James T. O’Brien is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  He grew up in New Jersey. He has been happily married to Pam for 33.5 years. They have a daughter, Heather, who recently graduated from high school and is looking forward to attending college next Fall.  Jim graduated in 1974 with a B.A. in Religion/Philosophy from Westminster College (New Wilmington, PA); earned his M.A. (summa cum laude) from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he studied with two distinguished church historians: John Gerstner and Ford Lewis Battles and from 1982-1985 he was the Medieval and Renaissance Fellow at Duke University, studying the history of Christian doctrine. He was called to the pastoral ministry in Raleigh, NC in 1986. For the past 19 years he has served churches in North Carolina, New Jersey and South Carolina.

Jim loves the Reformed faith and takes particular delight in the writings of the 17th century Puritans and the “Old Princeton” theologians of the 19th century. His main area of study is in the doctrine and practice of the Christian life.


6 Responses to “About”

  1. David White said

    Please would you help me. I looking for material on the Reformers and Puritans exposition on ‘the gifts of the Spirit”. I am not doing this for modern charismatic motives but for research. I have a MA from Manchester England in which I wrote on Calvin and the Threefold Ministry of Christ and I want to follow up the section on Christ the Prophet.
    I am fully aware of the views on tongues and prophecy etc but am concerned with the way the other gifts were seen especially to develop the way Calvin mentions there function in Rom.12. I am looking for expositions on 1 Cor. 12-14
    Romans 12 Eph. 4 etc. I have all Calvin’s works.If you have any suggestions I would be thankful.
    I have written to others without reply.
    I am not a young man but 69 and retired and wanting to do some study on this area..
    Thank you
    David White
    PS. I live in the UK

  2. Jim O'Brien said

    David, glad to be of any help I can.

    The only book I know on Calvin and charismatic gifts is a doctoral dissertation written at Aberdeen in 2005. It is by Gilbert, Daniel and is entitled: The pneumatic charismata in the theology of John Calvin: a study of Calvin’s pneumatology, focusing on his concepts and interpretation of the pneumatic charismata in his life and works. (Aberdeen, 2005) I have not seen this thesis because it is not yet available through Ethos. Ethos, as you know, is a web-site offering copies of British dissertations from many universities, although Oxford, Cambridge and Durham are not participating. You can download any dissertation that has been digitalized for free.

    Seeing as how you like in the UK, you might be able to get a copy through inter-library loan. I would think his bibliography would be very helpful.

    Dr. Gilbert lives in California. You can email him at the following address: DrDanielGilbert@gmail.com

    As for the Puritans, the pickings are a bit better. I would suggest you start with an article by Dr. Byron Curtis entitled, “‘Private Spirits’ in The Westminster Confession of Faith § 1.10 and in Catholic-Protestant Debate (1588-1652),” It is in the Westminster Theological Journal 58 (Fall 1996), 256-67. Dr. Curtis takes the position that the Westminster divines allowed for some kind of continuing private revelation.

    Next I would look at an article that takes issue with Dr. Curtis’ conclusions by Garnet H. Milne, “‘Private Spirits’ in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in Protestant-Catholic Debates: A Response to Byron Curtis,” Westminster Theological Journal 61 (Spring 1999), 102-11

    Thirdly, you could look at a third article in WTJ by Dean R. Smith, “The Scottish Presbyterians and Covenanters: A Continuationist Experience in a Cessationist Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (Spring 2001), 39-63.

    Fourthly, Philip A. Craig has written, “Jonathan Edwards on the Cessation of the Gifts of Prophecy,” Westminster Theological Journal (Vol. 64, No. 1 Spring 2002)

    The footnotes to these articles would be an invaluable source for further bibliography.

