Having His Confession and Feeling It Too

Whether he has too much time on his hands or is an outlier in the Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung deserves kudos for reading books by Reformed confessionalists. Whether more reading will be sufficient to wean DeYoung off pietism is another matter. But he will have to spend more time on the topic if he is going to understand that leavening confessionalism with a dose of pietism will not result in healthy churches and grounded Christians. In the history of Protestanism, pietism has been the solvent rather than the medicine of Reformed churches.

Obviously, I agree with DeYoung when he agrees with me (it is often usually about ME!). So I was glad to read in his post the following reflection based on Lost Soul:

I am sympathetic with much of this critique of evangelical pietism. I agree with Darryl Hart’s contention in The Lost Soul of American Protestantism that American evangelicalism has tried too hard to be relevant, has largely ignored organic church growth by catechesis, has too often elevated experience at the expense of doctrine, has minimized the role of the institutional church, and has worn out a good number of Christians by assuming that every churchgoer is an activist and crusader more than a pilgrim. Confessionalism would be good tonic for much of what ails the evangelical world.

Of course, I agree that confessionalism is good. But it is way more than a tonic. It is the cure for evangelicalism. As chauvinistic as it sounds, the Reformers who established confessional churches were following carefully the teaching of Scripture. For that reason, confessionalism is biblical and to depart from it is to be – well – unbiblical. If confessionalism is simply an option, an item on column A of the Chinese menu of Christian devotions, then it could be a nice side dish to accompany a large helping of evangelicalism, or maybe the sour to add to evangelical piety’s sweet. That is not the way confessionalists look at confessionalism. It is the right way and to depart from confessionalism is just plain wrong.

From this perspective, I wonder if DeYoung notices the way that evangelicalism has tinkered with confessionalism. Confessionalism came first, pietism and revivalism came later, and they were efforts to correct the confessional churches. In which case, if I embrace DeYoung’s effort to combine the best of confessionalism and pietism, I am in the odd situation of accepting that confessionalism has defects that need correction. I don’t see it that way. Of course, I am not going to say that confessionalism was perfect. But I’m not sure of its defects and I don’t recognize the ones that DeYoung thinks are there. And this is where the antagonism between confessionalism and pietism resides. What are the Reformed churches’ defects? Is pietism a remedy?

Consequently, a “but” is hovering near DeYoung’s agreement with Lost Soul:

And yet, I worry that confessionalism without a strong infusion of the pietism it means to correct, can be a cure just as bad as the disease. Is there a way to reject revivalism without discounting genuine revival in the Great Awakening? Can I like Machen and Whitefield? Is there a way to say, “Yes, the church has tried too hard to Christianize every area of life” while still believing that our private faith should translate into public action? Hart argues that after revivalism Christian devotion was no longer limited to “formal church activities on Sunday or other holy days,” but “being a believer now became a full-time duty, with faith making demands in all areas of life” (13). Given the thrust of the book, I think it’s safe to say Hart finds this troubling.

Ya thnk?

Again, if you look at the history of Protestantism, it is hard to see how evangelicalism has anywhere retained confessionalism. Wherever revival fires have burned, within a generation a high view of the means of grace, church office, sober and ordered worship, and church teaching has gone the way of smoke. If you look at revivals – you better not look too closely. Notice the shrieks, the fainting, the tears, the laughing, the revivalists’ egos (Whitefield was quite the self-promoter and Ban Franklin profited from that publicity) – they have always been there. These antics led critics to charge revivalism with enthusiasm. Let me be clear: pietism and revivalism are enthusiastic. Edwards tried to give enthusiasm a philosophical gloss. But some philosophers aren’t buying.

