Author Archives: Dom Silla

Book Review: The Creedal Imperative Written by Dr. Carl R. Trueman

By Dominic Silla

 

Well here it is! The first book review of the summer of 2017! With a book like this, I can honestly say that my summer is off to a great start! The Creedal Imperative, written by Dr. Trueman was published in 2012 by Crossway books, and running just short of 200 pages, is a very well written tour of and apologetic for the use of creeds and confessions within the Church down the centuries to the modern day. As the holder of the Paul Woolley Chaired professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, he seems uniquely situated to comment on this topic and his insights are in fact, helpful.

The book contains six chapters and an appendix on precisely how creeds have come about in the Church, how they are not just historical but biblical and necessary to the life of the Christian church, and ultimately useful as a tool to promote theological orthodoxy and sound doxology. In other words, to promote right belief in God, and right praise of who God is. This insightful piece of wisdom noted in the text is who God has revealed Himself to be, or how we view how God has revealed Himself will determine how we worship Him. This theme remains constant throughout the entirety of the text. It is also of note to define what exactly is a creed or a confession, and Dr. Trueman furnishes us with the following definition, “Creeds and Confessions are human attempts to summarize the basic elements of the Christian faith.”[1]

Within the pages of the book, one is also painfully aware, as it makes up the first chapter of the text, that the arguments against the use of historical creeds and confessions are incapable of standing the attack Trueman brings to bear on them. Dr. Trueman goes so far as to argue that creeds and confessions are foundationally Biblical[2] and that to not be subject to one is to be slave to ones own interpretation. An example used within the text is that the church who has no confession or creed, but holds to a “no creed but the Bible” stance is enslaved to the particular preacher’s interpretation of that morning text. Ultimately, Trueman argues, and I think rightly, that everyone is confessional, but the difference is between a confession that is written down and one that is not. Those who have a written confession are more able to keep their ministers and elders in check by appealing to the confessions as Biblical summaries and expositions within that church. The church that does not have a creed/confession is bound to what the preacher speaks on that morning and if their opinion changes from one week to the next, the congregation is along for the ride. In this way, Trueman argues, confessions are quite useful in acting as a check on individualistic interpretations and more.

If you are looking for a good book summarizing the need for creeds and confessions, of even simply want to know what all the hubbub has been about lately with a growing return and movement toward “” or “Reformed theology” I heartily recommend Dr. Trueman’s book to you as a good resource to and starting point to work from. Additionally, Dr. Trueman includes a “For Further Reading” section in the back. Take it from someone who has taken his classes, this has always been one of my favorite parts of his syllabi and books. You can find the book here at the Westminster book store. If you can’t afford the book right now, feel free to peruse my own small essay on the subject, though I confess openly that it pales in comparison in both accuracy and depth to Dr. Trueman’s great work on creeds and confessions and why the Church ought to make them an imperative.

 

 

[1] Pg. 65

[2] Not that they are on the same level as the Bible, but that they ought to be accurate summaries of the systematic doctrines contained within Scripture

Book Review: St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography Written by: Dr. Philip Freeman

 

By: Dominic Silla

 

This semester, as jam packed as I was with my schedule, I tried to carve out a little bit of time for some personal reading. As St. Patrick’ day rolled around, I told my annual joke, reminding my friends that St. Patrick was not an Irishman…pointing out that he was in fact, a Roman, and therefore of an Italian ethnicity. Beyond this I did not know a great deal about Patrick as a person. This troubled me a little bit and decided to pick up something on the topic from my local library[1]. I settled on “St. Patrick of Ireland” by Philip Freeman. This short book runs 193 pages and is a wealth of information and primary source material[2]. Simon & Schuster Inc. published the book in 2004.[3]

The problem facing any historian and biographer regarding St. Patrick and pre-medieval Ireland is the fact that information is scarce, and on top of the information are legends, myths, and changes to historical accounts by later scribes to make the accounts seem larger than life. This is a difficulty that Philip Freeman wrestles with in this particular book. Dr. Freeman is currently the chair for the classical department at Luther College, gaining his doctorate from Harvard University.[4] Dr. Freeman does very good work in not only giving us the fact we know about the life of St. Patrick, but he fills in the gaps of time with what Patrick might have or was likely to experience as a Roman boy of a minor aristocrat, a slave in Ireland, to a returning young man to Roman Britain, and so on.

