Founders Journal · Spring 2003 · pp. 22-31
Geoffrey Thomas. Ernest C. Reisinger: A Biography. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002. Hardcover, 262 pages, $29.99
Reviewed by Fred A. Malone
Geoff Thomas, a Baptist pastor in Wales, is one of the delightful gifts of God to the church of Jesus Christ. He humbly states that he owes most of this volume to other’s efforts before him. Ernie Reisinger supplied much of the data himself, together with interviews conducted by Geoff Thomas with Ernie. It is obviously a labor of love.
I am glad to recommend this biography as a must read for Baptists interested in the last fifty years of reformation in Baptist life. Having benefited myself from serving with Pastor Reisinger in a church setting for several years, I will ever be grateful to God for the things I have learned from him, especially the books he made me read. His lengthy life and experience in different settings will be a benefit to established pastors as well as to ministerial students.
I have divided this review into four areas which make this biography a worthy read: personal, historical, theological, and practical.
First, Ernie’s account of his unconverted life and subsequent conversion to Christ is a great encouragement and example of God’s redeeming grace. Most of Ernie’s childhood and business life occurred in and around Carlisle, Pennsylvania. From a profligate carpenter, Ernie was transformed into a faithful Christian witness affecting the lives of many. His account of the major witness to him, Elmer Albright, is a classic example in how to witness to a worldly man. Elmer, a co-worker with Ernie, witnessed to and prayed for Ernie over many years, never giving up on God’s grace. I believe that Elmer’s witness has followed Ernie in his concern for persevering witness to individuals one at a time. Ernie’s time in the Navy following his conversion is an example of how to be a witness in a worldly environment. His successes and mistakes as a witness encourages men in the world never to give up.
Second, Ernie’s tireless efforts to learn God’s Word and the truths of the Bible is an example to all laymen to study God’s Word for themselves. He did not attend seminary, but the blessing of good books on his life, especially the Puritans, filled in the blanks very well. His love of good books has been multiplied by the prolific use of giving them to others. Many pastors and laymen have been introduced to the world of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, and the great Puritan classics by Ernie. His model for using literature in evangelism and edification should be followed by all.
Third, the joys and sorrows Ernie experienced as a successful businessman could serve as an encouragement to laymen to serve God in the business world. Some of his nuggets of wisdom in management are worthy to remember. Even the later sorrows of seeing his business enter difficulty after retirement are lessons for Christian laymen to consider. Although he “retired” from business, he never retired from spreading the gospel.
Fourth, the inclusion of correspondence between Ernie and his friends, enemies, children, and grandchildren are an encouragement for all of us to keep up the sacred example of letter writing as a Christian ministry. These letters are full of good counsel for young and old and will give good direction for those who wish to speak the truth in love.
Fifth, the waywardness of his son, Don, as well as Don’s return to Christ, serves to add a note of reality to the personal history of Ernie Reisinger. In the narration of this time of trial, both the virtues and the struggles of Ernie’s character are revealed. He would be the first to claim “earthen vessel” status to his life and work. Yet God’s grace continues to gain the glory and victory through all.
One of the great values of this biography, especially to younger pastors and students, is that it is a good survey of the growth of the reformed faith among Baptists in the last fifty years. Involved from the beginning in the establishment and growth of Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one becomes familiar with the leaders of the young reformed Baptist movement in the United States. Names like Walter Chantry, Al Martin, Errol Hulse, R. T. Kendall, Tom Nettles, Tom Ascol, and others, cross the pages. Also, Ernie’s friendship with Presbyterians such as Iain Murray, John Murray, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones attest to the reformed ecumenism which has marked Ernie’s life. His services to Westminster Seminary and to the Banner of Truth Trust are further attestations.
After retirement from business, Ernie and Jane retired to Islamorada, Florida. By God’s providence, Ernie served as pastor of First Baptist Church in that community for several years. After that, he was called to North Pompano Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1977. It was there that the hard lessons of reformation in Southern Baptist life were experienced successfully. This is helpful to any young pastor entering a Southern Baptist church. It was also there that the “Boyce Project” was established by Ernie as a project by the church. This theology of the founder of Southern Seminary was given to thousands of Southern Baptist seminary graduates and pastors, laying the foundation work for the first “Southern Baptist Conference on the Faith of the Founders” in 1983. This conference has continued to grow healthily as a boon to resurgent Calvinism in the SBC. It has expanded into Founders Ministries.