    Lastly, I have cut/pasted an answer to this very question by Dr. Wayne Grudem. It appears on Tim Challies’ web-site here http://www.challies.com/archives/interviews/continuationism.php

    In it he reproduces a note he received from J.I. Packer which is quite interesting. Here it is:
    I think it is somewhat of a historical aberration that cessationism – that the leaders of the Reformed movement have been cessationist. This was certainly not true in the seventeenth century among Puritans in England, for instance, like Richard Baxter. In The Christian Directory he has a number of statements that align almost exactly with my view of the gift of prophecy. And I quote those in the back of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. I took a couple of pages from Baxter’s The Christian Directory and I faxed those to J.I. Packer and said, “It looks like Baxter holds the same view of prophecy that I do.” Packer faxed me back and said, “Yes, you’re right. This was the standard Puritan view. They weren’t cessationists in the Gaffin sense.” Let me just find that. Jim Packer gave me permission to quote that. I am quoting John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, Richard Baxter. I quote this on page 353 to 356 of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Packer, whose doctoral dissertation at Oxford was on Richard Baxter’s works, sent back the following: “By the way, some weeks ago you faxed me an extract from Baxter about God making “personal, informative revelation” (those were Packer’s words). This was the standard Puritan view as I observed it – they weren’t cessationist in the Richard Gaffin sense.” That’s J.I. Packer’s personal fax to me on September 9, 1997 and I quoted it by permission.

    I am not sure that we should look at Richard Baxter is THE representative Puritan and there are scholars who would question using that term to describe him at all. That’s not an issue on which I am competent to comment, but it’s one more lead.

    I hope this helps! God bless you and your research.

    Jim OB

    • David White said

      Jim , Thank you for your reply. I have all the copies of the WTJ so I will start with those you mentioned. I will email Dr Daniel Gilbert . I also have the works of Baxter. I will also try and email Wayne Grudem.
      Again thank you for taking the time to reply it has given me more to work on.
      David White

  3. @ Jim: Thank you for answering Dave’s question. I will look to obtain a copy of these resources as well.

    @ David: I’m interested to know what your studies have concluded?

  4. Hello sir,

    Out of the books that you have left over, what would you recommend to a man who has a strong desire to be an evangelist and a teacher of the Word of God?

