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A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 edited by Rob Ventura — A Review

Ventura, Rob, ed. A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. Ross-Shire, United Kingdom: Mentor, 2022.

Knowing and explaining what we believe is vital for any Christian. Throughout history, solid believers have worked hard to set down for us clear, thorough, and yet accessible summaries of our faith. These godly men have not sought to override the authority of Scripture or to elevate their views to the level of divine inspiration, but to serve the church by summarizing and clarifying biblical doctrine. Historically, the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 has become a significant example of such writing, especially for Baptists.

Unfortunately, as time passes, English-speaking Christians may find themselves less and less familiar with documents like the 1689. Today we use words differently and face different challenges to faithful doctrine. Culturally, our distance from the reformation makes some of the writing in the 1689 such as that which focuses on a response to Roman Catholicism more difficult for some to understand. If we do not want to lose sight of the inestimable value of the Second London Baptist Confession, we need faithful teachers to help us to see the depth and beauty of the document.

Christians, therefore, should be grateful for works like the newly released A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 edited by Rob Ventura. Ventura and a host of other authors have given the church a gift by writing essays for us on each chapter of the 1689. These chapters help us to understand the doctrine, the language, and the historical context behind the words of the confession . the authors show us not only what is being said in the 1689, but also why it matters and how it may apply in our current context.

Reading through this work, I found myself deeply encouraged at a number of points. As authors helped to clarify and even simplify difficult theological concepts, my heart was blessed. When difficult doctrinal issues were on the table—think things like divine impassibility, the trinity, or the hypostatic union—the authors neither shied away nor made the topic more complicated.

Working through 32 essays on the 32 chapters of the 1689, I did not find myself always agreeing with the authors in every respect. But I would by no means suggest that such should prevent anyone from giving this book a place on their shelves. Sometimes I found myself wishing the chapters were longer, but this is not a truly fair criticism. Many of the topics covered in single chapters are topics about which multi-volume works have been written. While I would expect any reader to have a single issue or two where he or she would disagree with the authors in this work, I would also expect that faithful Baptists will find themselves both in agreement and sweetly encouraged by what they read in every chapter.

I would recommend this book to a variety of folks. Church elders could use this book to strengthen their doctrinal understanding and agreement. Leaders might want to use the chapters of this book as material for theological Sunday School classes or home groups. Church leaders and members considering adopting a more solid confession of faith would find this book a tremendous help. I would strongly recommend this book to any Baptist who is unfamiliar with the Second London Baptist Confession, as this document is vital to understanding what we believe, who we are, and where we came from. I would also recommend this book to non-Baptists as a way to see just how similar the 1689 is to other significant confessions such as the Westminster Confession (1646) and the Savoy Declaration (1658) while also gaining an understanding of where and why we differ.

** Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

The Directness or Kindness Dilemma

Proverbs 26:4–5

4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Reading these two Proverbs back-to-back can feel a little contradictory. Either one, by itself, makes perfect sense. If we answer a fool according to his folly, if we go along with the fool in his ways, we end up acting like a fool. That is not good. But if we refuse to answer a fool, the fool will think he is wise. That is not good either.

In a nutshell, I believe that the writer of Proverbs put these two verses together to let us know that, when dealing with a fool, there is no perfect answer. Fools make civil and productive discussion impossible. At the same time, we sometimes have to get in there and deal with objections fools raise.

What might we need to learn from thinking about these proverbs in the light of the rest of Scripture? You do not have to be nasty to tell the truth. There is no requirement to make fun of people or be intentionally provocative. You can say that someone is in sin, and you can do so with a tone of superiority, arrogance, and disdain. You can also say that somebody is in sin and do so with a tone of sorrow and love and with an offer of hope in Jesus. Don’t be nasty. Do tell the truth.

Christians must remember that one of the fruits of the Spirit is kindness (Gal. 5:22). Thus, we are not to be a people marked by sharpness, anger, and cruelty. Being nasty, getting sinful with the person you are talking with, is answering a fool according to his folly in such a way that you become like him yourself.