As a reader, there sometimes seemed to be bits and chunks of information used to fill those gaps that edged closer to educated guesses, based on information we have from the time around the life of Patrick. The author, in the introduction, confesses that “The details that Patrick gives us of his life are few and often tantalizingly vague…”[5] however the author goes onto say that “Taken together with his letters, these sources[6] tell the story of an extraordinary man living in a tumultuous age.”[7] Finally, there is certainly a moving away from the religious history and an attempt to get at the actual life of Patrick beyond all the possible additions, exaggerations and fabrications that have crept in over the centuries.

In addition to the life of St. Patrick, Dr. Freeman also covers background information of the Ireland from the early 2nd century B.C. to the first two centuries after Patrick, bringing to bear all sorts of different accounts, from Greeks and Romans to archaeological evidence from the ancient Mediterranean, Britain and Ireland itself. Dr. Freeman covers succinctly the length and breadth of culture, politics, religion, history, and more in this book. In order to do this however, toward the middle of the book, the author momentarily breaks from the narrative of St. Patrick that we have been tracking with and delves into these subjects to give the reader a broader understanding of early Irish culture and obstacles that Patrick would have encountered.

As a point of interest, shortly before coming to seminary I read another book about the Irish by Thomas Cahill called, “How the Irish Saved Civilization”[8] In that book, Mr. Cahill argues that if it were not for the Irish a great deal knowledge and culture would have been lost, and that it was in fact Irish Christianity that saved the day by planting monasteries and copying vast amounts of text to be reintroduced to the continent of Europe at the close of the dark ages.[9] Whether purposefully or indirectly or by mere happenstance, Dr. Freeman attempts to refute this idea. Dr. Freeman states that,

“The Irish did not save civilization-it had never been lost. The vibrant monasteries and learned nobility of western Europe, not to mention the entire eastern Roman Empire, would have laughed at the notion that the Irish were rescuing them from barbarism.”[10]

Dr. Freeman goes on to note that the Irish were most likely respected for their strict monastic adherence and scholarship[11] but beyond this, the Irish were not the saviors Thomas Cahill makes them out to be, at least this is the inevitable conclusion a reader familiar with both of these works must draw.

In conclusion I would say that this book is certainly worth the read and it is quite entertaining and informative. However, as I would recommend with any work that has at its core the intention to inform the, look to additional sources and take the time to read other books and compare the information received. Be Bereans about it! I for one will certainly be reading more of Dr. Freeman’s books! Check them out at your local library!

 

[1] Shameless plug, use your local library! It is totally worth using to find little gem’s like this one.

[2] The Author considers the two works considered to have been written by St. Patrick in the rear of the book, “Confessions” and “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus”

[3] https://www.amazon.com/St-Patrick-Ireland-Phillip-Freeman/dp/1439164797/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493935710&sr=8-1&keywords=st.+patrick+of+ireland

[4] http://www.philipfreemanbooks.com/author.html

[5] Pg. XVIII, “St. Patrick of Ireland”

[6] Listed above this quote, “Archeological excavations and discoveries”, “Greek and Roman writers” and “Later Irish Traditions…” which “…preserve bits and pieces of genuine information.” – Pg. XIX, “St. Patrick of Ireland”

[7] Ibid

[8] https://www.amazon.com/How-Irish-Saved-Civilization-Irelands/dp/0385418493/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493935737&sr=8-1&keywords=how+the+Irish+save+civilization

[9] If I am mischaracterizing Mr. Cahill’s thesis, I apologize as it has been some time since I read his book.

[10] Pg. 159, “St. Patrick of Ireland”

[11] Ibid

Movie Review: Martin Scorsese’s Silence

By: Dominic Silla

Spoilers: If you have yet to see the film, I would recommend doing so first and then coming back to read this review.

When I head that my seminary was going to be hosting a screening of the new film “Silence” (based on the book by Shusaku Endo) direct by Martin Scorsese I was quite excited that I was finally going to be able to see what everyone was talking about. The idea of seeing the movie brought up within me a mixed bag of emotions and feelings, from who the director was to the subject matter of persecution of Catholic believers. The movie was bound to be an emotionally charged one and to that end, it certainly accomplished its mission.