After Ernie’s move to Cape Coral, Florida, he served as interim pastor of Grace Baptist Church there. Through his influence, Dr. Tom Ascol was called to serve as pastor, where he serves faithfully to this day. It was here that Ernie’s writing ministry expanded and continues. The many materials, books, and quotes he has gathered over the years have been passed on to a new generation of pastors and laymen through his writings.
Another of the virtues of this biography is the historical narration of Ernie’s theological journey. He details his early acceptance of the Scofield Reference Bible theology and his move to a reformed and Calvinistic theology. His search for the victorious Christian life as he dabbled in Higher Life views ends with a gratifying discovery of historical and biblical sanctification. One of Ernie’s passions has been a right understanding of the reformed view of the Law and the Gospel and its application to evangelism, holiness, and church life. His books on Today’s Evangelism, What Shall We Think of the Carnal Christian, The Law and the Gospel, and The Quiet Revolution are just as relevant to new movements and errors today as when he wrote them. These works are good guides to students and pastors, often referring to the great classics of the reformed faith for further reading.
There are many practical lessons to be learned from this biography. Many lessons can be gleaned for pastoral wisdom in reformation. Lessons are there for the use of literature in personal witnessing and church reformation. There are lessons concerning the now fading use of correspondence with family, friends, and even enemies of reformation.
One major lesson abides in this biography: perseverance in the search for biblical truth and in the cause of biblical reformation in the churches. It would be easy to fold up the tent and steal away into the night in the latter years of one’s life. However, God has put a determination in Ernie’s character that abides still and is an encouragement never to give up on reforming the churches of Jesus Christ. This is a challenge to younger men to make the most of their time for truth and to suffer willingly in that grand endeavor.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this biography for the curious who want to more about the resurgent Calvinism in Baptist life. It might clear up many erroneous notions. But I also recommend it to those who have been in the battle for many years. There are lessons to be learned from one life that has been used by God to affect many others. Geoff Thomas has done us a service by revealing a life touched by God’s sovereign grace.
Edna Gerstner. Conduct for the Crayon Crowd. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997. Hardcover, 183 pp., $18.95.
Reviewed by Ray Van Neste
This is indeed a very interesting book. It is a collection of stories written by the wife of John Gerstner for their daughter Rachel (collected before she turned six) explaining and discussing biblical truths. Apparently the manuscript lay in a shoebox “undiscovered” for sometime before someone convinced Mrs. Gerstner to allow it to go to print.
The book contains 36 stories covering love, marriage, death, the Ten Commandments, election, the will of man and many other theological concepts. These are not primarily stories which Mrs. Gerstner tells to Rachel, but accounts of interactions between the two in various situations around the home. Perhaps the most endearing element of the book is the intimate glance provided into the home of such a respected couple. One finds an honest portrayal of a mother busy with a home and three children who is nonetheless always watching to capture any moment to teach biblical truth. There is a clear and strong respect and love for the husband and father who clearly functioned as the pastor of his family.
The stories are presented as real conversations with numerous “rabbit trails” being chased along the way. This gives a real and immediate feel to the stories but made for less pleasant reading for this reader. Some stories were more compelling than others. The one entitled “How to Get to Heaven” was excellent with a great object lesson about our inability to earn salvation and our need of grace. In summary, this book will make interesting reading for children and for parents learning to be intentional about seizing teaching moments.
John B. Leuzarder. The Gospel for Children, 2d ed. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press 2002; first ed. published by Calvary Press, 1996. Hardcover, 40 pp., $15.50.
Reviewed by Ray Van Neste
I was pleased to discover that Shepherd Press has republished this fine book. I first encountered a few years ago and bought a copy for the children’s ministry of the church I pastored, vowing to buy my own copy when I had children. In recent years, I had been unable to find the book and found that Calvary Press no longer carried it. Working from memory, I found only minor changes in this second edition.
The book is in essence a large and colorful gospel tract intended for children ages five years and up. The author acknowledges J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God as helping to form the basic outline of the book. As one might expect with the identification with Packer and Calvary Press, this is a God-centered gospel presentation.
The book opens with a preface explaining the intent of the book and a page (‘How to Use This Book’) describing the book’s layout and ways to use it in teaching. The actual content is arranged in six chapters: God, The Bible, Sin, Jesus, Repentance and Faith, and Counting the Costs. In each chapter main points are given in bold type and are accompanied with a color picture which serves as a memory help. Under the main points are bullet statements further expounding the main point. Endnotes are used to list scripture passages for each main point and for many of the other points. The author suggests children memorize the main points of each chapter. The book concludes with a one page summary of the gospel and a ‘What Next?’ page discussing how to handle a child’s profession of faith.