But not all of the faith includes being nonconfrontational. Sometimes there is a true wisdom in saying, not out of meanness but out of honesty, that the argument someone is making is foolish. Sometimes we need to look at the ridiculous in the world’s actions, standards, or behavior and speak in such a way as to show it and not let the fool remain wise in his own eyes.

John 9:26-27

26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

In John 9, Jesus had healed a blind man. The Pharisees badgered the healed man, because they were trying to find something to hold against Jesus. Eventually, when the healed man realized that the conversation was not going anywhere, he got a little cheeky with the religious leaders. With a bit of sarcasm, he asked them if they were asking so many questions because they wanted to become Jesus’ disciples. I do not think he was sinfully mean here. But the formerly blind man showed the ridiculousness of what was going on.

In the Old Testament, when Elijah openly challenged the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, the prophet ridiculed the evil prophets. Those prophets had spent the day dancing around, shouting, cutting themselves, and being foolish.

1 Kings 18:26-27

26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

Elijah mocked the evil practices of the evil prophets. And he was not wrong.

What then? Are we to be polite or mocking? There is a wisdom required here. Examine your own personality and your own purposes. Be an honest person before God, especially about your motivation. Are you someone who is already given to meanness with your words? If so, you probably need to be pulled back and reminded of the kindness of Christ. You probably need to remember that you do not gain anything by scoring points WITH cutting remarks. Are you given to fear, to compromise, to words that barely point out the truth? You may need a little more of Elijah or the formerly blind man in your personality. You should not be afraid to speak the truth, even hard truth, to a lost world. You should not fear to say of evil that it is evil and of folly that it is foolish.

Do not neglect the body of Christ here. The local church should be made up of people who are different than you in temperament. Be honest enough to listen if fellow believers challenge you to be more direct. Take it seriously if fellow believers call on you to show more kindness. And be grateful that God has given us folks in the church who are wired quite differently. Be concerned if nobody in your life is wired differently than you in this area.

Honestly ask the Spirit of God to lead you. Ask God to reveal to you if you, when you want to say something sharp, are feeding your ego. Ask if you are putting yourself forward and finding joy in causing pain. Ask if you are trying to make yourself look big by putting somebody down in a conversation in person or on-line. If so, you are in sin.

But also ask the Spirit of God to help you to see if you are a coward. Ask the Spirit to help you see if you are given to compromise. Ask God to let you know when you need to be bold and call out evil with strong, even sharp words. You do not honor God if you allow people around you to think that they are smart, sophisticated, and beyond the reproof of the Bible.

We need a little of both sides in our lives and in the church. We need kindness and sweetness. We need strength and clarity. The same Jesus who had dinner with tax collectors and sinners called them sinners and told them they needed to repent. The same Jesus who wept over Jerusalem called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, a batch of little snake babies, and asked how in the world they could ever escape hell.

We need the wisdom of God in our speech both inside and outside the church setting to answer and to not answer fools according to their folly.

Stop Regarding Man

Here is a HEAR journal entry from my daily reading.

H – Highlight

Isaiah 2:22

Stop regarding man
in whose nostrils is breath,
for of what account is he?

E – Explain

For a good portion of this chapter, the Lord has shown us the evil and pride of a people who are supposed to be his people. They rejoice in their wealth, in their strength, and eventually in their idolatry. But God promises a day will come when all those godless things will no longer matter.

In verse 22, the chapter ends with God calling on us simply to stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath. The point here is not to devalue life. Instead, the point is to stop thinking that the opinions of men are more important than the righteousness of God. Stop thinking that winning in this life is the end-all-be-all of your existence. You do not even own your own breath. God gave you that breath. God gave the movers and shakers their breath. Stop regarding them. .Worship God.