But what about the problem of dead orthodoxy? This would appear to be the major defect of confessionalism. According to DeYoung:

While I agree wholeheartedly that experience does not a Christian make, I wish the strong confessional advocates would do more to warn against the real danger of dead orthodoxy. It is possible to grow up in a Christian home, get baptized as an infant, get catechized, join the church, take the Lord’s Supper, be a part of a church your whole life and not be a Christian. It is possible to grow up in an Old World model where you inherit a church tradition (often along ethnic lines), and stay in that church tradition, but be spiritually dead. There are plenty of students at Hope College and Calvin College (just to name two schools from my tradition) who are thoroughly confessional as a matter of form, but not converted.

I know DeYoung didn’t mean it this way, but his reference to Calvin and Hope is a bit of a cheap shot against confessionalism. As if the CRC and the RCA are beacons of confessionalism. As if anyone in Reformed circles these days associates these communions with Reformed orthodoxy, dead or alive. I don’t write these words with glee. I was ordained in the CRC during the women’s ordination imbroglio and still have fond memories and good friends among the Dutch-American Reformed. I wish the CRC were not what it is, and that the RCA had retained its seventeenth-century confessionalism, like when its pastors in New Netherland petitioned the colony’s governor to keep out the Lutherans (sorry Lily and John) and the Quakers.

Instead, and unfortunately, the CRC and RCA are examples not of dead orthodoxy but of communions that lost touch with confessionalism. The cure for those students at Calvin and Hope is not revival. John Williamson Nevin’s own account of his encounter with revivalism at Union College should give anyone pause in recommending revival to children of the covenant. The cure for those students is a consistory that doesn’t admit children to full communion until they have made a credible profession of faith – that is, a consistory that looks past the blonde hair and Queen Wilhelmina mints and recognizes these as children of Abraham who need to own their baptism by professing faith in Christ and living a life of repentance.

Plus, does DeYoung really pretend to think that pietistic churches don’t have unconverted in their midst, even those who have walked the aisle? Even Edwards thought the revival hadn’t taken. That’s part of the reason he came out with David Brainerd’s life and journals in 1749. Edwards’ church needed another dose of revival. So revival doesn’t cure. Or if it does cure, how do we know? How do we know that the folks walking down front during the altar call – what hip technique has replaced the altar call – are genuine? Isn’t it possible to fake a conversion experience?

The question, then, is whether revival is the means that God has appointed to save his people. I look in the pastoral epistles, and I look, and I look, and I don’t see it. What I see is Paul telling Timothy to discharge his ministerial duties faithfully in good seasons and bad. The pastor’s work – unlike the itinerant evangelist’s – is long, routine and sometimes boring that doesn’t have the lights, camera, and action of pietism and revivalism. But it may be the way that God actually saves a people for himself. And he has a history of using ordinary means to accomplish invisibly extraordinary ends.

So while DeYoung thinks confessionalists need to keep an eye out for dead orthodoxy, why don’t pietists or their enablers spend much time worried about live frivolity? When it comes to dead or alive, I get it. I’ll take life, thank you (though Paul is sitting on my shoulder telling me it is gain to be with the Lord – while Homer is yelling from the other shoulder – Doh!). But when it comes to orthodoxy and frivolity, it’s also a no-brainer. In which case, why do pietists so identify with life that they sacrifice orthodoxy for triviality, depth for breadth, teaching for feeling, sobriety for earnestness?

Maybe the problem is the way pietists view being alive. I don’t know of too many people these days who are orthodox but don’t believe. I don’t even know of too many in the heyday of orthodoxy, when it had the imprimatur of the state, who were orthodox and dead. Orthodoxy has never been an appealing position – you know, abominate yourself because of sin, look solely to Christ who is now your master and deserves your loyalty and obedience, submit to the oversight of undershepherds God has appointed for your good. Those are not ideas readily advantageous to anyone.

