Books, Bio, and Such

Aug 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The summer is almost done and so is this interview series. Thanks all to the busy folks who took time to answer 18 questions about themselves, their books, and a few other interesting tidbits. I thought I’d finish this series by answering my own questions, not because there is anything special about my answers, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and all that jazz.

1. Where were you born? Chicago, Illinois

2. When did you become a Christian? I had the immense privilege of growing up in a Christian home, so I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know of Christ. I made profession of faith and joined the church when I was 9 years old.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? There are three pastor-authors who have been especially influential. I think I’ve read most everything they’ve published: John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper.

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? I’ve learned a lot from my pastoral colleagues at URC, Ben Falconer and Jason Helopoulous, and from my predecessor at the church, Tom Stark.

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? My Song Is Love Unknown, the way Fernando Ortega sings it.

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Political Science and Economics

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, for its remarkable influence on the Reformed tradition, for clarity of thought, and for comprehensive coverage of of almost every conceivable theological question.

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? The entire Jeeves and Wooster series by P.G. Wodehouse. And of course Lord of the Rings.

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Paul Johnson’s little biography of Churchill is marvelous. Allen Guelzo’s book on Lincoln was also excellent. Do you like how I’m not sticking to the rules of my own questions by mentioning multiple books?

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? Ben Patterson, Deepening Your Conversation with God

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Brian Caplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. It’s not Christian in anyway, but provocative and full of good sense. For a good gospel-centered book on parenting I was helped by Shepherding a Child’s Heart

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? Like most people, I have eclectic tastes, anything from oldies and contemporary Christian music to bluegrass and classical.

17. Favorite food? Chicago style deep dish pizza.

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? The Heidelberg Catechism

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Four Brief Theses on Suicide

Aug 20, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The news last week of Robin Williams’ death was painful for millions of people, not only because he was a beloved entertainer (count me a fan of his clean stuff) but because suicide is not a topic which lands on us lightly. This is especially true for the countless number of Christians who are still grieving for loved ones or who have struggled with suicidal thoughts themselves. Not surprisingly, in the wake of such big national news, the internet lit up with commentary and critique, point and counterpoint. Some of it helpful, some of it not so much.

Without trying to sift through all that has been said, and without pretending to say everything that needs to be said about such a difficult subject, I thought it might be helpful to try to cut through some of the fog and look at four brief theses. Perhaps these can help us think theologically and pastorally about suicide.

1. The subject of suicide should be approached sensitively and compassionately.

We need to know the time and the place. This is a blog post addressed to a general audience, so I don’t believe it’s insensitive to step back and parse out “four theses” on suicide. But I would not present four points like this to someone mourning the death of a friend or to someone contemplating suicide. Those situations call for hugs, tears, questions, listening, personal contact, and prayer–all things that are impossible or nearly impossible in a general blog post. Having said that, even in a general piece to no one in particular, we must keep in mind that anyone may be reading. The wise Christian is always aware that people are listening with different ears. For some this topic is an interesting theological question. For others, they are thinking about how to minister effectively when the need arises. And for others, the mere mention of suicide summons from within them a pain too deep for words.

2. Suicide is complicated and happens for different reasons.

I think many people were angry at the critical responses to Robin Williams’ death because the critiques failed to grasp–or at least landed on people as failing to grasp–the moral differences surrounding the different contexts for suicide. Surely someone struggling with depression on and off for twenty years who takes his own life deserves more sympathy than the man who loses everything on the stock market and jumps off the 75th floor in a moment of monetary loss. There is a moral difference between the person who gets caught in adultery and–full of embarrasment and an unwillingness to face his sin–commits suicide, as opposed to the person who finds out she was cheated on and, feeling her life cannot go on, decides to end it. The person who guns down children and then kills himself is selfish and evil and a hundred other things. The person who takes his own life while in the throes of a depression that is unwanted, unbidden, and seemingly unending will be appraised much differently. Our last action–even a sinful one–does not define the totality of our existence. We are right to remember all that was good and true in those who succumb to the temptation to self-destruction.