A – Apply

The Lord reminds me here not to live for comfort, not to live for supposed stability in this life, and not to live for the approval of others. It really is easy to want people to think I’m something else. I naturally want them to think I’m smart or clever. I naturally want to know people who are supposedly important. But what matters is knowing the Lord. What matters is resting in his strength and not my own. What matters is his approval and not the approval of others.

R – Respond

Lord, I would ask that you help me to find my hope and my joy in you and in your presence. Do not let me love this world. Change my heart and sanctify me that I might long for you and your glory most of all.

A Genesis 1:1 HEAR Journal Entry

I will not share every one of these I write, but I will, for a bit, share some examples of my HEAR journaling as I get started with the 2023 reading plans. Perhaps this model will help you to pick up a way that you too could take your reading a step deeper.

H – Highlight

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

E – Explain

Not much explanation is needed here. There used to be nothing except for God. God made everything. He did not use existing materials—there were none. He did not borrow from somebody else’s stuff—there was nobody else. God, by his power, for his purpose, made all that exists.

A – Apply

There are some days when the simplest thoughts are the strongest. Here, I look and am reminded of the simple point that, if this verse is true, everything changes. If it is false, nothing matters.

If God did not make everything, then a human being is only a bag of chemicals bouncing through the world. We move. Electrical impulses fire in our brains, we do what we want. We die. There is no basis for truth, for beauty, for morality. What does it matter if one set of chemicals changes the structure of another set of chemicals?

But, if this verse is true, and it is, then our world is not our world. God made it. God is in charge. God has the right of ownership over us all. God determines truth, beauty,. Morality, meaning, everything. Because God made us, we have a reason to live. Because God made us, we know what is allowed and what is not. Because God made us, it matters what we do.

R – Respond

Lord, as I begin this new year of Bible reading, I pray that you will help me to keep in mind the

truth of the first verse of the Holy Scripture. Help me remember that you made everything, and that is what gives us meaning. Help me keep my life centered on the fact that I exist to serve you, to live as an image of God on earth. You are God. I am not. You are Lord. I am your servant. Help me to live under your grace and to your glory.

My 2023 Bible Reading Plan

I believe a major part of Christian discipleship is regular time spent in God’s word. I have also learned about myself that I do best when I have a plan to follow and a schedule to keep. So, each year, I select a plan to follow. I also find that I do best when I read along with others in a group. So, I try to share my reading plan with others who may join me in a discipleship group so that we can write about and talk about the same passages each week.

This coming year, I intend to combine two Bible reading plans for my daily reading schedule. Why two? I want to have an open door for some who are not convinced they can handle a full Bible-in-a-year plan to join me.

For New Testament reading, I’ll use the Navigators 5x5x5 reading plan. This is a plan that reads through the New Testament 5 days per week, one chapter per day. It’s short and simple—a great place to start for anybody who has never tried a reading plan before, or for someone who has struggled to stay on a schedule in the past.

For Old Testament reading, I intend to use an Old Testament in 2 years plan that I put together on my own. This plan allows for you to read on weekdays only covering one or two chapters each day. Alternatively, you can read a single chapter each weekday and two chapters daily on weekends if that better fits your needs. I’m hoping I’ll enjoy a two-year plan which will allow me to give a little more studied focus on the Old Testament instead of requiring as many daily chapters as other plans.

The New Testament plan is available in the YouVersion Bible app, which is how I will track my progress. I’ll start both plans on January 2.

Here is the link to our OT reading plan:
PRC Old Testament in Two years

Here is a link to our OT and NT reading plan in portrait layout:
Old Testament Reading Plan
NT Bible Reading Plan

Why My Kids Do Not Believe in Santa (2022 Version)

My children do not believe in Santa Claus. They never did. To some, this is an obvious move. To others, this is a shock. What’s the deal? Am I some sort of anti-holiday Scrooge? Am I some sort of overzealous fundamentalist? Why in the world would I not have my little ones believe in Santa?