DeYoung does, however, indicate what he means by life. And it sets up a contrast with the kind of piety that confessionalism nurtures (this is not confessionalism against piety but against pietism):

But I want a certain kind of confessionalism. I want a confessionalism that believes in Spirit-given revival, welcomes deep affections, affirms truth-driven experience, and understands that the best creeds should result in the best deeds. I want a confessionalism that believes in the institutional church and expects our Christian faith to impact what we do in the world and how we do it. I want a confessionalism that is not ashamed to speak of conversion—dramatic conversion for some, unnoticed conversion for many.

So while DeYoung wants revival, confessionalists want the weekly observance of the means of grace.

DeYoung wants deep affections but confessionalists want sobriety and self-control.

DeYoung wants truth-driven experience and confessionalists want children to grow up and understand what they have memorized in the catechism (the way that children eventually learn the grammar of the language they grow up speaking).

DeYoung wants the best creeds to result in the best deeds while confessionalists want believers to live out their vocations so that plumbers will plumb like every other plumber to the best of their ability.

DeYoung wants the belief in the institutional church but confessionalists ask what’s up with the Gospel Coalition?

DeYoung expects our Christian faith to impact what we do in the world and how we do it while confessionalists believe in the spirituality of the church.

And DeYoung wants dramatic conversion while confessionalists want lifelong mortification and vivification (that is, the original Protestant meaning of conversion).

In sum, confessionalists are content with the Shorter Catechism’s description of the Christian life when it answers the question, “What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?”

A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.

That is not all that fancy or elaborate a way of putting the Christian life but it has enough work for even the best of Christians. To trust Jesus daily and believe God’s promise that Christ is for me and that God is not faking it in the gospel, to repent daily of sin, and to attend weekly to the means of grace and order my affairs so that my attention is focused on the day of rest – that is a pretty full plate. Why pietists want to pile on is a mystery. It seems down right glutinous.

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40 thoughts on “Having His Confession and Feeling It Too

  1. “The pastor’s work – unlike the itinerant evangelist’s – is long, routine and sometimes boring that doesn’t have the lights, camera, and action of pietism and revivalism. But it may be the way that God actually saves a people for himself. And he has a history of using ordinary means to accomplish invisibly extraordinary ends.”

    Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

    Like

  2. While I’m sure RCA churches vary in faithfulness; it is really odd that anyone would hold up the RCA as a confessional church.

    I was baptized, grew up in, and was confirmed in two RCA churches in New York. Although I attended Sunday school and morning worship virtually every Sunday for 18 years I didn’t even know that we had a catechism.

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  3. So while DeYoung wants revival, confessionalists want the weekly observance of the means of grace.

    DeYoung wants deep affections but confessionalists want sobriety and self-control.

    DeYoung wants truth-driven experience and confessionalists want children to grow up and understand what they have memorized in the catechism (the way that children eventually learn the grammar of the language they grow up speaking).

    DeYoung wants the best creeds to result in the best deeds while confessionalists want believers to live out their vocations so that plumbers will plumb like every other plumber to the best of their ability.

    DeYoung wants the belief in the institutional church but confessionalists ask what’s up with the Gospel Coalition?

    DeYoung expects our Christian faith to impact what we do in the world and how we do it while confessionalists believe in the spirituality of the church.

    And DeYoung wants dramatic conversion while confessionalists want lifelong mortification and vivification (that is, the original Protestant meaning of conversion).

    In sum, confessionalists are content with the Shorter Catechism’s description of the Christian life when it answers the question, “What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?”

    Are these mutually exclusive choices? Does it have to be and/or or can it be both?

    I didn’t come out of a confessional background, Dr. Hart (mine was a strange ignorance steeped in Finney’s Revivalistic Pelagianism and Pentecostal/Word-Faith teaching). It took years of wrestling through, “With Reverence and Awe,” to accept that the RPW is the Biblical view. I am currently reading your debate with Dr. Frame on the RPW and see the need to be consistent if we claim to be confessional.

    I am still learning but I don’t understand how it has to be one or the other. I don’t think Kevin DeYoung is saying that either.

    Why can’t we affirm both?