This is a fine book for use with children. It is essentially a mini-catechism. The gospel presentation is faithful and clear. I heartily recommend it.
Robert E. Picirilli. Grace, Faith, Free Will – Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism. Nashville, TN: Random House, 2002. Paperback, 245 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by Roger Nicole
In this volume Dr. Picirilli, for almost half a century professor of theology and dean of the Free-Will Baptist College in Nashville, TN, has produced a fresh delineation of the contrasting views of Calvinism and Arminianism.
He represents what he calls “Reformation Arminianism” that is the position of Arminius himself and of some later disciples often called “Evangelical Arminians.” He deplores the slippage from biblical moorings that he observes in the Remonstrant movement in the Netherlands and in many people known as Arminians in the English-speaking world, notably in the rise of “Open Theism” on this side of the Atlantic. Specifically he holds, as indicated in his Foreword (i) to “total depravity, the sovereignty of God who possesses complete foreknowledge of all future events, the penal satisfaction view of the atonement, salvation by grace through faith and the irremediable nature of apostasy.”
In a rare display of fairness to those with whom he disagrees he offers in each major part of his presentation an exposition of Calvinism as expressed by some of its recent supporters (Shedd, Berkhof, Nicole, Jewett, Hoeksema, et al.) with a discussion of some of the biblical evidence invoked for it. Approximately one quarter of the book is devoted to this purpose (49 pages).
To be sure that his representation of Calvinism was satisfactory, Dr. Picirilli submitted it to the inspection of Dr. Robert Reymond, certainly a competent arbiter, who apparently did not insist on any major correction. That Dr. Picirilli should proceed in this manner shows his manifest desire to be accurate and fair.
Then he presents the “Reformed Arminian” view with frequent reference to Arminius’ works and quotations from C. Bangs, J. Cottrell, D. Lake, G. Osborne and himself (83 pages).
A third section is devoted to an investigation of the New Testament evidence that he views as supporting the “Reformed Arminian” position (73 pages).
After a brief historical introduction in which the very text of the “Remonstrance” is quoted (13-15), the material is divided in four parts corresponding to the issues represented by ULIP in the well-known TULIP acrostic. The absence of the “T” in this discussion is due to the fact that Article 3 of the Remonstrance is in agreement with the Reformed view of the radical and pervasive depravity of sinful mankind that no attempt to refute it needed to be undertaken. And indeed in the canons of the Synod of Dort the third and fourth heads of doctrine are considered jointly, presumably on that account.
It is evident that Dr. Picirilli has made a special effort to state fairly the Calvinistic view, even to the point of including certain common answers to Arminian objections. Here we must note some areas in which, in our judgment, he has not quite succeeded.
1. He consistently discusses the points in terms of the language of TULIP, which is in every case not sufficiently accurate to be a strict expression of biblical Calvinism.
Specifically “unconditional predestination” may in the minds of many imply that God is not concerned about the condition of the elect. What is meant, however, is that there are no conditions prior in thought to the choice of God, that would make those chosen more worthy of that choice than the rest of mankind. Not even foreseen faith is in view here, as Dr. Picirilli would posit, since prevenient grace that is indispensable to produce it is not spread evenly in the totality of humankind. It is better to speak of “sovereign election” which, in view of the wisdom of God, posits that God has good reasons for His choice, although not perceivable at our end. Furthermore God is concerned about the condition of the elect as the result of “predestination to be holy” (Ephesians 1:4).
The word “necessity” that Dr. Picirilli dislikes does not really imply more than “certainty,” which his endorsement of God’s foreknowledge accredits. What needs to be avoided is “coercion” that implies that “violence is offered to the will of the creature,” which is expressly denied in the Westminster Confession (III/I). “Nor is the liberty contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” as stated in the same context, contrary to what the good doctor thinks (39, 40).
How these are compatible transcends our finite logic, as does the coexistence of foreknowledge with the reality of human decision that Dr. Picirilli asserts. In either case we have here a mystery which demands gentleness and humility on the part of all concerned. The view that “foreknowledge” is the basis for predestination, appears to make the human decision logically prior to the divine choice, that is what the Westminster Confession expressly rejects (III/II).
It is encouraging to observe that Dr. Picirilli strongly opposes the denial of divine foreknowledge advocated by “Open Theism” in order to safeguard the freedom of human decision (59-63).
