Modern Age

The Life of John Newton

Amazing Grace is perhaps one of the most famous hymns. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to its author: John Newton.

William Cowper

On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to William Cowper, a man whose sensitive spirit and familiarity with suffering led him to create some of the most beautiful hymns.

History Makers: Tim Keesee

Church history is being written today as the gospel advances in hard-to-reach places. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Tim Keesee joins Dr. Stephen Nichols in the studio to discuss the 25th anniversary of Frontline Missions International.

Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson was America’s pioneer Baptist missionary. Today, we are going to look at his life through the lens of five trips. Now, the final three of these five trips are literal trips, but the first two are metaphorical trips. The first, sadly enough, is Judson’s journey to atheism.

Judson was born into the home of a Congregationalist minister in Malden, Massachusetts on August 9th, 1788. As a young man, he evidenced a significant intelligence and ability to learn languages. By the time he was ten, he was reading in Latin and Greek. He was sent off to then Rhode Island College—now we call it Brown University—and he graduated as the valedictorian at Brown at the age of twenty.

It was while he was at Brown, however, that he drifted from his father’s religion and the Congregationalism that he grew up with to deism. From deism, he drifted into atheism. That’s his first journey, his journey to atheism.

His second journey is his trip away from atheism and back to theism, to a once-again, solid belief in God. It all happened one night as Adoniram was traveling. He came across an inn, and he wanted lodging. So, he knocked on the door and went in and found the innkeeper, and the innkeeper informed him that there was only one room available, and the innkeeper thought, in the interest of full disclosure, that he should tell them that the room was next to a man that was very ill. Judson said, “I’ll take the room. Death has no terrors for me, you see, I’m an atheist.”

Well, it turned out to be a long night for Adoniram Judson. The man next to him groaned literally on the doorstep of death all night long, and in the morning, the man in fact died. When Judson inquired as to who the man was, it turned out it was his college friend, Jacob Eames, and Eames was the very one who influenced Judson to be a deist. This shook Judson to the very core of his being, and he realized that he was lost and that death was not something he would bravely take on. Remember, he had said, “Death has no terrors for me,” but he was literally scared to death of death. After that night at the inn, as he was traveling on the way, he stopped right at the side of the road, repented of his disbelief, and turned to God.

Three months later, he would write in his journal, “This day, I made a solemn dedication of my life to God,” and that’s what Judson did. He went on to seminary, and he would become a missionary. He was one of the pioneer missionaries to leave from America. He took a trip, and this is his third trip now, his trip to Calcutta, and this was a literal trip on a literal boat. When he arrived in Calcutta, he came under the influence of William Carey, and he learned from William Carey, observing his life.

This leads us to Judson’s fourth journey, that is, his trip to Burma. It was in Burma where Judson would begin his own work as a missionary. He started, of course, with translating God’s Word into the language of the people. It was a bad time to be in Burma. There was a war between the British and the Burmese, and Judson was suspected to be a spy for the British. He was thrown into prison for seventeen months. The Burmese realized they needed him for his ability as a translator for treaty negotiations, and so they released him.

That brings us to our fifth and final trip, the final journey. He died aboard a ship on April 12, 1850, and he was buried at sea. He died at the age of sixty-one, and he spent thirty-seven of his sixty-one years on the mission field. Those are the five journeys of Adoniram Judson, America’s pioneer Baptist missionary.

Daniel Payne

During the years surrounding the Civil War, Daniel Payne devoted his life to educating African-American ministers. On this episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols takes us back to 1830 when Payne founded his first school.

The Minister, a Book, and a Controversy

Thomas Boston was born in 1676 and died in 1732. He was born in Scotland to a covenanter family. He was educated at Edinburgh, and for a time, was a schoolmaster. In 1699, he became the pastor at a small parish church in Simprin. While he was the minister of this small congregation, he wrote a number of books.

Boston’s most well-known book is called Human Nature in its Fourfold State. It’s a wonderful book that discusses who we are in Adam and, so much more importantly and happily, who we are in Christ. At Simprin, he also wrote his memoirs and had a number of sermons that were published. One of these collections was called A Crook in the Lot, a series of sermons about God’s sovereignty and wisdom in the trials of the Christian life. Boston also wrote a very learned and scholarly treatise on Hebrew vowel-points called Tractatus Stigmologicus, Hebræo-biblicus. In the Hebrew language, the consonants are pointed by diacritical marks that indicate which vowels to use for pronunciation . Now, it’s interesting why Boston would write a book about Hebrew vowel-points. It was actually an issue of controversy in his day. There were some who thought the vowel points were inspired by God, and some who thought they were absolutely unnecessary. When Boston wrote his scholarly treatise, he was entering into that debate in defense of the Hebrew vowel-points.