    P.S. I am the former Baker rep. that left the Bavinck volumes for you.

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  4. what hip technique has replaced the altar call

    Darryl, my church has “beta groups.” And if you are exploring the claims of Christianity, specialized Beta Groups called Seekers Groups will give you the chance to continue your search with like-minded people. So, if you don’t feel ready to join a Fellowship Group, or are uncertain about the value of being in a group, we encourage you to “beta test” community life at our church.

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  5. why do pietists so identify with life that they sacrifice orthodoxy for triviality, depth for breadth, teaching for feeling, sobriety for earnestness?

    Darryl, isn’t pietism (or at least feeling and earnestness) the evangelical answer to “easy believism?” Isn’t salvation by faithfulness alone FV’s answer to the same?

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  6. Scott. Thanks for the Bavinck.

    I think you can’t have it both ways. I don’t know where a revivalists consistently affirm a church-oriented piety. Some may and have. But overwhelmingly revivalists end up regarding the church and the means of grace as mere supplements to personal experience.

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  7. Hey Lily we got a plug in the post but not a very good one. Of course, I think, the Lutherans would have probably obliged quite willingly and would have done the same to the Calvinists who were intruding on their lands. Good thing we both believe in a Kingdom that is not of this world. The only thing left to say I suppose is that you have not kicked us off of your web site yet. It just came to me though that the kingdom of God is found in the institutional Church not in earthly lands, territories and web sites. I guess I am miffed then Darryl as to why you thought it a good thing when the pastors wanted to keep the Lutherans and Quakers out of the territories they lived in.

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  8. Thanks for the post. Especially the last part! Anyone have book recommendations for “confessionalism”? Outlining what it is, and contrasting it with other visions for the Church?

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  9. DJ,

    Gustafson’s book on the Crisis of American Lutheranism, Allen Guelzo’s book on the origins of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession, and the Lost Soul of American Protestantism all make the point about the differences between churches in the reformational traditions and what emerged in American evangelical Protestantism.

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  10. Thanks! I laughed at myself after I asked the question, realizing that your book was probably a good place to start… duh

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  11. DJ, let me plug this so D.G. Hart will not yet again succumb to the temptation to shamelessly promote his self: The Lost Soul of Protestantism by D.G. Hart (as mentioned above by K. DeYoung) would be a good place to start.

    Darryl, you’re right that, as you’ve mentioned elsewhere, the term “dead orthodoxy” should be banished by those trying to understand a phenomenon better described as “unbelief” or “hypocrisy.” The problem among some with right doctrine is a lack of charity. But someone else’s “dead orthodoxy” is often used as an excuse for those who are bored with, ignorant of, or hostile toward their own tradition to trash it in favor of something they think is so much better, whether emanating from Rome, Colorado Springs, or, for now, Grandville. That’s has been a greater problem.

    You’re also right that the CRC/RCA DeYoung criticizes is no model of confessionalism, and has not been since at least the time when Meijer Thrifty Acres was closed on Sundays (and who can remember that?). And now let me find something you’re wrong about.

    John, I agree, I don’t know why you’d keep the Lutherans out because they brew really good beer and bake great brotchen und apfelkuchen. As for Quakers, you just have a bunch of people always protesting everything and clogging the sidewalks, so you may as well nip the problem in the bud and keep them out in the first place.

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  12. TurturroFan,

    Is that in contradistinction and protest to TurretinFan? Or, do you have inherent Quaker tendencies? I’m a Turturro fan too and I’m sure Darryl is also. John Turturro is in a lot of Coen Brothers movies. If I was to stay consistent I would accuse you of not having the balls to reveal to us your real name. But your post was not exactly a fighting post. And I appreciate your sense of humor.

    Lutherans do brew really good beer but I have not experienced the culinary delights of brotchen and apfelkuchen.

