Scripture index would be fantastic. This isn’t a reference book, but in a world where not everything I comment on is a research paper, having a quick guide to how people use Scripture is always a bonus.

 

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “True spiritual life is produced in the heart only when the Father speaks with creation power through the Son and by the Spirit…I’m talking about the power of God for giving light to the mind, affections to the heart, and freedom to the will, which then move hands and feet into holy action.” (19) 
  • “Either way, the pronouncement of God’s word effectively draws a line in the sand between two groups of people—those who accept God’s word and those who reject it.” (44)
five-stars
By | 2018-03-12T19:18:05+00:00 March 12th, 2018|

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology Book Review

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology Book Review

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

by Pascal Denault
Length: Approximately 6 hours. To read (155 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Denault demonstrates from original sources how the earliest Particular Baptists developed their own covenant theology in contrast to the contemporary Presbyterian theology of their day. This book highlights the specific differences in covenant theology and how they lead to the necessary conclusions found in Baptist ecclesiology.

Who Should Read This?

This book is for any Christian interested in learning how the Baptists began in England, growing out of the English Reformation and puritanism of the day. Of particular interest, Baptists can especially be interested in knowing how their theological heritage started.

Secondly, this book is for anyone wanting to know about how Baptists have historically understood the Structure of the Bible in their own expression of covenant theology. Those leaning towards or those who already are peadobaptist should consider the best arguments for credobaptism introduced in this book.

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology Book Review

 

The book follows a basic structure familiar to other introductions of covenant theology. Being an adaptation of his Th.M. thesis, Denault includes a brief rational of methodology to introduction the material. The book is divided into four main parts: the Covenant of Works(CoW), the Covenant of Grace(CoG), the Old Covenant(OC) and the New Covenant(NC).

The author uses mostly primary sources from the seventeenth century to development his argument that the foundational differences which arose between the ecclesiology of the Presbyterian Puritans and the Particular Baptists developed from significant and substantial differences in covenant theology. Today, most Baptist arguments for the baptism of confessing believers alone focus on the New Testament witness concerning baptism; referring to the Old Testament is usually a secondary matter.

However, those familiar with Presbyterian covenant theology and peadobaptism know their arguments are rooted in the Old Testament covenants. The early Particular Baptists started in the same place, but their conclusions led them to their distinctive beliefs. The particular Baptists understood the New Testament witness of the baptism of believers alone to be the natural conclusion of a proper understanding of covenant theology.

Deanult emphasizes the differences between the two camps’ majority opinion on each side. The CoW is only given a couple of pages because according to Denault and his sources listed, there was no significant variation between the two groups on this point. The main difference is highlighted in how the Baptists understood the CoG in relation to the covenants in the Old Testament, particularly the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Whereas the Presbyterian position understood all the covenants after the fall as administrations of the CoG, the Baptists did not. They understood the CoG to be revealed, but the substance of the covenant was not formally ratified, or established, as Denault says, until the NC in Christ’s blood.

This is a significant difference, as the Presbyterian position is defined on the continuity of the covenant. The Baptists believed in more discontinuity between the historical covenants. The Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants were all subservient covenants; they all served to lead to the eventual establishment of the CoG in the NC. Special attention is given to the Abrahamic covenant. The Baptists, following Galatians 3, emphasized the difference between the physical seed of Abraham and the spiritual seed of Abraham, of the children of the flesh and the children of the promise.

The historical covenants are made with the physical seed, whereas the CoG is with the children of promise, the spiritual seed, the elect. (The Mosaic Covenant is conditional upon obedience and is for the physical seed to reside in the land of Canaan.) Therefore, when the subservient Old Covenant (Abrahamic + Mosaic covenants) is abolished in the inauguration of the NC, only those who are professed to be the legitimate seed of Abraham, aka professed believers, are recognized in the New Covenant Community. The result is the Baptist doctrine of regenerate church membership and all its implications.

