David. J Engelsma. The Belgic Confession: A Commentary. Vols. I-II. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2019. Reviewed by H. David Schuringa
Although at this moment you may not sense an inner call to become a minister, or the wife of a minister, you have a calling to be an “armchair theologian.” That endearing term conveys that in whatever area of life you will serve, you should keep growing, relentlessly, as an informed member of Christ’s church, in your knowledge of God. For such a time as this, Prof. Engelsma’s new books on the Belgic are a go-to resource.
We hold dear the Heidelberg Catechism and TULIP (The Canons of Dordt), as well as the Belgic Confession which comprises our most comprehensive confession. The doctrines of the Word, God, Christ, Salvation (the Holy Spirit), the Church and the End Times outline its contents. Engelsma’s sound exposition unwraps the gospel gifts there in all their richness.
Whether in high school, college or already enrolled in the school of hard knocks, before you know it, you are on your own, and the buck stops with you. As you vacate the nest of your parents and climb from the cradle of your church (to take your place at the Lord’s Table), you become aware of Babylon’s delicacies that taste different than what you were fed within the safety of the Walls of Zion.
So, like the author, you need your theological ducks in a row.
A Universal Flood
With today’s www information flood, you have not been entirely “protected” from strange fire. At least, I am unaware of internet filters that catch and kill harmful doctrine. Even now, you may sometimes even secretly wonder what the truth is, really.
In the universities, some, not all, professors consider it their mission to chip away at the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. And there’s the rub, because you may find yourself admiring your teachers as they shower you with their knowledge, impress you with their compelling presentations and perhaps even don religion, but “from the teeth out,” as the Dort Scholars put it.
I had many excellent profs, but I retain a measure of sorrow that after my first year in college I came home a bit cocky, quite sure I knew better than my covenant parents and our rock-solid minister. I came to my senses, mind you, and the older I get the more stupid I look in that first chapter of “enlightenment.”
Fact is, one day in my Kampen study working on a dissertation, I dropped to my knees in humiliation. Struck that, for all my degrees, my long-deceased grandmother, with her Dutch brogue and sixth-grade education, had known more about “higher” education than me.
In essence, what Engelsma writes was already in grandma’s heart.
A life-raft for still living that Faith of our Fathers, the new commentary will keep your feet upon the rock and your head above troubled waters. Whether from the world, the devil or your own sinful flesh, there is no tempest to whack you that is not in some way covered in this historic confession. Engelsma’s grasp of the doctrines taught in the Belgic, and also of notions not matching up to its tried and true standard, feeds the mind and proves to saints that all God has revealed in his Word is true.
Prof. Engelsma’s works are sometimes viewed as somewhat aggressive as he takes on opposing views. Personally, I have not found him ever to argue ad hominem but always rightly dividing the Word of Truth. His polemicizing is bathed in a passionate love for the Word and the Flock of God.
I trust you know this: chipping away at the truth always begins with short-changing the authority of Scripture. Why? Because an unregenerate heart cannot stand the sight of that golden chain linked from Genesis to Revelation: the sovereignty of God which grants arrogant mankind, including us, no hope without him. And by hacking away at these principles, one eventually turns up his nose at the blood atonement of Christ itself, thus shredding Scripture into little more than confetti for culture’s parades.
Too harsh? The leaping away from what is right, right before our eyes, is aimed at demolishing the entire Christian edifice. For Christians who buy into this program, their faith-house of cards collapses. With an imperfect Word, a less-than-omnipotent God and an impotent cross, there is nothing left but pixie dust of precious memories.
So, small wonder Prof. Engelsma flexes some muscle. All truth is related so that when you hedge at one point, truth itself is on the line. Do the shameful and irrational banners of society’s defiance come as a surprise when truth is a matter of personal interpretation, what today I feel, but then isn’t actually accessible and probably nonexistent?
On Your Own Not Your Own
Truth is, a Joshua 24 step of faith summons you, and not just once: will it be everlasting God or post-modern idols? Sure, you will be swimming against the current, likely get trashed, and not get emailed for interviews. They burned our spiritual forefathers at the stake for this stuff, you know, so if we get tweaked on Twitter, who gives a rip?
Just keep digging, with unceasing thanks for the Spirit’s work within, as you will never begin to probe the depths before the King descends in all his glory. And while you’re at it, during this exciting period of life-transition, why not let Prof. Engelsma be your professor of theo-logos, the study of God?
On the one hand, as you comb through this commentary, I hope that sometimes it snags, sometimes it stings, sometimes even makes you angry, because you do need to learn to think for yourself. On the other hand, may it magnify a bulwark never-failing, a GPS for the narrow path and…heartfelt comfort.
That’s because, well, you are almost on your own, but by grace will never be your own, right? The precious Bride of Christ forever belongs to her faithful Bridegroom. And he is preparing a place in a house with many mansions.
And while the official preaching and sacraments are the primary means of grace for strengthening that costly, tender relationship, this twin-set penned by a life-long servant rises so far above any secondary means that a believer not having them in reach would be missing the boat.