    Like

  13. Aw heck, Dr. Hart, we like being excluded, it’s when ya’ll want to assimilate us that we get riled! Remember the forced union in Germany and Hermann Sasse’s objections to Barth and the Barmen Declaration? Nah… we’re fine with ya’ll as long as you don’t act like the Borg! 😉

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  14. Hey John, for some reason my RSS feed sometimes doesn’t pick up all the comments, so I just saw your comment when I visited the site. Actually, I think the battles with the Reformed to stay separate from them did us good. If they hadn’t try to assimilate us in Germany, we might not have Walther and Franz-Pieper’s work addressing pietism!

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  15. Out of curiousity, Dr. Hart, have you read Hermann Sasse’s 1930 “The Social Significance of the Augsburg Confession” and his 1935 “The Government and Secular Authority according to Lutheran doctrine?” I’m curious because it is Lutheran theology at it’s finest addressing the 2k problems with the Nazi.

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  16. John,

    “TurturroFan” just popped into my head the other day as I was reading this blog, what with all the love for Joel and Ethan around here, and of course I had the other TFan on the brain as well. I’m more of a DGH fan than TurretinFan fan, but I do appreciate the latter for his posting of Keith Mathison’s lengthy article on Solo vs. Sola Scriptura, which is well worth reading. (Also recommended: Barton Fink. John Goodman is almost as good in that as he is in The BL.)

    As for anonymous blog commenting, I do appreciate you not accusing me of having no cajones, but in truth I would not protest too loudly; I do consider this something of a guilty pleasure. If I do come out with fighting words I’ll own up to them in own name; in the meantime, I find it much more relaxing to use a nom de plume. As for Quaker tendencies, I own firearms and have never had an inner light kind of experience so I think I’m safe there.

    TurturroFan

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  17. TurturroFan,

    You need to stick around here and comment more- your lively humor is entertaining. I did watch and enjoy Barton Fink too- John Goodman did play a very humorous yet disturbing role in that movie too.

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  18. Enjoyed this article very much. Some thoughts

    Yeazel writes: ” It just came to me though that the kingdom of God is found in the institutional Church not in earthly lands, territories and web sites”

    It strikes me that the confession ends up being treated like a national boundary, and indeed, it was written for such a purpose (the confession of a national church). But now it functions to demark a ‘nation’ of pastors and elders.

    Turturrofan ” But someone else’s “dead orthodoxy” is often used as an excuse for those who are bored with, ignorant of, or hostile toward their own tradition to trash it in favor of something they think is so much better, whether emanating from Rome, Colorado Springs, or, for now, Grandville. That’s has been a greater problem.”

    some of that problem can come from the health of the ‘nation of pastors’ and the way it polices its boundaries. Is policing the boundaries all the nation does?

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  19. p duggan,

    If the boundary markers have been moved or destroyed, how would you propose that a shepherd guard his flock?

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  20. Lily:

    I’m not sure why they are destroyed in your question. A confessional church has and uses them, and thats by and large a good thing.

    The ‘spatial’ metaphor of them needs to be more thoroughly understood, and the limitations of it as well.

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  21. p duggan,

    I’m not following what you meant by ‘spatial’ metaphor of them needs to be more thoroughly understood, and the limitations of it as well.’

    My question regards whether the confessions should be viewed as merely national boundary markers or whether they should be seen as the boundary markers for orthodoxy. I am interested in what you would propose to replace them with.

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  22. To Dr. Hart’s challenge on combining confessionalism and pietism, it seems he is correct in that the pietism always wins, because it is our natural state, and it just feels better to be *doing* something. However, three Lutherans who combined an intense *piety* with an intense confessionalism were Paul Gerhardt, the hymnwriter, Johann Gerhard, the systematic theologian (see his Sacred Meditations), and J.S. Bach (no introduction needed).

