Author Archive


Join our capital fund drive for our new campus!  The Christian Stewards, a group of Christian businessmen, has offered to match your gift, dollar-for-dollar, up to $100,000!  Given so far: $73,320; matched = $146,640!  Please give to enable called men and women to be trained to serve the Lord and his church for years to come.  Send your check to WRS, or donate online.

Reformation Sunday Bulletin Insert

Here is an excellent 1/2 page insert for your church bulletin or for distributing.  Just print on two sides of the paper and cut in half.

Martin Luther: Bound by the Word of God

Good Progress at ARTS Meeting

Earlier this month representatives from Bible-believing Reformed seminaries met in Greenville, South Carolina.  For over ten years WRS has been a member of the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries, an agency that mutually investigates and recognizes Reformed seminaries.

Currently ARTS is preparing to be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the main private organization that approves of accreditation organizations like ARTS.  We are working and praying for the goal of being recognized by CHEA in 2018.  Leading this effort is Steve Adamson, the Executive Director of ARTS.  If CHEA recognizes ARTS, then WRS will be fully accredited.

Please pray with us for good success with this project!

What Do We Do Now?

What Do We Do Now?

by John Battle

Today, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage must be legalized and practiced in all fifty states, regardless of existing state laws.

Recent incidents of Christian businesses refusing to go along with same-sex marriages and celebrations, and the penalties that followed, have put us on our guard.

The time may come soon when those of us who follow biblical principles will be tested. Homosexual couples may seek to join our churches, or be employed in our churches, schools, or organizations. We may be asked to conduct a homosexual marriage service.

Preachers may be afraid to preach on this topic from the Bible. Church sessions may be afraid to discipline members who offend in this way. The hostility and aggressiveness of the “gay lobby” are palpable; witness the loud demonstrations outside churches, often accompanied by vandalism.

Today one of our seminary graduates phoned me and asked what we should do now. Several thoughts came to mind: pray, work for new political leaders, show our people how to witness to the truth in love. I’m sure we will be discussing this and making plans for some time.

Another important matter is for our churches to be prepared. As a Reformed seminary, we follow the Bible and the Reformed confessions—in particular, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. We believe those documents summarize the teachings of Scripture very well; they have stood the test of time. The Confession clearly states, “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman” (WCF 24:1).

Same-sex marriage, imposed by the government, was never envisioned by the men who wrote those confessions, even as it never was envisioned by the inspired writers of Scripture. The Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is clear, and many individuals and church bodies have prepared excellent summaries of those teachings. What is immediately relevant for our churches is that our church standards speak quite clearly on the topic as well. For example, the Larger Catechism lists “sodomy, and all unnatural lusts” as sins forbidden by the seventh commandment.

The Westminster Standards speak to this issue in several chapters of the Confession and in several questions from the Catechisms. One in particular stands out today. Chapter 22 of the Confession is entitled, “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.” It clearly states, “No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God” (WCF 22:7).

Marriage is a set of vows, taken by the man and the woman, before God. These vows promise lifelong fidelity in love, including sexual union. By its very nature, same-sex marriage would be a sinful vow.

What is the church’s attitude toward sinful vows? For one thing, they are very sinful. To be engaged in sin is bad enough, but to vow to continue in sin is an aggravation of that sin. If the vow is made in the name of God, which is what lawful vows do, then people are involving the name of God in their sin.

What about people who have been “married” in this way? Is their marriage valid? Our churches would say “No.” Christians should not keep sinful vows they may have made in the past. It was a sin to make the vow, and it would be a continual sin to keep it. This issue came up during the Reformation when people foolishly had made “Popish monastical vows,” which the Confession calls “superstitious and sinful snares” (WCF 22:7). When Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora were converted from Roman Catholicism, they saw the biblical teaching and married each other, in spite of the vows of perpetual single life they both had taken.

What we see in same-sex marriage is a far worse case of a sinful vow than were the monastical vows of the Roman Catholic Church. Those vows did not necessarily require sin on the part of the person, but this vow does. We as individual Christians cannot approve it or take part in it. Neither can our churches.

Review of Moises Silva, “Explorations in Exegetical Method: Galatians As A Test Case”

Review of Moises Silva, “Explorations in Exegetical Method: Galatians As A Test Case”

Reviewed by Chris Comis, WRS student.