2. With reference to “limited atonement” Dr. Picirilli alludes once to the preferable expressions “definite atonement” or “particular redemption” (87), but otherwise consistently uses the adjective “limited.” The issue, however, is not one of limits, since every non-universalist, including the good doctor, will acknowledge that not all human beings will in the end be saved, but that some will perish under the divine condemnation. Therefore every thinker will have to choose between “universal” and “effectual.” Here it would appear that Dr. Picirilli has chosen “universal” and has in fact denied that the atonement is “effectual,” since it is actually the work of the Holy Spirit that saves by applying the benefits of Christ’s work to the individual. In this connection he quotes Shedd (93, 94) in statements that could be misconstrued in that direction. But indeed salvation is the work of the Triune God, which is coextensive in its three aspects, election by the Father, redemption by the Son, and application by the Spirit. All those whom the Father elects are those whom the Son redeems and those to whom the Spirit gives repentance and faith. To assert a disjunction here is to split asunder the will of the Triune God.
Incidentally, this approach would seem to preclude the salvation of those dying in infancy, since they cannot be brought in this life to express repentance and/or saving faith.
Meanwhile Dr. Picirilli concentrates his attention on the extent of the atonement by examining and rejecting the Calvinistic arguments. He follows step by step my procedure in “The Case for Definite Atonement” (BETS 10:4 ) and answers 8 of the 11 arguments I presented, including, I believe, the strongest ones. He then proceeds to present nine Arminian arguments with the Calvinistic response and his Arminian rejoinder. While he has not convinced me, I shall gladly acknowledge that he has given this matter very close attention. He has discounted the governmental theory of the atonement, although promoted as early as 1617 by Hugo Grotius, an early Arminian leader and a great legal scholar, contrary to what is stated on page 105.
Dr. Picirilli raises the following question: “If Christ’s atonement is indeed effectual, how could the elect who lived after Christ be viewed as “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:3) prior to their regeneration?” This issue is faced in John Murray’s statement “we do not become actual partakers of Christ until redemption is effectually applied.”
The language of redemption may help us to understand what is envisioned here. Some one may put some money in the bank to be used for scholarship when I am ready to enter college. This is not actually deposited in my bank account until that time has arrived. The provision is effectual but the appropriation is delayed. Another illustration could be found in an electric cord that does not deliver power unless it is plugged.
3. On the issue of grace in the application of salvation, it is desirable to note that the adjective “irresistible” often used here by Calvinists, is not felicitous because it conveys to many that ultimate resistance is offered until coercion is exercised to vanquish it. What does occur in fact is that one’s opposition to God is graciously overcome by “subduing” or “smoothing down” the natural resistance of a sinful heart. That God may employ drastic methods to persuade is apparent in the case of Jonah or of the Apostle Paul, but God never ultimately forces an unwilling person to enter “kicking and screaming” into fellowship with Him. “Violence is not offered to the will of the creature” (Westminster Confession III/I).
In analyzing the order of benefits in the application of salvation Dr. Picirilli prefixes prevenient grace before repentance, faith and regeneration. By this he acknowledges that repentance and faith, as appropriation of salvation, could not be flowers growing on the dunghill of our depravity, but that prevenient grace is indispensable. Under this term he includes “conviction, persuasion and enabling” (155). These are precisely the blessings included in regeneration or effectual calling of those who are in age to respond, according to the Calvinist. The difference is that for the Arminian, resistance may thwart the divine approach, while the Calvinist avers that God’s grace in the effectual call is always successful in the case of the elect. Dr. Picirilli’s strong emphasis on prevenient grace enables him to assert that saving faith, while distinguishing the saved from the lost, is not a meritorious performance. It is like the hose that brings water to a plant: the hose is not itself water, but its mediation is necessary for the beneficial effects of the water. This the Calvinist would also acknowledge in the case of those who have reached the age of reason.
4. The last section on perseverance is shorter than the other parts. Here again the common language of “perseverance of the saints” is sometimes misleading as suggesting that the saints, being renewed by the Holy Spirit, can certainly be trusted to persevere. What the Scripture has in view, however, is God’s perseverance with His saints. God, having started His work in regeneration, will surely bring it to a successful completion (Philippians 1:6). This is also the meaning of 1 Peter 1:5 “Kept by the power of God,” although Dr. I. H. Marshall, under this title, strangely promoted an opposite view.
Dr. Picirilli devotes a special appendix to Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:18-22. Here he concludes that the reference is to people who experienced true regeneration and whose apostasy is irremediable. This has to be distinguished from backsliding that does not cancel the possibility of recovery, as evident in the cases of David and of Peter. According to that view the only ones whose salvation would be definitively cancelled would be those who have committed the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:31, 32; 1 John 5:16, 17). Now in almost eighty years of Christian life, I have never met a person who had manifestly committed that sin. Professing Christians who appear to walk in disobedience would not be treated differently by Dr. Picirilli than by upholders of Calvinistic security! The reality of their initial experience of conversion could also be open to question, which I believe is the case in Hebrews 6 and 2 Peter.
