Recently, I have gone back to reading C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. It is one of the classic evangelical devotional texts–and with good reason. In general, as my wife will tell you, I have a shoddy memory when it comes to sensory details (although I am infinitely better with names than her), but I remember very clearly picking up that tall, slim little volume, bound in two-tone brown-faux leather with its embossed lettering, the gold-leaf pages. To a precocious evangelical teen scouring the bookstall at a Christian conference, it screamed antiquity and authority, like some artifact out of Indiana Jones. I’d heard him quoted many times in the pulpit, but now it seemed time to engage A Big Name for myself. I remember showing my uncle my purchase, and his disappointment that I’d bought it–he said he’d always planned to buy it for me as a gift when I got married, to read with my future wife.
I’ll confess, though, that I went off Spurgeon after a while. I imagine that, like many readers, his ubiquitous presence in my younger days made me all the more ready to ditch him when I went in search of deeper roots for my Protestant faith–ironic, given what attracted me to that little devotional book in the first place. The intense focus on the affections by a great evangelical preacher like Spurgeon began to smack too much of the anxious bench. And, I’ll confess, he began to feel a bit lowbrow. In various book purges though, I could never quite bring myself to do any Spurgeon purging.
Necessity, in part, drew me back. With a young family, personal time to spend meditating on the Scriptures is at a premium for me. And so, a few weeks ago, I blew the dust off Morning and Evening, and found myself back in devotions I had last read over ten years ago. And one hit me right between the eyes, a meditation on Hosea 7:8: “Ephraim is a cake not turned.” Spurgeon writes:
“A cake not turned is soon burnt on the side nearest the fire, and although no man can have too much religion, there are some who seem burnt black with bigoted zeal for that part of truth which they have received, or are charred to a cinder with a vainglorious Pharisaic ostentation of those religious performances which suit their humour.”
I won’t disclose to you what personal application I made of this. But Spurgeon’s words also put me in mind of the work of the Davenant Institute and Ad Fontes.
We are seeking nothing less here than the renewal of Christian wisdom, and one reason such wisdom begs renewing is that so many of those who should have safeguarded our wisdom have become cakes not turned. The fragmentation and over-specialization that marks so much of the modern university and intelligentsia is as alive and well within Reformed and evangelical Christianity as it is anywhere else. Biblical studies and dogmatics shuffle awkwardly past one another in the corridor; church historians and professors of Christian thought make awkward cups of coffee in silence in the common room; political theologians and teachers of homiletics avoid eye contact in the canteen. One does not have to sniff hard to smell those cakes burning on the one side.
At Davenant, and in the pages of Ad Fontes, we strive to be cakes turned. Scripture tells us that Wisdom’s house has seven pillars (Prov. 9:1), not one, and so Christian wisdom will only be renewed if we embrace it sevenfold–that is, in all its fullness. This Summer 2023 edition of Ad Fontes does this, if I may say so, with gusto, taking in church history, philosophy, social ethics, biblical studies, sermons, and politics.
In our opening essay, Mark Earngey delivers a fine-grained study of a now forgotten document of the English Reformation–one so influential it may even be regarded as a lost Anglican formulary. We then move forward several centuries to Adam E. Peterson’s comparison of how Charles Hodge and Francis Grimké applied their Old Princetonian theology to questions of race. Aaron Edwards then makes the surprising case for why the church needs the seemingly anti-ecclesial Kierkegaard, before Layne Hancock sits down to grapple with one of the most important liberal theologians of recent decades.
In our reviews section, we are honored to have the esteemed Joel R. Beeke reviewing a new landmark translation of John Calvins’ Sermons on Job. The irascible Matt Colvin then unleashes his trademark combination of classical and Hebraic nous on a recent volume on the Apostle Paul. Finally, Brad Littlejohn closes us out in his regular President’s review, assessing a recent addition to the growing wave of literature on Reformation political theology.
Modern academia has brought immense gifts with it–not least of all unparalleled abilities to catalog, survey, assess, and compare. But this does not add up to wisdom–especially when we all become rather too interested in the bean-counting of our field-specific facts. T.S Eliot famously asked “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Our ambition for Ad Fontes is that we can confidently answer: “here.”
May we never be a cake not turned.