People have asked many times about what our family decided to do about Santa at Christmas time when our kids were little. And, every year, I share a version of this post to try to explain the process that my wife and I went through in deciding our answer to the big question: To Santa or not to Santa.

Since you know the answer already, let me very briefly tell you the reasoning that made the no Santa policy in my home. Then, I will share with you a bit of how we dealt with Santa.

Christmas is a holiday that has been highly over-commercialized in the US for years. People focus on winter, on trees, on lights, on gifts, and not on Jesus. And you know what, none of those are the reasons why my family did not tell my children that Santa was real.

Here is my bottom line reasoning: If I tell my children to believe in a figure that they cannot see, that he watches them from afar, that he judges their motives and actions, that he has supernatural powers, and that he will visit them with gifts every Christmas, they will eventually find out that I have intentionally told them to believe in something that is not true. This fact will not do much for my credibility in telling them true things about God, who is invisible to them, who watches over them though they cannot sense it, who judges their thoughts and actions, and who will bless them with eternal blessings if they will trust in Christ. So, simply put, my wife and I determined that we will never tell our children that something is true when we know that it is not, because it is far too important that they be able to believe us when we tell them some things are true that they cannot see.

How did we deal with Santa and Santa stuff? It’s quite simple. Ever since Abigail was tiny, we worked to distinguish the difference between true stories and pretend ones. In our house, if a story began with “A long time ago…,” it was a true story. If a story began with, “Once upon a time…,” it was a pretend story. The kids did surprisingly well making those distinctions. They still enjoyed the stories that they knew were not real just as any children do—just as I still do.

Since my children had no trouble enjoying that which they knew not to be real, my wife and I never got all crabby when a family member wrapped a Christmas gift and put “From: Santa” on the label. We did not find ourselves upset when they wanted a musical Rudolph toy from Wal-Mart (well, no more upset than when they wanted any obnoxious, noise-making toy). We did not get bent out of shape when a Santa ornament made its way onto a tree near us. We didn’t even mind taking snapshots of them sitting on the knee of a portly, bearded guy in a red, fuzzy suit, though that really was never a big thing for them.

I think that you can tell from what I’ve already written, but just in case it is not clear, Mitzi and I do not look at our decision about Santa as the only possible one. This is a matter of conscience and preference. There is not Scripture that states, “Thou shalt not ho, ho, ho.” I grew up believing in Santa, and it really didn’t harm my worldview that much (so far as I can tell). But, for me and my house, we simply made a decision that we wanted our children to know that Mommy and Daddy would always tell them the truth, and that trumped our desires to have beaming little people listening for sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, we also tried our best to keep our children from being the ones who spoil it for others. All three were both told in no uncertain terms that they were not to make it their mission to correct the Santaology of other children. They answered truthfully when asked by other little ones, but they, to my knowledge, never tried to be anti-Santa evangelists.

Hear my heart as I wrap up this post. I am not here attempting to change any family’s plans for how to handle Christmas. Nor am I asking any person to take down Santa décor if we’re coming over. Nor am I suggesting that, if you have just watched a Claymation special with your kids that you have ruined their spiritual chances for the future. So, you do not need to send me cranky comments defending your traditions. Santa stuff is a lot of fun. I love fun stories and the joy of imagination. (We even watch Harry Potter nearly every year around the Christmas season simply because the music feels Christmassy to us; so obviously we are not the strict, non-fiction parents that you might be imagining.) But, since many ask, here is the answer: we made a choice to be able to tell our children that, when mom and dad say something is real, we fully believe it to be real.

We Need memory

Mark 8:4

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

In Mark 8, Jesus is again presented with a large crowd that has no food. The Savior, out of compassion, asks his disciples to take a hand in feeding them. But the disciples are, as we see above, daunted by the task.

The reason that this passage stands out to me is the fact that disciples seem here to be forgetting their own recent history. It is not that long ago that Jesus, using 5 loaves and 2 fish, fed a crowd of 5,000 men not counting women and children. Here the disciples are in a very similar situation, seeing a very similar crowd, and they wonder how in the world that crowd might be fed.