Dr. Silva has definitely outdone himself with this work. I hesitated to begin this book review with such high praise, given the fact that this might overly prejudice my review in some people’s eyes, but I think Dr. Silva’s work is worthy of such high praise. This work accomplished two primary tasks: 1) It dealt with the difficult exegetical issues and methods that are used in the interpretation of any book of the Bible, or any book in general for that matter; and 2) Dr. Silva managed to incorporate most of the book of Galatians while wading through the deep waters of exegetical and hermeneutical methodology, and he did so while not just addressing the easier passages in Galatians, but some of the more difficult ones as well. This review will look at some of the exegetical and hermeneutical results Dr. Silva came to in interpreting the book of Galatians, as well as touch on some of the exegetical and hermeneutical methods used to accomplish these results.

Dr. Silva begins the book by telling us that his primary goal is to provide students, as well as professional scholars and pastors, help in evaluating competing exegetical claims with regards to the book of Galatians. Thus, this book was written more with a view to explaining exegetical methodology than a typical commentary on a book of the Bible usually provides. In other words, his goal here was not to write a “typical” commentary on the book of Galatians.[1] Rather, his modus operandi is to try and get at the root causes for why it is that competent scholars can reach such differing conclusions about the same text, all the while employing basically the same exegetical and hermeneutical principles. And so throughout the book he seeks to uncover other determinative factors involved in the exegetical process, factors which may not seem on the surface to have much influence on this process, but which after further scrutiny turn out to play a much more significant role than is often assumed.

In the Introduction, Dr. Silva points out some lessons we could learn from the history of exegesis. For example, he mentions how two of the early church fathers (Jerome and Augustine) could not agree on why Peter and Paul chose to put their disagreement (per Gal. 2:11-14) on public display, given the fact that this could impugn the authority of the apostles. Jerome thought that they had mutually agreed to this as a way of teaching the church how to deal with disagreements in a godly way. Augustine on the other hand thought that Jerome’s take on this actually impugned the honesty of the apostles themselves, as he felt that this would have cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity of these men. Obviously, this disagreement between these two men (Jerome and Augustine) more than influenced how they exegeted and finally understood the issues going on in the Galatian church, and the message of the book as a whole. But the issue that Dr. Silva highlighted here is not so much what each of these men said about the text (i.e. the results of their exegesis), but the how of their exegesis (i.e. the principles and methods they used to arrive at their conclusions). For Silva, this how of the exegetical process is the major focus of his book. We could sum up his work here as an attempt at clarifying an approach to exegesis that is akin to what is commonly referred to in the study of epistemology as the attempt to arrive at Justified True Beliefs (JTB). Every exegete has certain beliefs about what a text says, but many difficulties arise when one tries to justify these beliefs. A belief may be true but not justified (or even justifiable), and a belief can have the appearance of justification even though upon closer examination it turns out to be false. Likewise, exegetical conclusions may be true but unjustified, and conversely, “justified” but not true.[2] Hence Dr. Silva’s attempt in this book is to provide a helpful analysis of the exegetical presuppositions a reader brings to the table, the means an exegete uses to arrive at their conclusions, and the criteria every exegete should be aware of when interpreting a text. The remaining three parts of this book deal with these exegetical issues.

Part I of the book deals with the various exegetical issues involved in the study of the language and literature of Galatians. Various grammatical issues are dealt with in this first part, issues like the semantics and syntax of the Greek text. Then Dr. Silva ends the first part by discussing the literary structure of Galatians. His main point in this section of the book is to point out how exegetes tend to overlook the forest for the trees, or vice versa. He does a masterful job of showing how both linguistic analysis of the Greek language along with studying the literary structure of Galatians can provide us with both a microscopic and macroscopic perspective on the parts and whole of the book. And thus, will keep us from getting too bogged down in the details of the grammar; while also keeping us from assuming a “big-picture” view of Galatians that has no grounding in the details of the text itself, but which instead will only give us an artificial whole. In other words, he does a wonderful job showing us how the microscopic details in the grammar of the text are mutually dependent upon (and reciprocal to) the macroscopic literary structure of the text. The hermeneutical metaphor he keeps using throughout the book to describe this micro/macro perspectivalism is that of a “spiral.” The exegetical task is not simply one of adding up all the parts in order to arrive at a coherent view of the whole, but rather our view of the whole book will influence our view of the parts, and vice versa.