As the movie opens one is left wondering what is going to happen, where as other films open with a score of some sort or some type of action, the move opens with none of that, just silence. Then you hear crickets and then, you begin to see persecution of Jesuit priests, boiling water from hot spring being slowly dripped onto their skin. This sets the tone for the beginning of the movie, but I was certainly surprised that this is not where the movie sits. It is one thing to make a film about Christian persecution, it is another to provoke conversations and deep thought from almost every moment and I think this is where Scorsese really accomplishes his feat of art.

In a great many movies they are meant to be viewed from the perspective of a spectator. In “Silence” you are forced to connect with the people on screen. The way this is most evident on the front end is what would you do? I’m sure many of us are willing to die for things we believe in. You would die before you give up your treasured beliefs. But what about others? Would you allow them die for what you believe to be true? Do not be too quick to answer. I would recommend that you think on it, wrestle with it, assess what you hold to be true and how it is important and is it enough to make the decision for you.

On a deeper lever though, we identify on a spiritual level. In the character of Kichijiro, we see a man who is continually turning away from God and apostatizing, and yet theologically is this not what we do when we sin against our Lord? This is the thing I was forced to deal with personally. How many times had I purposefully acted against the command of my God? How many times do I sin each day? And yet, this is part of the miracle of God’s grace. By the third time this happened in the film and Father Rodrigues is getting quite tired of giving Kichijiro absolution for his continued failure of will to withstand persecution Matthew 18:22 came into my head. How many times does one forgive this one who continues to apostatize the faith? How many times a day am I forgiven for my own sins. [1]

This film truly does give one pause and force one to think deeply of the themes within. I had the privilege of not only watching the movie for free at my seminary but to be able to stay afterward for a post-movie discussion with Makoto Fujimura. He is the author of “Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering” and advised on the production. His incites into the making of the move and the themes within were indeed eye-opening. Though the movie most definitely has a Roman Catholic bent (the main characters are Jesuit priests), the theme of God’s grace within this film and the book by Endo feature so strongly that he had at points been accused of holding a theology that was more Protestant than Catholic. Endo, himself a Catholic, responded to such things with a simple “Thank You”.[2] It is again, on this very note, that the film speaks to the necessity for conversation. Why do we believe what we believe? What separates us doctrinally? How do we better understand the gospel, which so many have died for within the particular frame of the Japanese Christians up close, but more widely all Christian martyrs in the history?

At one point in the film Fr. Rodrigues, under an interrogation of sorts quotes the Church Father Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This is a concept that Christians down the ages have assented to and held to, but to repeat what was said above here, how do we wrestle with such ideas and experiences on a personal, intimate, on the ground level. We have been sheltered in the west from persecution like the kind we see in this film, and I think that it behooves Christians to come to terms and discuss such things.

Ultimately, I have a high opinion of this film and I think it is incredibly useful as a discussion tool. I also think that it is one of those unique movies that you can watch multiple times and pick up on new things each time to delve into and think on. A great film and great theme’s with-in for the viewer to wrestle with, what more can the viewer ask for?

 

 

 

Post-Script

A little bit about me, I am a Reformed Christian studying at Westminster Theological Seminary. While there is much that, as a Reformed Christian, that I disagree with, I think that there is a great deal of places where the two parties can come together and discuss or even discuss within their own specific groups. It is also important to note that there will be ideas within the movie that one disagrees with, that is a good thing. It means you are thinking critically of the subject matter and reckoning with it. This movie, and I would venture to say the book before it is a work of cinema, was and is deep seated with culture and should be treated as such. The movie gets people thinking and talking and that is an accomplishment in my book.

[1] I also think that this is a tie in to the gospel. Christ did not die to give me grace for my particular sin(s), He died to give me grace for my sin. As a human being I am one who is sinful to the core, and yet by the indwelling of Christ and the quickening of my soul by the Holy Spirit, I am made into a new creation.

[2] I am not speaking of my own opinion of Catholicism or Protestantism here, commenting on what Endo was himself accused of and how he responded.

Book Review: Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practices in Defense of Our Faith By. Dr. K. Scott Olphint

Reviewed By: Dominic Silla

 

When I saw that I had to take Principles of Apologetics this semester and that this book was one of the required books on the list, I decided then and there to try to get a jumpstart on my schoolwork. As any good Seminarian knows, you start the semester two weeks behind and have to try to catch up from there![1] I have a unique privilege here in reading this particular book, as its writer is also my instructor for this class! This book was published in 2013 by Crossway Publishing and is roughly 262 pages in length. The author is Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology here at Westminster Theological Seminary. [2]

This is my second time going through this book, as the first time was a miserable failure, as I tried to juggle it with all my other middle of the semester work and could not give it the proper attention it deserved. Being able to have hours at a time to delve into the text this time around has been a privilege and I would recommend the same to you before jumping into it. Though admittedly, I tend to take a bit longer making my way through them.