3. Suicide is a sin.

Of course, this is not what I would lead with in pastoral counseling or in pastoral care or in conducting a funeral, but it is one aspect of this difficult topic we cannot avoid. While there may be extreme cases where a suicidal person has clearly lost control of all his faculties (i.e., dementia, closed head injuries), in the vast majority of  cases we are right to see suicide as a morally culpable and morally blameworthy choice. For centuries, the church has consistently viewed suicide as a violation of the sixth commandment. Self-murder is still murder. As John Frame points out in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, there are five instances of suicide in Scripture (Judges 9:52-54; 1 Sam. 31:3-5; 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18-19; Matt. 27:3-5) and all of them are in a context of shame and defeat (p. 738). Likewise, when more noble characters ask God to take their lives, God never obliges (Num. 11:12-15; 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:1-11). In the cases of Jonah and Job, God clearly views their self-destructive requests unfavorably.

While we want to empathize with those who suffer–from regret or depression or disease or any other unrelenting malady–surely it is poor ethical reasoning to think that suffering is the means which justifies any end. As we saw yesterday, our choices should be deemed “free” so long as they are not subject to external coercion and compulsion. Julie Gossack–a wife and mother who has five times had to suffer through the suicide of a family member–sums up the matter well: “Suicide is not a genetic trait nor is it a family curse. Suicide is a sinful choice made by an individual. This statement is neither unloving nor disrespectful. It is the truth. I dearly loved my family members that committed suicide, but their choices were sinful and not righteous” (JBC Winter: 2006, 22). Suicide may feel like the only way out, but Scripture tell us God will never lead us into a situation where violating his commands is the only option (1 Cor. 10:13). We do not help struggling saints by refusing to tell them that suicide is displeasing to God; lovingly spoken that may be one of the means by which God jolts the suicidal soul back to better, more godly thinking.

4. Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.

We do not have a system of penance and last rites. While it is particularly sad for a Christian to die in this way–confused and without hope–this loss of perspective does not necessarily mean the person was not a born again, justified Christian. John Frame, who argues that suicide is sinful, also tells the story of a missionary friend who drew closer to Jesus as he battled depression, but in the end killed himself. Frame doesn’t hesitate to say confidently that this man was a genuine Christian (p. 39). We are saved by the blood of Christ, not by whether our last moment was triumphant or tragic. Suicide should not be lightly dismissed. It is unimaginably painful and displeasing to God. But for the truly repentant, truly believing, truly justified child of God, God is greater than our sins, even ones that grip is in our dying breaths.

For more resources on suicide, check out the list of articles at CCEF. They are worth the few dollars it may cost to access them.

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Moral and Natural Inability

Aug 19, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I told you last week about my summer sabbatical. I also warned you that I might use one or two excerpts from my doctoral studies as blog posts. Here’s excerpt number two. It’s from a section where I try to demonstrate Witherspoon’s connections with the High/Late Reformed Orthodoxy of Pictet and Turretin.


The scholastic distinction Witherspoon employed most robustly is one with a long and convoluted history. The debate surrounding the nature of the human will–is it bound or is it free?–goes back to at least the time of Augustine (354-430). In order to make sense of this perennial question, medieval scholastics like Peter Lombard (1096-1164) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) made distinctions among different types of necessity, distinctions Calvin used to explain how man could be enslaved to sin and at the same time responsible for his sin. Our sin, which the fallen will chooses by necessity, is also voluntary because the choice is owing to our own corruption.[1] There is no external coercion, no outside compulsion which makes us sin. The will, however bound to wickedness it may be, is still self determined.[2]

Turretin argued to the same effect by postulating six different types of necessity. The will can be said to be free even if it is bound by a moral necessity (along with the necessity of dependence upon God, rational necessity, and necessity of event) so long as it is free from physical necessity and the necessity of coaction. That is to say, if the intellect has the power of choice (freedom from physical necessity) and the will can be exercised without external compulsion (freedom from the necessity of coaction) then our sins can be called voluntary and we can be held responsible for them.[3]

Not surprisingly, Witherspoon held to the same basic distinction, though with far less scholastic nuance. On several occasions Witherspoon defended the necessary yet voluntary nature of our sin by explaining the difference between natural and moral inability. Here, for example, is Witherspoon discussing the matter at some length in his Treatise on Regeneration:

Again the sinner will perhaps say, “But why should the sentence by so severe? The law may be right in itself, but it is hard, or even impossible for me. I have no strength: I cannot love the Lord with all my heart. I am altogether insufficient for that which is good.” Oh that you would but consider what sort of inability you are under to keep the commandments of God. Is it natural, or is it moral? Is it really want of ability, or is it only want of will? Is it anything more than the depravity and corruption of your hearts, which is itself criminal, and the source of all actual transgressions? Have you not natural faculties, and understanding, will, and affections, a wonderful frame of body, and a variety of members? What is it that hinders them all from being consecrated to God?[4]

In using this simpler distinction between natural and moral inability, Witherspoon was in line with Pictet who argued that the “impotence of the sinner does not excuse him in sinning, since it is not involuntary and merely physical, arising from a defect of natural power, but voluntary and moral, arising from a depraved nature.”[5]

The distinction has been controversial in the Reformed tradition, with some theologians defining natural ability in such a way as to give unregenerate man the power within himself to repent and believe. This is what the Swiss triumvirate heard in the doctrine coming out of Saumur and why the Consensus Formula Helvetica argued for an inability that was moral and natural (Canon XXI-XXII). The Consensus was not rejecting the distinction outright—after all, the Formula was Turretin’s idea and Pictet supported it. The Swiss theologians wanted to guard against the notion that faith was in some way self-originated (Canon XXII).

This seventeenth century European controversy is not unlike the controversy that embroiled Reformed theology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America. In Witherspoon’s time, the most famous theologian to speak of natural versus moral inability was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who used the familiar distinction as an important part of his attack on Arminianism in Freedom of the Will (1754).[6] In the years that would follow, New Divinity theologians inspired by Edwards would make the notion of natural ability the centerpiece of their thought, arguing for greater volitional power in unregenerate man and, in some cases, arguing against the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin. This was a step Edwards did not take and would not have encouraged.[7] So great was the controversy throughout the next century that in 1863 Lyman Atwater took to the pages of Charles Hodge’s Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review to explain that when Witherspoon spoke of natural ability and moral inability he did so in the old school, orthodox, Turretin sense of the terms.[8]


[1] Calvin quotes Bernard—in concert with Augustine but in opposition to Lombard—to this end in Inst. II.iii.5 Cf. Inst. II.v.1; Bondage and Liberation, 143-44; Comm. Rom. 7:14.

[2] Calvin makes this point tirelessly. Cf. Bondage and Liberation, 67-70, 103, 115, 118, 122, 182, 200, 204; Inst. II.iii.14, II.v.7,14-15; Comm. Phil. 2:13. Moreover, Calvin’s vehement rejection of any necessity which might imply coercion or compulsion is entirely unoriginal. Cf. Augustine, City of God, V.x (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff [Peabody: MA: Hendriksen, 2004], 2:92-93); Aquinas, Summa Theologica I q.82 a. 1; D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung Werke (WA), (Weimar, 1883-),18:634.

[3] Elenctic Theology, X.xii.3-12; cf. Van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism, 160-163.

[4] Works, 1:215; cp. 1:142. Witherspoon also uses the distinction in the Essay on Justification (Works, 1:53) and in his 1758 sermon before the SSPCK (Works, 2:357).

[5] Christian Theology, 200 (Theologia Christiana V.x.12). The italics are in the original Latin and in the English translation. The distinction can be found in others from the Reformed tradition, including William Twisse (1578-1646), the presiding officer at the Westminster Assembly, and Thomas Manton (1620-1677), a clerk at the Assembly (William Twisse, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessells of Mercy [Oxford: Printed by L.L. and H.H. for Tho. Robinson, 1653], 1.1.72; Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton [London: James Nisbet and Co., 1873], 21:332).

[6] See Part I, Section 4 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1: Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). There is no indication that Witherspoon was borrowing from Edwards in using the distinction. Although Witherspoon’s Popular Party colleague John Erskine was close to Edwards, the latter is never mentioned by Witherspoon and the only Edwards’ volume recorded in his library is the devotional work The Life of David Brainerd (1749 [Witherspoon’s edition, 1765]).

[7] See E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 127-156.