In Part II Dr. Silva addresses the historical issues involved when seeking to interpret the book of Galatians. He discusses the issues of “Mirror Reading” and the various sociological perspectives involved in interpreting Galatians. His main point in this second part is to show that it is really not an issue whether we will read between the lines of a text, but how we should read between the lines.[3] He even provides some criteria for an appropriate use of these methods, so that we are not left wondering if there are any hermeneutical “brakes” involved to keep our interpretation from derailing off into mere flight and fancy. He then goes on to show how reconstructing the historical background of the book of Galatians can help to clarify the historical tensions between this book and the book of Acts, as well as provide insights into the dating of the book of Galatians.[4]

Lastly, in Part III of the book, Dr. Silva addresses the theology of the book of Galatians. This last part, in my opinion, was well worth the price of the book, especially his discussion on the Eschatology of Galatians in chapter 10. He sees the resurrection of Christ which is mentioned right at the outset of the book as a major theme of Galatians, and one which coincides with the historical-redemptive theme of the resurrection of Christ throughout the Scriptures. Of course, what book on Galatians would be complete without addressing the law/gospel issue? He does this too, and with the same erudition with which he dealt with so many of the other exegetical issues and “problem passages” in Galatians. He also addresses the issue of justification by faith, but tackles this issue from a different perspective. Although he agrees for the most part with the traditional Lutheran and Reformed exegesis of the relevant passages dealing with justification in Galatians, he admits that Reformed exegetes have a tendency to broad-brush these passages by applying them too quickly to an individual’s right-standing before God, and not seeing the broader Jew-Gentile/ecclesiological issues at stake. And if you are wondering if Dr. Silva simply jumps on the New Perspective bandwagon, he does not. But he does raise some serious historical and exegetical issues that should force us to reconsider what Paul was attempting to do with his teaching on justification. Was Paul simply trying to argue that justification is all about how an individual is declared righteous is God’s sight, or was there more going on? Dr. Silva makes a good case that there was an overarching ecclesiological/sociological issue at stake here.

All in all, this work by Dr. Silva will become (in my judgment) one of the best and most learned treatises on exegetical method to date. And more importantly, I believe it will provide both scholars and pastors with an abundance of genuine insights into the book of Galatians itself. The only drawback to the book that I could detect was that Dr. Silva did not spend more time dealing with the all-important issue of the role of the Holy Spirit in the exegetical process. He did briefly touch on this at the very end of the book, but it comes across as almost ancillary. Indeed, he even mentions how some will accuse him of relegating the work of the Holy Spirit to a position of secondary status because of this. And although he makes some good points here about the role of the Holy Spirit in the exegetical process, I think it would have been best had he put this section at the beginning of the book rather than at the end.


[1] Moises Silva, Explorations in Exegetical Method: Galatians As A Test Case (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 10. In fact, he says in the preface that this book is not intended for students or pastors who have not had at least one solid year of Greek, as well as basic familiarity with contemporary New Testament scholarship.

[2] Of course, some exegetical conclusions can be both untrue and unjustified, but these sorts of conclusions are usually not points of major contention. It is usually those that are either true but unjustified, or “justified” but untrue, that receives the most scrutiny.

[3] Ibid., 106.

[4] Dr. Silva believes that a South Galatian location is to be preferred, but is also in favor of a late date for the epistle, Ibid., 131-132.

Review of David B. Calhoon, “Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary”

Review of David B. Calhoon, “Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary”

Reviewed by Robert Beede, D.Min.

Author: Dr. David Calhoun, Emeritus Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary (Banner of Truth Trust, 2012), hardcover, 380 pages.

I smiled as I held Dr. Calhoun’s newest book in my hands.  I was excited to read it as I had enjoyed and was so blessed by his two volume set, Princeton Seminary (Banner of Truth Trust, 1996).  I was not disappointed.  Dr. Calhoun has written another home run with his newest tome.  Our Southern Zion highlights the heritage and legacy left by Columbia Seminary during its tenure in South Carolina. But the book does much more than this.

It documents the impact Southern Presbyterianism had on the conversion of slaves to Christianity.  It discusses in detail political and religious issues during the 1800s such as evolution and higher critical thinking, which are still impacting the church today.  The book also highlights how the Presbyterian Church impacted the War Between the States and how that war divided the Presbyterian Church into two separate bodies for many years.

Yet this book is not some dry, dusty cataloguing of facts.  Dr. Calhoun spends much time talking about the lives of many of the professors and the impact they had on their students, upon the culture of South Carolina, and ultimately around the world through foreign missions.

Our Southern Zion is of great value for reading as a devotional.  Take, for example, the life of Dr. James Henley Thornwell, then president of South Carolina College.  Dr. Calhoun tells how this man of God grieved over his mother’s death, which was shortly followed by the death of his nine year old son.  Dr. Calhoun tenderly tells how Dr. Thornwell dealt with his son’s death: “I believe the covenant which God has made with His people, and is sealed to their faith in the baptism of their offspring, to be a real and precious thing… (I have) laid hold upon this covenant and pleaded its promises (that) ‘I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed’” (p. 105).