The work itself is startlingly deep and yet quite applicable to the Christian life. Writing from a Reformed position, Dr. Oliphint gives a breathtaking view of an apologetic method that is both effective and is consistent with the revelation of God. The first apologetics professor at Westminster, Cornelius Van Til,  developed the method that came to be known as “Presuppositional apologetics.” This method is, simply put, “is naturally and centrally focused on the reality of God’s revelation in Christ, including, of course, the good news of the gospel.”[3] However, Dr. Oliphint makes a distinction early on, he dislikes the term “Presuppositional” and instead recommends the term “covenantal” as a more consistent, fitting and Biblical term. I am inclined to agree with him on this point.

Reading through this book, Dr. Oliphint is constantly looking back to the Scriptures in order to craft an apologetic method, giving to the reader apologetic principals, and putting into practice an apologetic that is thoroughly consistent with Biblical revelation. Key to this is Joshua’s encounter with the Commander in the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15), Paul’s address on Mar’s Hill (Acts 17:22-31), and several other points within the text of Scripture. Though Dr. Oliphint admits several times, that his book is only a short foray and could not possibly cover all the Scripture that could be applied. To aide in this reality, Dr. Oliphint proposes the Ten Tenets at the start of the book. These ten tenets give a way to asses our apologetic method in a way so as to make sure that it is consistent with what we derive from Scripture. The book is worth the buy just to take a look at these ten short tenets, so the rest of the material, I can assure you, is certainly worth the time it takes to study through it.

In closing, I would say that this book, though incredibly helpful to the believer and helpful in crafting a foundation for a solid apologetic method, is deep and complex at times. My recommendation to anyone who reads this book would be that it is important to stay in Scripture. Keep your Bible close to you as you go through this book. It would also be helpful to have a dictionary handy as well! But all in all this book is a solid read in terms of helping one understand a covenantal apologetic and for pointing them toward additional resources that would be a help in this journey. Grab a copy and get started!!!

[1] This is a joke…

[2] http://faculty.wts.edu/faculty/oliphint/

[3] Pg. 25, Covenantal Apologetics

Book Review: “The Church in History” By B.K. Kuiper

 

 

Reviewed By: Dominic Silla

 

Upon the recommendation of my pastor, once he learned of my avid interest for the history of the Church, he recommended to me this book as a well written, comprehensive, yet brief (only 400 Pages in total) overview of the historical life of the Christian Church! Written by Mr. Barend Klaus Kuiper in 1951, this high school textbook has seen an number or revisions, corrections, and new editions since then, (six in total I believe) with the most recent reprint in 2000 (at least the copy I have was reprinted then). Published by Eerdmans Publishing Co. the text itself is supported and promoted by the ‘Christians Schools International’. The book was published in Grand Rapid’s, Michigan and it’s price runs between $8 and $20 on Amazon.

There are hundreds of texts on Church history, probably dozens that could be used for a teaching a high school class, so why should one recommend or use this one? Why read this particular text? Being a Reformed Christian myself, the first part that influence me to recommend this book to other readers is that it is history written from a Reformed perspective. Considering the author was a professor of “Dutch Calvinist History” at Calvin College, this is unsurprising to me. While attempting to represent history fairly and honestly, there is no doubt that the author of this text pays special attention to and records a definite Calvinistic bent to history.

Beginning with the foundation of the Christian Church, the author carefully takes the reader through both the timeline of events in the history of the Church and the rise of specific doctrines that have arisen within Christendom down the centuries. From the creedal definitions of the Trinity at Nicaea, to the rise of the doctrine of purgatory; from the popularization of Arminian theology under John and Charles Wesley to the fight to the death between orthodoxy and modernism, this text covers the breadth and width of the history of the Church.

While obviously not every single event, character, or doctrine that one could learn about within the confines of the history of the Church can be covered I would say this text is an excellent primer to anyone seeking to find a place to begin in the study Church history. While many greater texts in Church history can be found, many going into much greater depth than this history, one could do a much worse job. My only two criticisms of this work would have to be first that the text is somewhat dated. Most of the statistics specifically mentioned in the later parts of the book dealing with the modern age are pulled from the 1980’s and the USSR is mentioned as still being a problem. As a result of the dating there arise several numerical errors, and dating errors where the wrong date is mentioned, but these are not pervasive throughout the book.

