Here, in Belarus, we continue to promote academic theology among evangelical churches. This year we had the privilege of Dr Paul Helm teaching us Calvin’s theology.
Professor Helm is, of course, well known as a Christian philosopher and Calvin scholar. Our expectations had been high and they were fully met.
Dr Helm effortlessly drew in our minds a complete picture of Calvin’s theology. He followed the structure of the Institutes and spoke about Calvin’s epistemology, doctrine of the Trinity, Christology and soteriology.
Perhaps, the biggest stir was caused by the discovery that Calvin allowed in his sermons the possibility that God might have forgiven us by his Word, without the sacrifice of the Mediator. However, Dr Helm underscored that Calvin spoke like this only in hypothetical terms, and only to underscore that God, in fact, chose salvation through the death of his Son — to fully reveal God’s glory and love.
Much attention was given to Book 3 of the Institutes, with its doctrines of the union with Christ and resulting duplex gratia (twofold blessing), and with its unusual topic ordering (first sanctification, then justification; and only then, election).
We in EP Missionary Trust’s Russian work were very glad that Dr Helm’s book Calvin for the perplexed in Russian came off the press just the night before he was leaving. He generously signed two dozen copies for us.
The other speaker, Matthew Miller, is an old friend of mine, whom I met in Wittenberg in 2002, where we studied the history of the Reformation together, as a part of our seminary training. Since that time he has become minister of the Associated Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Greenville, SC.
Rev. Matthew Miller presented to us the redemptive-historical reading of Paul’s letters by Herman Ridderbos. In his seven lectures Matt looked at this approach from various angles and, in doing so, gave us a systematic description of Ridderbos’ hermeneutical method
(for those who wonder what it is all about, I recommend Ridderbos’ Paul: an outline of his theology).
This was challenging for the audience, as familiar passages lit up with new meaning. For example, it was interesting to realise that in 2 Corinthians 5:17 ‘new creature’ is really ‘new creation’, and speaks of the believer’s new creation through the death and the resurrection of Christ.
We continued our practice of having a theological ‘round table’ where we debated various theological issues. The purpose of this is to learn to listen to the ‘erring’ (that is, differing from us!) brothers and seek for answers beyond our traditional comfort zones provided they are faithful to Scripture.
This year our discussions were on three subjects — What is the church? What is the church’s place in secular society? What is the role of the sacraments in the Reformed and Russian Orthodox traditions?
Our English-speaking friends, Dr Helm and Rev. Matthew Miller, also took part in the discussions and made essential contributions to them.
Let me end with thanks. Heart Cry Missionary Society provided the necessary funds both for the School and for the translation and publication of Paul Helm’s The providence of God in Russian. For all this we are very grateful.
My wife also provided nine great meals for 25 hungry theologians. I think this explains why we did not eat one another during our afternoon theological debates!