If that hardship was not enough, a few short years later Dr. Thornwell’s oldest daughter became ill and died on the eve of her wedding.  She was buried in her wedding dress.   On her tombstone Dr. Thornwell had inscribed, “Prepared as a Bride Adorned for her Husband” (p. 107).  For any Christian who has lost a child, these words can provide encouragement and guidance when the way seems dark and lonely.

Dr. Calhoun briefly documents the “slow but steady decline” in historic Reformed orthodoxy at Princeton Seminary during the late 1920s and of Columbia Theological Seminary, which “saw in time the departure from the theological convictions of its founders” (p. 365).  This is a good warning for us to guard our faith.

In this book we are left with much encouragement and direction for ministers.  Dr. Calhoun gives the account of Dr. William Plumer, professor of theology.  His long white beard reached down to his waist.  At graduation he gave each graduate a small Bible, saying, “By this Book you shall live, by this Book you shall preach, and by this Book you shall be judged at the last day” (p. 207).  These are good words for pastors to remember.

Dr. Calhoun’s book traces the hand of God on his people in the past.  It is very profitable for use as a personal devotional as it gives great insight into giants of the Christian faith, their successes and their trials, and how now they beckon us to run the race that is set before us.

He concludes by encouraging us to stand firm for “the Bible as God’s inspired Word, for the Calvinism of the Westminster Confession of Faith as a true theological expression of the Bible’s teaching, for a true Presbyterian church, and for the spread of the gospel throughout the Southern United States and the whole world” (p. 367).  It couldn’t have been said better.

Review of Kenneth Richard Samples, 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas

7 Truths that Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas, by Kenneth Richard Samples (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012).  Pp. 238.  Reviewed by John A. Battle.

Kenneth Samples, a Christian apologist specializing in philosophy and theology, distills a lifetime of interaction with other belief systems in his new book, 7 Truths that Changed the World.  The Christian religion appears in our world in a variety of forms, but certain central truths set it apart from all other belief systems.  Samples does an excellent job identifying and explaining these truths.

The book’s subtitle describes each of these truths as “dangerous.”  At first I thought that this word was not the best one to use, but perhaps was chosen to boost sales.  It seemed to be a take-off from Alister McGrath’s recent book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First.  In McGrath’s study, Protestantism was “dangerous” because its main idea, that the individual Christian needs to study and obey the Bible for himself, would lead to a fragmentation of the movement.  This indeed happened, and the Roman Catholic Church was quick to point out the disunited state of Protestant churches.  However, McGrath sees this state of affairs as actually good and beneficial for the Christian church in the long run.

After thinking about Samples’s book more, I came to the conclusion that “dangerous” is an appropriate word for him to use as well, even though it is used in a different sense.  These seven great Christian truths are dangerous to all the other belief systems, and set Christianity apart as a distinct, opposed in important ways to all the other systems.  Not only is Christianity dangerous to the other systems (for example, it virtually replaced paganism in the Roman Empire), but it thereby is dangerous to individual Christians, who will face opposition from those who are loyal to those systems.  It is not without reason that about 80% of religious persecution in the modern world is directed against Christians.

It would easy to find seven teachings of Christianity that are unique—there are scores of them—but Samples succeeds in finding seven that are foundational.  These seven lie at the center of all philosophies and religions.  The book offers two chapters of comprehensive discussion of each of them:

  1. “Not All Dead Men Stay Dead” (the physical resurrection of Jesus and all humans)
  2. “God Walked the Earth” (the Incarnation: Jesus the God-man)
  3. “A Fine-Tuned Cosmos with a Beginning” (the creation of the spatial-temporal universe from nothing and its careful preparation for us by a loving Creator)
  4. “Clear Pointers to God” (evidences for God’s existence and character shown in the creation and the nature of humanity)
  5. “Not by Works” (the necessity and possibility of our salvation by God’s grace alone, revealed in Christ)
  6. “Humanity’s Value and Dignity” (humans made in God’s image, the most valuable of God’s creatures, with capacity for great evil, and great virtue)
  7. “The Good in Suffering” (how evil, both natural and moral, fits with a good and powerful God, and the ultimate aim of the universe)

Given the limited size of the book, the amount of useful material is remarkable.  Arguments are stated concisely, and are thoughtfully arranged.  Ample endnotes provide more detailed discussions from excellent sources.  The suggested readings and discussion questions at the end of each chapter would be quite useful for group study in a class or Bible study group.  This book could be used also in a campus club or discussion with both Christian and non-Christian participants.

I found this book by Ken Samples enjoyable to read, well organized, and filled with helpful thoughts and sources.  Reading it should make one more comfortable believing the Christian teachings and more competent and confident in bearing witness to a skeptical world.