This is not the debate or the controversy that anyone remembers. The controversy that people remember in relation to Thomas Boston has to do with a book that he actually did not write. He was visiting in the home of one of his parish members around 1700, and he noticed a little book titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which was published in 1645. It was written like a Socratic dialogue between four people, a minister named Evangelista, a young Christian named Neophytus, a legalist named Nomista, and an antinomian named Antinomista. The book was rather obscure in its day, but when Boston got ahold of it, it changed the way he preached the gospel, and it changed a number of other men who gathered around him, known as the “Marrow Men.” This set off the Marrow Controversy, which was sparked by the ordination exams of a minister in 1717. The controversy made its way to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1719, and for the next few years, ricocheted through the Scottish churches.

The issues in Marrow Controversy about the relationship between legalism and antinomianism and the presentation of the gospel is not only relevant to eighteenth-century Scotland; we also see vestiges of it in our own day. If you would some help with engaging with these issues, you should track down another Scotsman’s work: Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ.

Bonhoeffer in London

From October 1933 through the spring of 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pastored two churches in London. One of them was the German Evangelical Church in Sydenham. Its building was destroyed by bombs during World War II. The other one was St. Paul’s German Evangelical Reformed Church. These were small Lutheran congregations. Many of those in the congregations had fully assimilated into British life. In fact, most of them spoke English, and their German was actually not that great. Bonhoeffer spoke German and English, but all his sermon manuscripts from this period were in English.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 6, 1906. He was martyred two months and three days into his thirty-ninth year. He was martyred on April 9, 1945, as a direct order by Hitler himself, while Bonhoeffer was in a concentration camp. In between, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian, a pastor, and an author. He was born into an academic family; his father was an MD and PhD, and he taught medicine and psychology at the University of Berlin. This was a family who also loved music. The Bonhoeffer’s had a large family parlor, and there are often stories Dietrich would tell later of the family writing oratorios in honor of their parent’s birthdays or anniversaries, and the whole family would gather together to perform.

Early on, Bonhoeffer was destined for a life of academics and a career in academics. As a young man he went off to university, and, as he was twenty going on twenty-one, he received what would be his first doctorate. Following that, he went to Barcelona and served for a year or so as a youth pastor. This was mostly to Germans who were there in Barcelona for government work or through industry, and he did some preaching and youth ministry there. He went back to Berlin, received a second doctorate, wrote a philosophical treatise called Act and Being, and received an appointment as a professor at Berlin. He convinced his supervisors that it would be good for him to come to America and study theological developments in America.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer came to New York City and he ended up at Union Theological Seminary. When he saw the theological developments there, he did not like them. He saw liberalism, he saw that there was nothing to preach; he visited these big pulpits, he visited Harry Emerson Fosdick’s church in New York City, and he said, “Abysmal,” —it is what he wrote in his diary. And then he wrote, “There is no theology here.” He ended up going on a road trip from New York City all the way to Mexico in the winter of 1930, and he also spent significant time in some African-American churches in the city. He went to a large church in the morning, but in the afternoon, he went to a storefront church in Harlem. It was also there that he was introduced to the Negro Spirituals, so when he went back to Germany he had armfuls of vinyl records that he would take back, and when he was a professor at the University of Berlin, he would often play those records for his students.

He ended up lecturing in Berlin. He lectured on Christology and the opening chapters of Genesis, and then the Nazis came into power. Eventually, Bonhoeffer lost his license to teach at the university, he was kicked out of the university, and he was banned from writing and his books were banned. But, he became a director of the underground seminary. That seminary originally met at Finkenwalde, and it was closed by the Gestapo in 1937, and the next year Bonhoeffer wrote his famous little book, Life Together, recalling the times together at Finkenwalde. He became involved in the resistance movement once the war was in full step, and he was even involved with groups that were planning to assassinate Hitler. It does not seem like Bonhoeffer played any military or strategic role, but this group that he was involved in had military officials. He was the theologian in the room that these folks looked to give them some ethical guidance. They were trying to figure out what to do in response to what was happening to their country and what they saw Hitler doing. It was for that involvement that Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and taken to prison in Tegal. Then, following the Valkyrie plot, all of these former folks that were involved in these assassination attempts were gathered up and brought into Berlin. As the war was about to come to a close, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was moved from Berlin to Buchenwald, and then to Regensburg. Then, he had his final move to the concentration camp at Flossenburg, and there he was hanged on April 9, 1945.

