Foundations: No.78 Spring 2020
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46:1, NKJV)
It is a pleasure to take on the editing of Foundations. However, this, my first edition, does not arrive in normal times. Britain, and the world, is being convulsed by the effects of Covid-19. The pandemic is leaving social and economic tragedy in its wake. And so, for now, thoughts of a vision for this theological journal will have to wait. There are more important and pressing matters for us to devote our thoughts and prayers to. Instead, then, of outlining my hopes for Foundations, I have included a homily on Psalm 46. This is a section of the sermon preached in the first “virtual” service we held at Cambridge Presbyterian Church following government advice for churches to cease meeting physically. I trust the simple truths of the forty-sixth psalm will speak to us all in our national situation.
However, my hope is still, that in an unplanned way, this edition speaks to the times in which we live. The great need of Christians now (as always) is to “behold our God”. And the theological discipline which most invites us to do this is systematic theology. My intention with this edition is to honour the launch of Bob Letham’s Systematic Theology, with a focus on that particular discipline. It is always an important moment when a theologian of standing presents their systematic thought. But, for us in the UK, it is particularly so when one of the premier British theologians of our day commits their mature reflections to writing. And so, this edition of Foundations coheres around systematic theology.
We begin with an excellent in-depth review article on Bob’s Systematic Theology by Dr Jonathan Bayes. The review is insightful, sympathetic, but also offers correctives from Dr Bayes’ Reformed Baptist position. This dialogue among believers from differing perspectives is one of the great benefits Foundations can bring (though, for the record, I still agree with Dr Letham!).
Following this there is a very helpful case made for the role of systematic theology in theological training from Dr Marty Foord – an argument I am sure that Dr Letham would appreciate. Foord outlines the nature of theological education, the nature of systematic theology and makes a compelling case for the necessity of the latter in training for pastoral ministry. Foord does not shy away from highlighting the weakness of systematic theology done badly, but rightly argues that this should not be used to discredit its vital importance, when done well.
Next up is an article that is close to my heart. John Murray (1898-1975), for many years Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, has been a profound theological influence in my life. His ability to expound the truths of the Reformed faith so that they rise organically from Scripture, gives them a genuine power and vitality. Murray was a systematic theologian of the first order, but he was this because he was first an exceptional exegete and biblical theologian. Daniel Schrock’s article does a wonderful job in expounding and defending Murray’s theological method for us. Indeed, Daniel seems at times to so appreciate Murray that he has adopted Murray’s penchant for precise but obscure words! But stick with it; even if you need to google some of the vocabulary, it is worth it. I hope this article will lead many to discover Murray for themselves. The riches of his four-volume Collected Writings, the exegetical rigour of his commentary on Romans, and the beautiful power of his Redemption Accomplished and Applied and much more are there waiting to be discovered!
The final article in the realm of systematic theology is Benedict Bird’s overview of John Owen’s covenant theology. If Spurgeon’s statement is true there can be few more important themes to discuss in an edition devoted to systematic theology: “The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, is a master of divinity.” Owen’s articulation of covenant theology has been a matter of scholarly dispute. Bird is a safe guide through these debates, and opens up Owen’s views simply to enable us to weigh them in the light of Scripture.
One exception to the theme of systematic theology is Thorsten Prill’s presentation of the case that missionaries should learn local languages, even where English is spoken. I am delighted that we have an article on a missiological theme, and also specifically on this theme. I grew up in a home where Scottish Gaelic was very much a living language. Yes, everyone spoke English, but English was never the heart language of older generations of my mother’s family. And so, I can deeply appreciate the concern that motivates Thorsten’s plea, and value his unfolding of the biblical and practical reasons for his case.
I hope you will enjoy this issue of Foundations even in troubling times. If nothing else, it should give you some reading material during lockdown!
Dr Donald John MacLean
Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019). back
John Murray, Collected Writings (4 vols.; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976-1982); The Epistle to the Romans (Repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016). back
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Wonderous Covenant” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 58 (1912). Online: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons58.xliv.html
[Cited: 26 March 2020]. back