[8] Lyman Hotchkiss Atwater, “Witherspoon’s Theology,” The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review (1863), 598-599. Ashbel Green dealt with the same issue in his biography of Witherspoon, responding to the claim “publickly asserted in print, that Dr. W. favoured the idea, that unsanctified men possess natural ability to love God and keep his commandments.” Green argued that Witherspoon’s statements on natural ability and moral inability did not differ “from the creed of any well informed Calvinistic divine of the Old School, namely; that in regeneration no new faculties are imported, but only that there is a renewal and sanctification of those which are possessed from nature; and also, that every unregenerate man is justly answerable for any act of disobedience to the divine requisitions, and every omission of commanded duty, because, in all, he acts voluntarily and of choice” (Life of the Rev. John Witherspoon, 265-266).

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

How things work:

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Bio, Books, and Such: Collin Hansen

Aug 15, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays. I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Collin Hansen,  author and Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition.

1. Where were you born? Madison, South Dakota

2. When did you become a Christian? Age 15 in 1997. I attended a retreat with a youth ministry and for the first time saw peers who loved Jesus and wanted to tell others about him.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Ranging from how I teach and evangelize to how I love God and fight sin, I have learned the most from Tim Keller. He’s a big reason why I serve with The Gospel Coalition.

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Two men were used by God during a crucial time of my life. I’m eternally grateful for Chris Sarver, the man who led my Cru ministry in college, and Ben Gildner, our preacher during that time and the man who officiated our wedding.

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? No doubt it would be “My Song Is Love Unknown.” Just look at this closing stanza:

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
in Whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? I never get tired of reading history. And you could exhaust multiple lifetimes trying to keep up with publishing on the American Civil War. But I enjoy learning the stories of these citizen-soldiers making decisions under unfathomable pressure as they changed history in untold ways. I’m usually also reading a book about place-making in our transient age.

7. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? No doubt Fyodor Dostoevsky would top that list for his penetrating insight into the human psyche and a world that denies God. But I also appreciate Marilynne Robinson’s touch for revealing the profound in the mundane.

8. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? I’m cheating, because this is a biography about a Christian. But it’s not written by a Christian, and it doesn’t focus on his Christian faith. Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken might be the best story I’ve read outside the Bible. By the time you finish the book, however, you’ll understand why the title is so misguided.

9. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? I don’t preach as often as I’d like, but the best book I know about forming the preacher himself is Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus.

10. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? I haven’t yet read anything that surpasses J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

11. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Oddly enough I learned more about apologetics by reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion than I have reading most books by Christians that assume good arguments will carry the day.

12. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? I need books that reveal my need for prayer as a means of grace more than I need books that teach me how to pray. So in that regard Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God exposes my older brother heart and need to humble my judgmental, critical self before my Savior.

13. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? We might have avoided a lot of pain and heartache if Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage had been available when my wife and I got married in 2003.

14. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? My list of favorites playing in the background now includes “Canon in D Minor,” “Live and Die” by the Avett Brothers, “Adagio in G minor for Organ and Strings,” the arrangement of John Newton’s “I Asked the Lord” by Indelible Grace, “Alabama Pines” by Jason Isbell, and “May Your Power Rest on Me” from Sojourn.

16. Favorite food? When I left Chicago I abandoned my two favorite foods: deep-dish pepperoni from Lou Malnati’s and steak kabobs from Naf Naf Grill. Thankfully in Birmingham I can walk to Saw’s Juke Joint, and you’ll never surpass their flash-fried chicken wings or pork and greens over grits.

17. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Louis Zamperini actually survived being stranded in the Pacific, so I might learn a thing or two from Unbroken.

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The Gospel According to Cats and Dogs

Aug 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Some people have a gospel according cats.

And others have a gospel according to dogs.

The gospel according to cats has God saying, “Please me. Stroke me. Fear me. Don’t get too close to me. Love me. Serve me and I may pay attention to you on occasion.” It portrays God as someone who is fickle, preening, and demanding.

The gospel according to dogs has God saying, “I love everything about you. You never upset me. You never do anything wrong.  Don’t ever change. I don’t care what you do or who you are. You are my master and I love  you. I am so happy to be with you–no matter what!” It portrays God as someone desperate for affection, without standards and without any real concern for our behavior or well-being.

The gospel according to cats offers no grace. The gospels according to dogs expects no obedience. Take your pick: a Christianity without mercy or a Christianity without repentance. Neither are truly Christian.