Does this not tell us something of our nature and our need? We are a forgetful people. When our minds are not focused strongly on what we know to be true, we forget it to our own hurt. The disciples knew that they were standing right next to the one who calms stormy seas, raises the dead, and feeds massive crowds with miraculous bread. Yet they ask how this might be done today. Are we not similar? Do we not forget the truths we know too?

Our need is memory, faithful and biblical memory. We need to be reminded of the God we serve. We need to be reminded of his love, his power, and his glory. We need to rehearse the times of God’s faithful provision that we have experienced. Even more, we need to set our minds on the glorious claims of Holy Scripture that remind us that our God spoke the universe into existence, parted the Red Sea, and did the work to save our very souls. Let us not forget but let us remember and trust the Lord.

Why Are Christians So Hung Up on Sex

Mark 6:22 – For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”

Many of the major disagreements between Christians and non-Christians relating to morality in our culture are deeply personal. Many of our differences have to do with morality as it relates to sex, sexuality, gender, and such things. Perhaps you have even heard a person ask why it is that Christians seem to be so hung up on the sexual morals of society.

There are, of course, many answers to this question. The fact is, God has every right to command us in every area of life, including our sexuality. God has the sole right to define for humanity the purpose of human sexuality and the point of things like marriage, gender, family, and all the rest. God has the right to tell us what will be acceptable and what will not.

But add to the simple fact of God’s lordship here that God made us. God knows how we work best. God knows what will ultimately help us and what will ultimately harm us.

Consider what we see in the above passage. King Herod threw himself a birthday party and was enamored of the dance of his wife’s daughter. Understand that this dance, according to many scholars, was not merely a polite little ballet. Instead, this was likely a sensual performance that fired the blood of the king. In fact, the king was driven to a place where he made a rash vow to the girl in front of the people at the party. He swore he would give her anything she asked for. And the girl, after consultation with her mother, asked the king to behead John the Baptist. The king, though unwillingly, gave in to her request.

John the Baptist was in Herod’s prison. John had preached openly of the sin that Herod committed when he stole away his brother’s wife, the girl’s mother. Thus, when the girl knew she had a boon from the king, and when she asked her mom what to ask the king for, the mom, feeding her desire to continue in sin without reproof led her daughter to demand the murder of the prophet.

Without overdoing anything here, see what happened. The king had his blood stirred by a sensual, sexualized performance. In that heat, he made a promise he did not afterward wish to fulfill. And all the machinations of this twisted scene of a man stirred up with lust for his wife’s daughter led to the murder of a man of God who simply told the truth.

What we must grasp is that our drives are very strong. If we are not careful to keep our desires in the right place, we will be led to places that can utterly destroy us and destroy our society. We cannot give humanity free reign to express our sexuality in whatever way we want, as doing so leads to destruction. And God, who knows us and knows how he made us, knows that better than even we know it ourselves.

I have said to people before that fire is lovely in a fireplace but terrible when the whole house is aflame. Fire is lovely at a campsite but terrible when spread through the whole forest. And our drives, even our sexuality, can be beautiful, wonderful, and lovely. Yet, when our drives are removed from the place God intended them to be, they are deadly. God has told us what he requires and what is best for us. Our sexuality is to be reserved for marriage, the covenant union of one man and one woman for life. may we not compromise that standard lest we dishonor God and do ourselves and our society great harm.

A HEAR Journal from Luke 1

As I wrap up the year in my Bible reading, I’ve returned to doing a little HEAR journaling. This is a technique that helps me to focus on something from the daily readings and unpack it a bit. HEAR stands for highlight, explain, apply, and respond. I find this pattern helpful, and perhaps you will too.