    Pr. Timothy Winterstein

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  23. Pastor Winterstein,

    With all respect, I do not understand your comment – I do not believe that anyone is denigrating piety, but the problem with pietism. It is my understanding that Gerhard, Gerhardt, and Bach were not pietists, but pious men. Am I incorrect in this? Whenever there is a hymn by Paul Gerhardt, I remember his circumstances in living through a number of plagues that resulted in the loss of life in most of his family members and many of his parishioners. Knowing his history has always increased my appreciation of his hymns.

    Lily – LCMS Laity

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  24. Lily, I know no one here was denigrating piety. I wasn’t even disagreeing; I was adding the positive comment that it is possible to combine a deep piety with a serious confession; that is, those who think that orthodoxy must always be dead, and that the only other option is a revivalistic pietism, would have to reconsider their position in light of Gerhardt, Gerhard, and Bach.

    So…I think we agree?

    Pr. Timothy Winterstein

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  25. Pastor Winterstein,

    Most naturally there is agreement and I appreciate your reply! I wish more people had the opportunity to have the benefit of understanding the difference between piety and pietism in the context you are describing.

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  26. Pastor Winterstein:

    Thanks for your post. I enthusiastically agree that a serious confession and a deep piety can coexist. I would add that they should coexist.

    As a Reformed pastor, we are strongly confessional. We also have a warmhearted piety. People have even been known to smile and express emotion in our church. Sometimes we confessionalists are too quick on the draw to charge “pietism.” Genuine pietism, in my understanding, puts the domininant note upon the believer’s personal performance rather than upon Christ’s performance on my behalf. But such men as Dr. J. Ligon Duncan are strongly confessional but have been accused by some posters here as a “pietist.” I don’t understand the charge. Dr. Duncan, sticking with this example, confesses every article of the Westminster Standards, stresses the finished work of Christ, convened the Twin Lakes Fellowship designed to promote ordinary means of grace ministry, and has lead the charge against many errors that imply a works righteousness standard great or small. Therefore, I’m just curious — and honestly would like to know — what statements or actions qualify him for the charge of “pietist.” If anyone can tell me, perhaps it would clear up what some posters here mean by “pietist.” Thank you.

    Pr. Sullivan

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  27. “I know DeYoung didn’t mean it this way, but his reference to Calvin and Hope is a bit of a cheap shot against confessionalism. As if the CRC and the RCA are beacons of confessionalism. As if anyone in Reformed circles these days associates these communions with Reformed orthodoxy, dead or alive.”

    “Instead, and unfortunately, the CRC and RCA are examples not of dead orthodoxy but of communions that lost touch with confessionalism.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I was a member of the RCA for nine years until I couldn’t take it anymore and left for the OPC last year. I was even involved with the RCA Integrity group (which is lead by K. DeYoung) that sought to bring the RCA back to its confessional roots. I think they are fighting an impossible battle.

    It has been a great joy to have found a church/denomination that is intentionally and self-consciously Reformed/Confessional and Presbyterian.

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  28. J Dean, I actually think the 2nd GA was more decent and orderly than the 1st. Finney was after all a proponent of the science of revivals. Stupid, but science tends to cut down on enthusiasm. Lots of odd enthusiastic moments in the 1st. But the 1st was arguably more Calvinistic than the 2nd. In my estimate, neither paid proper homage to the church and the ordinary work of pastors or the ordinary devotion that congregations need.

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  29. I also read DeYoung’s posts, and it seems as if you took his writing out of context and lost the spirit of his discussion.

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  30. Dr. Hart, just started Lost Soul tonight and am loving it! you mentioned in a endnote (#23) the Canons of Dort’s view of conversion. Is there a good commentary on the Canons that you can recommend? thanks!

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  31. DJ Cimino, Cornelis P. Venema’s book, But for the Grace of God, is an exposition of the Canons of Dort. It is published by Reformed Fellowship, Inc. Website: http://www.reformedfellowship.net This is rather late (a year has passed since you made this inquiry), but perhaps this will help.

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