Review of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, by Ben Witherington III

Review of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, by Ben Witherington III

by Jason Anspach (M.Div., WRS)

Ben Witherington III, Amos Professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, finished his series of commentaries on the New Testament with his treatment of Philippians.

Witherington focuses his interpretation on a number of standard commentary paths. He surveys existing commentaries and provide exegetical notes throughout. What sets Witherington’s work apart from other standard commentaries is his consideration of the social and rhetorical realities of Paul’s epistle.

Witherington examines the social custom of Philippi and sees a Roman colony where all things Roman are held in high esteem. Given Paul’s pattern of being all things in order to proclaim Christ, we should not easily overlook his willingness to employ Roman rhetoric and refer to Roman custom in reaching the people of Philippi.

By taking heed of this Witherington shows Philippians not to be an ordinary friendship or family letter addressed to a beloved congregation, but rather a nuanced oration to be read aloud and shared by those who were accustomed to such. Paul, a practiced speaker of the gospel, used his rhetorical abilities to communicate to the Philippians in the manner appreciated most by them – the Roman way. According to Witherington, “ Analyzing Philippians as deliberative rhetoric with some epideictic features allows the aims and purpose of this discourse to become increasingly clear: Paul wants the Philippians to continue embracing their Christian faith and model themselves on godly examples, especially the example of Christ himself, as Phil. 2 makes evident.”
Witherington also takes time to view the role of woman in Philippi as a means of understanding what the role if any the females mentioned in the letter may have had in the church.

Finally Witherington soundly puts to bed the notion that Philippians is a product of a number of contributions melded together by showing a rhetorical unity that could not be achieved through a copy and paste approach.

This commentary is helpful in appreciating the subtleties of the epistle to the Philippians. It breathes a fresh perspective into the letter as the reader is able to see what was communicated through the original hearer’s eyes. Witherington’s commentary is conservative, and does not shy away from engaging liberal academic assertions where he sees contrary evidence or accepting solid beneficial work from scholars he would not otherwise agree with.

5/5 stars


Daniel B. Wallace

New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace explained the discovery of a first century fragment from Mark’s Gospel in this interview.  This copy of Mark was made before A.D. 100, the earliest New Testament fragment discovered yet!

Review of John C. Lennox,
"God’s Undertaker"

Review of John C. Lennox, <br/>"God’s Undertaker"

By John C. Lennox

God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, by John C. Lennox (Oxford: Lion, 2009).  Pp. 224.  Reviewed by John A. Battle.

The first time I heard of John Lennox was listening online to his debate against Richard Dawkins.  Not only was he able to stand up to Dawkins’s arguments, but he concluded with a sterling appeal to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the final proof that God exists and has revealed himself to us.  Dawkins responded that he was “disappointed” that Lennox would bring that matter up in a scientific debate, but I was encouraged. Later, hearing Lennox in person speaking in Washington State, I was further impressed by his knowledge, fluency, and ability to explain complex ideas to a popular audience.

John Lennox is Professor in Mathematics in Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College.  In addition to being a leading mathematician and philosopher of science, Lennox is a committed Christian and an outspoken apologist.  In addition to debating famous atheists like Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Lennox speaks to popular audiences to encourage their faith in God and the biblical revelation.

This recent book presents a strong case for God as the intelligent, powerful Creator of the universe.  As an expert in mathematics, including probability and chaos theory, Lennox analyzes and explains the fine tuning of the physical forces and constants of the universe, and the information richness of the genetic code. These facts point to intelligent input. Lennox does not “argue from analogy, but [makes] an inference to the best explanation” (p. 175).  This is not a “god of the gaps” argument, where, as science progresses, the need for “god” shrinks.  Rather, it is an “atheism of the gaps” argument, as each new scientific advance provides more, not less, evidence for a divine, intelligent Creator.

The book surveys the major areas of debate—the origin and design of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of the major types of life, and the information-rich content of the genetic code.  In each of these areas Lennox documents his statements well, citing leaders in each field.  He selects the strongest, not the weakest, argument of his opponents and treats them fairly.  In all these diverse subject areas, he emphasizes the issues that relate to his own strength and expertise.

Near the end of his book Lennox discusses the philosophical contribution of David Hume, who supposedly destroyed the argument for God based on the design found in various creatures.  These pages summarize and state well the fallacy of Hume, and the emptiness of modern arguments by atheists who quote him.

This book is fun to read, even though sometimes the reading is heavy.  I recommend it to all who desire to argue for the existence and work of the God of the Bible. It also is helpful to all Christians who have feared that their beliefs somehow are unscientific or unreasonable.