Being a historical theology book, Denault relies mostly on the quotations of the primary and secondary sources in the seventeenth century and from later Baptist theologians. Scripture is used throughout, but usually in discussing how the Baptists themselves understood what the specific passages to be saying. This should not be understood as being negative however, as his stated purpose was to highlight the distinctiveness of how the Baptists understood their theology.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I read the first edition of this book as a sophomore in college after almost plunging headway into peadobaptism. Introduced to some works on Covenant theology from exclusively Presbyterian perspectives, I had no way of arguing against the ideas of peadobaptist covenant theology; I didn’t even know Baptists had their own. Then I stumbled upon this work and breathed a massive sigh of relief. Instead of falling over the precipice into sprinkling babies for the rest of my life, I took Denault’s book and began my journey further back into my Baptist history for answers, possibly more confused then ever. What I discovered was a rich and extensive heritage of theology.

Denault, through this introduction, accomplished his task of explaining the difference of Baptist covenant theology. He had a clear goal of presenting the authors as they were and bringing a key argument back into the discussion on ecclesiology. For over a century, due in large part to Baptists moving away from covenant theology as an expression of the continuity of the testaments, Presbyterians have ignored or downplayed Baptist arguments against peadobaptism, usually from a bastion of historic covenant theology. Their monopoly is once again presented with the resurgence of historic Baptist covenant theology. Most Baptists today do not have a sense of church history further back than Billy Graham or maybe Charles Spurgeon.

Unfortunately, this ignorance has had a detrimental effect on Christian circles for over a century. Personally, I am glad to see a book addressing the roots of the theology I hold to very dearly, no longer out of unthoughtful tradition, but from studied conviction.

Strengths

  1. The book’s length allows the reader to identify and understand the key arguments detailed in this book. The extended outline and subheadings organize the material into a great reference work for the person looking for a quick guide on the differences in covenant theology. 
  2. Denaults use of primary source material is a plus. It is easy for some smaller books to generalize too much by not adding direct quotes and sources; Denault gives the reader a generous bibliography and his writing style (even though English is his second language) makes the material easy to follow. 
  3. In my opinion, the greatest strength of this book is the fact that there is nothing like this out there for this subject. As far as I know, there is not a single other book devoted to the theology behind the ecclesiology of the early Baptists.

Weaknesses

  1. This book assumes a knowledge of covenant theology that the average pastor and especially lay person would probably not have. Remember, the book is not espousing an explanation of covenant theology per se, it is about the differences. A person could not necessarily grab this book and walk away with a detailed, positive explanation of covenant theology. 
  2. While the purpose of this book is not to give a exegetical defense of Baptist covenant theology, there could have been more detailed analysis of the key texts from a contemporary standpoint. While not entirely absent, connecting the past theology to contemporary thought would have been a huge plus. Perhaps this is a publisher’s doing, but more Scripture quotations, not merely references would have been a plus.

CONCLUSION

Recently I was asked why covenant theology matters. What difference does all this theology make in the life of the believer or the life of the church? Covenant theology directly effects the church’s understanding of the nature and practice of the church, answering the question: who are the people of God?

The Baptists understood baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be only for confessing believers. They thought the New Testament witness and assumption of a regenerate church membership was obvious. They believed these things because they held to a covenant theology that presented these things as its necessary conclusion. I am grateful Pascal Denault has written this work.

In the last fifteen or so years there has been a small but growing number of Particular Baptists rediscovering their theological heritage and introducing the doctrine of Baptist Covenant theology into mainstream evangelicalism. This book was written to fill the gap that existed between the present day readers and students of God’s word to the generations of the past who have come before us.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “If Westminster Federalism can be summarized as ‘one covenant under two administrations,’ that of the 1689 [The Second London Baptist Confession] would be, ‘one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant.’” (70)
  • “The Baptists, by applying the distinction between the revelation and the conclusion of the covenant of grace, perceived that all the members of the Abrahamic covenant did not benefit from the grace of God, because the covenant of grace was not concluded with the members of this covenant. The covenant of grace was revealed, and those who, like Abraham, believed, participated in the covenant of grace manifested in the Abrahamic covenant” (118)
five-stars
By | 2018-02-16T01:09:58+00:00 February 16th, 2018|

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