Don’t trade the bad news of finicky love for the false gospel of unconditional affirmation. There is more to grace than “it’s okay” and more to the law than “shape up.”

Run to Christ. Be forgiven. Die to self. Get happy. Follow Christ. Live forever.

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When Christians Suffer from Depression

Aug 13, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Even the most gifted, most intelligent, most capable Christians can suffer from depression. Here’s how the Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton, Ashbel Green (1762-1848) described his bouts of melancholy in his autobiography:

Having again mentioned my melancholy, I will saw a few words as to the manner in which it affected both my body and my mind. I was, during the various seasons of this afflictive complaint, entirely free from any imagination that my body had become glass, or of enormous bulk, or a fear to move lest I should fall in pieces. No conceit of this sort ever affected me at all. My complaint may have been attended, and I think it was, by some apprehensions that were delusive, as thinking that slight bodily affections might prove mortal; but after some experience I learned to disregard all these. No, my melancholy consisted in a settled gloom of mind, accompanied with spiritual difficulties of the most distressing character. (The Life of Ashbel Green, 301-302)

In his Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, Green goes into more detail about the “peculiar character of my spiritual difficulties and temptations.”

But there are some temptations and of the most terrific kind, sometimes called “fiery darts of the devil,” which seem to proceed immediately from this fearful enemy. A flood of blasphemous, strange, horrible, dismaying and overwhelming thoughts, or, as I would rather call them imaginations, are sometimes poured in on the soul.Sometimes such thoughts, in a more separate and unconnected manner, rise up in the mind, or are suddenly and unaccountably darted into: and having once entered they are renewed from day to day, till the sufferer is harassed and tormented almost beyond endurance; and perhaps is distressed with the apprehension of having committed the unpardonable sin, and is even tempted to self-destruction. (468)

Green goes on to say that people of melancholy or nervous temperament are most likely to suffer from these afflictions, but even people of the best spirits and most eminent piety are not immune to these temptations.

So what can be done? Green offers four pieces of advice borne out of personal experience, biblical insight, and common sense (469-470).

1. Keep in mind that the temptation itself is not sin. The Lord Jesus was afflicted with fierce temptations, and yet he did not sin. Do not confuse the fiery darts of the Evil One with your own moral failure.

2. Remember that we cannot reason away melancholy and unbidden thoughts. “All recalling them, or thinking them over–to which there is often a strange propensity–is to renew their impression and increase their strength.”

3. Keep lifting up your heart to “the once tempted and now glorified Redeemer.” Don’t run from Christ in your depression. Run to him for strength, for grace, and for protection. A broken heart and contrite spirit he will not deny.

4. Avoid idleness and solitude as much as possible. Don’t retreat. Stick with others. Listen to their sane counsel when your world feels like madness.

From my pastoral experience, this sounds like very wise counsel from a good and godly man who had experienced many dark nights of the soul. If nothing else, let if be an encouragement to you and those you care about that one as impressive and accomplished as Ashbel Green endured such deep depression. Even more encouraging: we have a great High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness.


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One of the Great Ironies of Reformed Theological History

Aug 12, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

220px-Benedict_PictetToday marks my first day back at church with all my normal responsibilities. For the past 12 weeks I’ve had the tremendous privilege of devoting my hours and my energies to research and writing. After three months and 30,000 words, it’s time to set aside the doctoral dissertation for awhile. I’ll keep reading and keep refining over the months ahead, but the heavy lifting will have to wait until next summer. I loved my summer of study, and I am excited to get back to pastoring and preaching.

Most (all?) of my writing from this summer does not make for good blog material. But I figure you, O faithful blog reader, are especially curious (or at least especially patient). So I thought I would post one or two excerpts.

The paragraphs below give some historical background on Benedict Pictet–one of the most significant Reformed theologians you’ve never heard of and the author of the systematic theology used in the Scottish Kirk during most of the eighteenth century. One of my main theses is that Witherspoon’s theology was rooted in–and rarely deviated from–the theological tradition he inherited from the High/Late Reformed Orthodoxy of Pictet and Turretin. This particular section provides an overview of Pictet’s life and his role in one noted theological controversy.