Secondly, the textbook seems at times to be somewhat culturally insensitive. What do I mean? At times the language used to describe other cultures or persons as inferior or not so important to the grand stage of history comes across as somewhat offensive. In this modern age, where racial and ethnic tensions are very near the surface, if any revisions are to take place in the future, a more attentive hand could be used to fix some of the language and how the general reader would perceive it. However, this may just be the result of importing my modern ideals into the text.

In closing, I would say that this book is worth the read, even as just a primer, but one should not stop here but carry on in their study of Church History! Many more texts, many more in-depth studies remain to be seen. Off the top of my head, Philip Schaff’s 8 volume series “History of the Christian Church”, though dated, is a careful and extensive study of the history of the Church. Another fine work is “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Studying Church history, tells us where we come from and helps point out to us where we might or ought to go, and I think this book is a great place to start!

 

 

Book Review: John Knox and the Reformation by D.M. Lloyd-Jones & Iain Murray

This book review is by Dominic Silla, an M.Div. student at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Banner of Truth, 2011, ISBN: 978-1848711143, 132 pages.


As of October 31st of this past year we entered into the 499th anniversary of the Reformation begun by Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door. Though a towering figure, Martin Luther is hardly the only figure of importance in this period as regards the movement known as the Reformation. I find myself seeking to understand in greater detail the people involved in the Reformation, not just their history but also their importance and their contribution to the Church, as it exists today. This was the reason for originally picking up this text, and I have not been disappointed in doing so.

Published in 2011 by Banner of Truth Trust, the book runs 130 pages long and is split fairly evenly into three sections. The first two sections are addresses given by “the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones” revolving around the importance of looking back to the Reformation and the importance of John Knox to the Reformation movement internationally and not just in Scotland. The final address is “a biological sketch of Knox by Iain H. Murray” (x). Though a short book, it packs a punch in terms of content and its emboldening of the reader to see the contributions of John Knox as a truly international contribution to the Church.

This is my first time reading any content by either author and I am overwhelmed at their understanding and weaving of the story of John Knox throughout the text. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones masterfully addresses the need of his time and of our own as well of the importance of looking back to not just the Reformers like John Knox, but to do as the Reformers did, to look back to the Scriptures. He writes, for example, “the great thing that stands out about the Reformers was that they were men who went back to the Bible” (19). Dr. Jones, though giving this address in 1960, speaks inspirationally to our own time as the teachings of the Reformation become ever more important distinctive of orthodox Christian teaching, as separated from liberal doctrines that would compromise the integrity of the faith.[1] In a world where secular voices seem to be becoming louder, Dr. Jones words are a comforting reminder and instruction to look to the roots of our traditions and teachings.

Following through, in the second section, Dr. Jones gives the reader a view of the character and certain views of the Reformer John Knox, giving us a handle on what type of man he is. In the closing section however Iain H. Murray, a former assistant to Dr. Jones [2], gives a biographical sketch of the life of John Knox, closing with “What We May Learn from John Knox” (x). This is the icing atop of the cake as I find Rev. Murray closes things and pulls things together quite well as we come to the end of John Knox’s life. The book closes with in its final pages with a quote from John Knox that I find most encouraging and needed today.

“Live in Christ. Live in Christ, and then flesh need not fear death – Lord, grant true pastors to Thy Church, that purity of doctrine may be maintained.”-Pg. 129-130

In a time such as our own, I think the life, the words, and the inspiration presented to us by Dr. Jones and Rev. Murray from the life of John Knox do a great service to the Church itself as we look back over this coming year to the time of the Reformation. May we continue to give glory to God “for his wondrous works to the children of man” (Psalm 107:31b ESV)!

Semper Reformanda!

You can find a copy of the book at the Westminster Bookstore!

[1] This point was specifically driven home to me toward the end of this book as I came across an article in the Washington Post discussing the growth of conservative/orthodox churches and the shrinking sizes of more liberal churches.

[2] George, Timothy (2009). J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought. Baker. p. 1905. As found on Wikipedia entry under his name (accessed 6 January, 2017)

[6] Psalm 107:31b ESV