    • Dear Joseph,
      You have asked an excellent and difficult question. Since I do not know your background or views, I’ll have to make some general recommendations. If you want to be an evangelist you ought to study the great evangelists. But first you have to determine who they might be. I would submit that there are basically two schools of evangelists. They are so different in approach that you will have to choose one school or the other. You can choose the school that flows from Charles Finney. He came along at the end of the Second Great Awakening and argued that revivals and conversions were something that we could make happen. He said this because he had a radical doctrine of human free will. Though many would be surprised to hear it, Finney had no place for the working of the Holy Spirit in producing faith and bringing someone to give themselves to Christ. Almost all 20th century evangelism follows Finney to one degree or another. The “sawdust trail” tent-meeting revivalists (i.e. Billy Sunday and Bob Jones, Sr.) were one form of Finneyite evangelism. A much more moderate form can be seen in Billy Graham and all crusade evangelists that followed him. To decide if this is the school for you, I would recommend that you ask if their methods and message are consistent with the Scriptures AND that you test them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16-20). The Graham Evangelistic Association admits that the overwhelming majority of ‘inquirers’/people who make professions of faith, do not continue in the faith. One might say that even if a few are saved out of the many who go forward, it is worth the effort. Of course, the salvation of a single soul is a marvelous thing, but we ought to be asking if there is a better way. Finney himself saw a very low percentage of his converts remain active in their churches a few years after his ‘revivals.’ Finney spent a lot of time in New England and Upstate New York. In his heyday many responded to his fiery preaching. Sadly few persevered in the faith. Not only did they fall away, but they became cynical about the reality of Gospel power. The churches most effected by Finney saw dramatic losses of members and many became liberal. Scholars refer to NY and NE as “the burned over district” after Finney. To this day NE and NY are two wastelands for the Gospel in America. The fruit of Finney’s evangelism is deplorable and frankly, while we all admire Billy Graham’s integrity, very few of his converts have continued in the faith.
      There is another school of evangelism. This is the school that depends entirely on the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and works from the assumption that sinners have no power to come to Christ apart from the Spirit changing their hearts. This is Calvinistic or Reformed evangelism. The Reformation, the Great Awakening and the Second Awakenings were largely the result of men with this theology. (Wesley and his evangelists are the exception to this statement, but there are serious problems with Wesley’s teaching on justification, which I will bypass here.) Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, the Tennants in the Middle Colonies and the preachers memorialized by J.C. Ryle in his book on Christian Leaders of the 18th Century were key preachers in the Great Awakening. Asahel Nettleton was one of the greatest evangelists of the Second Great Awakening. Studies were done of the impact of his preaching. He would go to a small struggling church and preach and pray for a year or more. In due time, God would send the Holy Spirit upon that town and oftentimes a majority of the citizens were converted. Studies done years later showed that over 90% of Nettleton’s ‘converts’ remained faithful to the Lord. This was powerful evangelism, indeed! I trust this is what you would want to see if you were a pastor or an evangelist. Spurgeon would be a great example of a 19th C. evangelist of this school. The roots of this evangelistic theology are to be found in Calvin and the Puritans. Their preaching has had the greatest impact on the world in my opinion. If you want to follow Finney and focus on methods then you can go many places, but I will not give you directions. I would hope you would be wiser than that. I assume you do not want to puff yourself up with temporary, even if dramatic, results. No, if you want to be used of the Lord for the conversion of people, you need to read men of the Reformed school of evangelism. But let me caution you about this. Using their methods and message will not guarantee you instant results. Conversion is God’s work and He does it when and where He wishes. To be an evangelist you will have to dedicate yourself to waiting on the Lord. He may make you wait and cry out to him for many years. You may see a few conversion a year rather than multitudes on a fortnight. If you want to be God’s servant and wait on His blessing, then these are the books I would recommend:
      Alleine, Joseph. A Sure Guide to Heaven (Banner of Truth Trust). This is a classic exposition of the nature of true conversion. If you intend to aim at the conversion of your hearers you had best now what you are aiming at.
      Baxter, Richard. A Call to the Unconverted. (I don’t know if this is in print, but you can find used copies.) There is no greater evangelistic book ever written by uninspired men. It is the perfect complement to Alleine.
      Edwards, Jonathan. His accounts of the revivals in New England and his sermons. Banner of Truth Trust and Soli Deo Goria have published these writings.
      Gerstner, John. Edwards the Evangelist (Soli Deo Gloria) An excellent account of Puritan evangelism. If you are unfamiliar with Reformed evangelistic theology this book may well shock you. It even shocks many Reformed pastors today, but it is a gem.
      Packer, J.I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. (This is a bit softer view of the Reformed approach, but quite valuable.)
      Spurgeon. Be aware that the books entitled 12 Sermons on… are often edited and in ways that cloud the clarity of Spurgeon’s Reformed evangelism.
      Murray, Ian. The Forgotten Spurgeon and Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (both are from Banner of Truth Trust)
      Murray, Ian. Revival and Revivalism (Banner of Truth Trust) This will help you see the differences between Finney and Reformed evangelists)
      Beeke, Joel. Puritan Evangelism (a fine booklet) You can find Dr. Beeke’s material at Reformation Heritage Books
      Tyler, Bennett. Asahel Nettleton Life & Labors (Banner of Truth Trust)
      Thornbury, John. God Sent Revival: The Story of Asahel Nettleton and the Second Great Awakening (Evangelical Press)

      Well, this should give you a good start. I might add that I will, Lord willing, be bringing out an electronic version of Thomas Vincent on Salvation (title yet to be determined, but it will have ‘salvation’ in it) by year’s end. Vincent was a powerful Puritan preacher and his book ranks right up with Alleine and Baxter. It will be edited and the language will be modernized so that contemporary readers can read it easily.)

      I hope this helps. May God grant you grace as you pursue his calling on your life,

      Jim O’Brien

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