I’ve kept in most of the footnotes, but shortened some of the longer, more esoteric ones. Enjoy! If that’s the right word.



Benedict Pictet was born May 30, 1655 to one of Geneva’s leading families. He studied theology under his uncle, Francis Turretin, and then completed his education in Paris and Leiden, where he studied under the conservative German Calvinist, Frederich Spanheim (the younger). After a short time in England, Pictet returned to Geneva where, in 1686, he was made an assistant to Turretin and Philippe Mestrezat in the theology department. Pictet acquitted himself well, succeeding his uncle to the chair of theology and eventually being sought after as Spanheim’s successor in Leiden. As a professor and pastor in Geneva, Pictet was widely regarded not only for his erudition but for his skillful preaching, his humanitarian work, his hymnwriting, and his elegant French revision of the Psalms. His two most important theological works were Christian Morals (1692) and Christian Theology (1696). Pictet died June 10, 1724, crying out in his final moments, “O, death, where is thy sting.”[1]

Outside of Theologia Christiana, Pictet is best remembered for his staunch opposition to removing the Helvetic Formula Consensus as a confessional standard in Switzerland. For most of the seventeenth century Reformed theology was embroiled in controversies surrounding the Academy at Saumur in France, as the leading men of Saumur—Moise Amyraut (1596-1664), Louis Cappel (1585-1658), and Josue de la Place (1596-1665)—resisted the Reformed orthodoxy of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). As early as 1637, Amyraut was brought before the French Reformed Church to account for his views on the universal extent of the atonement and hypothetical redemption.[2] When it became clear over the next decades that Amyraut would not be removed from his post or pastorate at Saumur—and in fact that the influence of Amyraldianism was spreading—the leading lights in Switzerland started planning for a more definitive response. In 1669, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) initiated the idea with Johann Henry Heidegger (1633-1698) of a Swiss Consensus that would address the errors of Saumur: namely, Cappel’s undermining of the inspiration of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, de la Place’s rejection of the immediate imputation of Adam’s sin, and Amyraut’s insistence that God intended Christ’s death to be for all (upon the condition that they believe). A draft of the Consensus was composed by Heidegger in Zurich, with Turretin of Geneva and Lucas Gernler (1625-1675) of Basel assisting. The Formula Consensus Helvetica was approved by the Swiss Evangelical Diet in 1675 and endorsed by the Genevan Company of Pastors in 1678 and by the Council in 1679.[3]

A generation later Geneva was ready to be done with the Consensus. In one of the ironic twists of theological history, the push to remove the Consensus was led by Turretin’s son, Jean-Alphone Turretin (1671-1737), whose main opponent defending the Consensus was his older cousin (Francis’s nephew), Benedict Pictet. Francis Turretin married later in life and his son Jean-Alphonse was not born until his father was forty-nine. Pictet and Francis Turretin had a close relationship: Turretin taught Pictet theology; Pictet succeeded Turretin as professor of theology at the Academy; Pictet was called to Turretin’s bedside in his dying days, and on November 3, 1687 it was Pictet (not the 16 year-old Jean-Alphonse) who delivered a hagiographical funeral oration in Turretin’s honor.[4] Toward the close of the oration Pictet prayed that the death of his beloved uncle would not “portend anything for our church” and that God would keep Geneva “safe and tranquil, an invincible theater of your power and virtue.”[5]

But it was not to be. Despite the protestations of Pictet and Benedict Calandrini (1639-1720), in 1706 the Council in Geneva removed the requirement for ordinands to sign the Formula. Even a mediating measure requiring ministerial candidates to agree not to teach anything against the Formula could not be approved. On September 6, 1706, the Council adopted a new ordination service which abrogated the Formula, only requiring ministers to subscribe to the Old and New Testaments and not to teach against the confessions and catechism of the church.[6] Unlike the younger Turretin and the majority of the Company of Pastors, Pictet did not believe the Formula was a hindrance to unity with the Dutch, or even that it hampered the projected reunion with the Lutherans.[7] He maintained instead that if Geneva lost the Formula, they would lose Dort and the confession of faith, and that eventually Arminianism would be established, or something worse. “I fear the spirits of this century are extremely given to novelties,” he said in defense of the Formula.[8]