H – Highlight

Luke 1:76-79

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

E – Explain

Here Zechariah speaks a word of prophecy over his newborn son, John—later John the Baptist. John will prepare the way for Jesus to come. Even more, he will prepare the people of Israel to have something greater than they have known before. John is not going to simply prepare the way for the nation to have general success, land promises, and the rest. John will help the people toward knowledge of God and forgiveness of their sins.

Because of my recent work in the covenants, the topic of forgiveness coming to the people from the promised one rings in my mind. Much of the Old Covenant made room for the nation of Israel to live in the presence of God in the land. The forgiveness achieved in the sacrificial system was first a forgiveness that kept God from having to destroy the nation. God, of course, would not destroy the whole nation, because he intended to bring the Messiah through the nation of Israel. But personal forgiveness of sins and personal relationship with God was not achieved through animal sacrifice. Instead, relationship with God was achieved by God’s grace through faith as the faithful Israelites believed the promises of God. The sacrifices pointed toward the work God would achieve when he finally sent his Son.

Thus, what grabs me is just how much greater the salvation is that we see promised in Luke 1. What John will point the people toward is greater than the Old Covenant. It is sweet and merciful. It is glorious and gracious.

A – Apply

I think the best way to apply this passage is to again stop, think, and be very grateful for life in the New Covenant. We do not look at a bloody animal sacrifice and long for the fulfillment of a promise of a sacrifice that will give us true forgiveness. Instead, in Christ, our forgiveness has been achieved. Our hope is now in his return. So, right response is gratitude, faith, hope, and worship. Right application is a call to love the gospel and be sure to proclaim it.

R – Respond

Lord, I thank you for forgiveness in Christ. I know that I could never achieve anything that would earn me your favor. I know that I deserve death a million times over. That you would send your Son to be my salvation is glorious. I pray that you will make me faithful to you, to your worship, to your church, and to the spreading of your gospel for your glory.

Stay and Tell

Mark 5:18-20

18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

In Mark 5, Jesus did something utterly stunning. Jesus drove a legion of demons out of a possessed man. Jesus, solely by his might, the might of Almighty God, overpowered demonic forces, made them tremble, and sent them away. Jesus, in glorious kindness, healed a man many thought unreachable.

After this was all over, the man was grateful. That is understandable. And the man asked Jesus to allow him to travel with him and his disciples.

In the Savior’s response to the man, we can learn something for ourselves. Jesus told the man not to come with him on his travels. Instead, the Savior called on the man to go back home, live a normal life, and tell people about how much the Lord had done for him. And this is what the man did. People were amazed, people praised God, because of the man’s account of what the Savior had done.

Here we stand looking back on this event over nearly two millennia of history. There is something for us to see. A man had his entire life and world changed by Jesus. He wanted, originally, to leave his home and go follow Jesus to other lands. The Savior said that what this man should do is take the truth of Jesus back into his own hometown.

What about you? Has Jesus done a miracle for you? Are you saved? If you are saved, then Jesus has given you life and forgiveness in God. Jesus has changed you. You have a story to tell. It is the story of one who was dead and whom God made alive. Tell it. Do not think you have to go on a mission trip to another country to tell it. Tell it at home. Tell it where you work. Tell it where you shop. Tell it to your friends. Tell it to your family. Just tell people what the Lord has done for you and ask them if they want to know him too.

Of course it is glorious when we get to go on missions to other cities and even other countries. But Jesus shows us right here that it is also wonderful when people whose lives have been changed tell their neighbors. You do not need seminary training to tell somebody that you have hope and joy in life because of Jesus, that you have forgiveness of sin because of Jesus, that you have been changed by Jesus. It does not take a missionary calling to say to someone that, if they would like to know about the Jesus you love, you would be happy to read through a book of the Bible with them or bring them with you to church so they can hear about him too. It is not a scholarly endeavor to tell people that God is holy, we are rebels, Jesus died as the only way we can be made right with God, and we gain new life by God’s grace when we repent and believe in the living Jesus. Dear friends, may we tell the story of what Jesus has done for us. It is great to go and tell. It is also great to stay and tell.