Fortunately the Arminian, who has quoted these passages as evidence of the possibility of apostasy, does not ordinarily give up any effort to bring back those who have sinned, but encourages them to return to God, as it were in a new conversion, in sharp conflict with the irremediable nature of the cases envisioned in those passages. The fact that many do return to God shows that they had been backsliders, yet not apostates!
Altogether we have in Grace, Faith, Free Will a thoughtful expression of a restrained Arminianism, that acknowledges God’s sovereignty and unlimited foreknowledge, human radical depravity, the penal satisfaction in the atonement, the importance but non-meritorious capacity of saving faith, and the ordinary preservation by God of the salvation of those who are born again.
This is a very lucid volume in which the author’s position is articulated and argued very clearly. It is enhanced by indices of Scriptures quoted, subjects considered, and of authors quoted. (Arminius himself apparently at least 100 times). There are fourteen bibliographies, spread through the book in relation to individual sections. The tone of the discussion is always courteous. Although a convinced Arminian, Dr. Picirilli is aware of deviations that have occurred in those circles. He has provided some fences that should prevent such slippage and is very emphatic in opposing “Open Theism” (iii. 35, 39, 40, 60-62).
Even when aware of important differences we may not feel handicapped in expressing our position without actually proceeding to head-bashing. If we are convinced that our understanding is correct, this should give us the serenity we need in discussion without indulging rabies theologica.
1 John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1961), 165.
William Philip, ed. The Practical Preacher: Practical Wisdom for the Pastor-Teacher. Geanies House, Fern, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2002. Paperback, 119 pp. £5.99/$8.99
Reviewed by Ray Van Neste
This is an excellent little book for pastors and pastors in training. William Philip has brought together addresses by Melvin Tinker, David Jackman, Martin Allen, Jonathan Prime and Sinclair Ferguson from recent conferences of the Proclamation Trust (United Kingdom). Proclamation Trust (www.proctrust.org.uk) is at the forefront of encouraging expositional preaching in the UK, and this book presents a fine opportunity to glean from its work.
These essays seek to encourage pastors to preach expositionally and give hints for how to actually get it done. The first two essays are preparatory: “Preparing a Congregation for Expository Preaching” and “Planning a Preaching Programme.” There is a good bit of wisdom here, first in confronting the fact that many congregations will not be accustomed to expository preaching and then thinking strategically about what, when and how to preach so as to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The third essay, “From Text to Sermon,” is an excellent summary of how to prepare and preach–excellent as a reminder for those with formal training or as an introduction for those without it. This essay alone is worth the book. Jackman makes many excellent points through the entire process of sermon preparation including some incisive observation on applications. Though so much could be said, two quotes will illustrate the viewpoint of the author:
This is what preaching is all about; it is not just simply laying out the truth of the message, but it is the invasion of the living God through his word into the mind, heart and will of the hearer. It is very unsettling, very challenging, and very demanding (56).
Journalistic preaching says: “I have got to do something with the Bible. I have got to construct a sermon, I have got to do something with the Bible so there is something to give on Sunday.” Expository preaching says: “The Bible has got to do something with me.” The Bible is setting the agenda in expository preaching, whereas I am setting the agenda in journalistic preaching (57).
The next two essays focus our thoughts on those who will hear us and whom we are to shepherd: “Preaching to Real People” and “Pastoring Real People.” In some contexts the phrase “real people” would connote a downplaying of spiritual needs and truths, but such is not the case here. These essays are excellent in helping us to focus on applying biblical truths on the lives of our people realizing this is the most helpful thing we can give them. The “Pastoring” essay is essentially an investigation of the pastoral concerns and methods seen in 1 Thessalonians and is very well done. The book closes with Sinclair Ferguson’s appraisal of “The Preacher as Theologian.” Ferguson opens with an old quote about John Calvin, that he “became a theologian in order to be a better pastor” and closes by stating, “You cannot be a preacher without being a theologian, just as–in the truest sense–you cannot be much of a theologian unless you are, at heart, a pastor.”
This book is essentially a preaching workshop in printed form. Though its roots in the British setting are at times apparent, the differences in the American setting are in this issue not great. I whole-heartedly recommend this book. It would make a great gift for young men who are training to be pastors.