Francis Grimké

Francis Grimké was born in 1850 as a slave on a plantation near Charleston, S.C. He had a white father who died when he was rather young. And as the law had it at the time, he became the property of his white half-brother. Initially, his half-brother treated him well, and Grimké and his other siblings, along with his mother, lived in town basically as free persons. But then something happened, and as Grimké was moving into his upper teens, his half-brother brought him into his home as a house slave and, by all accounts, treated him very harshly. During the Civil War, one of Grimké’s other brothers managed to run away successfully. So, Francis himself attempted to run away during the Civil War. He was caught and returned, but after the war he was finally emancipated.

Grimké went with one of his brothers to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and received his bachelor’s degree in 1870. After a few years, he made his way up to New Jersey and became a student at Princeton Theological Seminary. He studied in earnest from 1875 to 1878 and was among the last group of students at Princeton to have Charles Hodge as his theology professor for all three years. Upon his graduation, he was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian church.

In 1928, on his fiftieth anniversary of being in ministry, Grimké wrote of his appreciation for Princeton in reference to early-twentieth-century liberal Christianity: “The findings of higher critics, the rationalist tendencies within the church, the dogmatic and arrogant assumptions of science that would banish God from the universe or limit his power, all of that has not affected me in the least, nor affected my perfect faith in the Bible.” That’s a testament to the education that he received at Princeton Seminary under professors such as Charles Hodge.

After graduating, he served as pastor of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., from 1878 to 1885. In 1885, he began serving as a pastor in a Presbyterian church in Jacksonville, Fla., but he missed Washington, D.C., and the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church and returned in 1889. He would serve there until 1928, when he retired. He died in 1937.

As a student of Princeton Theological Seminary, Grimké had read John Calvin, and he admired him throughout his ministry. At one point, after reading an address on John Calvin, he wrote in his diary:

As I laid it aside, more profoundly impressed than ever before by the character and work of John Calvin, there went up from my heart the earnest prayer that when my life ends here that I too may be remembered because of some things I have said or done in bringing men face to face with life and its great and solemn responsibilities for which they must answer at the bar of God. To feel, as John Calvin felt, the sovereignty of God and to get others to feel the same, . . . is a great achievement and will go on working for good long after we are gone.

The Moral Argument

The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant (born April 22, 1724) is perhaps the most well-known philosopher of the modern era. Among his many works was a book titled Critique of Pure Reason, which he wrote in 1781. The work is an analysis of purely theoretical arguments, or proofs, for metaphysics or for the existence of God. Two proofs in particular receive significant attention in the work: the cosmological and teleological arguments. Kant attempts to dismantle these arguments, but in a later work he ends up contributing a proof of his own.

The cosmological argument has to do with the cosmos—the world—and the law of cause and effect. The law of cause and effect is that for every effect there is an equal or greater cause. The cosmos is an effect, so there must be a cause behind it. The existence of the world points beyond itself to a source, that is, a Creator. Kant’s response was to say that we cannot extrapolate from our experience with cause and effect to the realm of metaphysics, the realm beyond our physical experience. In other words, we cannot use the law of cause and effect to prove the existence of God.

Kant also attempted to dismantle the teleological argument. The teleological argument builds upon the cosmological argument. Teleological is rooted in the Greek word telos, which means “end,” referring to a design or purpose. The teleological argument states that the world reveals and reflects significant and complex design and therefore points to an intelligent designer.

So, Kant attempted to dismantle the cosmological and teleological arguments, but despite his critique, these arguments didn’t go away. They are still used today, and they have a place in pointing us beyond this world and pointing to a Creator. But Kant sought to make a different argument for metaphysics and the existence of God.

In 1788, he published his second critique, the Critique of Practical Reason. The first chapter contains Kant’s moral argument for the existence of God. The argument is based on what Kant called “the categorical imperative,” which he stated like this: Act in such a way that your action can become a universal law. In other words, Kant believed that we are all bound and obligated by morality. In fact, Kant went on to say that the proof that God exists “is the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”

In the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis used the moral argument for the existence of God in Mere Christianity. He begins by saying that there is a universal moral law, and at one point he writes: “There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails.” Perhaps saying that there is a universal moral law prompted Lewis to ask, What lies behind the law? The answer is that behind the law is a Lawgiver. We cannot get rid of the moral law, the “oughtness” that we all have universally, and that moral law points beyond the existence of this world and the phenomena of experience to God.