Pictet’s fear proved to be prescient. In 1725, a year after Pictet’s death, the subscription formula of 1706 was set aside in favor of a still looser policy which required ministers only to subscribe to the Bible and to Calvin’s Catechism as a faithful summary of Scripture. There were no requirements to subscribe to—not even a requirement not to teach against—the Helvetic Formula Consensus, the Second Helvetic Confession, or the Canons of Dort.[9] It is no wonder that Robert Wodrow, writing from Scotland in 1730, passed along with great dismay the news that “Turretin, the son, had quite overturned everything in Geneva,” further lamenting that “subscription to Confessions wer [sic] no more required in that city.”[10] Calvin’s Geneva was effectively confessionless. Reformed Orthodoxy was in decline.


[1] Biographical information taken from Martin I. Klauber, “Family Loyalty and Theological Transition in Post-Reformation Geneva: The Case of Benedict Pictet (1655-1724)” Fides et Historia 24:1 (Winter/Spring 1992), 54-67, Klauber; James I. Good, History of the Swiss Reformed Church Since the Reformation (Philadelphia: Publication and Sunday School Board, 1913), 176-178. The only full biography of Pictet is Eugne de Budé, Vie de Bénédict Pictet, theologien genevois (1655-1724) (Lausanne: Georges Bridel, 1874). Special thanks to David Eastman, Assistant Professor of Religion at Ohio Wesleyan University, for translating portions of the Budé volume into English for use in this project.

[2] For an evenhanded overview of Amyraut’s views on predestination and the atonement see “Controversy on Universal Grace: A Historical Survey of Moïse Amyraut’s Brief Traitté de la Predestination” in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definitive Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, ed. David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 165-199.

[3] Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation 4 vols., Compiled with Introductions by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 4:516-530. See also Martin I. Klauber, “The Helvetic Formula Consensus (1675): An Introduction and Translation,” Trinity Journal 11 (1990): 103-123; The Creeds of Christendom 3 vols., 6th edition, ed. Philip Schaff, rev. David S. Schaff (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 477-489. Klauber’s translation of the Formula is used in Reformed Confessions, along with the original introductory preface translated by Richard Bishop.

[4] For this history see Klauber, “Family Loyalty,” 57-60; see also, by Klauber, Between Reformed Scholasticism and Pan-Protestantism: Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1671-1737) and Enlightened Orthodoxy in the Academy of Geneva (London: Associated University Presses, 1994), 143-164.

[5] “Funeral Oration of Benedict Pictet Concerning the Life and Death of Francis Turretin” translated by David Lillegard in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology 3 vols., trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997), 3:676.

[6] Klauber, Between Reformed Scholasticism and Pan-Protestantism, 146-148, Good, History of the Swiss Reformed Church, 177-178.

[7] Budé, Vie de Bénédict Pictet, 43.

[8] Ibid., 41. Cf. Klauber, “Reformed Orthodoxy in Transition: Benedict Pictet (1655-1724) and Enlightened Orthodoxy in Post-Reformation Geneva” in W. Fred Graham (ed.), Later Calvinism: International Perspectives, Sixteenth Century Essays an Studies 22 (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1994), 98.

[9] Good, History of the Swiss Reformed Church, 178. See also James T. Dennison, Jr., “The Twilight of Scholasticism: Francis Turretin at the Dawn of the Enlightenment” in Protestant Scholasticism, eds. Trueman and Clark, 244-255.

[10] Robert Wodrow, Analecta: Materials for a History of Remarkable Providences mostly Relating to Scotch Ministers and Christians, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Maitland Club, 1853), 4:149.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Whenever I need an inspiration for overcoming life’s obstacles I think of this guy.

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Bio, Books, and Such: K. Scott Oliphint

Aug 08, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays. I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with K. Scott Oliphint, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

1. Where were you born? Texas

2. When did you become a Christian? When I was 18.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Cornelius Van Til

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Rev. David Brack

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? For All the Saints

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Biographies

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? Don’t read fiction

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? John Adams

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? E. Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Cornelius Van Til, Defense of the Faith

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? Pray With Your Eyes Open

14. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Shepherding a Child’s Heart

15. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? Classic Country

16. Favorite food? BBQ or TexMex

17. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Owen’s Works, Vol. 1

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